PRAYER is a 6 part series taken from Dr Nichterlein’s Essay presented at the South Australian District Convention, ELCA, held at Adelaide, South Australia, March 3-9, 1949, that has been adapted for the web by the ELCR webmaster Helen Kilpatrick. All original content has been preserved, with images, extra divisions, headings and formatting being added for ease of reading. The full original un-adapted article is available for download on the archives page.
This article follows on from the previous article – Part 5 – For Whom Should We Pray?
A Few More Questions in Connection with Prayer
There are a few questions in connection with prayer that I should still like briefly to deal with.
Where should we pray?
God is omnipresent and is, therefore, present everywhere to hear our prayer. Prayers said at Rome or at Jerusalem are no more effective than the prayers we offer up in our homes. Jonah prayed in the belly of the whale, and the Lord heard his prayer. Paul prayed in prison and the Lord was there to hear his prayer. The apostle says, “I will (I desire) therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or doubting” (1 Tim 2: 8).
But that does not exclude that we have special places for prayer. The house of God is to be a house of prayer. We go to church to pray. With a silent prayer we take our seats. The hymns we sing are mostly prayers and should be offered up as such. The collects and other prayers in which the pastor leads us must be the expressions of our own hearts. Often churches are left open throughout the week for worshippers to come in whenever they please to hold communion with God in prayer.
But not only when we go to the house of God are our lips to be opened in prayer. The Christian should lead a daily life of prayer. There are our prayers in the home, our family altars, our daily devotions, in which we allow God to speak to us in His Word whilst we give answer in our prayers. There are our table prayers, our grace before meat and, I hope the good old custom is still observed in our homes, returning thanks after the meal. Family devotions and table prayers should not be dispensed with on account of strangers, un-Christian people, who may happen to be visiting us.
And then, too, each member of the family has his or her own private prayer which he is wont to perform in privacy. Jesus often went up into a mountain to pray, for there He would be undisturbed, there He would be alone with God. And He had some very scathing remarks to make about the Pharisees who loved to show off with their prayers, performing them in the open street where they would be seen of men. Jesus says, “Pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
Must our prayers be framed in words of our own, or may we use a prayer-book?
Some say to read a prayer is not praying. In some instances it may not be. It will depend how it is read. Why should we, however, not pray in words that others have framed for us? Are not the psalms written for us as model prayers to be used by us as such? Are not most of our hymns prayers in words suggested by others?
When praying in the family circle it may be safest to use a prayer-book. Not everyone has the necessary command of language to be able to offer up a prayer suitable to the requirements of all. He may mispronounce words, or use incorrect grammar, and his prayer becomes ludicrous. It may, therefore, be safest for him to read a prayer from an orthodox prayer-book.
But when communing with God alone in prayer, mistakes in grammar and pronunciation do not matter. There you may speak to God as you would to a confidential friend. Let us always remember that it is not the fine composition that makes the fervent prayer.
What should be our attitude [posture] when praying?
Our prayers are supplications; when offering them we are suppliants, and the suppliant must adopt a humble demeanour. From the earliest times it has been customary for the suppliant to prostrate himself, that is, lie prone upon the ground, or at least to fall upon his knees. When in the Old Testament we read of men falling upon their face, the meaning is that they prostrated themselves before God. Christians since the earliest times have bowed their knees in prayer. Paul says: “Therefore I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the garden Jesus knelt down to pray.
But it may not always be convenient or even possible for us to kneel in prayer. There is no command of God telling us that we must kneel in prayer. Our Saviour says, “When ye stand praying.” And even if we remain seated whilst saying a prayer, the bowed head and the closed eyes will be indicative of the reverence we wish to observe.
Let us continue to be instant in prayer.
“Ye have not because ye ask not,” James tells us. Let us come boldly to the Throne of Grace. None can ever ask too much. It has been said that Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees. Certainly prayer is a great weapon to be used by us in fighting the good fight of faith. Let us pray without ceasing, that is, regularly, in everything giving thanks, for that is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us. Let us always remember..
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear:
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear –
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Reprinted by kind permission of Openbook Publishers, Adelaide, by the Evangelical Lutheran Congregations of the Reformation (ELCR), 1995. Contact: P.O. Box 692, Kingaroy, Qld. Aust. 4610.