The Importance of Prayer and Bible Study
by Roy Holladay
Why is it absolutely imperative that we study the Bible and pray? What does it accomplish for a Christian? How do we take prayer and Bible study and convert it into spiritual strength and character?
One way that we can understand how the conversion process works is to look at how our physical bodies use food and convert it into energy. Both physically and spiritually we need to be recharged and energized! Physically, our bodies can get into a run-down condition. We need proper food and rest to build our bodies back up. Spiritually, we need to be recharged by the Spirit of God so that we might have the power to overcome.
We all start out as babes in Christ (Matthew18:1-6). We are not to remain children, but are to mature spiritually (Hebrews 5:12-14). A baby's diet initially consists of milk from its mother. The first fluid that a nursing baby receives from its mother is called colostrum. This fluid is rich in protein and prepares the baby's body to receive milk, by coating the stomach. It also helps to prevent susceptibility to certain diseases.
When God initially calls us to understand His way of life, the Spirit of God prepares our minds to receive spiritual food. God's Spirit also helps us to fight off spiritually wrong thoughts and ideas. God doesn't want us to stay on milk forever. He wants to us grow up and to go on to perfection (Ephesians 4:13-15; Hebrews 6:1).
The Analogy of Food
Why do we eat food? What is the purpose of eating? We all like to eat. We realize that food gives us strength and energy. We know that we must sustain our physical life or we die. Romans 12:2 explains that we must spiritually renew our minds. Just as the physical body must be renewed in power and strength, so must our spiritual batteries be recharged. We are to eat, or imbibe, the Word of God. It becomes a part of us. Likewise, when we eat food it becomes a part of the very cells of our bodies (John 6: 48-51, 63). Ephesians 3:16 talks about a Christian being "strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man," and verse 20 also talks about "power that works in us." The Spirit of God imparts spiritual power to us. That Spirit is renewed in us through prayer and Bible study. Children eat a lot when they are going through growth periods. They seem to be an appetite with skin wrapped around it! Do we stop eating spiritually after we have been in the church for awhile? Our spiritual development depends upon constantly eating of God's Word.
How often do most of us eat? We generally eat two or three times a day. We seldom forget to eat because our bodies constantly remind us that we are hungry and have need of food. Notice 2 Corinthians 4:16: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day." The physical is a type of the spiritual. The new man must be renewed on a daily basis. Colossians 3:9-10 also demonstrates that the new man is to be renewed in knowledge. The knowledge and wisdom of God come from the Spirit of God and the holy Scriptures.
In order for food to be properly assimilated into the body it should be digested properly. We chew our food in the mouth to help break it down. Consequently, the acids in the stomach are able to further break down the food. Food has to be digested to be properly used by the body. There is a spiritual analogy to this also. When we study the Scriptures, we need to meditate on what we study. Spiritually speaking, we chew on it, or think about it. We break the Word of God down into understandable parts and apply it to our lives.
Food in the body is converted into energy and strength. It repairs the cells, fuels the body, and imparts the nutrients needed to sustain life. This also compares to the working of God's Spirit. Galatians 5:22 shows that God's Spirit imparts fruit. One of the fruits that it imparts to us is faith.
What is the power that motivates the true servants of God to obey, to overcome, to grow in grace and knowledge? It is faith! Hebrews 11 demonstrates that faith is what motivated the men and women of old to obey God. Obedience is faith transformed into actiontransformed into another form. James 2:14-20 explains that faith must be usedthat "faith without work is dead." The Spirit is depleted, or used up, through service,works and spiritual overcoming. Hard physical labor innervates us physically. After extensive athletic exertion we become tired. We eat to renew our strength. The spiritual power that God gives us is His Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Jesus Christ through good works used up the power of God. As Luke 6:19 says: "For power went out from Him and healed them all." On another occasion Jesus healed a woman who had a flow of blood for 12 years (Mark 5:25-30). Verse 30 states that power had gone out of Jesus to perform this miracle. When we obey God or serve others we use us a certain amount of the spiritual power that God gives us. It has to be renewed. There is nothing constant about a spiritual mind in a physical body.
Herbert Armstrong stated in the past that the Spirit of God is like water that flows out of a Christian in good works. We must be constantly connected to the source of that water, or God's Spirit.
Use The Spirit
Different work-related jobs expend different amounts of energy. A person who has a desk job does not burn as many calories as someone who does hard manual labor. Christ explained to His disciples that different problems require being close to God. The disciples had cast out demons through the Spirit of God. Yet we have an example in Matthew 17:14-21 where they were not able to cast out a violent demon. Why were they not able? Unbelief or lack of faith! Christ went on to explain in verse 21 that "this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting." The obvious implication was that Christ had been praying and fasting and the disciples had not. Yet Christ did not indicate that prayer and fasting was necessary for every demon that is cast outonly certain types of demons. None of us know when we will be confronted with a major test that will require a great deal of faith on our part. The first epistle of Peter 1:6-7 shows that our faith will be tried to see how strong we are. We must be close to God at all times and not allow the self to coast spiritually and rest on past laurels or accomplishments. In a trial our faith is translated into patience.
Physically speaking you cannot always tell how much endurance and strength a person has by looking at him. There is a spiritual parallel. We all know members that we thought were spiritually strong and rooted firmly in the truth of God. Yet when a major trial confronted the church in the mid-nineties many of them did not pass. Others that you may have thought did not have spiritual depth did remain faithful. Our character and strength are measured by how we react in a trial.
Proper Spiritual Diet
We have all heard the expression "you are what you eat." When it comes to our spiritual diet, what do we eat? Lets take a look at four different spiritual diets.
StarvationIf you stop eating food and drinking liquids, you will starve to death. The parallel is a lack of prayer and Bible study. Death does not occur immediately on a starvation diet, but if not corrected it will invariable lead to death. The same is true if we seldom study or pray.
Unbalanced dietAn unbalanced diet can lead to poor health and many physical difficulties. Spiritually, an unbalanced diet would be where we tend to study only one topic in the Biblesuch as prophecy or history. The Bible gives us a balanced diet of spiritual foodincluding Christian living, prophecy, history, doctrine, etc. We may have a favorite section of the Bible that we like to study, but don't neglect the whole Bible (Matthew 4:4).
Food fanaticsWe have all encountered people who become extreme in their eating habits. I remember one gentleman that I encountered who basically just ate bananas. Spiritually, this would be a person who only studies one point of Scripture. This becomes his spiritual "baby."
Balanced dietOur physical diet should consist of a proper balance of foods from all the different food groupsfruits, vegetables, grains, meats, etc. A balanced spiritual diet would be to study the Bible in proper proportions. Sometimes we study according to our spiritual needs. Those needs will vary from time to time.
What happens when you eat a poor diet? Your resistance is low. As a result you could get a cold, flu, or some disease. When you're sick you don't want to eat, and you become weaker. When our spiritual resistance is low, almost any trial or test could throw us. Paul admonishes us in Galatians 6:10: "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." The more we rely upon God and the closer we are to Him the more God's strength is made perfect in us (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). We receive the power of God when we totally rely upon Him.
Very seldom do we forget to eat. We would not dream of only eating once a week. Yet this is what we do spiritually if the only time we study and pray is on the Sabbath. Every time we sit down to eat it should be a reminder that we need to eat spiritually. We must pray and study regularly for spiritual strength. UN
The Privilege and Power of Prayer
The Bible reveals and discusses several tools we can use to grow spiritually and build our relationship with our Creator. In this first article in a series on these tools for spiritual growth, we examine the foundational tool of prayera key to communication with God.
by Don Hooser
Phone home!" Sound familiar? Maybe you heard it from your parents. Parents want to hear from their childrenbecause they love them.
God wants to hear from His children for the same reasonbecause He loves us.
What is prayer? It is speaking to and conversing with our Creator. Everyone can do it and should do it. What is breathtakingly inspiring is that God hears, is interested in and answers prayers! Prayer is effectivein other words, prayer from those sincerely responsive to God gets results.
Phone home! God is never asleep or too busy to listen. There is never a bad connection or a bad time. You never get a busy signal or voice mail or get put on hold. You have unlimited free minutesand hours.
So no excuses!
The most powerful man in history
Even though Jesus Christ was God in the flesh (John 1:1-5, 14), He knew the importance of praying to our heavenly Father. The Bible gives us many examples of Jesus fervently praying to His Father, not only praising God but asking for help. Jesus clearly knew that God in heaven was the ultimate source of success in every endeavor.
If Jesus Christ needed help from His heavenly Father, how much more do we! And we have many other role models as well. All the dedicated people of God in the Bible and in history have been people of prayer.
Jesus' disciples soon realized their Master's source of power. They said, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). Would you like to learn Christ's teachings regarding prayer? You probably have them in your home. They are scattered throughout the Bible.
Anyone can begin to pray even before he has learned anything about prayer. God hears and appreciates the simplest of prayers. Jesus made it plain: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7). It's noteworthy that in English the first letters of the key words "ask, seek, knock" spell ask!
But God wants us to grow in understanding and application of how to pray. Like learning a new hobby, sport or activity, satisfaction and rewards increase with added knowledge and skill. So it is invaluable to read and understand the biblical teachings regarding prayer.
We can gain much understanding and inspiration from many wonderful examples of prayers in the book of Psalms and throughout the Bible. Daily practice naturally leads to added proficiency and pleasure in prayer. Countless people have attested to this.
Talk to God as your Father
When His disciples said, "Teach us to pray," Jesus began His lesson in prayer by giving them a brief outline of some of the most important things to pray about on a daily basis. Commonly called the "Lord's prayer," Jesus' instruction is found in Luke 11:2-4 and Matthew 6:9-13.
Note that Jesus suggested that the most frequent way that we are to address God is as "our Father in heaven." We can and should have many relationships with God, which are revealed by the names and titles for God found in Scripture. But the most important relationship is that of our Father an all-loving and perfect father.
All human beings can and should think of God as their Father since He is their Creator. And as their relationship with God becomes closer, that father-child relationship builds to deeper and more intimate levels.
So how should we talk to God? He wants us to come to Him as a beloved parent. We should feel confident, secure, understood, appreciated and loved in coming before Him. When we talk with our physical fathers, we are not repetitious or scripted, we don't use an unnatural syrupy tone or a monotone. And we don't use archaic language because we think it sounds more religious. Neither is this necessary with God.
Our heavenly Father cherishes prayers offered with complete honesty and sincerity, even if they include respectful complaints. The prayers in the book of Psalms certainly portray candid honesty.
When people pray nice words while thinking and doing contradictory things, they apparently think God can't read minds. When we use our tongue to "bless our God and Father, and [to] curse men," our prayer is counted as hypocrisy (James 3:9-12, 17; see also Matthew 7:21-23).
Imagining what God is like is relatively easy for someone who has had a loving and attentive earthly father. Admittedly, it is much more difficult, especially at first, for someone whose parental experience has been with a cold, uncommunicative, abusive or absentee father.
Such a person should make a major effort to learn what an ideal father is like and establish that picture in his or her mind's eye. Some inspiring and encouraging descriptions of God as our heavenly Father are found in Matthew 7:9-11; John 3:16-17; James 1:5, 17; 1 John 4:8-19; Psalm 103 and Luke 15:11-32 (the father in the parable of the prodigal son).
Life is about relationships
Of all God's creatures, human being have the unique and awesome privilege of being created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). The greatest benefit of this is being able to have a personal relationship with God.
Throughout His Word, God repeatedly stresses the importance of right relationships. In fact, Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your fellow man (Matthew 22:35-40).
Beginning with our creation, God has done many things to initiate a relationship with us. It is up to us to respond to Him and show initiative in nurturing that relationship with good communication. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you," James 4:8 tells us. Our prayers keep us connected to God. (Future articles in this series will cover Bible study, meditation and fasting and how they also help us draw near and stay near to God.)
Jesus said to His disciples, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). Here Jesus explained a crucial factor in true friendship ongoing open and sincere communication. A true friend is someone you talk with openly and regularly.
God is the Great Communicator. He records in the Bible His revelation of everything we need to know about His plan for our lives. His Word gives us His worldview, the framework for a true perspective on lifepast, present and future. Plus He communicates with us and guides us in other waysby His Holy Spirit, through His Church, through other individuals, through circumstances and through experiences that He sets up.
But a good relationship depends on two-way communicationa dialogue. Prayer and Bible study go hand in hand, along with serious thought and introspection about how to apply God's teachings in our own lives. Each of us must ask: How good a friend am I to God? How good a son or daughter am I to my Father? Call home daily!
Without prayer, life is precarious
Physical, frail human beings are highly vulnerable to countless dangersphysical, mental and spiritual perils. The greatest danger is from our greatest enemy, Satan the devil, who "walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
Ephesians 6:10-20 explains how we need spiritual armor "to stand against the wiles of the devil," and prayer is an important part of that armor (verses 18-19). Why face life's battles with no armor? If we don't pray, we become prey to this ruthless predator.
We are terribly foolish to try "going it alone" in this evil and dangerous worldneglecting to rely on God. Some suffering is punishment from God, particularly when people knowingly sin against Him. But most suffering comes automatically from our own actions, the actions of others, or time and chance.
However, God will intervene for those who are relying on Him to protect them from the majority of mishaps. God allows His followers to suffer some personal trials to learn certain lessons, but He protects them from most dangers.
For those who seek to do God's will and ask for help, He will continually guide, help and protect them. If we don't forsake God, He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). What a promise! And what peace of mind that promise brings!
To continue to get answers, God has conditions
It's inspiring to hear how many people have had obvious answers to their prayers even before they knew much about God or were trying to obey Him. That shows how wonderfully merciful and generous God is toward people who are taking their first sincere steps to humbly talk to their Maker. By granting their desires, He is encouraging them to take further steps in building their relationship with Him.
As we grow in our relationship with God, it is only logical that He expects us to fulfill certain conditions if we want His help. God will not continue to answer prayers for someone who is unwilling to do his or her partto read the Bible, obey what it says and learn to love God. "We love Him because He first loved us," 1 John 4:19 tells us.
But what is the primary evidence of love for God? The apostle John sums it up: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). And John makes it clear that obedience to God is the most important condition for answered prayer: "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22).
If we expect God to continue hearing our prayers, we must begin obeying the Ten Commandments and His other commandments.
In the name of Jesus Christ
Some people have not learned that Jesus Christ is the one "door" and the one "way" to God (John 10:9; 14:6). Does God ever answer their prayers anyway? Because God is immensely merciful, He probably does. If a person's religious practices at first fall short of true biblical Christianity, God may for awhile answer some of his prayers in spite of his religious ignorance rather than because of it. But that won't last if he makes no effort to learn and do as the Bible teaches.
The only promise of answered prayer on a regular basis is to the true followers of the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who, though divine, became a human being, lived a perfect life and suffered and died to pay the penalties of sin for all mankind. He alone is the Savior of the world. Speaking of Jesus, the apostle Peter said, "There is no salvation through anyone else; in all the world no other name has been granted to mankind by which we can be saved" (Acts 4:12, Revised English Bible)
Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you" (John 16:23-24; see also John 14:13-14). As human beings, we do not of ourselves have the right, authority or privilege to approach God's throne with our prayers because of our own goodness. But through faith and commitment to Jesus Christ, He authorizes us to call on God in His name, acting with His authorization. Thus, with His approval, we have access to God when we pray "in Jesus' name."
Jesus further serves us as our High Priest by interceding and mediating on our behalf with the Father (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1-2). This assures us that we have access through Him to the fullness of God's mercy and forgiveness (Hebrews 2:17; 4:14-16; 10:19-22). Then God the Father makes the decision as to how to answer the prayer, and Jesus Christ carries out the Father's will.
A few more points on prayer
God certainly "hears" silent prayers, and someone who is close to God may utter silent prayers often throughout each day. The Bible tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
But God is also pleased to have us vocalize audible prayers. Numerous times the Scriptures mention the praying person using his voice, mouth, lips and tongue. The Bible also frequently uses expressions like cry, cried out, cried aloud, called to, etc.
Certain biblical references to frequency of prayer, like twice daily (Psalm 88:1) and thrice daily (Psalm 55:17; Daniel 6:10), probably refer to the number of audible prayers, not the number of total prayers.
Regarding bodily positions during prayer, the Bible mentions several kneeling, standing, sitting, lying down. Circumstances, including health problems, sometimes limit us in what positions we can choose. We can talk with God while taking a walk or driving a car. The most important consideration is to always do your best to express humility and deep reverence.
The Bible includes examples of appropriate public prayer and group prayer, but the majority of our personal prayers should be private communication with God (Matthew 6:5-6). However, family prayer is vitally important. It's important to teach children from a very young age to pray.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me" (Matthew 19:14). God is very interested in and responsive to their prayers. (see "How Can We Pass Our Faith on to Our Children?" beginning on the next page, for more on this vital subject).
Busy? Most of us are. Lack time to pray? Consider that we all make time for those things we consider most important. And we will accomplish more in the long run when we put God first. Hence we cannot afford to not pray. Prayer needs to be a top priority and a daily habit.
In your prayers, besides going through your needs and wants, make sure to take time to thank God for the many ways He has blessed you in your life. And take time to pray for others.
If you're coming to God about a problem, pour out your heart to Him about it without dictating what His solutions should be. Father knows best. God always responds in the way that is best for us spiritually, and that sometimes means the answer is "no" or "not now," or the answer is something other than what we expected or wanted.
"What is man that You are mindful of him?" asked David in Psalm 8:4. It's a wonder of wonders how God cares for His little creaturesthat He would listen to each of their prayers and give them His personal attention. But it's trueHe does.
Let's not let the wonderful spiritual tool of prayer go to waste by not using it. Let's walk with Godobey Him and talk with Himin prayer.
The Bible compares this life to our being pilgrims living in tents far from home. Our goal is enter the Kingdom of God to "dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Psalm 23:6). Home is wherever God is, and our destiny, after Christ returns to earth, is to dwell with Him forever.
In the meantime, we can stay in touchdaily and more than dailywith our Father and our elder Brother, Jesus Christ.
Phone home. Pray. GN