At first level prayer is a) Asking and receiving from God
At second level prayer is b) Fellowship with God
At third level prayer is c) Striving with God
Now read on…
Prayer is the means of contact with God. It is the vital breath of the human spirit.
Man has a body, a soul and a spirit. I Thes. 5:23. With the body man relates himself to the physical world. With the soul, man relates himself with the living world of creatures. But with the spirit, man can relate himself to God who is the Ultimate Spirit (Jn.4:24).
In order to maintain his body, man has to breathe, eat and drink regularly. This is because God made man as a dependent being. No one can live with out these. Every one has to do it moment by moment and day by day. That is how God made man. To maintain our physical life, we depend on the physical things around us like air, water and food. We know that every grain of rice has life in it. So we might say that God designed us in such a way that in order to maintain our physical life we need to depend on lower life like grains, pulses, fish and meat.
Same thing with the soul. Mind is the organ of the soul. In order to develop his soul, man has to train his mind day by day. One goes to school and trains oneself to become a doctor or an advocate. It takes years of regular and hard work to achieve this mental capability. People need to train their minds before they can enjoy a poem or a game of cricket. By regular training of mind man achieves such heights and man is able to enjoy life better in this way. This we do it by depending on our parents, friends, teachers and society at large. We learn from people all around us. Thus we might say that we depend on fellow humans to maintain our souls.
The one who trains up his mind enjoys life better than the one who failed to do so. Not only that, the one who trains the mind enjoys life at a higher level. That is why some are able to forego a prepared chicken meal to watch a cricket match. The one who only knows the taste of chicken cannot imagine what he or she is missing in cricket. But the one who enjoys cricket enjoys life at two levels.
Human life is not over with chicken and cricket. Man craves for something deeper. He feels an emptiness within himself even after he enjoys the very best at these two levels of human existence. The reason for this is that man has a higher level of existence than these two levels. Man has a spirit. The spirit of man is the God-element in man. The spirit of man longs for the Eternal Spirit who is God. Only when man’s spirit is able to get in touch with God who is Spirit, is man able to find fulfillment in his life. He is then able to enjoy life at its best. With Christ in life, man enjoys life much better than he enjoys it with just chicken and cricket! Simply put, God has permitted us to depend on Him directly to maintain our spirits. Thus we might truly say that prayer is the vital breath of a Christian. He who does not pray, does not have spiritual existence. The spirit of such a person is dead (Eph.2:1) and when one gets in touch with God through Christ, the spirit of that person is made alive and is born again or born of the Spirit (Jn.3:5-8).
The Bible says that through Christ, who is God in human form, any one to day can enter into contact with the Eternal Spirit. As we approach God through Christ, prayer is the means of that contact. By praying through Christ who is the mediator between man and God (l Tim.2:5) any one can get into a living contact with God. In fact, such a person can become a child of God through Christ (Jn. 1:12). Thus man can enter into the fullness of his being. Man can enjoy life at its very best.
Anyone who does not have this divine contact is living like the rest of the animal kingdom. Such people know only two levels of human existence. They are missing the very best that life offers. If the reader is one of those, you are invited to the third level of human existence through Christ. Man without Christ is described in the Bible as one who is dead in spirit (Eph. 2:l). It means that such a person is separated from God and thus living a sub-human existence.
The Bible teaches us a lot about prayer. For our convenience, we may perceive prayer as having three levels.
a) Prayer as asking and receiving from God.
We found that prayer is the means of contact with God. Now concentrate your mind and call upon God through Christ. God has promised that He would answer such a call. Try this. This is very practical. Say to God, “O God, I come to you through Christ Your Son. I ask that you forgive me and make me your child”. If those words came out of your heart and not merely from your lips, surely heaven will respond to your call. I guarantee that a hot line will be created between you and God.
The very first and the most important thing which God offers to man through Christ is forgiveness of sins. Just for the asking in true repentance and in faith, any one can get God’s forgiveness to day. God does this based on the work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. There the sinless Son of God paid the penalty of the sins of the whole world. Millions around the world have experienced this forgiveness which is offered through Christ to day (Rom.3:22-27). Here is the opportunity. Do not ever miss this chance to become a child of God. Do not miss this opportunity to get in to contact with God. Do not miss this chance to enter into life in its fullest potential.
The Bible is guide for effective praying. Any one who wants to continue in this relation ship with God must read, understand and practice what the Bible teaches (Pro.28:8). Some one who wants to have regular answers to prayer must be regular in the habits of reading, meditating and obeying the Word of God every day.
The Bible is like a letter sent to you by God in person. If you want to send a reply to that letter, you need to read and understand it. Many people do not know what to pray or how to pray, simply because they do not know what is written in the Bible. So in order to become effective in prayer, read, study, meditate, and practice the Bible daily. As you eat your daily food to nourish your body, so to nourish your spirit take in God’s Word on a very regular basis.
One of the plain teachings of the Bible is that one needs to ask to get anything from God. “Ask and you shall receive”(Mt.7:7). “You have not…because you ask not”(Js.4:2). The Bible has many promises pertaining to this life and about the life to come. But one can enjoy these promises in one’s life as one asks God to fulfill those promises.
Christians are supposed to believe in Christ. They believe that He is the Son of God. They believe that He died for the whole world and is a risen savior etc. But if we ask many of them whether they have eternal life, they are not very sure. The Bible says that he who believes in the Son has eternal life. Now, what is the problem? The Bible says that their faith is a dead faith (Js.2:19). Only when they call upon God in faith, their faith will be able to save them. The Bible says, “They that call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom.10:13). Thus faith and prayer are two sides of the same coin. Just as prayer without faith is useless, faith without prayer is useless as well. So one’s prayer life is a reflection of the genuine faith one has.
The Bible says that salvation is a free gift from God (Eph.2:8). But only those who ask for it in faith will ever receive it. Likewise all of God’s promises will remain promises, unless they are claimed by believing prayer. Without believing prayer promises will never reach its fulfillment.
Prayer is asking and receiving from God. Prayer is asking God to fulfill His promises. Many in the world to day have experienced prayer at this level. God of the Bible is a prayer answering God. He delights to answer prayers promised in His revealed will which is the Bible. Every praying believer knows it. Praise be to His Holy Name.
b) Prayer as fellowship with God
Though at first level prayer is asking and receiving from God, the Bible teaches that prayer is much more than that. Any one who knows prayer at this level only, knows only the ABC of prayer.
Many who know prayer only at this level become discouraged very often because all their prayers are not always answered. God has said clearly in His Word that prayers done in the will of God only can be expected to be answered. God will never answer prayer against His word and against His nature.
The Bible clearly tells why God created man. Man is presented in the Bible as the crown of God’s creation. Man is created in God’s image and likeness (Gen.1:27). He is created to take care of the created world and to rule over it. Man is God’s representative on earth (Gen.1:28). More than that, God wanted to have fellowship with man. In the cool of the day man used to hear the noise of the feet of God walking in the Garden (Gen.3:8). God enjoyed the company of man. Man was created for fellowship with God which He enjoyed.
When man lost this privilege through sin, the Son of God took upon Himself the form of a man that this fellowship can be restored. To day God offers forgiveness to man free of cost based on Christ’s work on Calvary. To day God is calling man back to fellowship with God through Christ (I Cor.1:9). Now our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son (l Jn.1:3).
When is man able to enjoy this fellowship to which he is called? Fellowship involves a lot of things. But the foremost element in fellowship is being together.
Being together in the company of God is the way to enjoy the fellowship with God. This is what the Lord Jesus did while He was here on earth. In Lk.6:12 we read that He went alone into a mountain and spent a whole night in prayer to God. What was He asking God during that night of prayer? It was not merely an asking and receiving kind of prayer that He prayed that night.
The Lord Jesus, on the other hand, was enjoying the fellowship with God the Father during that night. He was kind of lost himself in the presence of the Father. Imagine two friends meeting after the gap of a few years, spending time talking to one another. They do not know how time flies. They talk the whole night. But if you ask them as to what they were talking about, they have nothing to say. They did not talk philosophy or politics. In the joy of meeting an intimate friend after a long time, each one is taken up and hours become minutes in the process.
Prayer in the second level is exactly this kind of an experience. It is being lost in the presence of God. It is cultivating intimacy with God. It is enjoying the fellowship with God.
Many believers do not even spend a single hour in God’s presence. How can they think about a whole night in prayer? They do not know what they are missing. Only a believer who has climbed up to reach this kind of prayer, is a grown up believer. They who have this experience will sacrifice every thing else for this sublime experience. If one is not able to forego a meal or a sleep for prayer, it means that one has not reached this level in prayer.
God wants, indeed He longs for the fellowship of His Children. God has called us in Christ for this fellowship only. If any believer does not have a habit of spending a whole day or night in the presence of God, a decision has to be made to this effect. At least once in a month one must set apart a whole night in prayer. If nights are far too impossible, spend a day alone in the presence of God. You will see that your spiritual life is enriched and blessed. You will grow spiritually. The Lord will share His secrets with you. You will begin to discern the will of God. You will find fulfillment in your life and God’s name will be glorified in your life. Through these words you are invited to this level of prayer.
c) Striving in prayer
Any one who knows God intimately spends long hours in His presence. They cherish this experience. They long for it. A day in the presence of the Lord is better than a thousand else where. They enjoy the fellowship with God. They become spiritual heroes. This is truly an enviable experience.
Only those who have had this kind of experience in prayer can ever hope to climb the ladder and reach the third level in prayer. In the third level prayer becomes striving. In Rom.15:31 Paul exhorts all believers to strive with him in prayer.
Every believer has battles in life. But many forget that it is in prayer that these battles are fought and won.
Many want to avoid battles somehow. They are cowards. They do not see victory in life. Victory is seen if only battles are fought.
Many fight their battles in the ability of their flesh. They continue their Christian life without ever tasting victory.
What is this striving in prayer? Let us look at the life of Jacob. As he ran away from home, he was all alone and slept on the way side. He had a dream there. Almighty God gave Jacob promises that he would bless him. That was Bethel. There at Bethel God promised Jacob that He would bless him and bring him back to his place (Gen.28:10-22). Years later, on his way back home, he was once again all alone at the bank of the brook Jabok. There he met with God face to face. There he wrestled the whole night. He had a grip on God and he would not let Him go unless He blessed him. There his name was changed to Israel. He now owned the promises which were given to him at Bethel. That was his experience in Peniel (Gen.32:22-32).
The promises of Bethel were experienced in life only after Peniel.
Striving in prayer is claiming the promises which God has given to us in His Word. “Lord, you have promised this, and unless you fulfill this promise, I will not let you go” is the prayer of a striving believer. Thus striving in prayer is taking hold of God to fulfill His Word. God loves a striving believer because He loves to fulfill His promises.
There are many promises in God’s Word. These promises are for every believer. But tragically only very few believers enjoy these in their lives. As we wait in the presence of God, He gives us His promises through His Word (Jer.23:l8). But if those promises must be fulfilled in our lives, we too need to have the experience of Peniel in our lives. Many believers have been up to Bethel. They know the promises of God. But they have never been to Peniel. They never had the experience of striving in prayer. If those promises must be fulfilled, they need to be strived for. There is no alternate way.
Unless God’s people strive in prayer, God’s promises will never be fulfilled (Rom.15:30-32).
Dan.9:2 & 3 confirms this truth very well. Daniel had learnt from the book of Jeremiah that the captivity was going to be for seventy years only. Daniel knew that that was God’s plan for His people. Now look at Daniel who was living towards the end of that period. Instead of just hanging around for God to fulfill His promises saying any way God would carry out His purposes whatever man may or may not do, Daniel began to fast and pray and sought the face of the Lord that God would fulfill His promise for His people. Daniel knew a great truth that God would fulfill His promises only in answer to the prayers of God’s people!
Before God does some thing some where by way of fulfilling His Word, God gets His people to pray. When God’s people strive in prayer asking Him to fulfill His promises, God carries out His purposes for the world. There is no exception to this rule. Again and again we see this truth illustrated in the Scripture and in the history of the church.
If only God’s people understood this great truth to day!
Satan is always against God carrying out His purposes in the world to day. Satan claims that this world belongs to him (Lk.4:6). God in His magnanimity stands a bit away. But in response to the prayers of His people, God carries out His purposes in the world to day. By striving in prayer we are in fact resisting the devil and fighting against principalities and powers of darkness (Js.4:7; 1Pt.5:7; Eph.6:12-18).
Some believers think that striving in prayer is trying to move an unwilling God! It is never to be understood that way at all. We must remember that it is God who asked us to pray. It is He who promised us to answer our prayers. It is true that there are conditions if prayers are to be answered. But no believer has ever exhausted God’s ability in answering prayers! He is willing to answer our prayers above all we can ask or think. He always answers in His bounty. But only in response to prayer will He ever fulfill His Word to day in the world.
In the 10th chapter of the Book of Daniel we have a clear demonstration of this truth. V.12 tells us that on the very first day that Daniel began to pray, answer was sent to him. But v.13 says that the Prince of Persia stood against the angelic messenger for 21 days. Coming to v.2 we see Daniel was striving in prayer for three full weeks. He was not enjoying tasty food, nor was he applying oil on his head for all those 21 days. He was in warfare for all of that time.
This is the experience of a believer in striving prayer. Only those who pray like Daniel regularly could ever sense this spiritual warfare. Only such could participate in the spiritual warfare. Only they could share in the victory for God. For without battle, there is no victory.
This warfare in prayer is experienced when we begin to pray for spiritual things.
There are many believers who have prayed for physical things. They know that God is a prayer answering God. But tragically they never participate in spiritual warfare. Their prayers are limited to physical realm only!
In Rom.15:31 Paul exhorts fellow believers to strive together with him in prayer. It is a command to every believer. They that do not strive continually in prayer have disobeyed a plain command of the Scripture. Such are guilty before God for the sin of disobedience.
The word that is used in Rom.15:31 for strive is the same word used in the original in Lk.22:44 where it is translated ‘in agony’ in several translations. Thus we come to know that striving in prayer is indeed agonizing in prayer. This is an experience which the Spirit of God would give to those that are regular in their prayer habits. Only those who live near to the heart of God could ever feel the pulse of God’s heart.
These days we need men and women who, like Daniel, would strive in prayer to see God fulfill His purpose in the world to day. May the Lord give us the needed grace that we would become truly men and women who would strive in prayer and participate in bringing about the purposes of God in this world. To His Name Be All Glory. Amen and amen.