There is no more amazing reality in the Christian life than the invitation that is extended to us as children of God to come into the presence of our Father in heaven, and present our requests to the Creator of the universe. Countless books have been written, the out-breathing of those whose hearts have been conquered by Christ’s love, and swept away by His intimate and inexorable fellowship. Beyond this there is the kingdom privilege of participation in God’s eternal purposes, partnering with Him to bring His kingdom to the earth, and ensure that His will is done in our generation.
Prayer – A priceless privilege
For too many, prayer is a duty, and prayerlessness a nagging reminder of our ‘unspirituality’ and our affection for fleshly comforts. Like evangelism, the fact that prayer engages directly with the spiritual world of darkness makes it an area that many fail to overcome. The conflict and resistance causes it to be more of a battleground than a garden of delight, and many choose not to push through to its reward. Rightly understood and approached however, the world of prayer is for all believers, the most priceless and satisfying privilege available to mankind.
A note from the author:
Of all the modules in the course this will be the most subjective (although objective scriptural principles will be taught in some detail). Prayer, by its very nature is personal, experiential. Conner in ‘Foundations’ quotes one definition of prayer as “the soul’s sincere desire uttered or unexpressed.” It is the “very breath of spiritual life”. As such I am a fellow traveller on this road of prayer, ever more captivated by its scope, and fascinated by its possibilities.
The most amazing truth is displayed in 1 John 1:3:
“that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:3-4 NKJV)
If it were not written it would be hard to believe, but we have been called into the very love fellowship of the Godhead Himself. We are called to enjoy and partake of the love, grace, power and friendship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
Two realms of prayer: Fellowship & Participation
Paul touches on these areas in his letter to the Corinthians, as the Amplified Bible translates 1 Corinthians 1:9:
“God is faithful (reliable, trustworthy, and therefore ever true to His promise, and He can be depended on); by Him you were called into
companionship and participation
with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
All manner of prayer
Encompassed within the headings of “fellowship” and “participation” are what the Bible terms “all manner of prayer”.
“Pray at all times (on every occasion, in every season) in the Spirit, with all [manner of] prayer and entreaty. To that end keep alert and watch with strong purpose and perseverance, interceding in behalf of all the saints (God’s consecrated people).” (Ephesians 6:18 AMP)
To effectively engage in and develop a satisfying prayer life the disciple must progress in both realms, fellowship and task. In order to do this, God has placed at our disposal many ‘tools’ or principles which we can employ to bring about God’s purposes in our lives and our world.
Much as an artisan does not use the same tool for every job, the skilled disciple must have exercised and developed skills with many kinds of prayers, in order to fulfil the diverse challenges he or she faces, and obtain the goals they desire.
No one tool is ‘better’ or ‘worse’. What we need is the right tool to accomplish the job at hand. This means that sometimes loud praying in tongues is entirely inappropriate. Equally, quiet moments of waiting on God may be utterly ineffective in other situations. Each situation demands that we listen to the prompting of the Spirit and move together with Him toward fulfilment.
Kenneth Hagin says of this in ‘The Art of Prayer’
“The Bible teaches several kinds of prayer – and the different rules governing them. The church world makes a mistake in not differentiating between those different kinds of praying. We simply put all prayer in the same sack and shake it all together. Many prayers are not working because people are using the wrong rules and laws…”
Like a good craftsman we should seek to become ever more familiar with the array of tools available and indeed necessary to complete the work we partner in with the Lord. He will lead us at any given point as to which tool to pick up. It may take several tools, used at different times over a period of time, to bring one prayer goal to completion. As we have said, prayer is a partnership with God the Spirit and the outworking of His purposes. Sensitivity to Him must be cultivated for a satisfying and effective lifestyle of prayer.
Mary Alice Isleib describes it this way (Effective Fervent Prayer p17):
“I want to liken the different kinds of prayer to playing a game of golf. In golf you have a bag, which contains all different kinds of clubs. Some are big, heavy woods and others are small, slender metal clubs.
Although they are all used in the same game and they all have the same goal to get the little ball in the hole – each type of club has a different purpose.
At the beginning of the game, when you’re on the “tee,” you take one of those big, wooden clubs, because your goal is to drive the ball down the fairway. You’re not going to use one of the little clubs yet, because you’d be ineffective if you did. You’ve got to use the right club in that situation.
You need a huge one to “smack it” down the course. Then, when you get to the green after a successful fairway shot, you’d better not select one of those heavy woods. If you do, you won’t get the ball in the hole; you’ll put a big hole in the green, and they’ll kick you, off the course! No, on the green you need a small, metal club to just tap the ball into the hole.
In prayer, it’s time for the Church to get the ball into the hole. It’s time to get answers! It’s time for effective prayer! We must know the different kinds of prayer and which to use in various situations. There are some prayers that are like big clubs in the spirit, and there are other prayers that are like small, metal clubs that just tap the ball into the hole. There are different prayers with different purposes, and they all have their place in our prayer lives.”
Major elements and distinctions in Prayer
Two major elements
All prayer is to be effective.
Effective Prayer will be conducted according the Biblical rules set out in the scriptures. Mary Alice Isleib says in her book, ‘Fervent, Effective Prayer’:
Two major elements are also outlined in Scripture concerning prayer, and both are essential to an effectual prayer life. They are spoken of clearly in James 5:16b:
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16)
“When we talk about effectiveness, we’re talking about principles, standards, patterns , and rules from the Word. Effectiveness is praying according to the knowledge that’s found in the Word of God and principle, the right ingredients to get the right results…we have to use the rules in the Word of God to get the results we see in the Word of God.”” (p16)
All prayer is to be fervent.
The two ingredients of powerful prayer are effectiveness (precision and accuracy) and fervency. Both of these ingredients together bring results. James 5:17-18 describe how Elijah acted upon the Word of God (effectiveness according to principle and covenant) but added to this his own earnest (heartfelt, fervent, passionate) prayer. This brought results.
The Scripture tells us Elijah was a human being with a nature such as we have [with feelings, affections, and a constitution like ours]. The intimation is that if we exercise the same principles of prayer we too can expect the same results. According to the scriptures we are ‘the righteous man (or woman)’ spoken of in these verses, through the blood of Christ.
We take the following definitions from Mary Alice Isleib’s chapter about fervency:
“Fervency means to pray with purpose, with serious intention.”
“To pray with fervency means to pray with intensity. It also means that you give your being to God, and you let Him fill it with divine yearning. Your degree of fervency is directly related to the degree of your spiritual desire.”
“When you pray with fervency, you pray the different kinds of prayer out of your heart, and you pray them strong, with intensity, following and flowing along with the Holy Spirit inside of you.”
“Fervency is surrendering your feelings or your soul to the feelings of the Holy Spirit. It is allowing Him to express Himself through your mind, will and emotions when you pray.”
The dynamics of fervency and deep desire born out of our recognition of our need for God each contribute to a powerful and effective prayer life. Wesley Deuwel in his book ‘Mighty Prevailing Prayer’ (ISBN 0-310-36191-5) says of this:
“Desire sees the need; fervency is born in love. We need eyes that see the need, and a heart burning with love.”
Throughout the centuries men of God have often witnessed to the great need for fervency in the prayers of God’s people, and lamented the coldness and formality of what many call ‘prayer’. There is a great difference between ‘saying prayers’ and praying, as the following quotes will highlight.
“Prayer without fervency is no prayer; it is speaking, not praying. Lifeless prayer is no more prayer than a picture of a man is a man.” Richard Watson
“Incense can neither smell nor ascend without fire; no more can prayer unless it arises from spiritual warmth and fervency…cold, lifeless, and idle prayers are like birds without wings…mere lip prayers are lost prayers.” J W Acker
“We need new mighty movements of the soul. We need to awaken and arouse our sleeping selves to take hold of God in mighty prayer. We need to marshal all our spiritual resources and sanctified energies to pray the prayer that prevails. Unless our prayer has fervent force, it has no power to overcome difficulties and win mighty victories.” Wesley L Duewel
“Enflamed desires impassioned, unwearied insistence, delights heaven…heaven is too busy to listen to half-hearted prayers…Prayers must be red hot. It is the fervent prayer that is effective…It takes fire to make prayers go. Warmth of soul creates an atmosphere favourable to prayer…by flame prayer ascends to heaven. Yet fire is not fuss, not heat, noise…To be absorbed in God’s will, to be so greatly in earnest about doing it that our whole being takes fire, is the qualifying condition of the man who would engage in effectual prayer.” E M Bounds
“The prayer that prevails with God is the prayer into which we put our whole soul, stretching out toward God in agonizing desire…If we put so little heart into our prayers, we cannot expect God to put much heart into answering them…When we learn to come to God with an intensity of desire that wrings the soul, then shall we know a power in prayer that most of us do not know now.” R A Torrey
“No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. The pulpit can be a shop window to display one’s talents; the prayer closet allows no showing off. Poverty-stricken as the Church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organisers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.” Leonard Ravenhill
Two Major Distinctions In Prayer
The Bible also highlights two major distinctions in prayer that apply to all kinds of prayer, and must be developed by every disciple. Paul highlights them in 1 Corinthians 14:14,15:
“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” (1Cor 14:14-15 NKJV)
“For if I pray in an [unknown] tongue, my spirit [by the Holy Spirit within me] prays, but my mind is unproductive [it bears no fruit and helps nobody]. Then what am I to do? I will pray with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will also pray [intelligently] with my mind and understanding; I will sing with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will sing [intelligently] with my mind and understanding also.” (1Corinthians 14:14-15 AMP)
Paul prayed both in tongues (in the spirit) and with his understanding (his known language). He says in 1 Corinthians 14:18 that he prayed in tongues much, more than all. He is not here comparing methods and saying one is better than another. Both aspects were very well developed in his life, and so they should be in ours.
Mary Alice Isleib says of this area of praying with the understanding (with the aid of the intellect):
“Just as the Holy Spirit quickens your inner man, He also quickens your mind to pray. The Holy Spirit wants your mind involved in your prayers. Many Charismatic Christians love to pray in tongues, and they should, because tongues is emphasised for us in the New Testament. Yet when we look at the prayer life of many believers, you find that the side of praying with the understanding is weak.”
“God wants your spirit and your mind to be built up so they can work together. When your mind becomes built up, enlightened, and empowered by truths from God’s Word, your mind and your spirit are flowing together and you will see powerful results.”
We are encouraged to develop and exercise both of these aspects. Praying with our understanding, using the Word as our foundation; and to pray directly from our spirit using Spirit inspired utterance in tongues. Both are essential, and as we consider the different kinds of prayer we will touch upon both facets in more detail.