The Vitality of Praying—Part One
The fundamentals before getting into praying
Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. (Acts 1:12-14, KJV)
The disciples of Jesus had returned from the Mount of Olives after the Lord had ascended to heaven before their eyes. He had told them before His ascension that they should wait for the Promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. Jesus had told them that the Holy Spirit would energise and enable them to effectively bear witness to His death, resurrection, ascension, and return, and all that goes with that, to a dying world.
Now they had gathered in the upper room and were engaging in prayer. The disciples had come to realise, as we also must, that if they were to get through the mission that the Lord had committed to them, they needed to pray. Today, many Christians rush into ministry without as much as receiving a word from God, or even praying to God. They fail to realise that prayer is the very essence of ministry—before, during, and after!
It is important that we understand that the work of God is what God does Himself. No one can do the work of God on their own. They can only do the work of God after God has enabled them to do that work. In enabling the Christian to do His work, God essentially makes the Christian able to allow Him to work through them. To do this, God must first work in the Christian, through sanctification, and then the Christian is able to yield himself or herself to God to do His work through them. And even this—allowing God to work in us—is a matter of prayer!
When we speak of the vitality of praying, we are not speaking of the vigour or vibrancy of praying, but how vital praying is to everything that the Christian does, vis-à-vis, the work and kingdom of God. In this series of articles, we will not be addressing the activity of praying, but the central, critical, and crucial role praying plays in the ministry and life of a disciple of Jesus—a Christian. We will also address the efficacy (the capacity for producing the desired result) and the effectiveness of praying.
Books and articles on prayer abound but little or no praying ensued after they were read. We hope that this will not be the case with this series of articles. Prayerfully, we expect that this series of articles will spur us to pray. In this first part, we shall discuss communication between man and God and how to ensure that the communication space is effective and efficient.
Prayer is two-way communication between God and man
Before we get into praying, let us first lay some foundation. To make it possible to communicate with God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Saviour of mankind from sin and eternal judgment, had to die on the cross for our sins, and to restore the relationship between us and God. We had been enemies of God because of our Adamic nature of rebellion and disobedience, which we inherited from our First parents, Adam and Eve. After the restoration of relations between us and God, the next thing naturally is for us to begin to communicate with God and vice versa.
In international relations, one sign of a thawing of relations between two estranged nations is the resumption of talks and the establishment of diplomatic missions in each country. Similarly, since the restoration of relations between God and man, God opens a ‘mission’ in our hearts, and we do likewise; and, communication begins in earnest. We communicate with God through prayer, while God principally communicates with us through His written word (as contained in the Bible). In addition, God may speak through dreams, visions, a third party, etc.
Speaking to God
For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. (1 Corinthians 14:2, KJV)
The above Scripture verse tells us that when we speak in an unknown tongue, we are speaking to God. In Scripture, an unknown tongue is a gift of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10). There are two broad languages by which we can communicate with God—the language of men and the language of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Human language can be known (your usual language of general communication with other people) and unknown (language which was never learned and which a person receives from the Holy Spirit). The language of angels is neither of human origin nor of human understanding and is referred to as, the “tongue of angels.” Praying in the tongue of angels is commonly referred to as praying in the Spirit or praying in the power of the Holy Spirit.
When we pray, we can speak to God in either our known human language or in the language of angels. Praying in the latter, which is praying in the Spirit, is communicating with God exclusively, and is the most efficacious means of communicating with God.
Prayer and receptivity
In communicating with God, one crucial issue is that there are no distortions or disruptions during our communication. If our communication with God is to be meaningful, the communication channel must be free of ‘noise’—receptivity must be one hundred percent!
Whenever there is noise in any communication channel, communication becomes exceedingly difficult and frustrating. Think of making a call with static on the line; you would barely make out what is being said at the other end, and you would not know whether the person at the other end heard you. This can be frustrating indeed, and many of us have been there.
Thus, we want to be sure that God is hearing us, and that we are hearing Him also. This two-way clarity in communication between us and God, is what makes prayer a delight and a joy. Thus, we must deal with noise in the communication line between us and God, so that there is receptivity during prayer.
Impediments to God hearing our prayers
If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me (Psalms 66:18, KJV)
To regard iniquity is to give iniquity prominence in our hearts; to be in love with iniquity; to be comfortable around iniquity. When a person regards iniquity in their heart, they accept and are welcoming of it, and it has pre-eminence in their life. In which case, God will not hear such a person’s prayer. Iniquity, which is also wickedness, sin, and anything God abhors, is noise in our communication with God, preventing Him from hearing us and it must be gotten rid of.
Another noise in our communication with God is sinful living. This derives from iniquity in the heart. Through Isaiah, God said:
Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2, KJV)
Sinful living, which is a state of continually living contrary to God, makes it impossible for God to hear us when we pray.
Another critical noise that must be eliminated is unforgiveness. When we do not forgive people who have offended us, God will not forgive us our sins against Him. And if there is an unforgiven sin in our lives, God cannot hear us. This is because an unforgiven sin is still very much alive, but a forgiven sin is destroyed and forgotten.
When Jesus died on the cross at Calvary, we were fully pardoned for our sins. However, we sometimes unintentionally sin against God and need His forgiveness. If we are to get God’s forgiveness, we must also freely forgive those who have offended us from our hearts—not forgiving people who have offended us is to keep iniquity in our hearts. Thus, the Lord Jesus said,
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Mark 11:25-26, KJV)
From the above Scripture passage, it is obvious that even though prayer can move mountains, yet, if there is unforgiveness in our lives, God will not hear our prayers. Put succinctly, if you have ought against anyone and cannot forgive them, your prayers will not be heard by God!
To drive home this crucial point, the Lord used the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) to show that God forgave all our sins, and we must, likewise, forgive others of those petty offenses against us.
Finally, whenever we pray, we can rise with confidence, being assured that God has heard us when we pray according to His will (1 John 5:14-15). The implication is that, when we do not pray the will of God, God neither hears nor receives our petition. When we pray contrary to the will of God, our praying is selfish, self-centred, and lustful. Praying in such a manner constitutes noise in our communication with God, and must be gotten rid of, otherwise, God will not hear our prayers.
It is possible for people to acknowledge one as a prayer warrior, but if God does not hear their prayers, then peoples’ perception is irrelevant! What is the point of people hearing you pray, when God does not? The real issue when you pray is, “Did God hear my prayers?” The Bible tells us that if God hears our prayers, we can confidently rise knowing that he will respond accordingly.
If our praying is to amount to anything and be meaningful, therefore, God must hear us. If God is to hear us, iniquity must have no place in our hearts; we must be rid of sinful living; we must not have unforgiveness in our hearts; and, we must not be selfish and self-centred in our prayers. We cannot harbour iniquity in our hearts and expect God to listen to our prayers. God must take His rightful place of pre-eminence in our hearts, otherwise, we would be praying in vain! We cannot sin and come to God in prayer without first having to deal with the sin:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, KJV)
To have been forgiven so much yet hold others in unforgiveness is an unforgiven sin. Unless we deal with unforgiveness from our hearts, our prayers will amount to noise. Indeed, it is impossible for someone who gives iniquity pre-eminence over God in their heart, to live righteously, be able to forgive others, and pray the will of God. Thus, ridding ourselves of iniquity in our hearts is the starting point for praying efficaciously!
Our primary objective in communicating with God must be to ensure that God hears us! So, we must get rid of the noise that prevents God from hearing us, starting with getting rid of iniquity in our hearts. Let us now pray Psalm 139:23-24 to God.
In the next instalment, we shall discuss the noise that prevents us from hearing God after He has heard our prayers and responded.