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By Edwin D. Roels
This course focuses on PRAYER. Though it is an academic study, its primary intention is not simply to
provide information about prayer but rather to encourage readers to pray more fervently and more
frequently. If your study of this course simply enables you to find interesting answers to some of your
questions about prayer but does not encourage you to pray or give you increased joy and blessing in
your prayer life, you will have missed the purpose of studying this course.
There are many wonderful stories of special answers to prayer in the Bible. These stories are both
inspiring and encouraging.However, there are also times when sincere believers, both in Bible times
and throughout history, did not receive the answers they had prayed for or longed for. You may have
experienced that in your own life as well. In this course you will not find answers to all the questions
you have about "unanswered” prayer, but you will find reasons why at least some of our prayers are
not answered as desired.
This course also provides answers to many practical questions about when and how and where we
should pray. It also discusses the different "kinds” of prayer which are sometimes referred to as the
ACTS of prayer--referring to prayers of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
It is my desire that your sincere and diligent study of this course will lead you to develop a joyful and
fruitful prayer life that will bring glory to God and will also bring many blessings both to you and to
others whose lives are influenced by your faithful prayers.

Historically, prayer has been extremely important for Christians. Through prayer we reach the heart of
God and gain access to the power of God. When we pray, we no longer depend on our own strength or
ability or knowledge or resources. Rather, we open up our lives to let God work through us in
wonderful and marvelous and even surprising ways.
Jesus Himself spent much time in prayer. At times He prayed all night. He prayed fervently at
the turning points of His life--before choosing His disciples, before going to the cross, while on
the cross, before Peter's denial and restoration, before raising Lazarus from the dead, before
breaking the loaves and the fish. He also urged His followers to pray intensely, faithfully,
unceasingly, in times of gratitude and in times of need.

How foolish it is for us not to pray when God promises to hear us, help us, encourage us, protect us,
strengthen us and guide us. Our prayers do not have to be long, because sincerity is more important
than length. Bodily position isn't crucial since already in Bible times people prayed with their face to
the heavens or to the ground, with their knees bent or while standing. And the place where they
prayed was of relatively minor significance. Believers prayed at home, in the temple, on the road and
on the sea. They prayed when others could see them and they prayed when they were in secret. They
prayed with others and they prayed alone.
The Bible contains many promises regarding prayer, encouragements to pray, and incentives
to pray. The Bible also assures us that God hears our prayers and answers them. In this course
we will look at all those dimensions. But the goal of studying this course is not simply to learn
more about the subject of prayer, but rather to be inspired to pray-to pray more earnestly,
more sincerely, and more frequently. Studying what the Bible says about prayer is certainly
good and may help us in many ways. But the study must lead to actual, fervent, frequent,
passionate prayer--or it will have only minimal value.

There are at least four different "kinds” of prayer in the Bible and each one is considered in this course.
The four "kinds” of prayer referred to are Adoration (Praise), Confession, Thanksgiving, and
Supplication (making requests). Many people refer to these four categories as the ACTS of prayer
(Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). Individual prayers may include one or more of
these categories, but our prayer life should increasingly include all four.
Prayers of Adoration or Praise. The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament contains far more prayers of
adoration than any other book in the Bible, though expressions of praise are found in other books of
both the Old and New Testament as well.
Prayers of Confession. Some prayers of confession, such as the prayer of David recorded in Psalm 51,
deal primarily with personal sins and failures. Others, such as those of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:5-7) and
Daniel (Daniel 9:1-19) deal more with the sins of larger groups such as the nation of Israel. These men
realized that prayer is not simply an individual matter. They recognized that in a sense we all share in
the sins of the body of Christ and in our national sins in some way--even if we personally do not
commit those sins.
Prayers of Thanksgiving. When we pray prayers of thanksgiving we demonstrate that we realize where
our blessings come from. Others may share in the same blessings we do (sunshine, food, rain,
protection, safety, etc.) without acknowledging God as the source of those blessings. Through prayer
we acknowledge God in every area of life and in every situation. He is our Father, our Provider, our
Protector, our Savior, and our Guide. He is the one to receive honor, glory, and thanksgiving. He is the
one who can grant forgiveness and wholeness and peace. So as we develop a life of prayer, we rejoice
increasingly in the presence and the promises of God and thank Him for them.
Prayers of Supplication. For some people, prayer seems to be primarily a means of getting something
from God. If they need food or drink, they ask God to provide it. If they need wisdom or strength, they
ask Him to supply it. If they have a serious disease, they ask God to heal it. If they face a big problem,
they ask Him to solve it. If they are in a difficult situation, they ask Him to change it. If they need
money, they ask Him to give it. And if they have any other need or desire, they ask Him to take care of
it. And that is the extent of their praying. But for the sincere believer, prayer involves so much more
than that. We look to the Lord not only for material or physical blessings, but we pray even more
earnestly for the spiritual and eternal blessings which He provides. And we ask for these blessings not
only so that our own lives will be enriched, but so that God will increasingly be glorified in our own lives
and in the lives of all His people.


Someone once wrote: "More things are accomplished through prayer than this world dreams of.” And
that is almost certainly true. It probably is also true that when we get to heaven, some of us will
sincerely regret that we prayed so little while we were on earth. We will then realize how much more
fruitful and blessed our lives could have been if we had prayed more earnestly, more frequently, and
with greater faith.
At times we may be surprised to see how the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth responds to the
simplest prayer. At other times we may be humbled and inspired to see how many wonderful things
happen when God's faithful people pray.
Prayer is far more, of course, than simply asking God for things. Prayer also involves praise, confession,
thanksgiving, and much more. Some prayers are not even spoken at all. As one writer put it many years
Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, unuttered or expressed,
the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear,
the upward glancing of the eye when none but God is near. (James Montgomery)
The blessings of prayer are truly many and great. However, prayer is never a substitute for work. We
do not work less because we pray more. As an old Latin phrase ("Ora et Labora”) reminds us, we must
both pray and work. We will never be able to achieve anything of lasting value without the blessing of
God, but when Christ lives in us and God works through us, we will be able to accomplish much that
brings blessing to us and others and also brings praise and honor to God.
There are some things about prayer, of course, that we cannot not fully explain or understand. But
even when we face circumstances or situations that go beyond our human understanding, we will still
faithfully respond to God's invitation to come to Him in humble and persevering prayer. Because we
trust in His promises and are assured of His love and grace, we will always continue to pray.

In Lesson One we will concentrate on two things: (1) God's gracious invitation to come to Him in
prayer, and (2) God's promises to hear and answer us when we pray.
In Lesson Two we will consider some general questions which often arise in connection with prayer. For
example, we will consider whether prayer really makes any difference if God already has a plan for our
lives and for the rest of the world.
In Lesson Three we will focus on some of God's wonderful answers to prayer--particularly as these are
recorded in the Bible.
In Lesson Four we will consider the potential "dangers” of answered prayer. It may seem strange even
to suggest that there may be dangers when prayers are answered--but there are!
In Lesson Five we will consider the problems that sometimes arise in connection with "unanswered”
In Lesson Six we will focus on prayers of Praise.
In Lesson Seven we will focus on prayers of Confession.
In Lesson Eight we will focus on prayers of Thanksgiving.
In Lesson Nine we will focus on prayers of Intercession.
In Lesson Ten we will focus on Prayer and Fasting and other matters related to prayer.


If the Bible did not assure us that God sincerely invites us to pray and even wants us to pray, we might
feel that we are being too bold when we bring our requests and petitions to Him. Since He is the Ruler
over the entire universe and is highly exalted above everyone and everything in this world, we might
conclude that our own problems and needs are so small that God is not concerned about them.
Thankfully, that is not true. If anything is of concern to us, it is also of concern to God. Nothing is too
big and nothing is too small to bring to Him in prayer. Since the Bible tells us that even the hairs of our
head are all numbered and that God is concerned about the fall of a lowly sparrow to the ground, He
certainly is concerned about the hurts and needs of His children.

Read What the Bible Teaches

Jesus said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground
apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you
are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31
Jesus said, "Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or
'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows
that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these
things will be added to you.”
Matthew 6: 31-33
"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” Isaiah 55:6
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
"Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” Ephesians 6:18
"Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” James 5:13


God knows our deepest longings and understands our most earnest desires. He understands our
thoughts even when we are not able to express them. He hears our groanings and feels our sighs. He
knows our hurts and sees our tears. He knows when we fall and when we are confused. He
understands our fears and our inward pain. He hears our feeblest cries and responds to our most
urgent calls. God fully understands exactly what we are going through. In every experience of joy or
sorrow, God is there. And in every situation of need or blessing, He is willing and eager to hear our

God Hears Our Prayers

"Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.” Psalm
"The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. . . . When the
righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” Psalm 34:15 and
"The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” Proverbs 15:29
"He regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.” Psalm 102:17
"This is the confidence we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears
us.” 1 John 5:14
"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” 1 Peter 3:12
God not only hears our prayers, but He also promises to answer them. It's true that there are some
things which may stand in the way of receiving positive answers to our prayers, but in this Lesson we
focus on God's gracious promises to answer the prayers of all those who come to Him humbly and

God's Promises in the Old Testament

"Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for evil, to give
you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.'” Jeremiah 29:11-13
"But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with
all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29
"Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24
"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn
from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their
land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
"When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor
him.” Psalm 91:15
"They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will
say, 'The LORD is our God.'” Zechariah 13:9

Jesus' Promises in the New Testament

"Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matthew 21:22
"Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask
me anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:13-14
"If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:7-8
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For
everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be
opened. If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will
the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:9-10, 13
"Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be
full.” John 16:24
"Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them
by my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:19
"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be
yours.” Mark 11:24
Other Promises in the New Testament
"Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask
we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” 1 John 3:21-
"And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he
hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests
that we have asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15
"Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone
among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him
with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord
will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one
another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has
great power as it is working.” James 5:13-16


God always responds to the prayers of all those who love and trust Him. Sometimes He may also
answer the prayers of those who know very little about Him or who are not living the way He wants
them to. At times He may even choose to respond to the cries of those do not love or trust Him or who
aren't even sure that He exists!
However, if we are going to have a fruitful, consistent and meaningful prayer life, we must sincerely
believe at least three things.
First, we must believe that there truly is a God who genuinely cares about this world and especially
about those who love and trust Him.
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must
believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6
Second, we must sincerely believe that God rules over the entire world and that He has the power
to do whatever He chooses to do in this world.
"Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Psalm 115:3
See also Psalm 135:6 and Ephesians 1:11.
Third, we must believe that God not only knows what is best for us who love and trust Him, but
that He also will do what is best for us--whether we fully understand His ways or not.
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are
called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
In Lesson Five we will look at some other things that may be considered "requirements” that have to
be met before God will answer our prayers. In this Lesson, however, we emphasize God's promises to
answer us. He blesses us primarily because of His mercy and grace and because of what our Lord Jesus
Christ has merited for us and not because of who we are or what we have done.

Reading: An Everyday Relationship (Dr. Feddes)

"The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of
worshipers the Father seeks." ( John 4:23)

If you could make one change in your life, what would it be? Some people want to stop
smoking; some want to start dieting; others have a different goal. What about you? What's the
most important change you'd like to make? If you've got a good goal, I hope you're able to
achieve it.
Now, though, let me suggest a goal that might not be on your list but ought to be #1 on
anybody's list: to become a better worshiper. Would you like to know God better, love him
more deeply, and honor him more fully than you do now? I don't know how often you think
about God or reflect on what sort of worshiper you are, but God certainly thinks about you and
what sort of worshiper he calls you to be. Jesus says, "The true worshipers will worship the
Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).
There's no question that God is seeking worshipers. The question is, are you seeking God? Is
your top goal to become more spiritual and knowledgeable so that you are more able to
worship God "in spirit and in truth”? If you want to have a flourishing relationship with God and
become a better worshiper, you need an everyday relationship with God, a pattern of daily

A Pattern of Daily Worship

Maybe you have no idea what daily worship involves. It's never been part of your life, and
nobody has ever explained it to you or modeled it for you. Perhaps it will help if I describe my
own involvement in daily worship.
When I was growing up, my parents led us in daily family worship. Before breakfast my
father or mother would say a prayer of thanks. After breakfast they would read from the Bible,
read a brief meditation on the Bible passage, and close with prayer. This time of family Bible
reading and prayer was a top priority in our family. Sometimes we were running a bit late in the
morning and thought the school bus might come before we finished breakfast. So did we skip
Bible reading and prayer? No, if we were running late, my parents would read the Bible before
breakfast instead of after. Then, if we saw the bus coming while we were in the middle of
eating our breakfast, we could grab something from the table and eat it on the way to school,
or simply skip part of our breakfast. My parents would rather have us miss breakfast than miss
family worship.
At the evening meal, we would again bow together in prayer before eating. After the meal,
we would read from the Bible, perhaps read an explanation of the Bible passage from a
devotional book, and close with prayer. This morning-and-evening pattern of family worship
didn't really add up to all that much time: about five minutes in the morning, and another five
minutes or so at night. It didn't usually produce a stunning emotional experience. It was just a
simple, quiet time to hear God speak in Scripture and to speak to him in prayer. But starting
and ending the day that way set a spiritual tone for everything else. Also, over the years, it
helped us gain a wealth of Bible knowledge that no school or seminary could teach as
As a boy growing up with parents who worshiped God in spirit and in truth, I learned daily
family worship, and I also learned daily personal worship. One thing that taught me personal
worship was my parents' example. They never made a show of their own personal time with
God, but sometimes when I got up early, I would see my dad kneeling by himself in prayer
before he wakened the rest of the household. My mom, too, was a person of prayer and
Scripture. Following their lead, I began to pray personally myself as a young boy, usually at
bedtime. When I was old enough to read fairly well, my parents gave me a Bible of my own,
and I would spend a few minutes each night reading the Bible by myself.
I don't come from a family of preachers or Bible scholars. I come from a farming and
ranching family--ordinary folks with work to do and challenges to face. My parents and our
family were not perfect by any means. We sometimes argued, got on each other's nerves, and
made wrong choices. Still, we loved each other and knew that God was at the center of our
home. Even now, when we visit my parents or my wife's parents, we know we'll have daily
worship with them.
Where did my parents get their pattern of family worship and personal worship? They didn't
dream it up on their own. They got the pattern from their parents--my grandparents. Both of my
parents grew up with daily family worship and with parents who not only led their children in
worship but also spent time alone in personal, private worship.
Now that I have a family of my own, my wife and children and I have breakfast together
followed by Bible reading and prayer. We also we have our evening meal together, followed by
Bible reading, discussion, and prayer. The pattern we follow is similar to what I grew up with,
with some small variations. In my home, we often have a prayer time together when every
member of the family--not just a dad or mom, but each of the children as well--says a prayer.
We usually sing a song of praise together as well. But the essential pattern is the same as I
learned as a boy: we take time each day to listen to God and talk to him as a family, and we
also have our own personal worship time.
By offering my own personal and family pattern, I want to give you a glimpse of daily
worship and to help you to build such a pattern into your own life. I have a long way to go in
getting to know God better and worshiping him as he deserves. But I can honestly say that
daily worship, as a family and as an individual, is vital to honoring God and growing in faith. If
you want to know God better, love him more deeply, and honor him more fully throughout this
year and always, make a commitment to talk and listen to him repeatedly through daily
Every healthy relationship involves talking and listening repeatedly, and your relationship with
God is no exception. If you don't talk to God and listen to him every day, your relationship to
him is not going to grow. But if you make time every day to listen to what God tells you in the
Bible and to tell him what's on your heart through prayer and worship, you have good reason to
expect that your relationship with God will advance well beyond what it is now. Don't settle for
anything less than worshiping God daily in your own home, in spirit and in truth.

What's Wrong With Weekly Worship?

Maybe daily worship sounds like too much to expect. You may think going to church once a
week is tough enough and that daily worship is impossible. You've got too many other things to
do. There's no way you can make personal worship a daily part of your life. There's no way you
can get your whole family together daily for a meal, let alone for a time of worship together.
Besides, why read the Bible every day? Why pray so often? A little religion may be okay, but
you don't want to overdo it. What's wrong with weekly worship in a church?
At least two things are with wrong with neglecting daily worship and settling for weekly
worship in a church. First, if that's the only time you worship, it's a sign that something is very
wrong with your relationship to God. Second, if churches are made up mainly of people who
only attend weekly services but don't worship daily at home, the church gatherings become
spiritually hollow.
Let's begin with the first problem. Neglect of daily worship in the home is a sign that you
are at best spiritually sick and at worst spiritually dead. You might have some sort of religion,
but you don't have a vibrant relationship with the living God. You might get an emotional boost
once in while at church, but you don't go through life with a sense that God is always with you,
directing you, correcting you, encouraging you, communicating with you. You don't worship in
spirit and in truth. How can you worship in spirit when you'd rather ignore God most of the
week? How can you worship in truth when you seldom listen to God and don't know who he is
or what he says in the Bible? If you really know and love him, worship is a vital part of your
everyday life. It is disastrous when your only time for worship is in church.
The disaster multiplies when churches pander to spiritually sick or dead churchgoers who
neglect daily worship at home and are interested only in a weekly event at church. That's the
second major problem with having weekly worship only: the weekly worship itself goes
downhill. Churches start aiming for the lowest common denominator. They aim less at bringing
committed worshipers together in praise of God and more at providing an event for people who
prefer entertainment to worship.
Some churches claim to be "seeker oriented.” By this they usually mean that they are trying
to connect with people who haven't yet found a church to belong to. That can be a good thing,
but churches must not forget the greatest Seeker of all. According to Jesus, God himself is a
Seeker--the Lord is seeking true worshipers who worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. If too
many people are interested only in getting their weekly fix from church rather than becoming
daily worshipers of God in their homes, and if churches design their services to attract these
people and meet their preferences, such churches will not cultivate the kind of worshipers the
Father seeks, the kind whose hearts are filled with his Spirit and whose minds are gripped by
his truth. Church services become performances to please the people, not worship gatherings
to honor God. Churches like this may be packed on Sundays, but they are hollow. They may
be full of people, but they are empty of real worshipers.
A British visitor to North American was asked to give his opinion of the churches in the
United States and Canada. He replied that many churches in North America are rich, well-
attended, well-organized, and efficient. But, he said, it all reminded him of England in the late
1800s, when successful churches served "as a cushion against the hard impact of the living
God.” He said, "It seems to me, the cushion of religious efficiency and prosperity is still doing
its comfortable, but fatal, work. But what shocks me most is the character of the preaching that
prevails in your churches.” Most preachers, he said, are sending the message, 'Let me suggest
that you try to be good.' They are not proclaiming the Gospel of Salvation by faith in Jesus
These remarks were made back in the 1940s, but they ring more true today than ever. In
1949 Back to God speaker Peter Eldersveld reported the British visitor's comments and then
It is truly amazing that with all our religion and our long history of religious teaching and
preaching, we have drifted so far from the true God. Indeed, as our critic says, we have a
religion which is a "cushion against the hard impact of the living God.” You know, it is a
bad thing to have religion, if it is the wrong kind. We have come so close to God, or so it
appears, and yet we have missed him completely, simply because we have rejected,
ignored, or failed to perceive the greatest revelation of him... We have missed God
because we have not seen Jesus.

Counting Instead of Weighing

Ten years after making those remarks, Peter Eldersveld commented in 1959 on what he
called "a typically modern standard of what constitutes success, measuring everything in terms
of mere numbers--always counting instead of weighing.” That's more common today than ever:
"always counting instead of weighing.”
It's easy for churches to keep statistics on how many members there are, how many attend
on an average Sunday, how many new people have been added, how much money is being
donated, and so forth. Counting is common; weighing is less common. Who weighs whether
the people are growing closer to God and more like Christ? Who weighs whether their
marriages are stronger and their souls sturdier? Who weighs growth in biblical knowledge and
holy living? The result of "always counting instead of weighing” is hollow churches made up of
people who are spiritually weightless.
An African pastor tells me that many millions of people in his country are considered
Christians. But this man of God does not just count; he weighs. He sadly observes that many
so-called Christians know little of God's Word and do not live holy lives. How much of the
problem is due to lack of daily worship at home?
In Britain and Western Europe, churches were once attended by throngs of people, but
today the churches are mostly empty. Some of the fancier church buildings have become
museums. Others have been demolished. Meanwhile, in Canada and the United States, many
churches are still prosperous and well-attended--much as the churches of Europe once were.
But if we weighed North American churchgoers instead of merely counting, what would we
A friend from Europe told me that she wonders whether the well-attended churches of
North America are any more devoted to God than the empty churches of Europe. If these busy,
successful North American churches didn't offer bands, bingo, bowling clubs, dieting groups,
aerobic fitness programs, and countless other activities for religious consumers, said my friend-
-if they offered only the Word of God and the worship of God without lots of extra gimmicks to
draw a crowd, these churches might be as empty as those in Europe.
I don't know if she's right about that, but she makes me wonder. If we could weigh church
membership and not just count it, what would we find? Are many of our busy, bustling
churches less healthy than they appear? Do people meet God in these churches, or do they
find only a cushion against the living God? Do they worship God in spirit and truth, or do they
merely take in an uplifting, entertaining performance? How many churches are outwardly
successful but inwardly bankrupt? How much spiritual substance is there? If the substance is
lacking, it may be just a matter of time until the numbers go down as well. If many churches of
Europe were full not so long ago but now stand empty, will churches in North America go the
same way? How long can habit, entertainment, and activities keep people going to church if
they are not seeking God nor finding him there?
In a healthy church, the weekly worship is a time for people who have already been
walking with God in daily worship to join others and worship God together. Such worshipers
won't go for gimmicks that substitute for really worshiping in spirit. They won't go for preachers
who offer shallow salesmanship rather than proclaiming God's truth. The Bible endorses
people of noble character who listen attentively to the preacher but also examine the Scriptures
every day to make sure of the truth (Acts 17:11). But when daily worship at home is not a
reality for churchgoers, weekly worship at church is soon changed and compromised.

Start at Home
What about you? Are you the kind of worshiper the Father seeks? Do you have an
everyday relationship with the Lord? Or are you just a weekly churchgoer who adds to the
Sunday morning numbers without adding any real weight? Maybe you don't go to church at all.
That's what often happens when there's no home worship. Eventually church worship vanishes
as well. Even if you do keep going to church yourself, your children or grandchildren will stop
attending, because they will view worship as just a hollow, once-a-week thing, not daily, spirit-
and-truth reality.
My friend Henry Reyenga, President of Christian Leaders Institute, compares worship to
baseball. Attending major league baseball games used to be a favorite pastime for many
Americans, but these days fewer kids are eager to watch a baseball game. Why? Because
they don't play the game themselves. More kids play soccer or some other sport instead. They
have less interest in baseball than their parents had. Once kids stop playing the game in their
own day-to-day lives, it's only a matter of time until fewer of them show up for the big events at
the stadiums. Likewise, as fewer people worship God in their homes and their day-to-day lives,
it's only a matter of time until they or their children lose interest in the big public gatherings in
church on Sundays. Now, if kids don't play baseball and stadium attendance declines, it's no
great tragedy. But if daily worship declines and Sunday services eventually go down, it is an
enormous tragedy. We deprive ourselves of a rich relationship with God, and we deprive God
of the worship he deserves.
Some parents and churches are alarmed that their children might lose interest in church.
Churches may respond by fine-tuning their Sunday school programs, hiring youth pastors, and
redesigning worship services to appeal to the next generation. But for the most part, this is
doomed to fail. If those young people are not involved in daily worship at home, they simply
won't have a daily, meaningful walk with Christ. Their religion will be hollow or they will
eventually drop out of church entirely, no matter what the church does. But if their parents and
their church teach them the practice of daily worship, these young people will focus on the
living God, not on finding church events that pander to adolescent tastes.
Back when churches first began to have Sunday schools, they were aimed only at children
whose parents weren't Christians. But after awhile, churchgoing parents started depending on
Sunday schools too, thinking it was the church's job, not the parents' job, to teach their children
the ways of the Lord. Instead of having a daily time of worship with their own families in their
own homes, kids were given a weekly dose of a pre-packaged Sunday school curriculum. Is it
any wonder that it's hard to keep such kids interested in God and eager to become more like
Don't count on church services or youth programs to fill the spiritual void in your personal
or family life. If you long for yourself and your children to know God better, then begin at home.
Start having a time of worship each day, by yourself and as a family.
When Jesus called his first disciples, he said simply, "Follow me.” He invited them to get to
know him by spending time with him, talking and listening to him. That's what Jesus is calling
you to do right now. Follow him. Walk with him. Spend time with him each day. Make the Lord
the number one priority in your schedule. Nothing else can match the impact of a daily walk
with Christ, and nothing is more basic to building a relationship with him and honoring him. So
get started today!

Reading: Relational Prayer (Dr. Feddes)

The prayer of the upright is his delight. Proverbs 15:8

Would you walk up to someone you don't know, somebody you have no relationship with,
and ask for lots of special favors? Imagine starting a conversation with a total stranger by
telling him all the things you want him to do for you: "Hey, you, I don't know you, but I'm told
you're good at making things happen. I'm in a hurry, so I'll just list some things I want you to do
for me and some items I want you to give me. I only have a minute to talk--no time for more
conversation. So hurry up and make something good happen for me, okay? Maybe some other
time we can get to know each other.”
It would be shameful to approach someone that way. How dare we ask for things from
someone we're not interested in knowing? If someone is a close friend or family member, we
might feel more confident asking for something, because there's a connection, a relationship.
But going to a stranger with all sorts of requests won't accomplish much. Requests without
relationship won't get far.
That's true when we speak with other people, but what about when we speak with God?
How many of us talk to God only when we want something? How often do we give God a wish
list without seeking a relationship? Prayer must be more than a wish list. Prayer is relationship,
not just requests. If God is a complete stranger to us and the only time we talk to him is when
we want something from him, then we need to discover relational prayer.
Relational prayer is having a conversation with God--not just telling him what we want, but
having a real conversation in which we not only talk to him but also listen to him and get to
know him and become closer and closer to him. Relational prayer respects the personal nature
of God. Relational prayer doesn't just see God as a supplier of whatever we want but seeks a
living, loving relationship with him. God is the most powerful, most beautiful, most personal
being that exists, so a relationship with God is the most powerful, most beautiful, most personal
relationship your or I can possibly have. That means nothing in the world is more important
than relational prayer.
"Prayer is beyond any question the highest activity of the human soul,” said the late British
pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones. "Man is at his greatest and highest when, on his knees, he comes
face to face with God.” Prayer brings you into God's throne room and puts you in touch with the
King of the universe. If it's a great thing to talk with a president or prime minister or king, if it's a
great thing to be a personal friend of a great ruler, then surely the greatest thing of all is to talk
with the Ruler of the entire universe and to have a personal relationship with him. Relational
prayer is hanging around with Almighty God: that's the highest possible company, and it lifts us
higher than anything else we do. That's one reason relational prayer is the highest activity of
the human soul.

God's Favorite Food

Another reason relational prayer is the highest thing we do is that it brings God more
pleasure than anything else we do. As prayer lift our hearts to God, it also fills God's heart with
pleasure. The Bible says, "The prayer of the upright is his delight” (Proverbs 15:8). God loves
us to come to him in prayer. God enjoys conversations with his children. God likes it when we
talk to him and listen for his voice. God savors the praises of his people and is happy to pour
out his blessings.
Relational prayer is much more than bringing God a wish list, but that doesn't mean
relational prayer involves no requests. Far from it! God wants us to ask him for all sorts of
things. But he wants us to ask within the context of a desire for him and a relationship with him.
When our requests are part of a loving relationship, then God delights in hearing our requests
and answering in a way that's best for us.
The Bible sometimes pictures prayer as a sweet smell or a delicious meal that God enjoys.
As Pastor John Piper puts it,
It is as though God has a favorite food. When we pray, he smells the aroma from the
kitchen as you prepare his special dish. When God hungers for some special
satisfaction, he seeks out a prayer to answer. Our prayer is the sweet aroma from the
kitchen ascending into the King's chambers making him hungry for the meal. But the
actual enjoyment of the meal is his own glorious work in answering our prayer. The
food of God is to answer our prayers. The most wonderful thing about the Bible is that it
reveals a God who satisfies his appetite for joy by answering prayers. (The Pleasures
of God, p. 223).
Prayer is God's favorite food. It's also our best nourishment. In the Bible God says, "Open
wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). Relational prayer is a feast for God and a feast
for us. God feasts on the glory and pleasure of giving us his joy, and we feast on God.
Belonging to Jesus Christ isn't just a set of beliefs or behaviors; it's a relationship. That
relationship certainly involves believing certain truths and behaving in certain ways, but at the
heart of the relationship is a personal connection with the Lord. In the words of A. W. Tozer,
"The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the
soul of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion.” The free
interchange of love and thought--that's what relational prayer is. It's pouring out our thoughts to
God and paying attention to what God is thinking. It's experiencing God's love and expressing
our love for him.
How does such a relationship get started? How do we get to know God and get connected
in the first place? And once the relationship is started, how can it flourish and keep getting
closer and better? How do we deal with things that get in the way of relational prayer? How do
we overcome hindrances and distractions so that relational prayer can be the heartbeat of our
day-to-day life? Let's think about those questions and find some answers.

Starting a Relationship
A relationship with God is impossible without prayer. That's because prayer is
communication, and where there's no communication, there's no relationship. To have a
relationship with God, you must listen to him and talk to him.
If you don't know God at all and aren't even sure he exists, you might want evidence that
God is real before you consider having a relationship with him. It can be helpful to examine
evidence, to look for clues, to study archeology and philosophy, to consider various lines of
reasoning for the existence of God. There's no lack of evidence--philosophers Peter Kreeft and
Ronald Tacelli list twenty arguments for the existence of God, and others could be added.
Such evidence can help to clear away objections and open your mind to the likelihood that God
is real, but there's more to looking for God than sorting through evidence. If you're busy looking
at clues, that's okay, but keep in mind that God is not just a thing to investigate or an idea to
think about but a person to relate to. Sometimes the best way to find a person is not just to
follow clues but to seek the person himself.
Suppose you're looking for someone in a forest. One way to search would be to look for
tracks on the ground and for other clues the person left behind. That could be helpful, but what
if you were so busy looking at the ground for clues that you never looked up and never noticed
that the person you were looking for was already walking right beside you? If you're looking for
God, you can look down at the various clues God leaves behind, but why not try looking up in
prayer? You might find that God is right beside you, eager to hear you and communicate with
If you don't sense God nearby, try calling his name. If you were looking for a person in a
forest, you wouldn't just look on the ground for clues or look around for the person; you would
also keep calling his name in hopes that he would answer back. Likewise, when you're looking
for God, keep calling for him. Even if you're not sure he's there to hear you, pray to him
anyway. It may not be much of a prayer. It may be nothing better than, "God, I'm not sure if
you're there, but if you are, I want to meet you and know you. Please listen to me and help me
to find you.” A prayer like that might do more to help you find God than all the evidence in the
The Bible says that God wants us to "seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him,
though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). The first step in relational prayer is
simply to pray that God will make the relationship get started in the first place by letting you get
in touch with him.
As you pray for God to make himself known to you, don't give up if something doesn't
happen right away. Sometimes God wants you to seek him for a while and develop a stronger
desire for the relationship before he lets you find him. Think again of what you would do if you
were looking for someone in a forest. Would you stop calling his name if he didn't answer the
first time you called? No, you'd keep searching and keep calling and keep listening for a voice
calling back to you. Likewise, pray without ceasing until God hears you and answers you. God
promises in the Bible, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”
(Jeremiah 29:13).
It's fine to be interested in logical proofs and in archeological discoveries, such as the
recently discovered burial box labeled "James, son of Joseph and brother of Jesus.” Did this
box really did contain the bones of the brother of Jesus Christ? That would be a big discovery
in archeology, but finding the burial box of Jesus' dead half-brother would not be nearly as
important as finding the living Jesus.
Seek Jesus himself, not just clues about him. Pray for a relationship. Once you're walking
and talking with the Lord, evidence and arguments may still be interesting but not nearly as
convincing or as important as your personal connection with God in the person of Jesus Christ.
Relational prayer begins with a prayer that reaches out for God. Ask God to make himself
known to you. Ask him to bring you into a relationship with him. As you talk to God in prayer,
be sure to read the Bible daily and listen for God's voice speaking from his inspired Word. The
Lord will impress important messages on your spirit. Early in the relationship, he will show you
how much you need him and how much he loves you. He will show you that you are a sinner
and that the blood of Jesus washes you clean. Believe the Lord. Trust him to forgive you and
save you. Thank him for accepting you into a relationship with him, and welcome his Holy Spirit
to live in you. The way to experience salvation and eternal life is simply to knowing the Lord
and to be connected to him in a personal relationship. Jesus says, "This is eternal life: that they
may know ... the only true God and Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).

A Growing Relationship
Once there's a real relationship and you know you're saved, don't stop there. Keep seeking
more. The relationship must keep growing stronger and deeper. Don't put so much emphasis
on the initial moment of "getting saved” that you neglect the ongoing relationship. There's a lot
more to a friendship than the first time you meet and hit it off with someone. There's a lot more
to a marriage than love at first sight or a splendid wedding. A relationship isn't just one magical
moment; it involves regular communication and frequent expressions of love. It's good to pray
a sinner's prayer and ask for salvation, but be sure to keep talking and listening to God after
you're saved.
Relationships are like cell phones. They need to be recharged and powered up repeatedly.
If you never plug a cell phone in to recharge the battery, it eventually runs out of power and
stops working. It must be recharged regularly. Likewise, marriages and friendships need to be
recharged regularly through communication, kindness, and love--and the greatest relationship
of all, our relationship with God, needs to be recharged repeatedly through relational prayer. As
you speak to God and listen to him, you connect with him, and the power of the Holy Spirit
recharges your relationship.
Relational prayer is vital to a growing, flourishing relationship with God. Relational prayer is
the highest thing a human can do. Relational prayer nourishes and lifts our souls, and
relational prayer delights our heavenly Father. Nothing you or I can do is more important than
communicating with Almighty God through his Son Jesus in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
That's the truth about relational prayer, but I have to admit that relational prayer doesn't
happen easily for me. Often I don't feel much pleasure in praying. I don't always sense that
God enjoys my prayers. I know the truth of how fantastic relational prayer is, and yet for some
strange reason I have a hard time doing it. When I get a good intention to pray, it seems that I
suddenly think of something I have to do. If I do settle down to pray, all sorts of other thoughts
tug at my mind that distract me from paying attention to God and having a conversation with
him. Almost anything in the world is easier than prayer. It's easier for me to preach about
prayer to crowds of people than to actually pray to God.
I have many things competing for my time and attention, but that's all an excuse. I
somehow find time for lots of less important things--indeed, everything else is less important
than prayer. Why don't I make more time to pray? Why, when I try to pray, do I become
distracted so easily? Why do I so quickly run out of things to pray about? Something inside me
longs for God, but something else inside me is more comfortable keeping my distance. The
something that holds me back from prayer is my own sinful nature being tugged by Satan
tempting me to keep my distance from God; the Someone who keeps nudging me to pray is
God's Holy Spirit living in me.
Do you experience something similar? Do you long to know God better, yet find all sorts of
things getting in the way? Do you want relational prayer to be the pattern and joy of your life,
yet find that conversation with God is a struggle? Well, don't give up. Don't stop listening and
talking to God just because it's not always easy. Ask for the help of God's Holy Spirit to help
you pray and stay connected with Christ.
If we could communicate and connect with God better through relational prayer, it might do
wonders for our other relationships. The way we relate to God rubs off on the way we relate to
others. People who think they're too busy to talk with God tend to be too busy to talk with
others. Husbands and wives can be so busy coming and going that they hardly talk to each
other, and then they wonder why they're drifting apart and their love is withering. Some teens
talk to their parents only long enough to ask for money or the keys to the car but don't enjoy
longer conversations, and then they wonder why their parents have no connection with their
world. I suspect that a teen who gets into frequent relational prayer with God will end up having
more frequent, healthy conversations with parents. I suspect that a husband or wife who
makes conversation with God part of everyday life will become a better communicator with
their spouse as well. Many of the bad habits that hamper our prayer life also show up in our
other relationships. So as our prayers and relationship with God are transformed, many of our
other conversations and relationships may be transformed as well.

Paying Attention
One of the most important parts of relational prayer (and of communication in any
relationship) is paying attention. If I pray with my mind only on what I want, my prayers aren't
worth much. If I want a conversation with God, I can't just try to get him to pay attention to me; I
must pay attention to him.
When you pray, start by letting it sink in who your partner in this conversation is. This is
God! This is the Creator of the universe, the fountain of all joy, the limitless ocean of love. This
is the Father of Jesus Christ, the God of compassion, the Lord of all comfort, the friend of
sinners, the Savior of his people. This is your Father and your friend. He is more eager to bless
you than you are to experience his blessing. So when you pray, don't be in a hurry to talk about
what you want. First marvel at how good God is, how strong God is, how loving and creative
and holy God is, and what a privilege it is to know him. Before you say anything about what
you want God to do for you, first tell God why you love him and what you adore about him.
Otherwise your conversations become mostly business with little personal connection. A
relationship with God shouldn't be all business, any more than a marriage should be. My wife
and I are busy people. We have a large family and many things to do. Wendy and I talk about
our children and their education, about household finances and chores, about neighbors and
friends at church, and it's good to talk about all that. It's part of the life we share. But something
would be wrong if all the time we spent together were nothing but business and activities, if I
never simply paid attention to Wendy and enjoyed her as the wonderful person she is. In the
same way, it's good to talk with God about many activities and challenges--one of the great
things about relational prayer is that we face day-to-day opportunities and activities in
partnership with God--but relational prayer must be more than that. It must include paying
attention to God, taking notice of how awesome he is and of what a privilege it is to have a
relationship with him.
As we pay attention to who God is, let's also listen for what he is saying to us. God speaks
through the Bible, and in our times of prayer, if we spend time in silence and listen for his
leading, he may impress a biblical message on us and help us to know what he is saying to
guide, encourage, or correct us. At times his only message may be to say again how much he
loves us. To hear what God is saying, we must be paying attention to him, not just to our own
Sometimes when I'm reading a book or wrapped up in thought, my wife or children will be
talking to me, and I hardly notice. I might even nod automatically and say something without
even being aware of it. They might talk for several minutes while I remain in my own little world.
Suddenly I'll snap out of it and say, "Oh, were you talking to me? What did you say?” My family
members are usually kind enough to laugh about my absent-mindedness instead of getting
angry at me, but it's still fair to say that not much communication happens when I'm in my
absent-minded zone. My mind has to be present, not absent.
When praying to God, our minds need to be present, not absent. We need to pay attention,
not let our minds wander. Don't get a guilt complex if you get distracted in the middle of prayer,
but use even the distractions as an occasion for prayer, asking God to help you focus on him
and pay attention to who he is and what he is saying to us. Jesus says that when we pray, we
should go to a closet, a private place where we're not trying to impress anybody, where
distractions are at a minimum, where we can give our undivided attention to God. Relational
prayer can include many brief talks with God during the hustle and bustle of a day, but it must
also include special times each day that we set aside for nothing but conversation with our
heavenly Father.
If you belong to Jesus, God loves to be with you and hear your prayers. When you praise
him and say you love him, God delights in your praise. When you thank God for something he
has done for you, God is happy that you enjoy his gifts, and he is already planning even more
blessings for you. When you apologize to God and ask forgiveness for bad things you've done
that offend and grieve him, God is full of joy at your repentance and your desire to be close to
him again. When you ask God to help people you know, God is glad that you care enough
about others to bring their needs to the Lord. And when you pray about your own challenges
and needs, God is glad that you count on him. He will give what you ask, unless in his wisdom
he gives you something even better and more lasting than what you asked for. When you know
God through regular, relational prayer, God delights in you and in your prayers, and he
promises, "I will rejoice in doing them good... with all my heart and with all my soul” (Jeremiah
Father, thank you for calling us into a relationship with you and for delighting in the prayers of
your people. Keep drawing us closer to you by your Holy Spirit within us. Help us to pray more
and more in tune with your heart of love and to experience the wonder of relational prayer, for
Jesus' sake. Amen.

Reading: Pray Like Children

Do you ever pray? If so, do you know what to say? Or do you find it hard to pray? Maybe
you're not sure where to start or what words to use. But to really pray, you don't have to be a
great performer. You just need to be like a little child.
If you can't give great speeches, if you're not sure you know all the right words to produce
an impressive prayer, don't worry. You can pray anyway. On the other hand, if you can't relate
to God and talk to him as a little child to a Father, then prayer is a problem for you.
In real prayer, you're not performing to impress the judge of a talent show. You're pouring
out your heart to your Father. Jesus says in his great Sermon on the Mount,
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the
synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have
received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray
to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will
reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they
will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows
what you need even before you ask him.”
According to Jesus, prayer isn't a public performance; it's a personal conversation. It's not
giving a big speech to impress a stranger; it's talking to your Father who understands you and
knows what's on your mind even before you tell him.

Learning to Talk
For many of us, this is good news. It makes prayer simpler. If you can't pray the way you've
heard some religious leaders pray, don't worry about it. Prayer is between you and God. Just
go somewhere by yourself, where nobody else can see you or hear you. Tell your Father in
heaven what's on your heart. God loves to hear his children pray.
Maybe you're new to praying. You feel like a baby in the faith. You feel like you hardly
know how to talk. You haven't learned all the words that long-time church people use when
they pray. Don't let that bother you. Don't let it stop you from praying. Your Father in heaven
loves to hear you trying to talk to him for the first time.
When a baby says, "Da-da, dah-dee,” does a father say, "Bad baby! You didn't pronounce
that right”? No! When a baby gurgles a noise that sounds anything like "Daddy,” the father's
face lights up. Likewise, when you stumble along in your first prayers, your heavenly Father
doesn't frown and scribble notes with a red pen, criticizing the way you pray. God delights to
hear his children's first words of prayer.
Think for a minute about some of the first words we use as children when we're learning to
talk, words like "Daddy,” "Wow,” "I'm sorry,” "I love you,” "Please,” "Thank you”, and "Why?”
Did you know that expressions like these can be found in many prayers in the Bible? Prayer is
so personal and so simple that even a child just learning to talk knows most of the basics for
praying to God.
The starting point of prayer--and perhaps the most important part--is the way we address
God. Jesus teaches his people to call God "our Father in heaven.” Sometimes Jesus even
used the word "Abba” when praying to his Father. "Abba” is what little Hebrew boys and girls
would call their father. It's a word like "Papa” or "Daddy,” a word of trust and closeness, of love
and respect. What a privilege, to be able to speak to God this way!
Sometimes, though, we may be tempted to bring God down to our level, to make him our
buddy and equal. That's when we need to remember that Jesus taught us to speak to our
Father in heaven. God is near but he's also infinitely above us.
In any healthy father-child relationship, there's a lot of love, but there's also great respect
for the father. A father isn't just a buddy or an equal. He's a father! Some parents may say they
just want to be friends with their children, but that's foolish. Sure, there should be love and
affection, but a father is a father, not a just a pal. A good father is wiser and more powerful than
his child, and he deserves respect.
Now, if that's true of earthly fathers, it's far truer of our heavenly Father. Yes, we can speak
to our Father like a child to a daddy, but we must also remember that God is in heaven, that he
is great and glorious and holy beyond anything we can imagine. Even Jesus himself
sometimes addressed his Father as "Holy Father” and "Righteous Father” (John 17:11,25). If
even Jesus spoke of the Father with such respect, we certainly should.
Prayer begins with lovingly and respectfully calling God "our Father.” If you trust Jesus and
have his Spirit in your heart, and if you know how to say the word "Daddy” or "Father,” then
you're ready to pray.

The word "Wow!” is short and simple. It's among the first words you learn as a child. As
you get a little older, you might also use the word "Awesome!” Prayer involves a lot of "Wow!”
and "Awesome!” Who is more awesome than God? Who deserves a bigger "Wow!” than the
almighty Creator and Savior?
One of the greatest things we can ever enjoy is a sense of sheer wonder and awe as we
are overwhelmed by something so astonishing we can hardly describe it. A big part of prayer is
praising and adoring the Lord, bowing before him and exclaiming "Wow!” and telling our Father
how awesome he is. The prayers of the Bible are filled with this kind of praise. "You are
awesome, O God” (Psalm 68:35). "Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name--he is holy” (Psalm 99:2-3). "Great and
marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.
Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?” (Revelation 15:3-4).
Jesus teaches that one of the most basic parts of prayer is to say, "Hallowed be thy name.”
We praise God, and we pray that God's name will be praised by every living thing. We forget
ourselves, we forget everything around us, and we're overwhelmed with awe at God and at his
great name.
That's why we need to do most of our praying when we're alone. That way we can focus
entirely on the Lord and his majesty rather than on the people around us. Instead of trying to
show others how pious we are, we can concentrate on telling God how awesome he is. Every
prayer should have this "Wow,” this sense of awe and astonishment at the marvel of a God
who created everything, who controls the stars and galaxies, who is great and holy and lives in
unapproachable light, and who also stoops down to touch and transform our lives.
"I'm Sorry”
Another thing most of us learn to say when we're little is, "I'm sorry.” Often we don't like to
say it. We don't want to say it. But when we've done something wrong, we need to say it. If
you're a child and you disobey your parents or fight with other children, the best way to make
things right again is to say, "I'm sorry” and to ask for forgiveness.
The prayers of the Bible show how God's children need to tell God, "I'm sorry.” In Psalm
51:3-4 King David says, "I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against
you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
Sometimes we're too proud to admit we're wrong. We'd rather pretend we're good. Jesus
tells a story of a very religious man who prayed to God and gave thanks that he wasn't like
other people. He claimed he was extra good and always did what was right. But God did not
accept that man. Instead, God accepted a man who had done some terribly bad things but who
prayed, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:9-14).
If we never admit we're wrong, if we never say we're sorry, we won't enjoy God's
forgiveness and love. We'll just get more miserable. In Psalm 32, King David says that the
longer he kept quiet and refused to admit his wrong, the sadder he became. Then, finally, says
David, "I acknowledged my sin to you... I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'--
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
It's hard to admit we're wrong and to say "I'm sorry.” But once we do, it's wonderful. The
Bible says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify
us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
God not only forgives us and makes things right between him and us, but he also moves us
to forgive those who have wronged us. In the model prayer Jesus taught us, he told us to pray,
"Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In other words, we tell God we're
sorry for our sins and ask his forgiveness, and we also promise to forgive anyone who hurts us.
That kind of prayer keeps our relationship with God healthy, and it keeps our relationship with
other people healthy. "I'm sorry”--that's one of the first things we're taught to say as children,
and it's a crucial part of prayer.

"I Love You”

Another thing children say a lot--and should hear a lot--is "I love you.” In the Bible God
says again and again how much he loves his children. He showed his love by sending his Son
to die for us, and his Holy Spirit warms our hearts with a sense of his love. So it's only right to
tell God how much we love him.
Jesus said the most important thing in all the world is this: "Love the Lord your God with all
your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
Since loving God is our highest calling, saying "I love you” is an important part of prayer. The
writer of Psalm 18 prays, "I love you, O Lord, my strength.” That's not a fancy prayer, is it? But
it pleases God to hear us say we love him.Every time we say that, we are only echoing what
God first said to us. He loved us before we ever loved him, and he delights to hear us say we
love him. Just as a father beams happily when a little child smiles and says, "I love you,” so
God our Father delights in our prayers of love, he embraces us in his arms of love, and he
sings a song of infinite, eternal love that echoes and rings in our hearts. What a wonder prayer
is! What joy to know God's love and to express our love for him!

Something else little children do is ask for things. And it's okay to ask for things. It shows
that children know they can't do everything on their own and that they count on their parents.
So it's good to ask. But it's also good to learn how to ask. Our parents don't teach us to say
"Gimme.” They teach us to say "Please.” "Please” is a good word. It shows how much we want
something, and it shows we're making a request, not a demand. "Please” means we're not
giving orders; we're humbly asking. We're depending on the kindness of the person we're
asking, not demanding our rights.
Whether or not we actually use the word "Please” in our prayers, our attitude should
certainly be one of humble asking. Sometimes, even when a father wants to give a child
something, he won't actually give it until the child asks and says "Please.” In the same way,
God wants to give us good things, but sometimes he doesn't give them till we humbly pray and
ask him.
The Bible is filled with all kinds of requests. God's people ask the Lord for healing from
illness. They ask God to supply food. They ask God to rescue them from enemies. They ask
God for help in finding a wife. They ask for babies. They ask for help dealing with old age. They
ask for wisdom in decisions and for all sorts of other things.
These examples from the Bible teach us that we should ask our heavenly Father, humbly
and respectfully, for the things we need. This includes our daily needs--and much more. Jesus
teaches us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread.” But as important as that is, there's
something else that's even more important. Even before we ask for God to take care of our
daily physical needs, says Jesus, we should pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on
earth as it is in heaven.”
When we're little, we quickly find that our parents grant some requests but not others. If we
ask them for something that's really good and helpful for us, they'll give it to us every time. But
if we ask to skip schoolwork every day, or to eat candy from morning till evening, our parents
are going to say no. In the same way, if we want to really be effective in prayer and see
answers from God, we need to learn to ask our Father in heaven for things that are good for
us, not just for things we happen to want.
If we seek first God's kingdom, if we seek to do his will and be delivered from evil, we can
be sure God is going to say "Yes” when we ask him. If we ask God to fill us with his life and
love through his Holy Spirit, we can be sure he'll do so. Our Father wants what's best for us. As
Jesus said, "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or
if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though your are evil, know how to
give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit
to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

"Thank You”
Once we learn to say "Please” and respectfully ask God for what we're seeking, then we
also need to say "Thank you” for all the great things the Lord does for us. "Thank you” isn't just
a polite little phrase. It's the heart of happiness. A child who takes for granted everything his
parents do for him isn't nearly as happy as a child who appreciates what his parents do, sees it
as an expression of their love, and thanks them for it. Children must know how to say "Thank
you,” and God's children certainly need to know how to say thank you to our Father in heaven.
Sometimes I smile when I hear little children pray. They thank God for sunshine and
flowers and puppies, and I think, "How cute!” But is it just cute? Or is it deep and profound
prayer? When I look in the Bible, I find many prayers that are just as childlike: praising God for
the stars and the sun, thanking him for rain and food and animals and fish, thanking him for
health and happiness. Of course, we should also thank God for spiritual blessings and for
eternal life in Jesus. But there's deep insight in a child who sees every good thing as a gift from
God and thanks him for it. There's nothing especially spiritual about forgetting to thank God for
flowers and puppies and food and fun and a warm house and a decent income and all the
other things he gives us. "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever”
(Psalm 136:1).

"Why? It's not fair!”

Now let's talk about another aspect of a child's prayer, one that might surprise you. When
children are confused, they often ask "Why?” When something happens that they think is
wrong, they cry out, "It's not fair.” Did you know that such things are part of prayer as we find it
in the Bible?
The Israelite hero Gideon once asked in a time of trouble, "If the Lord is with us, why has
all this happened to us?” (Judges 6:13). The biblical psalms ask "Why?” again and again.
"Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm
10:1) The prophet Habbakuk asked God, "Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you
tolerate wrong?” (1:3) Jeremiah asked the same question. Even Jesus himself asked "Why?”
On the cross he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
How does God respond to our cries? Sometimes we find out that God shares our sorrow
and opposes an unfair situation. At other times, when we cry out "Why?” or scream "It's not
fair!” God may show us that we need to change our attitude and stop complaining. But even
then, it's better to cry out in prayer and have God change our attitude than it is not to bring our
struggles to God at all. He knows what's on our heart anyway, so we might as well tell him, and
then be alert for his response.
Prayers of questioning and complaint don't always mean a lack of faith. If you're a child and
you never ask your dad questions or say what's troubling you, is that a sign of trust? No, if you
really trust someone, you don't have to hide anything. When you trust God, you can go to your
heavenly Father freely and throw into his lap whatever is on your heart. As children can pour
out their questions and complaints to loving parents, so we can be open with our heavenly
Father about what is bothering us.

If you're learning to pray, you don't have to be fancy. If you know the words any child
knows, words like "Father,” "Wow,” "I'm sorry,” "I love you,” "Please,” "Thank you,” and "Why?”
then you know most of what you need to know in order to talk to your Father in heaven. In fact,
there are times when you don't need say anything. You can pray without any words at all.
When we're so confused and sad that we don't have any words left, then, like a child, at
least we can still cry, and our Father hears us and knows what we need. "We do not know
what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot
express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit” (Romans 8:26-27).
Sometimes just crying on God's shoulder is one of the deepest prayers his Spirit creates in us.
Wordless prayer is powerful not only in deep sadness but also in deep gladness. When
we're almost too happy for words, we can just enjoy the Lord's nearness in silence. Sometimes
a father and child sit together and hug each other and enjoy each other's love, without saying
anything at all. Those are very special times. You and I can also do that in our prayer time with
God. Don't say anything. Just bask in his presence, enjoy his love, and feel content that he is
your Father and you are his child. There's no greater prayer than this silence of love.
One more thing: please realize that in order to pray a child's prayer, you have to be God's
child. To call him your Father, he must be your Father. You must be part of his family.
How do you become part of God's family? Put your faith in Jesus Christ. Believe that the
Son of God became human and died and rose again so that you might become a child of God.
Trust Jesus to give you eternal life. Welcome his Spirit to live inside you and adopt you into
God's family. Then rejoice as the Spirit moves you to pray a child's prayer. Your prayers won't
be grand performances but personal conversations with your Father in heaven.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. You are so amazing. Move us to marvel
and to say "Wow!” at your genius and majesty. You are so good, and we are often so bad.
We're sorry. Forgive our debts as we also forgive our debtors. We love you, Father, and we
trust in your love.
Put us in tune with your desires for us, and then grant us the desires of our hearts. May
your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. As you work your big
plans for this world and give us a part in those plans, we ask you to please give us each day
our daily bread and meet our personal needs. Thank you for all the good gifts you give us, and
thank you above all for the precious gift of salvation in Jesus. Lead us not into temptation but
deliver us from the evil one, that we may stand against Satan's attacks and do what pleases
When times are tough and we're struggling and we don't know the reason, hold us in your
arms as we voice our questions and ask, "Why?” Thank you that we don't need to pretend with
you, that we can come just as we are with our doubts and problems. Help us to be still and
know that you are God, to find in silence the peace that calms our fears and the love that
warms our hearts through your Holy Spirit. Amen.