Levels of Prayer
Psalm 95 is a model for approaching God in prayer. It begins with praise and thanksgiving. The Apostle Paul seldom mentioned prayer in the New Testament without an attitude of gratitude. “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:16). “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). “Be joyful always; pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). “Let us come before him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 95:2).
There are three levels of communicating with God in prayer. Each level incorporates praise and thanksgiving. The first level is petition, which Paul mentioned in Philippians 4:6. James adds, “You do not have because you do not ask” (4:2). However, he qualifies this by saying, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (4:3). Petitions should be consistent with the Lord’s Prayer discussed previously.
Petition is all too often one way communication and people tire of that. The next level of prayer is personal and more like a dialogue. As we personally and humbly approach God (Psalm 95:6-7), the Psalmist says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (vss. 7-8). The word “hear” means to listen so as to obey. If we heard from God we may be inclined to “harden our hearts” since the first items on God’s list are issues that concern our relationship with Him. So if there are unresolved moral issues that you have never confessed to God, rest assured that will be at the top of His list. All those distracting thoughts that we struggled with while petitioning Him in level one are from God or allowed by God to get our attention, even if they are from the enemy. The Lord wants us to actively deal with whatever comes to our minds during prayer. There is nothing we can’t talk to God about, because He already knows the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12,13). These issues are critical since they relate to our relationship with God, which is always His first concern.
When prayer becomes this personal, we begin to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This makes intercessory prayer possible, which is the highest level. There are few true intercessors who are intimate enough with God to hear His voice and obey. Intercessors hear from God, sense the burden to pray and continue in prayer until the burden leaves. Seldom is their prayer time made public. It is usually in the privacy of their homes and often late at night. God accomplishes much of his work through these dear saints who know how to pray.
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