What is the Meaning of Prayer?
by STUART ALLEN
It is not possible to over emphasize the importance of prayer, if we accept what the Word of God teaches on this
subject. We state a true fact when we say that all the great men of God in the Scriptures and since have been men of
prayer. A prayerless life is an unfruitful life. Yet all believers at times have felt the poverty of their prayer life.
This was true even of the Apostles, for, realising their inadequacy, they asked the Lord Jesus to teach them to pray
(Luke 11:1), and we remember that the Son of God frequently withdrew to a quiet place to commune with the
Father. If He felt the need of prayer, what about ourselves?
The Apostle Paul stated, "we know not what we should pray for as we ought" (Rom.8:26), yet from the
Scriptures it is evident that his life was soaked in prayer. Can it be that our poor prayers ever give God delight? The
answer is "Yes". The Psalmist connects his praying with the symbolism of incense, which in the Old Testament was
specially fragrant. "Then the Lord said to Moses, `Take fragrant spices ... and make a fragrant blend of incense, the
work of the perfumer'" (Exod.30:34,35 N.I.V.), and this fragrance covered the work of Aaron, the high priest, in the
Tabernacle. The words of the Psalmist were "Let my prayer be directed (see margin) before Thee as incense"
(Psa.141:2). We find the same association in Revelation 8:3,4, "another angel came and stood at the altar ... and
there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar".
The incense was a symbol of the fragrance of Christ, and if our prayers are covered with His fragrance, they are a
delight to the Lord. God loves to hear His people pray and He is far more ready to listen than we are to pray to Him.
However, some may say, "I never seem to get any answers to my prayers". This is wrong, because all prayer is
answered when we realise that when God says "no", it is just as much an answer as when He says "yes". Too often
we only pray when we are experiencing some great problem or danger, or when we badly want something. We can
be sure of one thing, that our heavenly Father loves us too much to give us any thing that will be to our lasting hurt.
The baby sees the light glistening on a sharp razor blade and wants to handle it, but who would be so unkind as to
give it to the infant?
If we want the answer "yes" to our prayers we must take heed to the guidance of Holy Scripture. The Apostle
John gives us the key when he writes, "And this is the confidence that we have in Him (Christ), that, if we ask
anything according to His will, He heareth us" (1 John 5:14). Prayer is not the means of trying to force God to give
us something that we want. Some seem to think that if they worry the Lord by constantly praying for something,
they will finally get it. But He is too wise and too kind to give us anything that is contrary to His will. The children
of Israel in the Old Testament became tired of the heavenly food (the manna) that God gave them every day. They
longed for flesh food, and they kept demanding it from their leader, Moses. The Psalmist tells us what the result
was, "In the desert they gave in to their cravings; in the wasteland they put God to the test. So He gave them what
they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them" (Psa.106:14,15 N.I.V.). This was a terrible answer to their
continued prayer and they had to learn the hard way as we sometimes have to do, if we constantly press God to give
us things just because we want them very much. If we subject all our praying to His will, we cannot go wrong.
We shall be greatly helped in our prayer life if we continually make thanksgiving for all the Lord's goodness and
love that we experience day by day. Surely we shall not have to think very long before we remember how indebted
we are to Him. Prayer is not only asking for certain things, it is praise and thanksgiving, and if we constantly
maintain a thankful spirit, we shall not go far wrong. Forgetfulness so often leads to spiritual declension.
Perhaps the highest form of prayer is intercession for others. Here self is left out and we are remembering
someone else's needs. If we carefully study Paul's prayer life, we shall be impressed by how frequently he was
bearing up others in prayer. At the same time he greatly valued prayer for himself and the great responsibility he
had with the tremendous truth that Christ had entrusted him with, which he was faithfully passing on to others. He
wrote "I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me
(he was a prisoner at Rome) will turn out for my deliverance" (Phil.1:19 N.I.V.). And to Philemon he wrote,
"Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers" (Philemon 22).