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Prayer Improvement

A Bible lesson in personal prayer

(This is a lesson originally written for an adult sunday school class.  The answers, preceded by a dash "-" are for the teacher and are only given to the class after everyone is finished responding to the question.)

Prayer is one of the most powerful privileges God has granted us.  Think about it: we can have a conversation with the creator of the entire universe!  The key word here is ‘conversation.'  Too often, our prayers are more like a speech than a conversation.  How can we fix that?  How can we make our prayers the personal, close, intimate interaction with God they're supposed to be?

Read Mathew 6:5

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.  Assuredly I say to you, they already have their reward.

Is your public prayer less meaningful than your private prayer?  In other words, do you pray substantially differently when you're praying in front of a group than when praying alone?  Naturally, you wouldn't discuss the same personal things in front of a group that you would in private prayer, but how does the tone of your prayer differ?  When you pray in private or in public, do your prayers sound as though you're talking to someone emotionally close to you, or do they sound like you are reciting lines from a play?  Make sure your prayers are between you and God, not between you and the other people hearing you pray.

What does Mathew 6:5 mean when it says: ‘they already have their reward?'

     -Their prayers are accomplishing nothing.
     -God does not honor prayers spoken with such motives.

Read Mathew 6:6

But you, when you pray, go into your room and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

What is this verse telling us?

    -You should take some time to pray in private.

Why is it important to take time to pray privately?

     -We can pray undisturbed so our concentration won't be broken so easily.
     -We will be more honest with God and with ourselves when praying privately.
     -Our prayers will feel less like a performance and more like a conversation allowing us to be more open and intimate with God.

Read Mathew 6:7

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions
(mindless babbling) as the heathen do.  For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

This verse tells us to pray without ‘mindless babbling,' or 'vain repetition.'  Why is this important?

     -Vain repetition generally leads to a loss of real meaning.  It makes prayer more like a "chore".
     -Vain repetition frees up our minds making it too easy for our thoughts to wander during prayer.
     -Knowing exactly what we're going to say ahead of time, keeps us from putting much thought into our ‘conversation' with God.
     -Using too much repetition makes our prayers less likely to reflect what we are currently feeling and what's really going on in our lives right now.

Read Mathew 6:8

Therefore do not be like them.  For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

If God already knows our needs, then the act of praying must be what's really important.  Why talk to God about our needs if He already knows them?

 -He already knows our needs, but He is waiting for us to ask to show our trust in, and dependence upon Him.
     -Prayer brings us closer to God even if we are discussing things He already knows.
     -Prayer is more for us than for God.  We need it--He doesn't.  He desires it, but doesn't need it.       
     -We need it, but too often don't desire it enough to take the time to do it effectively.

Read James 4:3

You ask and do not receive, because you ask for the wrong reasons that you may spend it on your pleasure.

Why do we sometimes not receive what we ask for?

    -Because your motives are wrong.

What should our motives be when we pray?

     -We should desire things which improve us spiritually and makes us better representatives of God.
     -We should ask for things that will help others, putting others before ourselves.
     -We should desire the salvation of others.  We need to keep an eternal perspective in our prayers.
     -We should want things that will bring glory to God.
     -We should pray for, and want the things that God wants.

It's alright to ask for things for yourself, just be sure what you are asking for doesn't break any Biblical principles, and that you are asking for legitimate things that will bring you closer to God.  Try to avoid ‘give me, give me' prayers.  Sometimes we ask for things with no other reason than "just because we want it".  In your prayers, tell God about things going on in your life.  It's okay to ask for things, but make sure that isn't all you're doing in your prayers. 

Remember, prayer is supposed to be a conversation and a conversation goes in both directions.  After you pray, take a minute to quietly wait for anything God may want to tell you.  It isn't very effective to tell someone something and then hang up on them before they can respond to you.

If our motives are wrong, does James 4:3 say that God doesn't hear our prayers?  No, it just says that if we ask for the wrong reasons, that's why we won't receive.

Remember that "no " is still an answer to prayer.  Sometimes we pray, God says "no" and we say "I prayed about it, but didn't get an answer."  Well, maybe you did get an answer and the answer was "no".

Read Mathew 6:9

In this manner, therefore, pray:  Our Father in heaven, Hallowed
(praised, holy) be Your Name...

What's the very first thing Jesus did in His prayer?

     -Praised God.

We should start our own prayers the same way.  Offering praise first thing in our prayers is a way to focus us on the blessings we've received, and serves as a brief  worship before starting our conversation with the creator of the entire universe.

Prayer Challenge

The 'Prayer Challenge' is to try a few things in your own prayer life to see if they make a difference for you.   The challenge isn't to adopt them permanently, just to try them.

So, accept the Prayer Challenge--try these ideas in your own prayer life and you might just be amazed at the difference they make.

Start out slowly and take your time

Start with meditation first.  Set a kitchen timer if you have to.  Start with at least one minute (a minute of silence is longer than you think) and work your way up to 3 then to 5 minutes eventually. 

Spend this time just thinking about God.  Don't start your prayer yet.  Don't ask for anything.  Just think about God, Christ, heaven, how much God loves you, what His Son did for you.  Say some praises to the Lord, it's all right to say a praise to the Lord and then just keep repeating it.  This isn't vain repetition since you aren't even praying yet. 

Open your heart and your mind to feeling closer to God.  When you start to feel His closeness (and if you do this sincerely, you will) then start your prayer.  You won't believe the difference you'll see and feel in your prayer life if you do this regularly.  The challenge, however, is to try it at least once.

Be relaxed with God

Try starting a prayer with something like "Hey, God."  Galatians 4:6 tells us God is our "Abba Father."  This quite literally means "Daddy."  That is the kind of familiarity and closeness we should have with God.  This is the kind of closeness God Himself desires for us.  Starting a prayer with "Hey, God" helps to relax you and put you on a more intimate level with your Abba Father.  It's hard to start a prayer this way and then be pious and vain in your prayer. 

Starting a prayer with "Hey God" might even make you smile or chuckle a little which has a way of breaking down some of the barriers between you and God.  If starting your prayer in this manner does strike you as funny when you try it, go ahead and laugh.  For one thing, it means that starting your prayer this way did what it was supposed to do and besides, it's alright for humor to be part of a conversation--especially a conversation with your Abba Father.  Besides, who do you think blesses us with a sense of humor in the first place?

Prayer and fasting

Next time you fast about something in your prayer life, use the hunger of fasting to keep you focused.   Each and every time you feel a hunger pang while fasting, take the time to say at least a quick prayer right then and there.  It doesn't have to be a long prayer, a few words will do, but it does have to be each and every time you feel hunger.  This keeps your prayers constant and helps keeps you focused on why you are fasting in the first place.  It also functions as a reminder to keep us praying while we're fasting.

Be patient

Practice being patient for God's answer to prayers.  If you are earnestly praying about something, and with the right motives, then each time you start to get impatient waiting for an answer, you can just remind yourself that it's now God's problem and not yours. And don't forget that sometimes the answer is "no."

This lesson plan is copyright 2007 by Keith Rawlinson.  Since you are encouraged to use this lesson plan for yourself or with others, this lesson may be copied and distributed without the author's permission as long as it is for the sole purpose of a Bible lesson.  It may  not be used, distributed or copied for any other purpose and may not be included as part of any other work. or website without written consent of the author.
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