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What does the Bible say about prayer? How should one pray, and when, and about what? To whom should one pray? These should be important questions for all believers. This article takes a closer look at that whole matter.
The Bible makes it very clear that believers should pray. We all need God and his mercy, protection, help and guidance, all the time. For, we live in a dangerous world with much evil and deception. Even our children and other relatives need protection and guidance and mercy, every moment. And yes, believers should pray even for others.
Also, let us keep in mind that we humans are mortal. So, if we want to keep on living, we need God, for salvation. (The dogma regarding an “immortal soul” is of Catholic origin and is not biblical.) Clarification: Salvation is simply the same as being saved from death – being granted continued life. Only God can do that. This includes the matter of resurrection.
Further: We all fail at times, and do wrong things. So, we must ask (pray) for God’s mercy and forgiveness. And, it is from God that we must ask guidance, strength and understanding, for living in the right way. One should even ask God to help one to be a good example to others.
More: Believers must keep praying “your kingdom come” – that the time will come soon when Jesus returns and makes even the planet Earth a part of his Father’s great Reign. (Today, the Earth is still in the hands of wicked powers.)
There is much more to pray about, of course. And, let us not forget the giving of thanks. Consider this scripture:
Hebrews 13:15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (NKJV)
Please note that in that verse, the word “sacrifice” is used in a symbolic way. The apostle was not talking about literal sacrifices or offerings of any kind, but about praising and thanking God, in prayer and perhaps also in psalms or similar.
To whom should one direct one’s prayers? Should one, as some do, pray to angels or “Mary” or “saints”? No, those things are idolatry, related to idolatrous religions.
But, can one pray to Jesus the Son of God, or only to his Father?
John 16:23–27 records how Jesus told the apostles to direct their prayers to God the Father. (That was regarding the time when Jesus would no longer be here on Earth.)
Then, let us read what Jesus on a certain occasion said to his disciples.
Luke 11:2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven […] (NKJV)
Even here, we can see that Jesus told his disciples that they were to pray to God the Father in Heaven.
Of course, it is not wrong to talk to Jesus in prayer, thanking and praising him. However, when it comes to asking for something, let us note that Jesus told his disciples that they should direct their prayers to God the Father. Perhaps this can serve as a guideline even for people of our day.
A note: The question regarding who has the right to ask for things from God “in Jesus’ name” or speak or do things in his name, is considered elsewhere in this article.
Some older bible-translations have in Matthew 6:6 such wordings as “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet”. Clarification: The Greek text has tameion (tamieion), “chamber”, referring to an inner room in the houses of those days. – That simply meant going into a room in one’s house, so that one could pray to God, in private. Here is a translation in more modern language:
Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (ESV01, highlighting added)
The context was that there were braggarts who prayed in public, in order to appear “righteous”. Jesus explained that that is not the way to do things, and that one should pray privately.
A note: If one for some reason needs to pray when one is in a public area where one does not have access to a clean and fitting room for prayer, then one can still pray “in secret”: Inwardly, quietly in one’s mind.
The Bible does not contain any “rules” in regard to these things, but it would seem wise that in the morning, one gets up early enough so that one has time to pray for God’s protection during the day, for one’s family, oneself, and for others, and also for guidance and help – even in regard to physical things and needs.
Then, of course, there often arise during the day situations where one needs or wants to send a prayer to God. One can do that even “inwardly”, quietly.
In the evening, after a day’s work, one can talk to God again. – One should not leave prayer as the very last thing in the evening when one is about to fall asleep. It is better to pray when one is still fully awake, with a clear head. It is good to plan so that one will have time for proper prayer. (The article nwa060.htm shows a simple and effective way for getting more time for important things, such as active family life and even prayer and study.)
A note: God does not want people to ignore their families, for the purpose of praying to God. It is important to pray to God, but it is also important to be with one’s family, and to take care of whatever other duties one may have. One must even take care of one’s health. This means using time for exercise – walks, or whatever. Preferably, together with one’s close ones. Also, one must see to it that one gets enough sleep. All things must be done in a balanced way.
The Bible shows that in old times, some people prayed to God on their knees and lift up their hands toward the sky. In that way they symbolically directed themselves to Heaven. But, there is no “command” regarding that. There is no “required” position for prayer, but of course, kneeling before God is not a bad idea either. (Provided that one has healthy knees and so on.)
Some have claimed that one should pray “towards Jerusalem”. But what is there in that town, in our day? No temple, no “special presence”. Believers must address their prayers directly to the true God who is in Heaven. For that reason, it might be psychologically best if one prays towards the sky, if that is possible. But: Praying towards the sky through a window may not be a wise thing if there are distracting things outside it. Also, one should pray privately and not in the sight of others.
Should one pray aloud or quietly? If one has a private place where one can pray aloud without anyone seeing and hearing it, then it can be a good thing to pray aloud, because that helps one to keep one’s mind on the prayer. But if one has no such place, one can pray quietly in one’s mind.
Even though prayer and study of the Scriptures are important, one must never think that one should do such things as “works”. (One does not become “righteous” through long prayers or much bible-study.)
Some preachers tell their followers how long time they “ought to pray”, and how much they “ought to study”, but that is just a common trick which is used in connection with mind-control techniques. Often, that may be combined with “study material” provided by the preacher, and sometimes preachers might even give people ready-made “prayer lists”.
Now, the concept of having a “prayer list” is not wrong as such. It can be good to have a written list, to remind one of people to pray for and things to pray about. But, that should be one’s own, private prayer list.
Some might think of the words “ask in faith” in James 1:6. Let us consider that verse, with some of its context.
James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraides not; and it shall be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. 8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. (AKJV)
Verse 6, “let him ask in faith, nothing wavering” and verse 8, “double minded” – what do those words really mean and refer to?
There is a connection between the “wavering” of verse 6 and the “double-mindedness” of verse 8: Those who ask God for something, must be faithful to him and his son Jesus and fully committed to them, without “wavering” or being “double-minded” in that regard. – Since James in that letter mentioned the prophet Elijah, in connection with the matter of prayer (James 5:17–18), let us consider an event in Elijah’s day.
1 Kings 18:21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent. (NLT04)
Those people “wavered”. They were double-minded. In other words, they “sat on the fence”: They paid some respect to the Lord, but at the same time they served Baal.
Point: The above-quoted James 1:6 does not refer to some “feeling of faith”. The thing is that those who want to ask God for something, must, not only put their trust (faith) in him, but also be faithful to him – fully committed to him and his son Jesus.
The article nba091.htm contains a detailed study on the matter of faith and faithfulness.
For the first: God knows best. He does only what he finds good to do, and he does things in his own way and in his own time.
But also: The Bible shows that one should not give up. One must persist in prayer – especially in regard to important spiritual matters, but that does not in any way close out being persistent in prayer concerning important physical things.
And again, God knows best. Sometimes the answer is, “later”. Sometimes the answer is “no”. And, sometimes the answer may come in ways that one does not expect and perhaps does not even notice.
And also, in regard to unanswered prayer – consider for instance James 1:5–8 which was discussed earlier. One cannot expect one’s prayers to be answered, if one is not faithful to God and committed to him. (But yes, one can always ask for mercy, forgiveness and help. We all sin at times, and are in need of God’s mercy.)
The following scripture-quote contains something that perhaps could be called “prayer model”.
Matthew 6:9 “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (NKJV)
Consider the words in that prayer to God – “Hallowed be Your name”, “Your kingdom come”, “Your will be done”, “[also] on Earth, as it is in Heaven”. When will those things happen, here on Earth? Not until the removal of the rebel spirits who today still control this planet. So, praying in that manner means that one asks the true God who is in Heaven, to soon include even the Earth in his Reign (Kingdom).
(In order to fully understand this, one must first understand what and when and where the Kingdom or Reign of God actually is. The article noa010.htm has some notes on that subject.)
Again: The Reign of God can come into effect here on Earth only after the wicked powers that today control this planet, have been removed and destroyed. That is why we should pray, “deliver us from the evil one”, as the above-quoted NKJV has it in Matthew 6:13. It appears that in many ways, “the Lord’s prayer” of Matthew 6 looks forward to that still future day of liberation for this planet.
A note: Some bible-versions omit in Matthew 6:13 the words “For yours is the Reign and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” But, that passage is included in many Greek manuscripts. And, the truth contained in those words is of course unquestionable – that the right to rule, and all power, and praise, belong to the true God who is in Heaven.
One thing the Bible warns about is what some translations call “vain repetition” or “vain words”.
Matthew 6:7 But when you pray, do not babble vain words, as the nations; for they think that they shall be heard in their much speaking. (LIT)
“Babble” – the Greek text has battologeô which is thought to come from a man by the name Battos, a certain proverbial stammerer, and logeô, “to speak”. But, the point appears to be that one’s prayers will not be heard any better if one uses many words. – In some churches, people are told to say a hundred “Lord’s prayers”, or whatever, but that is not right. Prayer must be meaningful.
Important: One must never pray that evil will happen to someone else. The Scriptures show that one should pray for good things, even for one’s enemies.
The New Testament contains a number of passages which have a bearing on this matter. Here is an example, something the apostle Peter wrote to certain saints:
1 Peter 3:7 Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. (NKJV)
Married men certainly should keep that in mind.
Matthew 6:15 “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (NKJV)
This with forgiving others is very important. If one prays to God for mercy, forgiveness and help, one must oneself have and practice those things towards others.
It appears that sometimes, people pray to God and ask for a “sign”, so that they can make some decision, or whatever. Should one do that?
It is true that the Bible contains a few accounts of how certain people asked for a sign. But, those were special occasions which had to do with special people whom God was working with or working through.
Judges 6 records one such event. The Lord had sent, first a prophet and then an angel, to tell a man by the name Gideon that he was to do certain things, in order to provide aid to his fellow Israelites, against their oppressors. So, the Lord had already made it very clear to Gideon that he was to do something. And still, Gideon asked God for a sign (verses 17–23), and even after that, two more times (verses 36–40).
But, that was Gideon, a man whom God was using for a special purpose. That event and matter has nothing to do with “signs” of the kind that some people today ask for.
Here, it must be noted that asking for “signs” is a broad avenue to self-deception. Some might say to God something like, “Send a bird to fly past my window, as a sign that it is right for me to do this.” Now, birds fly by windows, all the time. Just wait, and in due time, a bird flies by. So, that is a handy way to get an imagined blessing from God, for some decision. – The point here is that it is all too easy to ask for “signs” in such a way that in the end, one gets the answer that one wants to get. That kind of action leads to bad decisions, which can then lead to tragic consequences. Decisions must be based on facts and common sense and wise consideration, and not on imagined “signs”.
But of course, one can ask God for wisdom and guidance.
It is good and proper to thank God for giving us humans life and for providing us food, and more. However, the concept of “asking for a blessing on the food”, appears to be based on a translation-related misunderstanding. This has to do with such passages as Matthew 14:19 where a number of bible-versions have such wordings as “he said a blessing” or “he blessed the food”. The Greek text has eulogêsen (eulogeô) which, in this kind of context, refers to “praising” (thanking). One translation has “he gave praise”. The Phillips version has a clearer wording:
Matthew 14:19 He told the crowd to sit down on the grass. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish in his hands, and, looking up to Heaven, he thanked God, broke the loaves and passed them to his disciples who handed them to the crowd. (PH72, highlighting added)
Point: At meal times, it is not a matter of “blessing the food” or “asking for a blessing” on it. It is a matter of thanking God for providing food and sustenance.
This might be a difficult matter, for some people. It is not difficult as such; what makes things difficult is the massive weight of “religious tradition”.
First, let us consider a passage which records how Jesus told his apostles to ask for things, in his name.
John 15:16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. (NKJV)
Please note that here, Jesus was talking to the eleven apostles who remained with him at the table, after Judas Iscariot had left the room. It was to and regarding those eleven men, that Jesus said those things. It was to them Jesus gave a right to pray (ask, request) for things in his name, and promised them that their prayers would be heard, even when they asked for what we would call miracles. The same goes for John 14:13–14 which is discussed elsewhere in this article.
But, what about other New Testament passages that contain the phrase “in the name of Jesus” or similar wordings? Can people of our day somehow derive out of those passages a “right” to speak or do or ask for things, “in Jesus’ name”? Let us consider some of the scriptures in question.
Acts 3:6–7 records how the apostle Peter performed a miracle, in Jesus’ name. Acts 9:27–29 refers to Paul who also was an apostle of Jesus. It is the same with Acts 16:18. 1 Corinthians 1:10 and 5:4 record how Paul gave some instructions, in Jesus’ name. Those passages refer to the apostles, and have nothing to do with people of our day.
Please note that even the “model prayer” (Matthew 6) simply ends with “Amen” (meaning “truly”, “be it so”, or something similar).
Acts 19:13–16 records how some people tried to give orders to an evil spirit, “in the name of Jesus”, without having received authority for that from Jesus. The evil spirit said to them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”, and those people got beaten up.
So, should one say or do things, “in the name of Jesus”? It appears that only those whom Jesus has specifically and personally given the authority to do so, should do that.
Regarding the promises Jesus gave to his apostles – can those things be applied to people who live on Earth today?
Here is an example of such promises to the apostles:
John 14:12 In most solemn truth I tell you that he who trusts in me—the things which I do he shall do also; and greater things than these he shall do, because I am going to the Father. 13 And whatever any of you ask in my name, I will do, in order that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you make any request of me in my name, I will do it. (WEY)
Again, that is something Jesus said to the apostles. It was to them he gave that promise. So, it is clear that the words recorded in John 14:14 are not a promise that all and everyone would have their requests fulfilled.
In short: The Bible does not contain any promise that we can get whatever we ask for.
Luke 11 and 18 record how Jesus taught his disciples, though parables, that they should be persistent in prayer.
Luke 11:5 Moreover, he said to them, Should one of you have a friend, and go to him at midnight, and say, Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine is come off his road to see me, and I have nothing to set before him; 7 and he, from within, should answer, Do not disturb me; the door is now locked; I and my children are in bed; I can not rise to give you: 8 I tell you, though he will not rise and supply him, because he is his friend; he will, because of his importunity, get up, and give him as many as he wants. 9 I likewise tell you, ask, and you shall obtain; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you: 10 for whosoever asks, obtains; whosoever seeks, finds; and to every one who knocks, the door is opened. 11 What father amongst you, would give his son a stone when he asks bread; or, when he asks a fish, would, instead of a fish, give him a serpent; 12 or, when he asks an egg, would give him a scorpion? (LO)
Luke 18:1 He also showed them, by a parable, that they ought to persist in prayer, without growing weary. 2 In a certain city, said he, there was a judge, who neither feared God nor regarded man. 3 And there was a widow in that city, who came to him, saying, Do me justice on my adversary. 4 For some time he refused; but afterward he argued thus with himself, Although I neither fear God, nor regard man; 5 yet, because this widow importunes me, I will judge her cause; lest she come perpetually, and plague me. 6 Mark, said the Lord, what the unjust judge determined. 7 And will not God avenge his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he linger in their cause? (LO)
Yes, that is something Jesus said his disciples, people of the first century – but certainly, persistence in prayer is something even for people of our day. One must keep praying. Without forgetting to give thanks.
We read, and this is a translation, of course:
1 Corinthians 11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, for as much as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. (AKJV)
Verses 5 and 6, “woman” – was the apostle talking about women in general, or about married women, wives? (The Greek text has gunê which meant both “wife” and “woman”.) – The context indicates that he was talking specifically about married women, wives, in their relationship with their husbands.
Verses 4 and 5, “covered” and “uncovered” (some translations have “veiled” and “unveiled”): Was this regarding veils, or regarding hair-length? That was written to the saints Corinth in Greece, in the first century. Was it customary for married women to wear a veil, in the Greek culture of those days? We do not know. – In verse 15, we find Paul saying that a woman’s (wife’s?) hair is her “covering” (Greek peribolaion).
1 Corinthians 11:15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. (AKJV)
1 Corinthians 11:15 But if a woman wears her hair long, it is a glory to her; because the hair has been given to her corresponding to a veil. (LIT)
So, what do verses 5 and 15 mean and refer to? The facts are that it is hard to say anything specific about those things. That letter was written to people in ancient Greece, almost 2000 years ago. We have no detailed knowledge regarding their customs. – Many churches and preachers have formed dogmas around 1 Corinthians 11, each according to their own purposes, but if we stick to the facts, we must admit that we simply do not know the background of what the apostle Paul was talking about. Nor does the Greek text of that passage or related ones give us much help in that regard. It appears that there were some customs regarding married women and what they wore or how their hair was – eventually, with some connection with prayer – but again, we do not know the details concerning that matter.
Anyone who on the basis of those verses creates rules regarding clothing or hair-style, is in fact adding things into Bible. Again: The meaning of the Greek text is not clear, and we lack the needed background information. Also: We must realise that the apostle did not write that letter for the purpose of giving us (people of our day) instructions regarding veils or hair-length. No, he wrote that letter to and regarding people in the Greek culture of his own day, in the first century.
One thing is clear: Paul was not talking about “hats” but about veils and/or hair. The western-world customs of the 1800s or 1900s or so, regarding “women’s head-gear in church” (and elsewhere), are not based on biblical facts but instead on customs and teachings which have their origin in confusing wordings in various bible-translations.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
A challenge to all believers, regarding something important. → nwa060.htm
What does the word “faith” mean? What is true faith? → nba091.htm
What is the Kingdom of God? Where is it located? Does it exist already, or is it only going to be established in the future? Or, is it merely something “in the hearts of men”? → noa010.htm
Worshipping God. What does the Bible say about worship, in connection with the New Covenant? → naa040.htm
Matthew 6:33, “But seek you first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”. What did Jesus mean? How were the disciples to go about “seeking the Kingdom”? → noa100.htm
What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → nga081.htm
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