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EDITORIAL: Praying Effectively
By Sean Cavender
Synopsis: This issue of Truth Magazine is dedicated to the memory of Sean Cavender, who participated in the 2023 Truth Lectures, and was tragically killed as he was leaving the Athens Bible School campus at the end of lectures on Thursday evening. The articles in the theme section were written by his close friends and fellow preachers. I have included a compilation of Sean’s articles on prayer in the editorial slot—Mark Mayberry.
One of the greatest blessings that Christians have to enjoy is communing with our heavenly Father through prayer. There are several “giants” of praying men recorded for us in the Bible. Nehemiah, Daniel, and Jesus offered some of the most beautiful, thought-provoking prayers found in Sacred Scripture . These powerful examples can teach us how we ought to pray. Let’s first consider the example of Daniel.
There was a plot against Daniel by the wicked counselors of King Darius. They sought some fault in Daniel, but they could find none. They knew they must create a civil law that opposed the law of the Lord, and they knew what Daniel’s decision would be—to obey God, not the king’s law (Dan. 6:5). So after the decree was made which forbade any prayer being offered to anyone besides King Darius, Daniel continued praying to the Lord (Dan. 6:10). Yet, he did not just pray once and think that to be sufficient. He proved his obedience and diligence to Jehovah by repeatedly turning to Him in prayer. Sometimes we mistakenly think that if we pray one time, then God must hear our prayer and answer it in the time and manner that we expect. However, that ends up treating God as if He was Santa Claus. No diligence is learned, and no commitment is proven in that sort of circumstance. Repeating a prayer is not a bad thing. In fact, it might end up proving just how strongly we feel about a matter and just how much we desire God’s guidance and providence.
Daniel 9 records a beautiful prayer of confession and petition for God’s forgiveness. Near the end of Daniel’s prayer, he says, “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act!” (Dan. 9:19). These are not irreverent requests or demands. Daniel is turning to the only One that can answer his requests. He fervently desires the Lord’s blessings. When we pray, are we simply pacifying a guilty conscience? Let us recognize that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift and He is able to answer our pleas (Jas. 1:17) .
Daniel acknowledged the guilt of Israel, but that is not the only thing he acknowledged. He pledged himself as a servant of God–renewing his commitment to obey the Lord (Dan. 9:17). It is sad if the only time we turn to God in prayer is to ask forgiveness for our wrongs. As we sincerely repent of sins, may we fully commit ourselves to obey God and Christ.
We began by examining the prayers of Daniel and how he approached God often, with fervency and with repentance. Another “giant” of faith and prayer is Nehemiah. If we ever feel that our prayers are devoid of any true power, then we would do well to follow in the footsteps of Daniel and Nehemiah. Read Nehemiah 1:5-11 and you will see how powerful your prayers can truly be.
Nehemiah described God perfectly—offering praises that God is completely deserving of receiving. He identified God as the Lord of heaven, great, and awesome (Neh. 1:5). When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He said: “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9). When we manifest a spirit of reverence, we honor God’s authority and rule in heaven, and pledge our willingness to obey Him. One of the most basic things we need to do as we pray is remember that we are addressing the Creator of all things and the One who controls the universe, and accomplishes great things.
A striking feature of Nehemiah’s prayer is how confidently he approaches God. There is nothing wrong with being confident in the faithfulness, mercy, and perfection of God. Nehemiah acknowledges His existence and rightly praised Him. He recognized God as the giver of covenants, the keeper of promises, and One who offers mercy to those who faithfully serve Him. Christians can boldly and confidently approach God, as did Nehemiah so long ago (Heb. 4:16).
One much-needed aspect of prayer that we often forget to mention is commitment and devotion. When we pray to God, we ought not only to make requests of God to fulfill. Our prayers should reflect our willingness to obey all His commands. Nehemiah acknowledged Israel’s disobedience (Neh. 1:7). He reflects his change in heart by offering himself in service to the Lord (Neh. 1:10). As we pray that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven, let us ask, “How will that be done?” From a personal standpoint, it occurs through our obedience to the will of God. Let us pray with a sense of devotion and commitment, as did God’s servant, Nehemiah.
Daniel and Nehemiah show us the importance of diligence in prayer. Another wonderful example of prayer is Jesus! The petitions He offered near the end of His life, just before His crucifixion, give us deeper insight into the nature of prayer.
Fear. Anxiety. Sorrow. Depression. Gladness. Joy—these are natural human emotions. Times of death and loss, or times of birth and life, are all appropriate times to approach God in prayer. Jesus acknowledged why He needed God’s strength when He said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. . .” (Matt. 26:38). Deep sorrow and fear must have captivated the Lord’s heart and mind. However, Jesus did not sit around and speculate about what might happen. Instead, He prayed to God.
At moments of heightened emotions, we often do not know what to pray. Sometimes we know what we want, but we are uncertain if that is what we really need. Our desires might appear to clash with the Lord’s will. For example, a new job opportunity may present itself with the promise of financial prosperity, but its demands might make it impossible to assemble with the saints or meeting our family obligations as fathers, mothers, and parents. We are between the metaphorical “rock and a hard place.” Pray like Jesus. His prayer in the garden was, “Not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).
Christ’s example is intriguing because He enlisted the help of others to pray with Him. He told His disciples, “Watch and pray. . .” (Matt. 26:41). The disciples knew Jesus was willing to teach them how to pray, so they sought His counsel (Luke 11:1-4). When we need help from God, do we also turn to other Christians and ask for them to pray for us and with us? We should!
As children of God, we need to learn how to pray effectively: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jas. 5:16). When we pray fervently, reverently, devotedly, and repeatedly, then we can trust that God will hear our prayers. When we pray in times of need, and ask for God’s will to be accomplished, then we can find assurance in His promises.
Prayer is a wonderful blessing. Let us seek to appreciate it more and more each day. Our prayers will become much more effective when we learn to pray like Nehemiah, Daniel, and Jesus. Their prayers and devotion to God are encouraging and faith-building for us if we will apply these important lessons in our lives.
These articles originally were posted to the Westside church of Christ in Wichita, KS website on January 6 (Part 1), January 9 (Part 2), and May 1 (Part 3) of 2023. The Westside church of Christ assembles at 2626 West 47th Street South in Wichita, KS 67217.