I like to define prayer as “conversations with God”.
Through prayer we approach God and He approaches us. That’s a conversation. Right? But there’s more.
In an earlier article I wrote about how prayer could be divided into two functional groups – Private prayer (when you are alone with God) and public or corporate prayer (prayer with other people). In private prayer we are interacting only with God. But in corporate prayer we are not only interacting with God, but with one another. Both interactions are vital to our physical and spiritual health.
Prayers are not just conversations with God. Prayers are also spiritual meetings with God because we pray ‘in the spirit’. Since we have both a spiritual nature and an animal nature that constantly pull in different directions, these meetings must be convened regularly.
We engage in these meetings with different kinds of prayer – kinds with more traditional descriptions. Most of our prayers are actually mixtures of these different kinds. Being aware of the kinds and their differences gives us deeper understanding of our conversations with God and therefore with God Himself. How many kinds of prayer are there? That depends on how we define them. I’ll list the more common descriptions here along with a few cautions and warnings about their use.
Petition is asking God something. Petitionary prayer arises from our love of self and our desires to ‘have’ some things and ‘be freedfrom’ other things. This type of prayer is important not only because both our animal and spiritual natures are involved, but because God loves to provide for us and wants to do so.
Petitionary prayers are common in private prayer times, bur sometimes when we are praying with others we avoid this simple prayer because we are afraid of seeming to be selfish or greedy. That can result in us not asking God for things we need. Consequently, not asking is sometimes a greater problem for us than asking for the wrong things. Such avoidance could mean we undervalue ourselves or undervalue God’s power. Or it could mean we are not being honest with God. Remember God knows our hearts and desires before we speak them. We, however, can gain understanding and clarity of our needs by verbalizing them. Finally, worse than not being honest or clear could be that by not voicing petitionary prayers, we are depending on ourselves and not on God. Remember, God is omniscient – He totally and completely knows your heart.
Intercessory prayer is a kind of petitionary prayer we make for another person or group. When we are in corporate prayer we tend to pray more intercessory prayers. Why? It may be that we really care about one another. However, another common reason (one that comes from our animal nature) may be that other people are listening and we want to appear to be caring and less greedy. Remember we are to pray ‘in the spirit’ and while it is good to pray for others, we must be on guard that our animal motives do not outweigh our spiritual motives. Notice also that in times of corporate prayer we generally learn less about each other through intercessory prayer than through other forms of prayer.
Imprecatory prayers ask God to take action against evil. Such prayers may be petitionary or intercessory. Specifically, they are prayers that ask for action against our enemies or against enemies of God. Imprecatory prayers are common in the Psalms and they form a part of God’s word. While such a prayer can be made in a very negative way (rather like a curse) it must be remembered that we are subject to Christ’s command to “love one another: just as I have loved you.” So while imprecatory prayers are important, they must be used carefully and thoughtfully.
Penitence is asking for forgiveness for sins. In so doing, we can learn truth about ourselves. Prayers of penitence are sometimes avoided because they can make us feel bad, but that’s not the point. Knowing and accepting truths about ourselves can have a profound healing effect as well as being a powerful factor in our personal and spiritual growth. Without that element of healing, penitentiary prayer may result in little more than guilty feelings.
We tend to avoid this kind of prayer in corporate settings. Sometimes this may be because (coming again from our animal nature) we are afraid of sounding bad in front of others. Not all prayers of penitence should be expressed in public because they may cause more harm or embarrassment than doing good. But, we must always remember that such prayers can provide others with a deeper understanding of who we are. Again, use them freely in private prayer and thoughtfully in public prayer.
Thanksgiving is a somewhat difficult kind of prayer because gratitude is not an easy virtue to develop.
Think about how often and how sincerely you express gratefulness to others. Part of the problem is that gratitude is humbling. We prefer to think that we have earned a thing or that we deserve a thing rather than be dependent on another to give it to us. Receiving a gift puts us in an inferior position – which is okay in prayer because we are inferior to God! Also expressing gratitude about others in corporate prayer can draw us closer together.
Adoration is possibly the most difficult form of prayer. It is concerned only with God and is only about God. Perfect adoration gives everything – absolutely everything to God and expects nothing in return. When we praise God, we are expressing love and honor. The purest prayer of adoration expects absolutely nothing in return – not even a pat on the head. That’s what makes it so hard. Most of us want to please God and somewhere in the back of our little animal minds we hope prayers of adoration will make God love us more – which not only expects something in return but is quite impossible because God already loves us perfectly.
The Bible shows us that God is praised continuously in heaven. When we offer prayers of adoration, we are anticipating part of the experience of Heaven. This sort of prayer enriches our earthly lives. No matter how much we are burdened with the world, praise and adoration of God can lift us above any darkness.
There are several kinds of meditative prayer. Many people cringe when the term ‘meditation’ is used – apparently associating it with paganism.
Christian meditation is a very special, very Biblical experience. Glimpses of it are seen in Psalm 63:6 or Philippians 4:8.
A fair discussion of the concept of meditation requires more space than this article. For now, remember this – don’t be afraid of it – look into it. God has equipped you to be able to meditate. You can find great joy and peace in it both spiritually and physically.
Did this article affect your prayer life? Please let me know. Your responses help me to know what your interests are.
BTW: I have expanded on the concept of prayer in my book “Worshiping Alone”. If you have read the book, please go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and leave a comment (click on rating stars). If you haven’t yet read it, please order a copy, read it, then leave a comment.
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