How should I pray? How do I pray in accordance with God’s will?
by Shawn Brasseaux
How should you pray? For what should you pray? The Bible has the answers, so we need to search it for them!
In Luke 11:1, one of Christ’s disciples declared, “Lord, teach us to pray….” The next three verses serve as a model prayer for the Jewish believers of Christ’s earthly ministry. Unfortunately, this “Our Father” Prayer (or its more developed form of Matthew 6:9-13) is so repetitiously uttered by modern-day Christendom, it is quite nauseating.
When considering the issue of prayer, we must remember to apply dispensational Bible study. The Holy Spirit tells us: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). We must never confuse ourselves with the nation Israel. We cannot pray the way God taught Israel to pray.
Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry was directed toward the nation Israel. The Lord Jesus Himself said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). The Apostle Paul affirmed, “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision [Israel] for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers” (Romans 15:8). Whatever Jesus taught and spoke in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that was God’s message to the nation Israel, not His Word to us. Today, in this the Dispensation of Grace, Israel’s program is temporarily suspended. We are not Jews, and we are not living in Israel’s economy (Dispensation of Law), so we cannot follow Israel’s model prayer (commonly called “the Lord’s Prayer”).
The ascended Lord Jesus Christ saved Saul of Tarsus, and made him Paul, “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15,16; Romans 11:13; Romans 15:16; 2 Timothy 1:11). The ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ sent Paul to us, and Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me” (John 13:20). Paul is our apostle, and if we reject Paul, we reject Jesus Christ who sent Paul, and we reject God the Father. To reject Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, is to reject God’s message to us today as people living in the Dispensation of Grace.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:37: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” Oftentimes, most church members are never even taught this simple fact of Scripture! The true test of spirituality today is whether or not one agrees with what the Holy Ghost through Paul wrote.
A great error in Christendom today is praying one of two ways: praying vain, repetitious prayers like the pagan heathens did (Matthew 6:7) or praying like Israel was supposed to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). Furthermore, prayer is not repeating memorized prayers, or reciting ditties from prayer books. Religion has led us to believe that prayer is nothing more than, “God gimme ____.” Prayer should not be selfish. It is quite unfortunate that we are all guilty of talking to God when we need something, but giving Him the cold shoulder when everything is going okay for us.
If Paul is our apostle, and he is, then we should take note of how Paul prayed, and then by faith, pray for the same things for which he prayed. The Apostle Paul urges believers to “continue instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12), to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and to “pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18). In fact, one Christian in Colosse, Epaphras, “always laboured fervently [for other believers] in prayer” (Colossians 4:12). In 1 Thessalonians 1:2, the Apostle Paul writes “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;” In another place, Paul writes that he “prayed always for [believers]” (Colossians 1:3).
Surely, prayer was an integral part of Paul’s Christian life, it has always been an integral part of the lives of the saints down through the centuries, and it should be an integral part of our Christian lives today. According to the Scriptures, believers are to always be praying, day in and day out. But for what specific things should we be praying? We will address that question later on in this study. First, we want to answer the question, “Exactly what is prayer?”
Psalm 62:8 says: “Trust in him [God] at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah [Rest].” God is interested in you pouring out your heart before Him. Share with Him your worries and your thoughts. Prayer is you speaking to and fellowshipping with God in light of His Word to you. You do not necessarily have to kneel or close your eyes, for your physical posture is totally irrelevant. There is no need to go to a prayer closet, no need to cross your heart, and no need to pray in an unknown language. Prayer is you speaking to God in an intelligent, understandable manner. Paul wrote, “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:15). You do not have to pray out loud either! You can pray quietly in your heart (such as thinking or talking to yourself).
Pray with intelligence, not ignorance! When the indwelling Holy Spirit takes the sound Biblical doctrine we have learned and believed, He uses it to transform our inner man (1 Thessalonians 2:13). As God’s Word works in us, we see things the way God sees them, and “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). When we understand what God is doing today, then we will pray for what aligns with what God is doing. If we do not rightly divide God’s Word, we do not know what God is doing today, which will render us unable to pray in accordance with God’s Word and God’s will today.
Here are some common areas of confusion in regards to prayer today. This confusion can be cleared up if we simply study God’s Word God’s way, and not force Israel’s doctrine into our program!
SHOULD WE PRAY FOR WEALTH?
Prosperity preachers today often quote Deuteronomy 8:18, “for it is [the LORD] that giveth thee power to get wealth.” Should we pray for material riches? Verses 14-16, which are intentionally overlooked, explain that this is God speaking to Israel, not to us. Israel was God’s earthly people, so obviously, He promised them earthly (material) blessings.
Ephesians 1:3 says that God has blessed us “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” and God has already supplied “all [our] need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19), so we have no reason to ask God for any more blessings. We, the Church the Body of Christ, are God’s heavenly people, so He has given us heavenly blessings. We are “complete in [Christ]” (Colossians 2:10). Read 1 Corinthians 1:30: “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:” And Romans 8:32: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” The moment we trusted and relied on Jesus Christ alone for salvation, God instantly gave us everything He could give us!
SHOULD WE PRAY FOR FORGIVENESS?
In 1 John 1:9, we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Matthew 6:12,14,15 affirms: “ And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:  But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
As a denominational Christian, I was taught in church to pray for forgiveness on a daily basis. Unless I asked for forgiveness, I thought God would not forgive me (as in the verses cited above). This was a failure on my part to rightly divide the word of truth because 1 John 1:9 was not written to me, it was written to Jews—lost, unsaved Jews at that! Matthew 6:9-13 was God’s model for the nation Israel, not for me.
God has forgiven us “all trespasses” because we are in Jesus Christ, and we need not ask for forgiveness. Paul wrote to us in Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” He also wrote in Colossians 1:14: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:”
SHOULD WE PRAY FOR HEALING?
James 5:15 says “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul prayed for physical healing three times, and every time God did not heal him. We are not in Israel’s healing program where signs, miracles, and wonders were needed to convince Israel (John 4:48; 1 Corinthians 1:22), so James 5:15 is not for us to follow! It is for Israel. If it was for us, why did Paul not urge Timothy and Trophimus to pray for healing (1 Timothy 5:23; 2 Timothy 4:20)? Instead, Timothy was urged to take medication for his often infirmities.
Thankfully, one day, God will heal every member of the Church the Body of Christ, and that will be at the rapture, when we receive glorified, resurrected bodies fashioned like unto Jesus Christ’s resurrected body (Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 2 Corinthians 5:1-5; Philippians 3:20,21)! God’s grace is sufficient to help us endure suffering, and no matter what we face in life, we can grow spiritually even as these physical bodies grow sick and eventually die (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:5).
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If you want the best two verses about prayer in this the Dispensation of Grace, they are Philippians 4:6-7: “ Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
The cares of this life can be overwhelming at times. Financial problems, illness, death of loved ones, and even the daily annoyances can weigh us down in discouragement and misery. We grow “careful,” becoming worrisome and uneasy. God says, “be careful for nothing!” No matter what you are facing in life, be anxious for nothing.
If you are a member of the Church the Body of Christ, you have the indwelling Holy Spirit to comfort you, and guide you, and strengthen you with the Scriptures you study and believe. God will not deliver us from our problems, but we thank Him in prayer on a daily basis for giving us His wonderful grace and all those other provisions He has given us in Christ so that we can “bear” those “temptations” and problems. Read 1 Corinthians 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” When we look at life in this light, we have we take comfort in “the peace of God.”
As this point, we have hopefully cleared up some of the confusion that religion has caused concerning prayer. God is not interested in us reciting prayer books. He wants us to pour out our hearts before Him (Psalm 62:8). We should not be praying like God taught Israel to pray in time past. As members of the Church the Body of Christ, we need to pray with intelligence. Recall that praying with intelligence does not mean you need an IQ of 165. It means having an understanding of what God is doing today. When we “rightly divide the word of truth,” like 2 Timothy 2:15 states, we understand what God is doing in this Dispensation of Grace.
We need to “pray with Paul,” our apostle, God’s spokesman to us. When the Bible speaks of “praying in the [Holy] Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20), it means praying in accordance with God’s will, or what God the Holy Spirit is doing today in this the Dispensation of Grace. The Bible says that only Paul’s ministry focuses on what God is doing today. “God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3,4). God’s will today, in this the Dispensation of Grace, is for everyone to trust in His Son Jesus Christ for salvation, and for every Christian to grow to a spiritual maturity. As we now discuss Paul’s prayer life, notice how his prayers align with 1 Timothy 2:3,4.
PAUL’S MODEL PRAYERS
The Apostle Paul urged the believers in Thessalonica to “pray for us [Paul, Silas, Timothy], that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to pray for him and for all those who labored with him in the ministry. Paul wanted them to pray that God’s Word would transform others’ lives just as it had transformed their lives (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13). This is referring to lost people hearing God’s Word and getting saved and having a place in heaven, and believers allowing God’s grace to change their lifestyles. Pray for the salvation of lost people and the spiritual growth of Christians. Paul wanted them to pray for him to have freedom to preach and teach the sound doctrine the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to him, so that sound doctrine could save and mature its hearers.
Notice what Paul also prayed for believers in 2 Thessalonians 1:11,12: “ Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:  That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here, notice that Paul understood that God wanted to “perform a good work” in the saints (see Philippians 1:6 and Philippians 2:12,13). God’s Word had transformed these pagans for His glory, and now Paul wanted to continue seeing the Thessalonians’ lives better reflect the grace message! Paul knew what God was doing, and by faith, Paul prayed for that to happen.
There are four large model prayers found in the Pauline epistles that you and I as members of the Church the Body of Christ need to understand. Here, in this study, we will look at three (the fourth one will be examined in the last study). Let us begin with Ephesians 1:16-20:
“ [I, Paul] Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;  That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:  The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,  And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,  Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,”
Notice the specific requests that Paul made while praying to God. He prayed that believers would gain spiritual understanding. That they would grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ: understanding who He is, His graciousness, what He is doing, His power, and so on. Paul prayed for the saints to have spiritual growth. Compare that to what Paul wrote in Romans 1:11,12, when we read that he prayed he could visit the Roman believers in order to “impart unto [them] some spiritual gift”; that is, bring them sound Bible teaching so that they would be “established,” that their understanding of Scripture be firmly fixed (compare Colossians 2:6-7).
Notice what Epaphras prayed for the Colossian believers (4:12): “that [they] may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” In other words, that they would be spiritually mature and that their lives would align with God’s will (with what God is doing today in the Dispensation of Grace). We see that Paul prayed that believers’ lives would bring God glory and praise. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Let us look at the second large model prayer of Paul’s epistles, as found in Ephesians 3:14-19:
“ For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,  Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,  That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;  That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,  May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;  And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”
Again, notice what the Apostle Paul prayed. Paul prayed that God’s Holy Spirit would strengthen us with might in our inner man according to the riches of Christ’s glory (verse 16). That is spiritual growth. In verse 17, Paul prayed that the Ephesians would let Christ Jesus live His life in and through them as they placed their faith in God’s Word to them, that they would be “rooted and grounded in love,” that they would “be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of everything that God is doing today, that they would “know the love of Christ,” and that they would be “filled with all the fulness of God” (compare Ephesians 4:13). These are all references to grace living and Christian service: “coming to the knowledge of the truth.”
We will now consider the third of Paul’s large model prayers. Look at the prayer that Paul uttered in Philippians 1:3-11:
“ I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,  Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,  For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;  Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:  Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.  For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.  And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;  That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.  Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”
Notice in verse 4 that Paul made request “with joy,” so we should do the same. Why was Paul joyful? Verse 5 says that Paul rejoiced in the fact that these formerly pagan Philippians had come to a knowledge of salvation. In prayer, we should be thankful to the Lord for our Christian brethren!
Furthermore, Paul knew that God was using His Word to transform those Gentiles for His glory, and that God would continue molding and guiding those believers until the day of the rapture (verse 6). Notice how Paul’s care for his Christian brethren (verses 7,8) motivated him to pray for them. We too should be motivated to pray for other believers.
Verses 9-11 indicate how Paul once again prayed for the believers, “that [their] love [would] abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that [they] [would] approve things that are excellent [superior]” and “that they be sincere [genuine] and without offence till the day of Christ.” In other words, that they would be allowing Christ to live His life in and though them: “filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” These are more clear references to Christians’ spiritual growth (cf. Galatians 5:22-26)!
So, our prayers should be in accordance with God’s will, or what God is doing today in this the Dispensation of Grace (see 1 Timothy 2:3,4). In Paul’s epistles alone—that is, the books of Romans through Philemon—we discover that God is currently forming the Church the Body of Christ, a spiritual body of every person who has trusted exclusively in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. We also learned that God wants every Christian to have a firm understanding of His Word to them. We will now examine the last remaining large model Pauline prayer, and then look at other issues associated with prayer.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;” (2 Timothy 1:3). Paul wrote to Philemon (1:4): “I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers.” Prayer should be an important part of our lives as members of the Church the Body of Christ. For what did Paul pray? How should we pray as Christian believers?
Are you shy when witnessing to the lost world? Are you always courageous in speaking out the truth of God’s Word? No. Did you know the Apostle Paul asked the Ephesians to pray that he would be bold enough to preach the grace message (Ephesians 6:19,20)? We should always be praying for the Christian brethren, that they share God’s Word with boldness.
In 1 Thessalonians 3:10, we see that Paul, Silas, and Timothy “night and day prayed exceedingly” that they would meet the Thessalonians in order to edify/strengthen them (compare Romans 1:11-12). Compare this to the last of the large Pauline prayer models. Turn to Colossians 1:9-12:
“ For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;  That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;  Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;  Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:”
Paul prayed that the Colossian believers would “be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (verse 9). That believers’ lifestyles would fit their new identity in Christ (verse 10)—spiritual understanding, spiritual growth, and the resulting good works. In verse 11, he prayed for the Colossians to be “strengthened with all might, according to [God’s] glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (compare Ephesians 3:16). Verse 12 shows us that Paul gave thanks to God in prayer.
PRAY FOR THOSE IN AUTHORITY
In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, the Apostle Paul writes:
“ I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men:  For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;  Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
God sees it “good and acceptable” when we pray for our governments, military, pastors, teachers, parents, and so on—anyone involved with leadership or authority. What should we pray for about them? In the context, that they would get saved (if they are lost) and, then, as believers in Christ, that they would understand their identity in Jesus Christ, which will help them make wise decisions on our behalf. We should thank God for the governmental and parental powers in place, which do bring (some) order to our land.
THANK GOD FOR FOOD TO EAT
In creation, the Lord Jesus Christ has supplied us with food and drink (Acts 14:17). Today, in this the Dispensation of Grace, we are not bound to observe Israel’s kosher food laws. Notice how Paul writes that we should thank God in prayer for our food. “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4,5). Whatever creatures we choose to eat, may we thank the Lord Jesus Christ for them.
THE HOLY SPIRIT MAKES INTERCESSION FOR US
What should you do if you have no idea about what to pray regarding a particular matter? Scripture tells us that “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26,27). The Bible says we should know for what to pray, but we do not know. Sometimes, we cannot adequately express in words our concerns and our thoughts, so the Holy Spirit “maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” God the Holy Spirit is constantly interceding on our behalf to God the Father, just as Jesus Christ is interceding for us (Romans 8:34). The Holy Spirit brings the Bible verses that we have studied, to memory, and helps us pray more effectually.
So, we have just studied how our Apostle Paul prayed. Compare the way Paul prayed in Scripture with the “prayer” done in most churches today. Not the same, huh? See, everyone is either praying like the heathen, or praying like Israel. Most of the praying in Christendom is vain, mindless babbling. We as members of the Body of Christ are neither heathens nor Jews. We are members of the Church the Body of Christ, so we should pray like who we claim we are. We should be praying as our Apostle Paul prayed. He is our “pattern,” and in prayer, we follow Paul as he follows Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Timothy 1:15-16).
Prayer is communicating with your Heavenly Father regarding the details of your life in light of His Word to you. Pray in accordance with God’s will by placing your faith in what God says He is doing today, and then by faith, pray for those things. Remember, Jesus Christ prayed “nevertheless not my will, but thine [God the Father’s will], be done” (Luke 22:42). We should pray with this same attitude.
Remember we began by saying that prayer is pouring out our hearts before God? If we have studied God’s Word and it resides in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17), our prayers will literally be pouring out God’s Word before Him! We will be praying God’s will back to Him! That is effectual prayer (this is what Elijah did; James 5:16-17).
When we pray for lost people to get saved, and when we pray for believers to be spiritually mature, prayer becomes a cycle. Believers who are spiritually mature can do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Furthermore, their spiritual maturity will allow them to also pray effectively. Prayer becomes a cycle.
One Christian brother said it like this: “Prayerful for everything and thankful in everything.” We give a hearty “Amen” there!
May we always be guilty of “praying with Paul!”