How is your prayer life? If you are like me, you want to build a stronger, more spiritual, fervent and effectual relationship with God in prayer.
That is a noble desire. In fact, we should all have that desire—no matter how strong our prayer life is. Developing and perfecting your prayers is an effort you must keep pursuing your entire life. What a great, noble pursuit!
God actually intends for your prayers to prepare you for king-priesthood. Striving for greater mastery in your prayers is a priestly, kingly pursuit!
Jesus Christ is about to be crowned King of kings and Lord of lords—and His saints will rule with Him as kings and priests (Revelation 5:10). As Gerald Flurry says in his article “Exciting New Revelation From Zechariah 6” (page 1), “That is a weighty responsibility! We have to be qualified for that position! … It takes preparation now to rule on that throne later.… We mustbear down to get prepared for this role.”
How do we prepare? Prayer is key. We can follow the example of David, upon whose throne we will sit, by learning to pray “after God’s own heart.” David was a man after God’s own heart, and he really knew how to pray. He built his life around praising God and thanking God. Mr. Flurry said in October that these two activities are at the heart of being God-centered! They are two great building blocks to being a man after God’s own heart.
“Our primary focus in life must be on how we talk to God in prayer!” Mr. Flurry wrote in the May 1998 Royal Vision.“That is our number one priority. That is how we grow in God’s royal Family.”
Why should prayer be our primary focus? Why is it so important to God? Why has it been recommended we devote a full hour each day to prayer? These are questions worth pondering.
Christ said that “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Why, then, would God actually wait to act until we come to Him? Think of an individual lying in bed, suffering intense pain. Imagine the Father watching from His throne room, with dozens of angels poised and ready to provide healing and comfort the moment they receive word—but God says, Wait. I want him to ask first. Why would God do that?
The main answer to these questions is, your Father is trying to build a relationship with a son. Your whole relationship with God is built on your prayer life.
The “prayer of the upright is his delight” (Proverbs 15:8). How much does your prayer life delight God?
Think of Christ’s statement in Song of Songs 2:14: “O my dove … let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice ….” As Mr. Flurry’s booklet The Song of Songs brings out, this is Christ crying out to the Laodiceans, longing to hear them. In a sense, God says this to all of us every day: Let me hear your sweet voice! He wants to communicate with you and to hear from you.
But prayer is about more than God wanting to hear from His sons. Learning how to pray correctly is really part of the process of becoming God. It is reshaping your thoughts, passions and desires to match God’s!
Prayer is a major part of our fulfilling our calling in God’s Work today. “Christ gave the lay body of the Church the special mission to back up His apostles in their going forth with the gospel to the world—with their prayers, encouragement, tithes and offerings,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in The Incredible Human Potential. This is why God called you into His Work today—and prayer is tops on the list! “[T]his giving of their prayers, encouragement and financial support was God’s assignment as the very means of developing in them God’s holy, righteous character—that they, with the apostles and evangelists, may qualify to rule with and under Christ in God’s Kingdom” (emphasis added). You see? As we pray, we are becoming like God! We are preparing for kingship!
Meditate on the truth in this statement: Prayer is love.
God is love. His law is love. Christ listed as the two great commandments: 1) love toward God and the God Family; and 2) love toward neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). Through Christ-led prayer, we practice and grow in that love. Love for God and His Family grows, as well as love for our neighbor, or the world.
Now think on this: Perfect prayer is perfect love. We will see later how Christ prayed perfect prayers, as an expression of His perfect love.
The more you meditate about this, the more sense it makes that our primary focus in life must be on how we talk to God in prayer. This must be our top priority. This is how we grow in God’s royal Family.
A Child Speaking to His Father
The Bible uses a number of analogies to explain prayer. Each portrays a different aspect of effective prayer, showing what a multifaceted art it is. The simplest, most basic analogy is a child speaking to his father.
Children often want to connect with their parents first thing in the morning. As soon as they awake, they might walk down the hallway to Dad and Mom’s bedroom and climb into bed with them. They yearn for that connection.
We need to cultivate that impulse with our spiritual Father. God intends that our prayers reestablish that connection and build the father-child relationship. The extent to which you yearn for that time with Him is a good measure of whether your prayers are really accomplishing God’s purpose. God wants to hear from you. He is always there, waiting for your “footsteps in the hallway.”
Sometimes when I am talking with my children, I can tell their minds are elsewhere. They are ready to move on to something else. We can do the same thing to our Father when we talk to Him in prayer. Our hearts can pull us elsewhere, making it a struggle to focus our thoughts. God knows. We have to fight that distractibility. We honor and love our Father by giving Him our full attention.
No matter how busy Christ was, He always went out early in the morning, by Himself, to connect with His Father—not out of duty, but from sincere desire! This is a very childlike attitude. We don’t naturally have this desire, so we have to ask God for it, and we have to nurture it.
Keys to Receiving Answers!
You have unfathomable supernatural power at your disposal! God has millions of angels waiting to do as He commands, and limitless resources at hand to fulfill your requests. He knows your needs, and He promises to fulfill them.
But there are conditions. Many times God does not answer our prayers because His conditions are not being met. This means that fulfilling your request would not accomplish His purpose for our prayers!
Remember the seven keys to answered prayer listed in Lesson 14 of the Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Course. As you review these, think about why our failure to use these keys might cause God to withhold His answer to our prayers. This provides invaluable clues about God’s purpose in having us pray each day.
1. Know God’s will.“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14-15). God wants us to know and understand His will, and align our thinking with it. And He wants us praying according to that will. If we do that, we can have confidence: Whatever we ask, we will have it!
2. Believe God. God wants us to build faith and trust in Him. Pray in faith! Don’t waver, being tossed with the wind. God won’t answer such requests (James 1:5-7). Believing prayers fulfill the purpose for prayer!
3. Obey God.What good would it do for God to answer our prayers if we were rebelling against Him? God hears the prayer of the righteous (1 Peter 3:12). “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22). If we are pleasing Him, He will set those spiritual forces in motion: Give that son of mine what he’s asking for!
4. Have fear and humility. Don’t have a self-sufficient attitude; don’t think you’re fine without God. God resists the proud (James 4:6). He favors the poor, humble person, lacking pride and self-righteousness; the contrite, repentant person who trembles at His word (Isaiah 66:2). When we fear God and respect His authority, He responds to our petitions.
5. Be fervent. Routine, rote prayers don’t move God. Follow Christ’s example, who prayed “with strong crying and tears” to His Father, upon whom He depended for His very life! (Hebrews 5:7). The fervent, effectual, energetic prayers of the righteous avail much (James 5:16)—because that is the way God is, and what He is trying to help you become! “This kind of prayer achieves great results! Energetic, heartfelt prayers are well-pleasing to God. When you wholeheartedly call upon God, you can expect real answers to your prayers,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “God has graciously granted, by astonishing miracles, many answers to my prayers. But never have I received an answer from God except when I prayed earnestly from the heart. I have never known of a real answer coming from God of a casual routine prayer. Yet do not most people pray casually, perhaps as a matter of duty, and without feeling or emotion?” (Plain Truth, August 1978).
6. Be persistent. If you don’t receive an answer right away, don’t give up. Don’t lose faith. Be patient and keep asking until God answers. He promises to answer, and cannot lie (Titus 1:2)—but sometimes He does make us wait in order to build our patience and to test our faith (James 1:3-4; Hebrews 10:36). Persistence shows and builds your trust in God.
7. Use Christ’s name. God wants us to understand that there is a government structure in this Family: Father, Son, Husband, wife. This is reinforced every time we pray: Our prayers go through our Husband.
Think about these keys in terms of your Father trying to use your prayers to prepare you for king-priesthood on the throne of David. As you pray each day, He is making fine-tuned decisions about how much power to deploy in fulfilling your requests—based on whether your prayers are really fulfilling that purpose. Before He answers you, do you need to learn to trust Him more? Is He looking for more passion, emotion, fervor—for you to put more heart into your communication with Him?
Realize: These keys are not absolute; in other words, there is not a preset, established level of faith or obedience or fervor required to receive answers. In fact, God always wants more of all of these things from you! What He expects of you today before He answers may be more than He required of you last year, last month, last week. This is because the true standard is perfection. Whatever level you are at in these areas is a step toward perfection, which is ultimately where God wants you.
What a marvelous tool your prayers are for God to draw you closer to Him, and prepare you for kingship!
Prayers of a Priest
God gives other prayer analogies in the Bible: one persecuted crying out to a protector (you see this in many psalms, such as Psalm 142); a sinner addressing his forgiver. A very powerful analogy is an advocate speaking to a judge—like a lawyer interceding and speaking on behalf of his client. This is one of Christ’s responsibilities (1 John 2:1), and as we will see, we must follow His example.
Perhaps the Bible’s most profound prayer analogy is rooted in the priesthood of ancient Israel.
The Apostle Peter called God’s New Testament saints a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Peter, an Old Testament expert, linked our role as God’s people today with the priests who served in the tabernacle and temple in ancient Israel. The high priest pictured our High Priest, Jesus Christ, and all the other priests pictured God’s saints today. Their responsibilities teach us about our job as God’s royal priesthood today, and the role we will have in God’s eternal Family!
What is the job of a priest? Peter gets specific: “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (verse 5). The physical sacrifices the priests offered anciently typified our spiritual sacrifices today. And one of those offerings was a direct type of our daily prayers.
Anciently, at the heart of the tabernacle was the ark of the covenant, covered by the mercy seat. That holiest of all holy places was sealed off by a veil. Before the veil was the golden altar, upon which the high priest would burn incense every morning and evening.
That altar was a type of the true golden altar in the third heaven. The incense ritual was a type of our daily prayers ascending to God like a sweet fragrance, offered right before God’s throne (Revelation 8:3-4). And remember, the veil separating the altar from the ark was ripped in two when Christ died (Matthew 27:51), showing that we now have direct access to God’s throne room in our prayers!
To kneel down and speak to God in prayer before the incense altar is an exalted priestly privilege! It is also a great responsibility—a daily duty required of God’s holy priests. The job of a priest revolves around this golden altar.
Revelation 11:1 contains an important commission for our Work: “Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar ….” God revealed the truth about this verse to our pastor general back in 1992. He said the “altar” refers to the golden altar before God’s throne, and is used here as a symbol of the ministry. “The ministers’ job is to direct the kind of spiritual sacrifices made on the golden altar! The greatest, most magnificent job ever given to any man! And God watches it with the closest scrutiny” (Philadelphia Trumpet, February 1992). The incense altar is so closely associated with the priesthood that it is actually a type of the priesthood!
In the May-June 1998 Royal Vision, Mr. Flurry reprinted this article, and added this statement: “The royal ministry must lead the people in building the golden character of God. That is why mankind was created. The ministry must lead God’s people in building their entire lives around the incense altar!” Then, that is when he wrote, “Our primary focus in life must be on how we talk to God in prayer! That is our number one priority. That is how we grow in God’s royal Family.”
We are called to serve as the priests of God forever. And perhaps the best way to prepare to be a priest is to learn to pray like a priest.
The Art of Prayer
The golden altar God had the Israelites construct anciently was beautiful and elegant (Exodus 30:1-5). He had them position it directly before the ark and the mercy seat, and said, This is where I will meet with you! We’re going to commune with each other at my throne by way of this golden altar (verse 6).
The priest would offer incense every morning and every evening (verses 7-8), just as most of us do today. But it is called “a perpetual incense”—constantly burning; likewise, we are to pray “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
It took work to prepare this incense and offer it just as God commanded. He gave a detailed recipe for it (Exodus 30:34). Likewise, our prayers must have specific ingredients, as many scriptures reveal. In our daily prayers, we cannot just throw together any old concoction. We cannot neglect praise and thanks—and still have prayers after God’s own heart! We cannot neglect repentance. We cannot neglect intercessions for God’s Work and for God’s people. Our prayers must have these ingredients to accomplish God’s purpose for prayer!
Anciently that incense was to be “blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy” (verse 35; Revised Standard Version). And for incense to burn properly and to ascend as a cloud over the altar, it had to be beaten fine (verse 36). For the priest, this meant work—mortar and pestle. Preparing these spices took energy, patience, attention to detail, and time, grinding, measuring, mixing—all before he went to the incense altar! Then they were all to be “infused in the oil” of pure frankincense (Matthew Henry’s commentary).
It is natural for our prayers to get lazy. It is natural to be general: “Bless Mr. Flurry,” “Bless the brethren,” “Heal the sick.” It is natural for our prayers to become routine and passionless. We must work to make them as God wants! This is a major lesson to take from this priest analogy. Why else would God have put these men through all this effort?
Just as grinding these spices finely took great effort and time, God wants us to get detailed and specific, and to beat those prayers fine, infusing them with the oil of His Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). He wants us bearing down, thinking through the fine points of the matters we pray about, and lighting those aflame with Spirit-led passion to get the smoke rising in a sweet cloud!
A detailed prayer list can be an enormous help—preparing those spices and putting in the work in advance so you know what to pray about. Even daily praying over a few names on a long list of people in your congregation can spark important thoughts: I haven’t talked to this person in a long time. I need to do so. What’s going on with him? Or, perhaps, you will be reminded of specifics to pray about that you wouldn’t have thought to otherwise. You might even recognize something you could say or do for that person—to call, send a card, give that word of encouragement, pay a visit, share that helpful article, donate that sweater. Those are impulses you would do well to act on.
Here is another measure of our prayers: If we are praying like a Christ-minded priest, we will feel there is not enough time to get in everything we need to! We cannot afford to waste time in prayer, or fruitlessly go on and on about our personal issues: That would be neglecting other important matters. And there is always a sense of “unfinished business” as you get off your knees. Clearly we cannot pray all day, but we feel that sense of duty—that there is more work to be done.
Obviously we don’t want using prayer lists to become routine and robotic; there is that danger. We must fight that tendency. Strive to use that agenda to add structure to heartfelt, sincere prayers that are offered with an ever growing measure of God’s love.
I have talked to people who struggle with intercessory prayers. I don’t know what to say, or I run out of things after 30 seconds, they tell me.
Yes, intercession is hard. But what is happening as you learn how to pray this way? What is happening as you meditate more deeply on others’ trials and problems, as you think through the situation and pray about it according to God’s will? What is happening as you love that person enough to stick with it, think it through, and really beseech God passionately about it?
Can you see how practicing that and learning how to do that is actually building the love of God? It is teaching you to think like God—to become God!
What happens if you have a problem in your marriage, and you build the habit of going to God first to get Him involved, praying for your mate? What happens when you intercede empathetically for a spiritual brother or sister who is suffering in trial? What happens when you see one having a spiritual problem and you take it to God? What happens as you entreat God for the repentance of someone who has left God’s truth? What happens as you cry out for the Laodiceans, whose eternal life is at stake?
If you are driving yourself to give detailed, faithful, fervent, Spirit-led prayers on their behalf, those prayers are the love of God! The more perfect those prayers are, the more they reflect the perfect love of God! That is preparing you to be a king-priest on David’s throne!
Why Pray for Others?
Here are some of the “ingredients” our prayers need. The Apostle Paul wrote, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1; rsv). First of all! Paul is talking about our number one priority, our primary focus in life: improving our prayer life.
This apostle of God urges us to make supplications (petitions or requests), prayers, intercessions and even thanksgivings for all men! He then specifically tells us, pray for kings and those in authority (verse 2). That is a long prayer list!
But notice: What is the purpose? “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (verses 3-4).
God wants us to broaden our perspective through our prayers. He wants us to build more of His love through our prayers! This is the second great commandment: love toward neighbor—the world! (Matthew 22:39). God wants to save everybody! And Paul is saying that we need to want the same thing. We must learn to think like that! And a major way to do so is by developing that mindset in our daily prayers!
If you are learning to think like God, you are becoming a man after God’s own heart! This is how you become like God.
We all tend to be too small-minded in our prayers—too focused on ourselves and on the people or circumstances immediately around us. That is natural! That is why we need to bring God into our prayers more and more, to pray in the Spirit. That is why we must keep working to make our prayers more and more perfect! As we do, our prayers will show real concern and love for all men. And we will be earnest in our prayers for this Work, which is their only hope.
Notice how Paul continued this thought: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
If you want to know what the role of a priest is, look at Christ! He is giving Himself and serving and sacrificing—to be a mediator between God and men. A mediator is a go-between—a reconciler or intercessor. That is what being a priest is about: bringing people to God. It is about facilitating a family relationship between the Father and a Spirit-begotten son.
That is what Christ is doing today. Christ is our High Priest—the Priest of all priests! He is Mediator—He is Intercessor—He is Advocate. Christ livesto make intercession for His people! (Hebrews 7:25). His mind is constantly focused on our trials, problems, difficulties, requests. Christ is building His life around the incense altar.
We must learn to pray like Christ (1 Timothy 2:8). He is our example.
How Christ Prays
How does Christ pray? The Apostle John wrote out a detailed outline of one of Christ’s prayers. It is the most remarkable prayer in Scripture, and surely one of the Bible’s deepest chapters. It gives us wonderful insight into Christ’s prayer life with His Father. It shows how a faithful priest of God prays! It gives us much to emulate in our own prayers.
Remarkably, He prayed this the night before He was crucified, while under the agony and pressure of that imminent brutality. If you want an example of how to pray while you’re in a trial, study this chapter.
None of us, of ourselves, could ever pray as Christ did here. This is a perfect prayer—an expression of God’s perfect love! However, we can allow Christ to come in our flesh, and we can bring Christ’s mind into our prayers. Then we can pray like this!
This prayer is saturated with honor for the Father—not just at the beginning, but all the way through.
Father—I just want to glorify you, Christ begins (John 17:1). Note throughout the prayer how He focuses not on Himself but on His Father. Knowing you is real life! You are the only true God. You have given me these disciples, but they are yours. All mine are yours. Your word is truth. What deep respect and honor Christ showed toward His Father in His prayers.
We ought to strive to express such honor in our prayers. Rather than skipping through a few words of praise at the beginning so we can get to what we want, stop and really praise Him! Offer your heart to Him—at the beginning, and all the way through. That is what a priest does.
Remarkably, in this prayer, Christ makes only two requests for Himself. The first is in verse 1: He asked the Father to glorify Him—so He could glorify the Father! The second is in verse 5: He asked the Father to glorify Him—so He could be with the Father! Christ prayed for Himself, but even those requests were unselfish.
The greatest portion of this prayer—more than double everything else combined—is Christ interceding for His people. Christ deeply focused on praying for others.
A Three-Part Formula
John 17 supplies a three-part formula we can emulate in our intercessory prayers for God’s Work and God’s people.
First, Christ praised His people before the Father. Scripture says Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Christ is the praiser of the brethren! They have kept your word, He prayed. Notice that, Father! They have received your words. They have believed! They know! (verses 6-8). Christ brought to His Father’s attention all these good points. He reminded God of His disciples’ faithfulness and responsiveness to Him.
That is how a priest should pray. You must notice those positive things—then talk to God about the good points you see in His precious people! As Paul said, offer up thanks for those people.
Second, Christ informed the Father about the difficulties His people face. “Jesus Christ came in human form and understands the pulls of the flesh,” Mr. Flurry writes. “He has experience the Father doesn’t have. And the Father wants to hear His point of view. … The Father says to Christ, I want to hear you tell me about my son” (The Last Hour).
John 17 provides glimpses of the conversations that take place in the third heaven. In verses 11 and 14, Christ passionately and with detail says, Your people are right here in the midst of this satanic world—with all the pressures and pains and trials that come with it. They’re being hated—persecuted! They’re strangers and pilgrims—and that’s not an easy thing to endure. I can tell you—I experienced it! They have a difficult road. Satan is coming after them. The world hates them.
We can certainly talk to God in the same way. Discuss your own experiences. Share with God your point of view regarding someone in trial. Intercede! God wants to hear us tell Him about His sons, too.
Third, Christ made several requests on His people’s behalf. “I pray for them,” He said, specifically referring to His own people (verse 9). He made about 10 specific requests here. He asked the Father to keep them and help them to be united (verse 11). He asked the Father to fill them with His own joy (verse 13). What a remarkable request, considering the circumstances. When we are going through trials, strive to have the presence of Christ’s mind and actually pray that others would have the joy Christ has given us!
Christ also prayed for our protection from Satan (verse 15). He didn’t pray God would remove all problems from our lives, but He did pray that He would put around us a hedge of protection from the devil.
He also prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth …” (verse 17). I pray for my future disciples, Christ said, talking to the Father about us! (verse 20). He prayed that the Father would help us be one, perfectly united. He prayed earnestly for our unity, and for perfect peace in the Church (verses 21-23). He prayed for our spiritual success. Jesus Christ prayed that we would grow and flourish spiritually.
Notice the beautiful request in verse 24. Christ loves us so much—and He wants to be with us!
This is the way a true priest of God thinks. This is the way a true priest of God prays.
Remember this practical, three-part formula in your intercessory prayers when you pray for God’s Work and for God’s people: 1) Praise people before the Father; 2) tell the Father about their difficulties; 3) make requests on their behalf.
Praying for the World
Christ also prayed for the world—even amid the most trying moments of His life. That is how big-minded He was. Read John 17:21: “… that the world may believe that thou hast sent me,” and verse 23: “that the world may know that thou hast sent me,” and that you love my disciples. He prayed for His own people, then extended out that love to the world—for all men to be saved!
Look at the extraordinary unselfishness of this prayer! Jesus did not focus on Himself. He didn’t spend His prayer time wrapped up in His own problems, trying to get God focused on Him and what He wanted. He was praising, empathizing and interceding! He was praying the prayer of a holy, royal priest of God. How beautiful. What a glory to the Father. What sweet incense.
This is the Branch, who is about to return to Earth to receive the throne of David and be crowned with a double-crown: King of kings—Priest of priests! (Zechariah 6:11-13).
We need to follow His example! We need to bring more and more of His mind into our prayers. We need to bear down, work and do all we can to prepare to be a king and a priest sitting right next to Him as His Bride!
These kinds of prayers are the love of God! That is why, as Mr. Flurry wrote, “Our primary focus in life must be on how we talk to God in prayer! That is our number one priority. That is how we grow in God’s royal Family.”
We have to keep pursuing that goal through our whole life: becoming experts at praying prayers after God’s own heart. We can never stop working toward perfecting our prayers so they are filled with more and more of the perfect love of God.
This is how God builds His mind in us! This is how we become more and more like God. This is how we can prepare to be a king and a priest sitting beside Jesus Christ as His Bride. This is how we can come to have a heart after God’s own heart.