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Elements of Prayer

by Joyce Broyles

All of us want to be more like Jesus, yes? To do that, we have to spend time with Him, and get to know Him. We do that by listening to Him as we read His Word, and speaking to Him in prayer.

I remember our family prayer circle when I was growing up. Every night, my dad led it. He didn't speak with eloquence because he didn't get to go to school, but he always sounded confident -- like he knew, without a doubt that God was close and listening. As a young girl, that impressed me. He lived out his faith, consistently, and he led all his children to Jesus! That's the kind of legacy I want to leave for my kids.

For ten years, I wrote a column every Sunday for our local paper. As an English teacher, I knew that a good article answers questions like Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. I knew that the book of James is a practical guide to Christian living, so I looked in there for answers to those 6 questions about prayer.

The first question is WHO. Who can pray? I found 5 and they all begin with the letter S.

  1. James 5:13 "Is anyone of you SUFFERING or in trouble? He should pray."
    Suffering can include so much, like breaking an addiction, or struggling families, those with heavy burdens, or depression, people in prison for the cause of Christ. We need to be covered in prayer.
  2. verses 14-15 "Is anyone SICK? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him.
    When we are physically sick, here's permission to ask for prayer. When we get off-balance, snarky, or full of envy, we need help!. There are many ways to be sick.
  3. verse 16 "Confess your SINS to each other and pray for each other. "
    Because we continue to make mistakes, even though we try our best, we need to go to the cross daily and take our sins, our secrets, our shame, confess it and pray. As Christians, our witness is so important. We should ask God to protect us from unintentional, arrogant, and deliberate disobedience.
    In Psalm 19:12-13 David prays "Forgive my hidden faults." We can ask for help against pride, materialism, or a domineering personality. We don't have all the human resources necessary to keep us from being affected by sin, so we have to ask God for help.
    Then, along with other forgiven sinners, we can have the joy of restoration as we're reconciled with God.
  4. verses 17-18 "Elijah prayed, and the heavens gave rain SHOWERS and the earth produced its crops."
    James tells us that Elijah was an ordinary person like you and me. He prayed for showers, and the Israelites got rain showers after years of drought. Hosea 6:3 says "Let's press on to know the Lord. He will come to us as the spring showers that water the earth. " If we take time to know the Lord, and then pray for revival, healing, and restoration, we can be sure God will shower us. His faithfulness to shower us is as dependable as the sun that rises every morning.
    My parents had no education and no wealth, but they loved the Lord and they loved their children. At home, I felt loved, accepted, and safe. I thank God every day for those showers of blessings.
  5. verses 19-20 "If any of you should STRAY from the truth ....."
    Like the prodigal son who strayed, we can admit our error and pray for forgiveness. In Bible class, we ask for prayer requests. The majority of the requests are for the physically sick. That's ok, but when was the last time you asked prayer for the sick at heart: for a mother who left the faith, for a son who is struggling with belief, or for someone who despises the truth? It's good to pray for the sick, but the spiritually sick are so important! Don't mourn that they're not believers. Pray for them every day! Sometimes, I think we're more afraid of cancer than of Hell! We need to pray for those who may lose their eternal lives!

The second question is WHAT? What is prayer? and What do we pray for?

Someone has said that prayer is the key to each new day and the lock for every night. It's the sweetest time of the day because we're talking to the One who loves us the most! It's a privilege and a pleasure.

Prayer can be compared to a wheel. We have to decide whether it will be the steering wheel that keeps us on the right path throughout our lives --- or it will be just a spare wheel that we pull out only when we're in trouble.

Have you noticed that great families are praying families? Great congregations are praying congregations? Look at ours. Is something wrong with us? Are we spending time in prayer as a church?

The most important thing to pray for is that we get to know Jesus. That's the first need. But, even whiny prayers about the little stuff are important because there is no little stuff with God.

I pray for all kinds of things, like for a parking space, help in finding a misplaced item, even gasoline and advice!

During my 43 years as a high school teacher/librarian, I sponsored the library club and took delegates to the state convention. One year I had 4 boys in my van and when we got to the top of an overpass on I-10, my van coughed and we coasted down the off ramp onto a side road out of gasoline!

This was before cell phones! Dennis, one of the boys, volunteered to walk to the nearest town but I said no. With my head on the steering wheel, I prayed, and in a few minutes, a gentleman drove up, took a can of gasoline out of the back of his truck, and poured it into my van. He left without letting me pay him! I didn't even get out of the van! That was answered prayer!

I also sponsored a Bible club, so frequently, students came to me with problems. Sherry came and said she wanted to stay pure until marriage, so what should she do with guys who pressured her for sex.

Oh my! At first, I just wanted God to teleport me to an island somewhere far, far away! Help! !

But, I was glad she wanted to stay pure, so I asked God to give me a good answer. Then I said to her, "Next time your date gets too friendly, say, 'Before we do anything, let's pray.'"

Sherry shook her head and said, "He'd think I was weird!"

I answered, "But what if it impresses him and what if he wants to pray too? "

Wouldn't it be great if all of our young people prayed before leaving on a date? Before starting the car? If they would pray for a good time, for safety, for purity?

My friend Florence Wood told me she always told her kids when they left on a date to "have fun, but don't sin!" When my kids started dating, I borrowed that phrase and used it with them!

Douglas and I prayed together often at SCC, that God would help us, and if it were His will for us to be together eventually, He would make a way. Then, Douglas went back to Tennessee and I went home to Louisiana. It took 4 more years, but God worked it so that Douglas came to Louisiana when he joined the Air Force and God put us together again like we had prayed. And we had our own family prayer circle going all our married life.

Other things to pray about include things like if you want a better behaved child? Pray for him. A better President? Pray for him. Missionaries, our nation, military, government officials! If you need new elders, have a cancer diagnosis, marriage problems, financial burdens, pray! Ask specifically for your heart's desire, but ask for God's will, especially when making major decisions.

God knows all about us, our fears and concerns, and He cares about it. So we need to teach our children and church members to get to know God and then instead of talking to the world, talk to God about anything and everything!

The third question is WHEN. When should we pray?

Someone said the best day to pray is the day before you die! Since we don't know when we're going to die, we need to pray every day! It should be a daily routine!

There's no right or wrong time to pray. While in Saudi Arabia those 8 years, I woke every morning to the sounds from the mosque and the leader shouting "It's time to pray!" They did that 5 times a day!

But we know that any time can be the best time to pray! I'm partial to walking prayers. Those I pray while busy doing whatever chore I have to do. It's like grabbing minutes with the Lord, no appointment necessary. He's always ready to bend His ear to us.

My favorite prayer is one I have used many times, especially with family issues. "Oh Lord, we don't know what to do, but our eyes are on you." That's from 2 Chronicles 20:12. That one I use often!

After Sunday morning worship, do you sometimes wish for a better preacher? Instead of talking about him during lunch, pray for him. That's the time to do it!

Be ready to turn anything into prayer. If I'm walking to an appointment, I pray about that appointment. If I see the beauty of God's creation, I thank God for it. Be real. Be thankful. Incorporate prayer into everyday activities. Lean on God all the time!

Listening to Christian music helps me, also to keep my mind on Him, or singing or humming good old hymns!

If we think of God as a person, one we can sit and talk to or take a walk with, then we can pray the way we'd talk to a trusted friend. That makes His presence more real, and helps give us a warm personal relationship with Him.

Everyone knows I Thess. 5:17 where Paul says "Pray without ceasing." But do we know what it means? Constant prayer benefits us by keeping us always in the presence of God. He is there to help.

The fourth question is WHERE. Where do we pray? We usually say anywhere, and that's true, but in addition to that, listen to what James says in the first part of verse 16.

Verse 16 He begins with "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. "

Now, where do we do that? Okay, James is not saying that there should be a general public confession of all sins without any discretion whatever. Certainly, public wrongdoings that have disgraced or shamed the church should be confessed before the church. But, individual sins should be confessed to the individuals who were hurt by those sins, like Jesus taught in Mt. 5:23-24.

So, pray anywhere, but if you are asking God to forgive you, then select the appropriate place to confess and ask forgiveness from Him and the other person. Use discretion.

The fifth question is WHY? Why should we pray?

God already knows what we need, so we aren't praying to give God information. Instead, we want to Honor God as the Source for our needs!

Verse 16 , in today's English, says that " When good people pray, great things happen!"

James 4:2 tells us to ask! I think we may carry burdens needlessly because we don't ask God for help. God, forgive us!

When you put your children to bed at night, don't listen to them "say" prayers. Teach them how to pray, not from the roof of our mouths, but from the roots of our hearts! Pray with them.

Sometimes, God says yes, if our prayer is in His will. He provides what we need, protects us, and blesses us with His presence. We must never forget to thank Him when He says yes to our requests.

Sometimes God says no. He may be preparing us for something else.

When our kids were little, on Saturday nights, they wanted to play another hour or eat ice cream. We would say no. We loved them enough to say no. We wanted them to get their rest and be fresh on Sunday mornings to worship. Likewise, God loves us enough to say no when we ask for things that aren't good for us. And thank God He does!

Sometimes God says wait. The time is not right. God delays sometimes but that doesn't mean He has denied our request. We just wait, and He sends the answer at the right time.

And as we wait for God's answer, we just might adjust our will to His so we can have peace. And then, when things work out, we can see that God most certainly put the elements in place. He has a purpose. He knows, well in advance, what's needed.

For instance, in 1984, when Douglas and I decided to come back from Arabia to help my parents, I went on Monday to the school board office to ask for a job. I didn't know that a librarian had quit on the Friday before! So, I got the job! God knew what I needed! He had prepared it for me before I even asked! Praise God for His faithfulness!

Does it make a difference if we pray? Yes. Remember, before you gave your heart to Jesus, someone was praying for you and God was answering their prayer. He always gives the best answer.

Finally, the sixth question is HOW. How do we pray?

First, Jesus taught his disciples to pray privately and not hypocritically. Paul says to pray with thanksgiving.

James 4:10 tells us to be humble. Pride hinders true prayer. The whole foundation of prayer is humility. We pray humbly to receive mercy and grace. Then in verse 15 he says to ask for God's will.

James 1:6 says to ask in faith, nothing doubting. This takes practice and effort!

Sometimes Faith is a hard thing because developing it takes time and work. God wants us to develop it day by day. Do what He wants us to do today. Tomorrow, do what He wants us to do. And so on. That's how we make it grow. We can't wait until Jesus comes to have faith--- we have to build our faith now. And it's important that we invest in the faith of the next generation!

Joyce Broyles is a Retired Teacher and is a Student of the Bible. She resides in Jennings, LA.



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Philippians 4:13