Approaching God in Prayer

Adapted from RA Torrey’s book The Power of Prayer, and shared by Bethany, a sister in Christ.

I would like to share with you some thoughts on prayer. As we all know prayer is an absolutely essential part of our relationship with God. But the attitude of our heart is very important to consider as we approach the throne of God and enter into His presence.

Imagine trying to have a close relationship with a friend, and then not talking to them very much or at all. Or maybe you do talk – but you aren’t really talking to them, because you are so focused on yourself and your own needs that you are just unloading everything on your mind and talking AT them. Or maybe there is something hindering your relationship with this person, and so your friend just isn’t listening to you.

Sometimes there are things that can hinder our communication with our Heavenly Father. God really does care about the way that we approach Him in prayer, so I wanted to share some common problems that can arise, and lead to a powerless and unsatisfactory prayer life.

Prayer is very powerful, because God is ‘All Powerful’. We see an example of this in the book of Acts. In Acts 12, Peter is in prison and he is going to be executed. But people prayed! We see in Acts 12:5 that “prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.”

Acts 12:5 NKJV
Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

And God does something incredible – He sends an angel to free Peter. The angel arrives, strikes Peter on the side to wake him up and busts him out of prison. Silently, of course. So Peter was freed by the fervent prayer made to God by his friends, and he goes to the house of the people who were praying for him. A servant girl Rhoda answers the door and excitedly exclaims that Peter is back, but no one believes her that Peter is really alive and at the door. But he was.

So we can learn quite a bit about prayer, just from this short little story. Who were these people praying to? It says they were praying to God. Maybe you’re thinking well, duh! Of course they were praying to God! Isn’t all prayer unto God?

But then, let’s think about it and reflect on our own life. How often, when we pray, are we actually thinking of God? Are we not more focused on what we’re asking for, rather than on the one from whom we are asking it? Are we more concerned with our own self and our desires, than on our awesome God and Creator? It’s something to think about.

There was a quote from the book I was reading that really struck me. “We take the name of God on our lips, but there is no real conscious approach to God in our hearts. We are really taking the name of God in vain while we fancy we are praying to Him.” Ouch!. We should never utter a single word until we are sure that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to Him, not just at Him or to ourselves.

But how can we be sure that we have actually come into the presence of God? Hebrews 10:19 tells us:

Hebrews 10:19 NKJV
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,

We can only approach God by the blood of Jesus. He is our righteousness and we have nothing of our own to bring before God, so we must believe that he is the atonement for our sin.

We also need to approach God in the spirit:

Ephesians 6:18 NKJV
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints

Which I would say means “praying according to the will of God, by the power of God.”

We all know that we are dead to ourselves, but alive in Christ and therefore called to walk according to the Spirit. Now if we are to walk by the Spirit in our daily lives, should this not also include our prayer life as well? Our prayer life is not separate. We should seek to glorify God in all that we do, and this includes praying.

If we don’t feel like praying or know what to pray for, not praying is NOT the answer, because we can ask God to give us holy spirit as He promised in:

Luke 11:13,
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?

And we should wait until He does, because praying according to our own will in our own strength does not please God. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that:

Romans 8:26-27
The Spirit also helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

So God will give us His Spirit to pray. So, the first hindrance in our prayer life could be that we are not praying “unto God” or “in the Spirit.”

I want to move on to another aspect of the prayer that was lifted up for Peter. It says that the church prayed fervently.

The word fervently is translated from the Greek word “ektenos.” It comes from a verb which means to “stretch out the hand,” thus it means to be stretched out—earnest, resolute, tense.

So these guys were really praying some intense prayer! Think about it – an angel showed up and busted Peter out of jail! The prayer that gets God’s attention must be fervent and resolute. God says that when we seek Him with all our hearts, we will find Him. We ought to be putting all of our hearts into our prayers. If you can’t remember what you prayed for this morning, I can bet you that God will “forget” your prayer.

Prayer has been described in the bible as “laboring,” “wrestling,” and “striving.” We can look at Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was agonizing in prayer. How often are we that serious or intense in our prayers to God? It’s not that we are trying to make God answer, but rather that we are working with Him against the forces of evil. So this is really important!

So praying with intensity can only come through His Spirit, nothing we can or should work up in ourselves.

Jesus also talks about intensity in prayer, though in a different sort of way. Jesus speaks about persistence in prayer. He gave the example of a friend knocking on another friend’s door late at night until he gets up and opens the door because of his persistence. He encourages us to keep asking until we receive, keep seeking until we find, and keep knocking until the door is opened. If Jesus says we should not lose heart and give up, we must continue to pray with perseverance. This is important because it demonstrates our faith in God! James tells us that we must ask in faith, with no doubting, if we hope to receive the answer to our prayers. So when we continue to labour in prayer over something, even when we can’t see any results, we are pleasing God.

So another question to consider is: are we really praying to God with all our hearts, with all earnestness and perseverance?

I want to go back again to Acts 12:5. I bet you guys thought I was all done with that! Not quite. Almost, though. I want us to notice that the people were praying “for him” – in other words they had a definite subject in mind.

God wants us to pray specifically so he can answer specifically. He wants us to pray for specific things in accordance with His will. But how are we going to know His will? We must read and study our Bible to determine the will of God. And when we do find it, we must do it and pray for it to be done. Another way is to rely on the Spirit to reveal the will of God to us in prayer, because not everything is spelled out in the Bible. So another hindrance to our prayers may be that we are not asking specifically and according to the will of God.

I also wanted to touch on three other things that can hinder our relationship with God and our prayer life. If we have a wrong motive in our prayers, an answer to our prayers will be hindered. James 4:3 says that

James 4:3
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 

Sometimes we can have a prayer that is most certainly according to the will of God, but our motives for prayer are wrong. For instance, we could be praying for the salvation of a family member, which is certainly in accordance with the will of God, but we might be praying it not for the glory of God, but rather because it would make our life situation better. Our motives in prayer must not be for selfish, but rather for the glory of God.

Sin is another hindrance to prayer. When we regard wickedness in our hearts, the Bible says that God does not hear our prayer! Psalm 66:18 says that:

Psalm 66:18
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. 

If we desire God to hear our prayers, we must confess our sin and turn from it. He is faithful and just and will forgive us.

An example of a sin that hinders prayer is when we have idols in our hearts. Ezekiel 14:1-3 recounts the elders of Israel come to Ezekiel to inquire of God. Seems like a good thing, right? However their hearts were not right before God, and God says to Ezekiel Son of Man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?” We need to ask God to illuminate any idols in our lives so we can confess and repent, so that our prayers will be unhindered.

Another area of sin that hinders our prayers is unforgiveness. If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us. Jesus tells us we must forgive others as God has forgiven us. He says:

Matthew 5:23,24 NIV
If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.  

If we hold grudges and do not forgive others, God will not respond to our prayers.

Stinginess in giving is another aspect of life that can hinder our relationship with God and our prayer life. God says in:

Proverbs 21:13
He who shuts up his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.

Our possessions and wallets reveal our heart, they will show us who our Master is and who we trust. We cannot love God and money or material things. 1 John 3:17 says that:

1 John 3:17
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

How we feel about money is a good indicator of the health of our relationship to God. If we sow sparingly, we will reap sparingly.

Therefore, if we desire God to hear and respond to our prayers, we must repent and turn from our sin and obey Him out of love. 1 John 3:22 says that:

1 John 3:22
Whatever we ask from Him we receive, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

This passage ties obedience to the promise of receiving whatever we ask. We cannot be walking outside of God’s will and expect that He will give us anything – after all, what human parent rewards a disobedient child?

So, to conclude, it is clear that there are certainly many things that can hinder our prayer life. If we desire that God hears and answers our prayers, we must pray TO Him through the blood of Jesus. We must pray in accordance to His will, for His glory, and by the power and direction of His Spirit. We must pray in faith with both earnestness and persistence. We must confess and repent from the sin in our lives. We cannot pray with selfish motives, we cannot serve idols or hold on to unforgiveness in our heart, and we cannot be stingy in our giving. If we desire that God hear and answer our prayers, we must follow and serve Him with loving obedience.

I certainly needed this, and I hope it will also encourage you to examine your relationship with God and your prayer life.

I just want to end with a really cool verse from 1 John 5:14-15. It says:

1 John 5:14-15
This is the confidence we have before Him, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And we know if He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.