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Article 86 - Prayer #2

Seven Lessons on Prayer

Jon Gary Williams

Lesson 2 - The Purposes of Prayer

One of the best ways to discover the meaning of prayer, is to break prayer down into distinct areas. This helps to recognize its different features. Prayer can be divided into four categories representing the basic purposes of prayer. What are these purposes?

1) Praising and honoring God

One of the designs of prayer is to give honor and glory to God. After all, this is something of which our heavenly Father is altogether worthy. We praise him for He is God Almighty. As He said to Moses, "I appeared unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty..." (Ex. 6:3). What are the essential manifestations of God's great might? First, He is omnipotent - all
powerful. Second, He is omniscient - all knowing. Third, He is omnipresent - all-present,
inhabiting all His creation.

In prayer we also elevate God for His love and grace, and for the great mercy He has shown to us. The scriptures contain many examples of praise given to God.

"I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness, And will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High" (Ps. 7:17).

"I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works" (Ps. 9:1).

"I will declare Your name to my brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You" (Ps. 22:22).

"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" (Heb. 13:15).

With love for God springing from our hearts, we lift up to Him our praise and honor.

2) Giving thanks to God

In prayer we show an outpouring of gratitude to God. Because He is Creator and Provider, His people are compelled to give Him thanks. Surely, this is an inward need we all feel and we want to let God hear our appreciation for Him. Several passages clearly point to this.

" thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (Eph. 5:20).

". . . in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you all..." (I Thess. 5:18).

"...But we are bound to give thanks to God always..." (II Thess. 2:13).

The truth is, out here in the material world there are so many things for which to be thankful; there is no way we can enumerate them. And then, there are blessings from God of which we are not even aware - hidden blessings from God. Do we ever think about trying to make a list of such hidden blessings?

Here is an important question. Do we ever take our blessings for granted? Of course, we have all done this, so, it is necessary to be on guard against such. It is so easy to presume that events which occur all about us are merely a part of out everyday lives, and forget that the providential working of God may be providing them.

But then, above all this are the great spiritual blessings for which we are thankful. Who is the source of all spiritual blessings? The answer, of course, is our heavenly Father. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ." (Eph. 1:3)

Well, what are these spiritual blessings? Beginning with God's great love for us, the forgiveness of our sins, being able to pray to Him, and the hope of eternal life in heaven, the marvelous array of His blessings is beyond our ability to fathom.

Where are these blessings found? They are found in Christ. This means that Jesus Himself is greatest blessing for which we can be thankful. Jesus looms above and beyond all else, and for this blessing we pour out our hearts in deepest gratitude.

3) Supplication for Self

This is praying for oneself or for Christians praying for themselves collectively. This would involve an appeal for spiritual things - for forgiveness, for strength, for guidance. Such praying is an imploring or pleading - seeking God's mercy and compassion, and the need for strength. A few classic examples: David's prayer for forgiveness (Ps. 51:1,2) or Christ's prayer to be delivered from death (Heb. 5:7).

This would also include appealing to God for things needed of a material nature - the basic, essential things of life, and also for our physical well being. Examples of such praying: Jesus' teaching that we are to pray for our "daily bread" (Matt. 6:11), or Paul's prayer for his infirmity
(II Cor. 12:7,8).

4) Intercession for Others

This is praying to God for others, or entreating for others. It involves interceding (intervening) on behalf of others - praying for their material or spiritual needs. As we become aware of the needs of others, we put ourselves in their place, we sympathize and even empathize. We want to speak to God on their behalf, and we also desire that others do the same for us.

Here are a few illustrations of such praying: Praying for a group of people (Israel, Rom. 10:1), for the penitent (I Jn. 5:16), for others to be strengthened (Phil. 1:9-11), or for those in authority (I Tim. 2:1,2). Such praying would also include praying even for one's enemies. (Matt. 5:44; Lk. 23:34)

So, these are the four purposes of prayer.

Now, here's a question. How often do we hear prayers that focus on only one kind of prayer? The fact is, when we pray it is not necessary to always include all aspects of prayer. However, it is true that sometimes brethren feel if they do not cover all areas of prayer, they've not truly prayed. But this is not true. In fact, by trying to include too much in a prayer, could make the prayer lose focus and meaning. I appreciate prayers that sometimes concentrate on only one or two aspects of prayer.

Click here for Lesson 3: Conditions of Acceptable Prayer