If there is one thing common to all Christians, it's talking to God, something we call 'Prayer'. Talking to God is something that the human race has done for as long as we have existed, for as long as man has possessed an intellect, logical thought. Adam walked and talked to God in the Garden of Eden, before he fell from grace, along with his every descendant. Whether walking and talking to God could be classed as prayer or not, I'm not sure. However the first mention of prayer in the ESV is in Genesis 20:7 when God instructs Abimelech to ask Abraham to pray for him. In many occasions in the Old Testament, the word pray is used in the context of saying 'please', as in “Let me swallow, I pray thee, a little water from thy pitcher;” [Genesis 24:17]. However the single most common Greek word translated as “prayer” in the New Testament is the word 'proseuche', used127 times. The word proseuche is a compound of the words 'pros' and 'euche', 'pros' means 'toward' or indicates 'closeness', and 'euche' is an old Greek word that describes 'a wish', or 'desire'. So the word ' proseuche' means a wish/desire toward someone who is close, God.
There are many types of prayer, personal prayer, intersession, prayer of tongues, warfare prayer, corporate prayer and so on. When we render all the types of prayer, we come down to four basic categories, we call these 'ACTS'. ACTS is an acronym for A=Adoration, C=Confession, T=Thanksgiving, and S=Supplication, we will take each of these in turn and see what the Bible says about each one. ACTS together gives us a good proforma of how we should pray.
Any prayer, must be about worship, this is what God made us for, we were created to worship God [Revelation 4:11], the whole duty to God is to fear Him and obey His laws [Ecclesiastes 12:13]. In John 4:24 we are told to worship in “Spirit and truth,” which is what the Father ordained the Sabbath for. Worship of God has always been a feature of from the very early days, the first actual mention of worship in Genesis 22:5. Worship makes the Father happy, it blesses Him [Genesis 22:5] just as corporate worship blesses Him [1 Chronicles 29:20]. So sincere worshipping of God pleases Him, if you like to look at it that way. 'puts Him in a good mood' [Nehemiah 8:6].
Then again we come back to confession, which we always seem to be returning to in our studies recently, it seems that the Spirit keeps wanting to drum this into our heads. The Lord's prayer says “and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” [Luke 11:4]. When Jesus was teaching His disciples how to pray He included the principle of confession in that lesson, so it is one that we need to take on-board when we pray, and if we are to pray effectively. Effective prayer is prayer that actually gets through to our God, which will then be answered; yes, no, not yet. For our God to hear us we must get an connection, we cannot telephone someone if we are not connected, if the lines are down or there is no signal for our cell-phone. The one thing that cuts us off from God is our sin, but to make that connection again all we need to do is dispose of our sin, we do that by confessing our sins and repenting in Jesus name. Jesus then took our sin onto Himself, clearing the way to the Father, reconnecting with the Creator. God told David that if we humble ourselves, pray and look to God and turn away from our sin, he will hear us and forgive us [2 Chron 7:14]. Isn't that what we want when we pray, to be heard in heaven? Daniel 9:4 tell us that he prayed to the Lord and confessed his sin. John says that if we say we have no sin we lie to ourselves, but that if we confess our sin God will forgive our sin [1 John 1:8-9]. This is the importance of confession, we cannot approach God or even contact Him unless our sin is forgiven by Him – no confession, no connection.
God also loves to be praised, many Christians think that worship and praise is the same thing, or at least get them muddled. God set feasts and holidays for one thing, to remind us of the great things He had done for us [Numbers 10:10]. After the Passover God told Moses that the Passover feast, the Seder should be observed 'forever' through all generations, it was to be a 'memorial'[Exodus 12:14]. A memorial is a way of remembering something, just as a war memorial reminds us of people who lost their lives for a cause, or a stone on the grave of a loved one. So the Father likes us to remember the great things He has done for us, the greatest of which was sending His Son to be our Passover Lamb and saving us from the slavery to sin, just as He saved His people from slavery to the Egyptians. So we must thank Him for all that He has done when we talk to Him in prayer, thank Him for something He has done in our lives, a prayer answered, a heart's desire granted or just for Jesus. A good example is Paul's prayer of thanksgiving for the believers in Philippi in Philipippians 1:3-5, he prays:
God has done so much for us I often feel embarrassed by His goodness and mercy to me, it must be an easy thing to praise Him for something, some event. Other examples are: Psalms 100:4, 107:1, 118:21, Matthew 14:19 and Ephesians 1:15.
Supplication is asking or requesting, which, let's face it, most of our prayers are about, whether its for ourselves or someone else, the Father wants us to bring our requests and needs to Him [Philippians 4:6]. Note this verse includes both supplication and thanksgiving. Jesus compares us to the Father as parents, he says that as evil as we are, we still know how to look after our children, and give them good things, so our Father will know so much better what is good for us when we ask Him. Of course this verse is about trust, trusting that our Father knows best, and may say 'No' when we ask for things that are not good for us [Matthew 7:11]. We know that God wants the best for us, which is expressed in Romans 5:8. Our Father has plans for us all and those plans are to prosper us, not to bring evil on us [Jeremiah 29:11]. However we must trust Him that He knows best, and will not grant prayers that are bad for us, physically or spiritually, or wants rather than needs. He will never grant selfish requests, if we need a auto-mobile, he may well grant that request if you need it, but pray for a Jaguar or Ferrari, and the answer will most likely be 'No'. To avoid this it is good to pray with other people, one, two, or more, Jesus promised that where two or three are gathered in His name, He would be there also [Matthew 18:20]. Jesus also gave us an astounding promise that where two or more agreed in prayer, it would be granted [Matthew 18:19]. This is a safeguard against selfish or unreasonable requests, I have never added my “Amen,” to a prayer I did not agree with, even those communal prayers in Church. This is why corporate prayer is so important, when the many agree on something it will be granted, as long as it fits with God's plan, or is scriptural.
Prayers for others are the least selfish prayers because they are not about ourselves, and again they are more effective when two or more agree. This prayer is often called 'intersession' because we interseed of behalf of others. Praying, not just for our friends but for those who persecute us, our enemies [Matthew 5:44] we step in-between them and the Father. When we are praying for others I believe that we should be as specific as possible. As wholly God, Jesus was entirely open to God's Spirit (who knows all things), but Jesus asked people what they wanted before He healed them. Remember the healing of Blind Bartimaeus [Mark 10:46-52] in verse 51 Jesus asked him a question to which the answer must have been obvious, “What do you want me to do for you?” and the answer was predictable, 'to see'. Jesus wanted Bartimaeus to be specific about what he wanted, and this is in line with our confession also, where if we can we should be specific.
Getting the 'Busy' signal
I have heard so many people say, 'there is no point to prayer, because nothing ever changes,' I guess we have all been in the situation where we have heard nothing for God and our prayer goes unanswered. It's so frustrating, like trying to phone someone and continually getting the busy tone, we don't know for they are there or not. Have they left the phone off the hook, or are they busy talking to someone else, or even, is there a fault on the line? God is never too busy for us, but maybe the fault is with us. Have we requested something that is not in God's plan, not scriptural or it may have a negative effect on someone or something else? Or maybe we are not listening. If prayer is a conversation, then isn't a conversation a two way event? So often we are so busy talking and asking God for things that at the end we just hng up the phone before He gets a chance to answer. We must learn to hear his voice [John 10:27], if we listen the Spirit will speak to us, and if we hear His voice, not to harden our hearts against it [Hebrews 3:7-9]. We so often hear God's voice but ignore it because it is not the answer we want. If we truly want God's answer, then Jesus says we should not give up, and Jesus told a parable about this. He said there was a widow who tried to get justice from a corrupt judge, she came back day in and day out and asked the same thing. Eventually, although the judge did not care about the widow, he granted her request, just to be free of her [Luke 18:1-8]
However a great part of prayer, if we listen and read the word, is learning about what God wants for us and how we figure in His plan. Like in our Earthly relationships, the more we talk to each other the more we learn and understand the other person. Prayer puts us in that position of talking to God, finding out what His character is and knowing some of His mind. The more we talk to God the more our minds will transform and come into line with His. Read John 15.