What is Prayer?

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

January 14, 2007

What is Prayer?

Selected Scriptures

This is the second sermon in our series on prayer. Last week I emphasized that the proper motivation to pray arises from our relationship with the Lord. We should have a vibrant love for Him, and if that does not exist or has diminished then we need to remember, repent and redo. Remember what our love for Jesus was like when we were first saved. Repent of our departure from that and then redo the things we did back then.

This morning I want us to start to understand what prayer is for there are many blatantly false ideas as well as many misconceptions about prayer. We cannot pray properly if we do not properly understand it. To illustrate this point I want you to consider how you would respond to the following situations.

I. Problems of Prayer

A missionary in the middle east prays daily that the Lord would grant salvation to the souls caught in the bondage of Islam, yet years go by and no one is saved.

A missionary in Russia is praying that the Lord will protect the many new converts from the cult groups that are now on the scene, yet many seem only too quick to follow the errors of the cults.

A pastor has spent everything he has to build up a ministry. He has poured into it his time, his energy and what little money he had, yet, there are so few results. He goes home to his cramped little apartment where his wife and children are waiting for him. They sit down to a dinner of beans and rice (generic brand). He looks at his second hand suit. His wife and children wear garage sale specials. He looks at the furniture given to them – a mixture of Early American, French Provincial, Mediterranean, – well actually, it is more of Early Goodwill and Late Salvation Army. Then he considers the cult group down the street that is booming. Their leader drives a Mercedes and has a huge house in the suburbs. He cries out, “God, You are the king, and I am your child. Should your servant live is such squalor?” But there seems to be no answer.

Other faithful men and women of God who are busy serving the Lord are suddenly struck down with crippling diseases or terminal illnesses. We cry out, “Lord, heal them. They are your servants. They are vital to church ministries, and what about the children?” Yet, the disease progresses and a faithful church worker is lost and a family is left without one of the parents.

Why? Why do our prayers so often seem ineffectual? Why does God seem to turn a deaf ear to us? What about all those Scriptural promises? Are they true? Does God really answer prayer? Such are the questions and doubts that arise when immature and untested faith hits the wall of reality we call daily life. The questions and doubts arise because there are so many misunderstandings about prayer.

Yes, God really does answer prayer, but contrary to what John R. Rice wrote in his book, Prayer – Asking & Receiving, prayer is not simply coming to God with a list of requests. God is neither Santa Claus nor a benevolent grandfather and to treat Him as such is to distort who He is and is therefore sin.

Prayer is neither a magical force of positive thinking nor a means to force either God or spirits to do our bidding, yet that is now often now taught within the Charismatic movement. Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, Korea, the largest church in the 1980’s, wrote a book entitled, The Fourth Dimension in 1979. The concept of prayer he presents in that book swept through churches worldwide even though there is little difference between Cho’s concept of prayer and what he learned in Buddhism.

Cho teaches that the fourth dimension of the human (the spirit) can control the third dimension (physical) when it is in agreement with one of the entities that works in the fourth dimension which could be either God or Satan for both can work similar miracles for the same reason. Cho’s method of prayer also relies on visualization of the things desired. These things then “grow inside you,” or as he further explains, “It just takes time, as a mother takes time to give birth to a child. It takes time for you, too, you become pregnant with all of your clear-cut objectives.” Cho says, “So men, by exploring their spiritual sphere of the fourth dimension through the development of concentrated vision and dreams in their imaginations, can brood over and incubate the third dimension, influencing and changing it. This is what the Holy Spirit taught me.” He supposedly bases this teaching on Genesis 1:2 in that the Spirit of God “brooded” over the waters.

This concept of prayer has power for both good and evil. Cho uses this to explain why non-Christian religions could do the same “miracles” as Christians. Cho recounted, “Then the Holy Spirit said to me, ‘Look at the Sokagakkai. They belong to Satan; the human spirit joins up with the spirit of the evil fourth dimension, and with the evil fourth dimension they carry out dominion over their bodies and circumstances.'”

This concept of prayer came to Cho when he first began his ministry in a slum area. He prayed that God would provide him a desk, a chair and a bicycle. Time passed and the request was not granted. Cho says that the Holy Spirit revealed to him one night that the reason for this was, “they (people who pray) beg me, demanding every kind of request, but they ask in such vague terms that I can’t answer. Don’t you know that there are dozens of kinds of desks, chairs and bicycles? But you’ve simply asked me for a desk, chair and bicycle. You never ordered a specific desk, chair or bicycle.”

For Cho and many others prayer becomes your ability to imagine what you want and bring it into existence through the fourth dimension. This so called method of prayer is no longer petitioning God to move and work but for you to accomplish results with God through the fourth dimension. This concept of prayer is now common in many evangelical churches and especially those that are charismatic.

Is this what Jesus did as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to His crucifixion? Is this the response of Daniel when he risked his life by continuing to pray daily to the Lord God even though there was a decree by the King against such practice. Is this concept to be found in any of the recorded prayers of the Godly men and women recorded in Scripture – Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, the apostles? Absolutely not!

What then is prayer? It is certainly not Cho’s concept and neither is it any kind of manipulation of God to get what you want as if a creature could manipulate its creator. One of the best definitions I have found was given by John Bunyan, the great puritan preacher of the 1600’s, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. He defined prayer in this way:

“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”


Bunyan’s definition is a good outline to understand Prayer. Prayer is;


A. Sincere

B. Sensible


C. An affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God

D. Through Christ, in the strength & assistance of the Holy Spirit.

E. According to What God has promised, according to His Word


F. For the good of the Church


G. With Submission in faith to the will of God.


A. PRAYER IS SINCERE: Ps 66:17,18. Jeremiah 29:12,13.

“Ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” – Jeremiah 29:12,13

A person who is sincere comes to God with an open heart earnestly seeking Him. Nothing is hidden. All is exposed before God. The word, “sincere,” comes from the Latin and means “without wax.” Idols were part of every day life in ancient Rome. Cheap ones would have the cracks and flaws in the marble filled with wax. They would look great in shop, but once they were exposed to the heat of the sun, the wax would melt and the flaws would be exposed.

The human heart before God must come without wax. There is nothing hidden. All the flaws are exposed. Do you think you can hide something from God? Man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). The man or woman who is going to come to God must come sincerely, otherwise the Lord will not hear you! Psalm 66:17,18 states, “I cried unto God with My mouth and He was extolled with my tongue. If I hide iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” The Psalmist then continues on with his praise that the Lord did hear him. Prayer must be sincere and that means confession is usually one of the first elements within it for the exposure of our sin motivates us to seek God’s forgiveness and cleansing that comes through confession – 1 John 1:9.

B. PRAYER IS SENSIBLE. To be sensible is to be wise and prudent, having or showing common sense. It is practical and functional rather than decorative. The mind is active in prayer and properly approaches God. That means that prayer is not mindless gibberish, idle speech (prating), or complimentary platitudes.

To say that prayer is sensible is not to say that it is unemotional. In fact there may be strong emotional elements. In Psalm 38 David expresses great emotion for he mourns, he groans, he is agitated, his heart throbs because he sees his need for mercy from God. In Matthew 26:75 we find that Peter wept bitterly when he realized that he has failed Jesus. The response of the soul that is aware of its sin will have an emotional element.

The soul that becomes aware of the mercy it has received or is about to receive will also respond with corresponding emotions. David does this in Psalm 103. He blesses, he praises, he extols the Lord; “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of his benefits. Who pardons all your iniquities; Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit; Who crowns you with loving-kindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.” Paul’s command in Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord Always, Again I say rejoice” is also reflective of this.

To say that prayer is sensible is to say that the soul approaches God as Paul directs in 1 Corinthians 14:15 to pray with both the spirit and the mind. That is not an either or prayer but with both the spirit and the mind at the same time. Emotions may be present but because of the presence of mind they are reasonable. Again, prayer is not the senseless gibberish, or the idle speech or the trite compliments given by some. Sensible prayer can have emotion but it is guided by understanding. Sensible prayer is one of the ways in which we can carry out Jesus command to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul and mind (Matt. 22:37).


There is a longing of the heart to be in communion with God. To talk with Him personally. David expresses this in Psalm 42:1 “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God. My Soul thirsts for God, for the living God:” Daniel in the same way cries out in Daniel 9:19, “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Thine sake, O my God, do not delay . . .” Jesus Himself, when He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, poured Himself out before the Father, “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44).

The believer loves God and diligently desires a deep relationship with Him. For that reason the true Christian comes to God as he would to a loving Father and tells Him of all that is on his heart. Tragically, we find that many of the relationships between parents and children in our society are largely fractured. Children often do not come to their parents and share their hearts because the parents often seem indifferent or uncaring when they do. Perhaps that has been your own experience and so the idea of God as your Father is not very comforting. But God is not like that for He is our heavenly Father. He desires us to come to Him and has already proven His love for us in Jesus Christ’s death as the substitute payment for our sins. That is what allows us to come with confidence before His throne of grace (Heb. 4:16).

God is the one that can fulfill the need that each of us has for someone who truly cares and will listen to what is on our hearts. People, even parents, friends and your spouse will fail you, but God never fails. He always cares and He is always ready to listen. Sadly, too many Christian’s take God for granted and end up neglecting to even come to Him. How about you? Do you have a heartfelt, affectionate desire to come to God and pour out your soul to Him?


This truth is repeated throughout scripture.

1. We can not come to the Father except through the Son – John 14:6. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me.‘” John 14:13 – “And whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The name of Christ refers to all that He is. It is Jesus who is at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us according to Hebrew 7:25. Again, it is because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that we can come “draw near . . . to the throne of grace, that we might receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). We can pray, “Our Father” only because we have been made fellow heirs with Christ by what He has done for us.

2. Prayer is also by the strength or assistance of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that teaches us all things including how to pray and what to pray for (1 John 2:27). I can tell you lots of things and show you lots of Bible verses, but unless the Holy Spirit moves upon you with the truths I declare to you, you will not learn and you will not change. In addition, Romans 8:26 tells us that it is the Holy Spirit that helps us in our weakness because He will make intercession for us even when we do not know what to pray.

Prayer that is apart from Christ and apart from the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit cannot be effectual. You must pray through Christ by the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit.


Bunyan said, “Prayer is only true when it is within the compass of God’s Word; it is blasphemy, or at best vain babbling, when the petition is unrelated to the Book.” Why are many prayers seemingly unanswered? Because they are requests that are in no way related to what the Bible says.

The prayers recorded in the Psalms flow out of an understanding of the Scriptures. Psalm 119 is a good example and so is Psalm 73 where Asaph cries out that it is not fair that the wicked prosper. Asaph says that it was not until he considered their end, which he understood from Scripture, that he understood that justice would still be done.

An understanding of the Bible will prompt us to pray even as it did Daniel. As Daniel studied the prophecies of Jeremiah he understood that the time of the captivity was soon to end. This in turn drove him to his knees to pray to God concerning the fulfilment of this prophecy.

The better our understanding of the Bible the more our our prayers will actually be according to and limited by God’s will. Jesus said in Matthew 26:53,54 that He could pray to the Father and have 12 legions of angels at His disposal “but how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that it must happen this way?” Jesus Himself was obedient to and prayed according to what the Scriptures said.

Of course, to pray according to God’s promises, according to His Word, means that you must accurately understand and correctly interpret what the word of God teaches. Without that you can end up believing what is not true resulting in foolishness that is not honoring to God.

An example of this foolishness is seen in Don Gossett’s book, What You Say is What You Get! (1976). Listen to the twisted logic Gossett must resort to as he tries to hold to his concept of prayer which is a form of positive confession – i.e. if I believe it enough it will happen so I will say it already did. He has an erroneous understanding of divine healing and tries to avoid making bald-face lies.

“When I preach that if God’s Word says you’re healed, then you are healed, some people take that as a license to say anything at all, just as long as it’s positive – even if it isn’t true.

“If you fall down the stairs, and your ankle is black and blue and extremely sore and swollen, what are you supposed to say about it? You can say, ‘I Believe I’m healed,’ because God’s Word says, ‘with His stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5). God can’t lie. If He says you are healed, then you are healed. You can believe what God says. You can say what God says. But you can’t say your ankle isn’t swollen, black and blue, and sore. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of Truth.

“Well, what should you do during the waiting period between what you say and what you get? If your ankle is sore, you can say, “I am healed because God’s Word says I’m healed.” Or you can say, “My ankle hurts, but I believe I’m healed because God’s Word says I’m healed and God’s Word can’t lie.” Or you can say, “I’m not looking to the way my ankle feels, I’m looking to what God’s Word says about it, and God’s Word says it’s healed.” Obviously, you can’t say your ankle doesn’t hurt if it does hurt. So since you can’t say it doesn’t hurt if it does hurt, you don’t need to say anything at all about it (other than that God’s Word says it’s healed), unless someone insists on hearing how it feels. God doesn’t want us to lie about anything, no matter what our motives are.

I am glad that Gossett is committed to believing Scripture and not lying, but his interpretation is erroneous, so he is stuck. He believes a lie, but does not want to tell a lie. God’s Word does not say the ankle is healed. If Isaiah 53:5, “By His stripes we are healed,” meant physical healing of our bodies in this age then no Christian should get sick, and more importantly, no Christian should die. Physical death occurs as part of the curse of sin, but unless the Lord returns soon then every person in this room will one day experience physical death. Physical disease is also a part of the curse of sin. To say that we are now healed of physical diseases and yet not be healed of physical death is incongruent, inconsistent and contradictory!

James 4:2,3 tells us, “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and can not obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” This is still the reason so much prayer is seemingly unanswered. People pray without following the Scriptural guidelines for prayer, and they pray without a correct understanding of the Scriptures. They take verses out of context and twist them so that they think they are properly praying according to the Scriptures, but they are not and are instead praying for selfish gain. The is the opposite of our next element within prayer.


By this I mean the good of the whole church in that it is honoring to God, advances the cause of Christ, or is for the benefit of His people. This is equivalent to praying for “Thy Kingdom Come” as stated in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. True prayer is not for “my kingdom,” but for the work of God to be done in His people throughout the world.

You see this in Jesus’ prayer in John 17. He did not pray for the ease and comfort of His disciples and those who would follow them. Instead, He prayed for what would be the best for them even if that meant hardship. Jesus says in verses 14-15, “I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” Jesus also prayed that they would be sanctified and perfected in unity.

The same is true about Paul’s prayers. Paul is not concerned about his own glory, but only for what is best for the kingdom of God. In Philippians 1 Paul even says that he rejoices that Christ is preached even if it is by those who think that by doing so they will add to Paul’s distress in his imprisonment. In other words, it did not matter to Paul what people thought about or said about him. What was important is that the Gospel of Christ was going forward. Do you have the same humble attitude?


True Prayer is based on, “Thy Will Be Done.” It is not my will, but Thy will, yet so often, even for those who believe this, this element of true prayer is only given lip-service. We really pray for what we want and then tack on an “according to Your will.” Of course if it is not and the answer is “no,” we think God is not paying attention to us. Which in a sense is true because 1 John 5:14,15 says, “And this is the confidence which we have before 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 which we have asked from Him.” If you are not really praying according to God’s will, then He is not obliged to pay attention to your prayer.

The health, wealth and prosperity preachers do not teach submission to God’s will. Instead they teach that prayer is a means to get your will done. Oral Roberts, in his book, Attack Your Lack (1985), writes that prayer is a means to tap into the resources of God – AND command them to do your bidding. He writes:

“Once we make Jesus our personal Savior, give Him our best seed and look only to Him as our Lord and as our Source, then we have a divine right in times of lack to say, “Lord, I’ve given up everything to serve You and trust You, what’s in it for me?” He lovingly tells you what’s in it for you. He authorizes you to speak to your lack: “Lack, you be gone!” He authorizes you to speak to His spiritual resources; “Spiritual power, you come into my life.” He authorizes you to speak to His healing resources, “Health, you come into my physical and mortal being.” He authorizes you to speak to His financial resources, backed by all the riches in heaven, “Money, you come to me.” He authorizes you to speak to His angels, “Ministering spirits, bring these things into my life.”

For Oral Roberts prayer is commanding the spiritual resources of God.

How different this is from the concept given by D.L. Moody who said, “After we have made our requests known to Him, our language should be, ‘Thy will be done.’ I would a thousand times rather that God’s will should be done than my own. I cannot see into the future as God can; therefore, it is a good deal better to let Him choose for me than to choose for myself. I know His mind about spiritual things, His will is that I should be sanctified; so I can with confidence pray to God for that, and expect an answer to my prayers. But when it comes to temporal matters, it is different; what I ask for may not be God’s purpose concerning me.

Tell me which of these men actually prayed “according to Thy will” and meant it?

What is prayer? John Bunyan’s definition is good. May each of us learn to pray with it in mind.

“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”

Sermon Study Sheets



Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count the references to prayer in the sermon. 2) Talk with your parents about what it means to pray.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

What is the relationship between your love for Jesus Christ and having a proper motivation for prayer? What should you do if your love for Jesus is not what it should be? Have you ever had any doubts about God and the Bible? If so, how were they overcome? Have you ever felt like God was distant and not listening? What was the cause of it? Why is prayer not just “asking and receiving” as some believe? Why is it wrong to treat prayer as a magical force that will make things happen? Can God be manipulated by prayer? Why or why not? Can prayer manipulate spirits? Why or why not? What is the importance of sincerity in prayer? How is sincerity manifested in prayer? If you seek to hide your sin from God, what will be God’s reaction toward you? What does it mean that “prayer is sensible”? What is the relationship between emotion and sensibility? Can there be proper prayer without also being sensibility? Explain. What does it mean that God is our “heavenly Father”and how does that affect our prayers? Can a non-Christian properly pray to God? Why or why not? Can proper prayer be made apart from the work of the Holy Spirit? Why or why not? Why are so many prayers seemingly unanswered? Support your reasons with Scripture. How can we used the Bible to help our prayers? What is the Lord’s response to selfish prayers? What should we pray for? Explain what it means to pray for God’s kingdom to come? His will to be done? Do you really pray for those? How do the health/wealth/prosperity teachers pray? How have you seen their influence manifested in the evangelical church?



Sermon Notes – January 14, 2007

What is Prayer? – Selected Scriptures

Definition: “Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.” – John Bunyan

A. Sincere

B. Sensible

C. An affectionate pouring out of the heart to God

D. It is thru Christ, by the assistance of the H. S.

E. It is according to the Word of God – The Bible

F. It is for the good of the Church

G. It is with Submission in faith to the will of God.

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