Thursday, October 08, 2015

A Christian Prayer Catechism


This little catechism has been designed to help you learn a biblical theology of prayer. Each of the 27 questions and answers has been written so that anyone can memorize them and is accompanied with a few comments on the biblical basis for each answer.

I recommend that families memorize the questions and answers together. Individuals can do it in small groups, as well, to hold each other accountable. The key thing is to internalize this theology and to utilize it in your prayer life.

The Prayer Catechism is organized around four key questions:

A. What Is Christian Prayer?
B. Who is the God of Christian Prayer?
C. Does Christian Prayer Work?
D. How Should A Christian Pray?

It is my prayer that this little booklet will deepen your understanding of Christian Prayer and motivate you to engage in prayerful communion with God.

In His Grip,
- Pastor Matt

A Brief Theology of Christian Prayer: Questions and Answers

A.  What Is Christian Prayer?

#1. Q.  What is Christian Prayer?

A.  Christian Prayer is personal communication between a Christian and God.

Christian Prayer is not getting God to do what we want.  It is talking with God about the whole of our life and concerns and receiving the best answers from God, in God’s timing, and in God’s wisdom. W. Bingham Hunter says, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, by the help of His Spirit, with confession of sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies” (From class notes on the “Theology and Ministry of Prayer;” an amalgam of the Westminster Larger & Shorter Catechism answers to the questions on prayer.)  Bob Bakke says, “Prayer is essentially communion with God” (The Power of Extraordinary Prayer, pg. 17).

#2. Q.  Why should a Christian Pray?

A.  God wants all Christians to pray and uses our prayers to grow our relationship with Him and accomplish His will in the world.

Prayer is not optional.  It is commanded and expected of all Christians (ex. 1 Tim 2:1-2, Col. 4:2, 1 Thess. 5:17, etc.).   In fact, prayer is described in the Scriptures as a mark of being a genuine Christian (ex. Acts 9:11).  Prayer is used by our Heavenly Father to increase our dependence and trust in Him, as well as our love for and fellowship with Him.  Prayer is absolutely good for us!  And it is good for the world because God allows our prayers to be used in carrying out His kingdom purposes (ex. Luke 11:2).

#3. Q.  What is the most important priority in Christian Prayer?

A.  The most important priority in Christian Prayer is to know God.

Prayer does not exist to tell God what we need or to twist His arm into doing it (Matthew 6:8). Prayer is primarily a means of relating to God (John 4:19-24).  God is the greatest Person in the universe–worthy of all of our attention (Rev. 4:11, 5:12).  The Ruler of the Universe has invited us to communicate with Him and grow in our conscious dependence on and love for Him.  Prayer is a means of knowing God in Christ (Phil. 3:8-11).

#4.   Q.  How can I approach a holy God?

A.  I can approach a holy God only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is what makes Christian Prayer Christian.  We can now approach God in prayer through the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).  All real Christian prayer is, therefore, “cross-centered.”  Through Jesus Christ alone, we now have access to the Father by one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18).

#5. Q.  How should we approach God?

A.  We should approach God with reverence and awe, as well as confidence and boldness.

God is holy and should not be trifled with (Eccl. 1:5-7, Hebrews 4:13).  “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Hebrews 12:28-29).  The priestly work of Jesus Christ, however, assures us of access to God and answers from God (Hebrews 4:14-16).  Both attitudes of reverence and confidence should characterize our prayers simultaneously.

B.  To Whom Does the Christian Pray?

#6. Q.  Why do we pray to a sovereign God?

A.  We pray to a sovereign God because prayer is one of the ways God expresses His sovereign rule over His creation.

Because God is sovereign, prayer makes sense.  Why pray to someone who can’t accomplish His will?  Because God rules everything, it is appropriate to ask Him to do things (Ps. 5:2).  God does not rule His creation, however, in such a way that our prayers are not necessary.  God has ordained that our prayers are one of the means He uses to effect His sovereign will.  He has given us the dignity of being a causation of what happens in His world.  Therefore, our prayers to the Sovereign Lord are very significant and accomplish much (James 4:2, 5:16, Luke 11:9-10, etc).

#7.   Q.  Does prayer change God’s mind?

A.  No, prayer does not change God’s mind, but mysteriously, God responds to our prayers.

The relation of God’s plans to our prayers is one of the deepest mysteries of the Bible and must be held in trusting tension.  The “secret will” of God is unchanging and immutable (Num. 23:19).  But on the level of our divine-human interaction, God is responsive to the prayers of His people (ex. Exodus 32:9-12, 2 Chron. 7:14, 1 John 1:9).  Amazingly, God has designed His world in such a way that He remains unchanging and responsive at the same time (Romans 11:33).

#8.   Q.  Why do we pray to an omniscient God?

A.  We pray to an omniscient God because we can tell Him anything.

W. Bingham Hunter has pointed out that the Western mindset says that we need not bother to tell anything to a God who knows everything.  The biblical mindset, however, is that an omniscient God knows everything already so there are no barriers to our sharing anything with Him.  Because of Christ, we need not fear sharing our hearts with God.  He knows them already (1 Samuel 16:7, Luke 16:15, 1 John 3:20, etc).  The Bible assumes and encourages prayer to an omniscient God (Psalm 139:1-23, especially v. 4).

#9. Q.  Does God get tired of listening to me?

A.  No.  God never tires of listening to His children’s prayers.

God never gets tired (Isaiah 40:28, Psalm 121)!  When we ask this question, we might be assuming a faulty understanding of our relationship with God.  We are God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus (1 John 3:1).  How could God the Father tire of communicating with His children who are in His beloved Son (Ephesians 1:3-6)?  Does God get tired with Jesus?

#10. Q.  Whom do we address in prayer?

A.  We directly address God the Father in the name of God the Son by the empowering of God the Spirit.

Most instances of prayer in the Scriptures are directly addressed to God the Father (most notably, the prayer the Lord taught His disciples in Matthew 6 and Luke 11, see also John 16:23).   It seems that this should be the normative pattern for our prayers.  All prayer is Trinitarian, however, in that the entire Trinity is involved in each of our prayers, and each member of the Godhead is equally God and equally worthy of our worship (Ephesians 5:20, 6:18).  It is, therefore, acceptable to pray to the Son and/or the Spirit at times when it seems appropriate.

C.  Does Christian Prayer Work?

#11. Q.  Does prayer work?

A.  No, prayer does not “work,” but God works when His people pray!

We need to constantly fight against the idea that prayer is a mechanical system that somehow wrangles God into conformity with our will.  On the other hand, we need to constantly remember that God wants us to ask for things and uses our asking to effect His will (Matthew 7:7).  In this sense, prayer does “work”–“The prayer of righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).  We also need to remember that prayer is much more than asking but that asking is a major part of prayer.

#12. Q.  Why are some prayers unanswered?

A.  No prayers are unanswered; God always answers, “Yes, No, or Wait.”

In this sense, Christian prayers are always answered every time.  In another sense, of course, we don’t always know what the answers are or when the “Yeses” will come.  Waiting on God for these is a big part of how God uses prayer in our sanctification (Ps. 130:5-6, Isa. 38:9-20).  One purpose of so-called “unanswered prayer” is how it motivates us to persevere in prayer.  W. Bingham Hunter says, “Unanswered prayer may be God’s way of staying in touch with you” (Class Notes).

#13. Q.  What hinders prayer?

A.  A problem in my relationship with God or with others will hinder my prayers.

If I harbor unconfessed sin or live in disobedience, I cannot expect God to bless my prayers (Psalm 66:18-20, Matt 6:12, Psalm 19:12, etc).  The same is true if I am not living a life of love for those around me, especially those in covenant with me (ex. 1 Peter 3:7).

#14. Q.  What makes prayer effective?

A.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

God responds to who I am, not just formally to what I say (James 5:16).  He listens to the totality of my life, not just my words.  I am not righteous in myself (thankfully!), but in Christ and in His “positional righteousness,” I am to grow in practical righteousness. The more I grow in Christ through repentance and faith, the more conformed I am to the image of Christ and the more I pray according to His will. The more I pray according to His will, the more effective my prayers become. W. Bingham Hunter has called this “The Prayer/Obedience Cycle” (The God Who Hears, 214).  It is not a “magic formula,” but rather, a description of God’s active work of conforming us to the image of His Son and conforming our prayers to be efficacious like His, as well (Romans 8:26-31).

#15. Q.  Does God hear the prayers of nonChristians?

A. God hears all prayers but has only promised to bless the prayers of His children.  

Nothing goes unnoticed by God (Hebrews 4:13).  And God in His common grace has used the prayers of nonChristians in the Bible and in human history (ex. Acts 10:31).  God has not, however, promised to bless the prayers of nonChristians like He has for His children (Matthew 7:9-11).

#16. Q.  What has God promised us to do with our prayers?

A.  God has promised to answer our prayers!

We need to remind ourselves again and again that God has told us to persevere in prayer and that He will faithfully answer (Matthew 7:7, Luke 18:1ff).

#17. Q.  What does it mean to “pray without ceasing?”

A.  Praying without ceasing is living our lives “on speakerphone” with God.

Praying “without ceasing” is not being constantly on our knees and disengaged from the rest of the world.  It is, however, maintaining a vital connection with God through directed thoughts, meditation, simple spoken and unspoken prayers, and conscious and unconscious dependence on God in Christ throughout our days (Neh. 2:4, 1 Thess. 5:17).

#18. Q.  What does it mean to pray “in the Spirit?”

A.  To pray “in the Spirit” is to pray knowing God is present and active in my life.

God the Spirit is on site and constantly at work in every believer’s life.  We need to pray, therefore, in dependence on Him and His work.  It’s not some “spooky” trance, but it is supernatural.  Wayne Grudem says, “To pray ‘in the Holy Spirit’ then, is to pray with the conscious awareness of God’s presence surrounding us and sanctifying both us and our prayers” (Systematic Theology, pg. 382).

#19. Q.  What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name?”

A.  Praying in Jesus’ name is praying in Jesus’ authority through Jesus’ sacrifice for Jesus’ will.

Jesus has asked us to pray in His own name (John 14:13-14, 15:16, 16:23-24).  This is not a “magic formula” for us to be certain to say at the end of each of our prayers, but it is important.  A name in Scripture stands for a person and their authority (Acts 3:6, 4:7, 16:18, 1 Cor 5:4, Prov. 22:1). Therefore, to pray “in Jesus’ name” means to pray with the authorization of our Lord.  This authorization comes because of the death and resurrection of Christ.  He has authorized us through His Crosswork.  Wayne Grudem adds, “[It is] also praying in a way that is consistent with his character, that truly represents him and reflects his manner of life and his own holy will” (Systematic Theology, pg. 379).  What a privilege and what a responsibility!

#20. Q.  What does it mean to pray “in faith?”

A.  Praying in faith is resting on God’s ability to do what He promises and anything else that He wants to do.

We are called to unconditionally trust in God’s promises.  Faith is believing that God is trustworthy.  We are also called to trust that God knows what is best and to submit our requests to Him for His consideration. We don’t presume upon God in areas where He has not revealed His will, but we do trust Him with them (Mark 11:24, James 1:6, Matt. 21:22).  We need to believe that God has omnipotent power and is willing to use it for our benefit and His glory (Heb 11:6).  Our faith must be absolute that God will act if He has specifically and unconditionally promised to do so (ex. James 1:5, 1 John 1:9), but it must also be confident that God will act in wisdom when a request seems consistent with God’s will but is not specifically promised in Scripture.

#21. Q.  How much faith is required to receive answers in prayer?

A.  A little bit of faith in a very big God is required to receive answers in prayer.

It is the object of our faith, not the subjective amount, that counts (Matt. 17:20).  We are to have faith in God, not faith in our faith.  Our confidence must be in God and not in getting “answers.”  A lot of faith in an inch of ice will get us cold and wet. But a little bit of faith in three feet of ice will support an SUV crossing a lake.

D.  How Should A Christian Pray?

#22. Q.  What should we pray for?

A.  We should pray for whatever concerns us and those we are called to love.

The Bible gives us a host of things to pray for (ex. Matt. 6:9-15, 1 Tim. 2:1-2, Col 4:2-5).  Nothing in life is off-limits for prayer.  We need to pray for ourselves, loved ones, church family, for the advance of the Gospel, for government, for health and healing, for spiritual warfare, etc.

#23. Q.  What should we NOT pray for?

A. We should not pray for our lusts.

“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).  God will not be used.

#24. Q.  What should characterize our prayers?

A.  Our prayers should be characterized by confession, repentance, adoration, thanksgiving, intercession, supplication, dependence, patience, love, and forgiveness.

Prayer is a means of relationship with God.  Therefore, all of our heart’s attitudes toward God need to find expression in our prayers.  They should be characterized by confession and repentance  because though we are already forgiven in Christ, we need to appropriate that forgiveness and grow in intelligent repentance (1 Jn 1:9, Mt. 3:8).  We should adore God for Who He is and thank Him for all that He has done (ex. Psalm 8, 1 Thess 5:18).  We are called to pray for others and ourselves (ex. 1 Sam. 12:23, Mark 14:36).  We need to trust God in waiting for answers.  Prayer is a practical way of loving others:“As faith without works are dead, so is prayer without love dead” (Bing Hunter, Class Notes).  This is often expressed in forgiveness and forbearance (Mt. 6:14-15, 18:21-35).

#25. Q.  What should be our posture in prayer?

A.  We are to pray in all postures but especially on our knees.

The Bible repeatedly calls us to bow down before God. We are in the throne room of the Worthy King of the Universe (Eph 3:14).  We also sit and stand before Him, raise holy hands, prostrate ourselves, and pray on our beds.  All of these postures and more are appropriate at various times when they are done in faith.

#26. Q.  Should we fast when we pray?

A.  Yes, fasting adds an “exclamation mark” to our prayers.

There are many appropriate times to fast and pray (see the long biblical list in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, chapter 9 [pgs. 159-180]).  Fasting is expected by our Lord (Mark 2:19-20, Matt. 6:16-18, etc), but it is not a means of wrestling God to our point of view or holding him hostage by a hunger-strike.  Fasting is a way of intensifying our prayers so that we increasingly say to ourselves and to God that we really believe what we are praying.  “This much, O God, I want you” (A Hunger for God, 23).

#27. Q.  After we have prayed, do we have a responsibility?

A.  Yes, after we have prayed, our responsibility is to look for any answers, be faithful in obedience to any answers, and be willing “to be the answers.”

“Prayer is not a labor-saving device” (W. Bingham Hunter, Class Notes).  Whenever God reveals how, we are to take an active role in being the “answer to our own prayers.”   We never want it said of us, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).