There are some very important concepts concerning prayer that often seem to be overlooked by many today. These concepts range from whose prayers are heard, what we should pray for, and why Jesus directed us to focus our prayers on certain things.
The first thing to look at is whose prayers are heard:
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but, the prayer of the upright his delight.
The LORD is far from the wicked; but, he hears the prayer of the righteous.
He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
We see then that it is only the prayers of those who listen to the law and obey - are upright and righteous - that are heard. Why so many ignore this because it is in the "Old Testament" is unfathomable since it is only the "Old Testament" that Jesus considered as Scripture. Even so, James knew and emphasized this same concept:
Confess faults one to another and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Many will discard this obvious lesson because they have been following Paul's doctrine instead of Jesus'. They hold to Paul's misquote that no one is righteous. Jesus says very plainly:
For I say to you, that except your righteousness exceeds the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not case enter the kingdom of heaven.
This concept alone could fill a book today - only because folks do not want to listen to the very plain words of Jesus. A "sinners" first prayer to be saved is heard only if they are truly repentant - in which case Jesus' sacrifice has made them "spotless" and hence "righteous" and qualified for their prayers to be heard. From then on they are as a child of God and it is up to them to stay that way.
Next we look at what we are to pray for. The first verses we look at here debunk both the standard prayer practices of many laymen as well as the practices of most modern day televangelists:
And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Amen I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter your closet and shut your door. Pray to your Father which is in secret; and, your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly. But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen, for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Jesus follows this with:
Be not like them. For your Father knows what things you have need of before you ask him.
People often forget this when they focus, out of context, on other words Jesus said concerning asking and receiving. Many modern "church leaders" focus on prayer as if it is a get rich scheme. For those that act this way consider what Jesus said:
Jesus answered them and said, Amen, amen, I say to you. You seek me, not because you saw the miracles; but, because you did eat of the loaves and were filled. Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give to you - for him has God the Father sealed.
Jesus knows our hearts and He knows who is seeking Him for the glory of His Father and who is seeking Him for self-gain. This is another subject that a book could be written about today because folks do not listen to Jesus. We are not under the old covenant where earthly goods were blessings to be bestowed in this life. We are followers of Jesus and He tells us:
If you were of the world the world would love its own; but, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, the servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me they will persecute you too. If they have kept my saying they will keep yours too. But all these things they will do to you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.
Since we know that our prayers are not for material benefit what are we to pray for?
Most folks are familiar with prayers of love:
But I say to you, love your enemies. Bless those cursing you. Do well to those hating you and pray for those abusing and persecuting you.
Bless them that curse you and pray for them that despitefully use you.
These are very important since we are forgiven as we forgive others - this is directly tied to our ability to maintain our righteousness. If we, having repented and been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, become as children of God; and, as children of God, love and obey God, and love and forgive others, our prayers will be heard. Another thing Jesus emphasized concerns temptation:
And lead us not into temptation; but, deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing; but, the flesh weak.
Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready; but, the flesh weak.
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
And when he was at the place, he said to them, Pray that you enter not into temptation.
And said to them, Why do you sleep? Rise and pray lest you enter into temptation.
Why this concern for temptation - because:
Those on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and, these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.
We must always strive to enter the narrow gate and temptation leads us away. Submission to temptation is a path to death. Only with the help of the Spirit can this be avoided. Only by God's help and mercy and our own forgiveness of others can our weaknesses be forgiven. As we see from above Jesus focused on prayers dealing with temptation and on forgiveness. We pray for help to give the forgiveness we must give to others to be forgiven ourselves:
After this manner pray: Our Father which is in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth, as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but, deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you too; but, if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
So likewise shall my heavenly Father do to you too, if you from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.
I say to you, whatever things you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive and you shall have. And when you stand praying, forgive if you have ought against any - so that your Father which is in heaven may forgive your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
As Jesus' words show much of our prayer life is concerned with ensuring our own right relationship with God; but, we serve in this world for the glory of God. Because of this we are also told about praying for fellow servants:
Then said he to his disciples, the harvest is truly plenteous; but, the laborers few. Pray the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.
He said to them, the harvest is truly great; but, the laborers few. Pray the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest.
It is also important that Jesus did not say He would send another person to help us or that He would ensure we had an infallible "New Testament" to guide us. He said, and even prayed for us, that we would have the Spirit:
And I will pray the Father and he shall give you another Comforter that he may abide with you forever.
And that we should ourselves ask for the Spirit:
If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
The bottom line is that our prayers, like our lives, are not about us and what we might want in this material world; rather, our prayers and our lives should reflect our desire to bring glory to God. Through our prayers we acknowledge our desire to serve God as well as admit that we can do nothing without His help.