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Should I bow my head in prayer?  Why not look "up" to God when we pray?  What if I keep my eyes open during prayer?

Scriptures indicate a variety of "postures" in prayer and worship.  Standing in 1 Kings 8:22.  Bowing down in Psalm 95:6.  Looking up in Matthew 14:19.  Kneeling in Acts 20:36.  Falling on the face in Numbers 16:22.  And lifting up the hands in Psalm 28:2.  So there is not just one way to worship and pray to our God.

Does this mean that our posture in prayer is unimportant?  No.  The body can and often does reflect the heart even in everyday life.  We notice body language among people and recognize it means something.  If I am talking to someone who is looking around at everything except me, I perceive he is not paying attention.  Or if I am a business owner and a young man comes in for a job interview dressed sloppily and slouching in the chair, I will sense something about his spirit.  When we are at a basketball game that has intensity in the final minutes, few fans will be slouching in their chair;  rather, they will be on the edges of their seats, standing, raising hands in excitement, cheering, and sometimes groaning.

So it can be in our prayers and worship to God.  The body can be a reflection of our heart.  If we are genuinely excited or grateful or in awe, our body tends to respond accordingly.   I recognize some of us are simply more expressive people, while others of us are more reserved.  But in general, the body reflects our heart.

For many of us, one core issue that inhibits us from being more expressive in worship is genuineness.  We are concerned that our heart isn't really that excited, and we don't want to be hypocritical.  Or we don't want to be emotionally driven.  I admit that  I've had these concerns. 

Another issue that inhibits us in group prayer and worship is fear of man.  We are worried what other people think, or we mimic what others are doing so that we feel "normal".   Again, I admit that I've been guilty too many times of fear of man.

The core issue here is the heart.  First, we want to go deep with God.  We want to know him intimately and passionately.  No phoniness, but a heart like David in the Psalms who expressed the highs and lows of life in prayer to God.  So whatever we genuinely know in our hearts to be true we should learn to express it in our posture.  If we feel like kneeling in reverence, do it.  If we want to raise our hands, even in the privacy of our home, then do it. 

One final thought:  sometimes our heart will follow our body.  If I "force" myself to be a bit more expressive in my posture, typically my heart follows suit.  So consider being a bit more demonstrative in your worship and prayer this week, and see if your heart responds over time.  Don't worry about being more or less expressive than your friend is.  Nor should you be concerned about your personality and whether or not you are an expressive person.  Simply ask God to let both your heart and your body grow in genuine love for him. 

- Brad Barrett

 

I feel guilty because I only seem to pray when I'm in trouble.  What should I do?

I remember several times as a kid when I was facing some difficulty, I prayed or at least thought about praying, and this very issue of guilt came up.  And instead of praying more, I held back out of guilt.  I didn't want to be ungrateful or a selfish "taker", so I chose to back away.

But now I think of it from a dad's perspective.  I appreciate and even enjoy when my kids need my help.  My role as a dad is to help and protect and provide.  And I love it.  So we shouldn't get too worked up about going to God when in trouble.  Psalm 3 is one of many psalms where David or the other psalmists were in some type of serious difficulties, and God answered them.  Preacher D.L. Moody from the late 1800's said this, "Some people think God does not like to be troubled with our constant coming and asking.  The only way to trouble God is not to come at all."  A good dad simply has the heart of our heavenly Father.  Plus, I have often thought that if I didn't have trials, I might seldom pray.  The Lord knows how to humble me and bring me into a deeper, more vibrant relationship with him. 

That being said, if the only times we go to God is when we're in trouble, we might want to re-evaluate our spiritual lives.  Do we see the greatness of God enough to compel us to worship him?  For example, one situation that compels me to worship is by seeing God's creation:  a spectacular red and orange sunset, or artistic clouds set in a bright blue sky.  And we can also evaluate our hearts and ask, are we thankful?  So many good things happen daily, even small things in the midst of painful trials, and they can be considered the kindness of God if we're watching.  So give thanks today.  Also evaluate, am I simply too self-reliant and stubborn, not wanting to interact with God unless I'm desperate?  All I can say here is to humble yourself.  Let God in.  Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."  Taste of him.  You won't be disappointed. 

One of the best ways to broaden our relationship with God from merely asking to worshiping and thanking him is to pray and worship in a community of believers.  This can happen on a Sunday morning or Friday night at the Rock.  It can happen in our all-church worship times on periodic Sundays, called "Deeper".  Or it can happen right in our own homes with our family or roommates in brief times of worship and prayer.  In these situations, we not only learn about God from others, we learn how to communicate to our great God. 

Remember that God longs to bring you into relationship with him.  Let him help you in your troubles.  But also enjoy him and thank him for how good he has been to you. 

- Brad Barrett

 

Will God hear my prayers and/or answer them if I am in sin?   Proverbs 28:9 says, "If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable."    If yes how do you explain that verse?

There are two thoughts here:  One is God's holiness.  The other is God's mercy.

Let's start with his holiness.  Simply stated, God hates sin.  He hates evil, wrongdoing, pride, selfishness, idolatry, immoral behavior, and lying.  He hates it because it is completely counter to his very nature.  He is holy.  And he also hates it because sin is destructive in life and in human relationships.  For example, what relationships in your life have ever improved due to your selfishness and lying, including in your relationship with God himself?  So for these reasons and more, God hates sin.  And he does not take sin lightly in our lives.  It's never "No big deal" to him, even when we are casual about it. 

So does God answer our prayers if we are in sin?  I find it hard to give a definitive answer on this, but I will say that God is not a grandfather who lets the grandkids get away with murder.  The obnoxious, stubborn kid needs dad's firm hand, not grandpa's bag of candy.  If I am in sin, God may decide what I need first and foremost is a firm hand.  Galatians 6:7 says, "Do not be deceived:  God is not mocked, for what one sows, that will he also reap."  He loves me too much to continue in a path of destructive behavior. 

Now let's address his mercy:  If God were not merciful, not one of us could ever approach him in prayer.  Micah 7:18-19 says that the Lord "delights in showing mercy."  And Jesus was known as a "friend of sinners".  So we don't have to get our act together first before coming to God in prayer.  This doesn't mean we come to him flippantly or defiantly, still in love with our sin and still unrepentant.  God forbid.  But God loves a broken, humble heart (Psalm 51:17).  Even on the heels of a "big sin", we can humble ourselves and approach God with confidence and boldness.  And that kind of boldness is solely based on the grace of God through the saving, redeeming, forgiving work of Jesus Christ.  See Hebrews 4:14-16 and Ephesians 3:12.

So in summary, let's not test God to find out if he'll hear our prayer while we are in sin.  But neither should we shrink away from approaching him in humility and by clinging to the cross of Jesus.  The old hymn says it well:  "Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me;  and that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee.  O Lamb of God, I come, I come."  Just as we are without any plea except the blood of Jesus-that is how we come to this holy, merciful God.  Amen.

- Brad Barrett

 

The number one reason I don't pray as much as I should is a subconscious belief that prayer doesn't do anything.  In my mind, I acknowledge that prayer matters.  However, I really don't pray enough to prove this is a deep conviction in my heart.  What should I do or think?

I can relate to this question quite well.  Not infrequently do I find myself praying and ask God and myself at the same time, "Does this really matter?  Or am I just praying to the walls?"

There are a handful of potential issues here.

One fundamental issue is to remember that our walk with God, including prayer, is by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  So it is natural and normal to have questions about something we cannot see or touch.   We have questions even about things we can see, so why wouldn't we have questions about what we cannot see.  So when we wonder if prayer really matters, let's not get too freaked out about it.  It's a normal and even healthy question.

Another potential issue is that we might feel unworthy to ask God for anything.  In other words, why should he pay any attention to me?  Perhaps we feel unworthy, even sinful.  Or we sense that we are insignificant, just a speck on a large planet.  Here we must turn to the gospel message itself.  In a very real sense, man isunworthy to ever have God pay the slightest bit of attention to him.  Man is a defiant, fist-shaking rebel who deserves nothing but the wrath of God (Romans 3:1-20).  But God is a God of amazing mercy and kindness, shown spectacularly through the cross (Romans 3:21-31).  If we want to find a connection with God and know that he cares, the gospel message shows beyond comprehension he cares.  He cared enough to pour out his wrath on his own Son instead of on you.  So why wouldn't he pay attention to you now?

A third reason we may wonder if God hears our prayers is disappointment.  We asked God for something very important, and the answer didn't come.  The affect it had on us was disappointment.  Maybe even anger.  And we conclude, if he didn't answer that desperate prayer of mine before, why should I even bother again? Either he doesn't care or he is not good, we conclude.  Here is my take on this.  First, we have to remember that God is not a genie who does whatever we ask whenever we ask it.  He is a good and gracious Father who is intensely concerned for our welfare, but this doesn't mean he always says, "Yes."  (See Matthew 7:7-11.)  Even the best earthly father will have to say "No" to his kids, even if it pains him, because he has something better in mind.  So we have to believe that God is fundamentally good and will bring good into our lives, even if we don't see how it's good at all.  We remember and believe that he is a whole lot wiser than we are, and he has an eternal view of how it will work for good.  A second thought is that we look to the cross.  Romans 8:31-32 has vital truth for us:  "If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"  The cross of Jesus becomes our measure for God's goodness.   If God was so astonishingly good to give his own Son for you, won't he give you good in every other way?  His goodness and his love are proven in the cross.  So repent of any anger towards God and acknowledge that he is good.  And repent of your unbelief, and doubt no more. 

One more answer to this question of "Does prayer matter" is to study the Scriptures on the topic of prayer.  There we will find commands that we should pray, such as John 15:16 where Jesus tells us to ask the Father.  If Jesus believed it didn't matter, why would he tell us to ask?  And Jesus himself prayed quite often (Luke 5:15-16, John 17).  Another example is 2 Chronicles 20 where King Jehoshaphat and the tribe of Judah were facing an enemy intent on killing them all.  The whole nation gathered for prayer, and God answered.  Examples like that inspire us to remember the Lord does indeed hear us. 

Prayer does matter.  God does hear. 

- Brad Barrett

 

How do I know that God hears my prayer as genuine?

I appreciate this question.  None of us wants to be phony, especially towards God.  Nor do we want to give lip-service to him, simply offering up words because we are "supposed to" or to impress him.

Really the issue here is our own hearts.  Are we being real deep down inside?  Are we genuine and honest?  I recommend starting here by telling the Lord, "Heavenly Father, I want to be genuine and real with you.  I don't want to be a fake.  Would you show me if there is anything in my heart that is keeping me from that?"  Lay that prayer out before him and then spend a few minutes in quietness, listening with your heart for how he might direct you.  Then open up to the Scriptures-I recommend a psalm-and quietly read through it with a listening heart. 

A few years back, I prayed something like that in my morning prayer time, and I had a remarkable answer to that prayer within a few seconds.  Almost as the words of my prayer came out of my mouth, the Lord prompted me in my heart to be genuine by going to a man whom I had offended years before but had never apologized to.  I have to tell you, I did not want to hear that from God.  I even told the Lord, "No, Lord.  Please!  Anything but that!"  I dreaded the thought of apologizing to someone.  It was embarrassing and humiliating.  But I knew my pride was affecting my genuineness with God and man.  So within two hours, I went to that man and apologized.  He responded in kindness to me, but more importantly, I had responded to God's simple call to genuineness and honesty.  That simple prayer and God's response to me has shaped my life since then. 

So make it part of your conversation with God to periodically ask him to help you be genuine.  And then until he shows you a need in your heart, move ahead in prayer with confidence and joy.

- Brad Barrett

 

We can plead with God as the man in Mark 9 did:  "I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!"  That is to say we should attempt to be as genuine as we can but God can help us, even in that. 

Also we need to trust his character.  God isn't looking for reasons to dismiss his children's prayers.  He is a loving father who longs for us to communicate with him.

- Paul Johnson

 

Does the personality of the person matter in how effective their prayers are?

For example: If I'm really confused, or heated, I will pray loudly where no one else can hear me, and I usually find myself throwing a pillow around the room in frustration. Others pray silently when upset, some people cry, some people play guitar and pray, some people vent to God as they would to a close friend... Are these all equally effective?

The key issue in prayer is our heart, not our outward emotions. God doesn’t hear us any better if we talk loud or pray silently or cry. Rather, the key issue is faith: do we believe that God hears us, cares about us, and has the power to do something for us. James 1:5 says that when we ask, we must believe and not doubt. Doubt is the opposite of believing, which means to trust. When you pray in faith, it means you are trusting in your God.

That being said, we do have emotions and it is appropriate to speak to God honestly. If trials in our lives bring us to tears when we are praying, then don’t hold the tears back. If we are angry, tell God you are angry. If you sense a need to sit quietly or sing to the Lord, do that.

Jesus told us to pray to our heavenly Father (Matthew 6:9), so as you pray, think how you would or should speak to an earthly father. Your earthly father would want you to be respectful yet open and honest. He would enjoy hearing your gratitude for his loving care. He would be drawn with compassion towards you if you were brokenhearted. He would appreciate hearing you apologize for disrespectful or rebellious attitudes. He may also enjoy sitting quietly side by side enjoying an activity or the beauty of a sunset. Your heavenly Father would be similar to your earthly dad, except 1000 times better and more magnificent.

- Brad Barrett

 

I was wondering about James 5:16, and other passages that say the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Is a righteous man classified as a believer in Christ, or is this a classification of a mature Christian leader? In other words, are some Christians prayers more powerful than others?

The first question to ask is, “Who is righteous?” No man or woman is righteous before God on their own; all have sinned and fall short of his glory (Romans 3:9-23). Our only hope is Jesus’ righteousness which, through his death and resurrection, is granted to any who believe in him (2 Corinthians 5:21; John 5:24). The righteousness of Jesus is where we must start and end. So in that sense, the person who has believed in Jesus and thus received the gift of righteousness from God has access to God in prayer just as much and just as powerfully as any other person who has believed.

One of the primary conditions placed on answered prayer in the New Testament is faith. Believing God and not doubting (James 1:5, Matthew 21:21-22). This is not contingent on the spiritual age of the believer or some other inherent quality. Our prayers are powerful simply because God mercifully hears our request and we believe it.

- Brad Barrett

 

I feel selfish praying for myself. What should I do?

It’s OK to pray for your own needs. Jesus said in Matthew 6:11 to pray daily for “your daily bread”. 1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all your anxiety on the Lord because he cares for you. And we see throughout the Psalms the psalmists prayed about many, many of their personal needs and fears.

That being said, we shouldn’t pray only for ourselves. Love compels us to have a concern for other people. Philippians 2:4 says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others.” So perhaps you shouldn’t pray any less for your own needs; rather, increase your prayer time by praying much for the needs of others.

- Brad Barrett