The Christian life individually and corporately is about pleasing God. And pleasing God is about living by the terms that he is set. But often this is not how Christians approach God. For instance, we often give our opinion about public worship. “Oh I loved that song”, “The sermon was excellent,” or “I didn’t like the choir’s singing” “the congregational prayer went long.” All this as though a worship service is about pleasing us! Worship is about pleasing God, and its terms are set by Him. Our first question about worship is “What honors God and pleases God?” And the same question applies to prayer. What kind of praying pleases God?
The Heidelberg Catechism provides the following answer:
First, that with our whole heart we call only upon the one true God, who has revealed Himself to us in His Word, for all that He has commanded us to ask of Him; second, that we thoroughly know our need and misery, so as to humble ourselves in the presence of His divine majesty; third, that we be firmly assured that notwithstanding our unworthiness, He will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer, as He has promised us in His Word.
Acceptable prayer is directed to the one true God and is wholehearted
We don’t prayer to a god of a non-Christian religion or to a god of the cults. Nor do we pray to saints or through them. Prayer in Scripture is always direct solely to God through the mediator, Jesus Christ. The God of the Bible both Old and New Testaments is one divine being who exists eternally in three persons; namely, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. True prayer is ‘Trinitarian’. We approach God the Father, through Jesus Christ his Son, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit.
Acceptable prayer is also whole-hearted. This means more than being concentrated and focused while we prayer. It refers to the true devotion of one’s heart not just while we prayer but all times and activities. If your life is really centered on money, then your prayer is not whole hearted. Listen to words of James 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:7-8).
Acceptable prayer proceeds from a sense of need and assumes a humble posture.
If you don’t need it then you don’t ask for it. This truth applies in temporal life and to spiritual life as well. The problem is that we need things when we don’t know that we need them. We need God’s grace though we don’t know that we do or even think that we do not need it. We naturally think we are ok with God. In actuality we are in desperate need of God and His grace. This is why it is blessed to be in state of knowing our spiritual impoverishment: Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” There are no self-sufficient super men in the world. We are all spiritual beggars whether we realize it or not. True prayer requires you to realize that: “I am a beggar before God.”
Acceptable prayer requires a confidence that God will hear the prayer of his children for Christ’s sake.
Our prayers are acceptable to God not on account of anything in us that renders us worthy to God. In actuality, even acceptable prayer needs to be cleansed. He hears our prayer because of our mediator, Jesus Christ. Every Christian should have the godly habit of referencing something of Christ in prayer. For example there is the simple “In Jesus Name.” Or “for the sake of Christ blood.” Or “We come through the mediator, Jesus Christ.” Don’t fall in with so many Christian these days of praying “in your name.” And don’t be afraid to prayer this way in front of non-Christians. Many Christian don’t use specific Christian language in front of non-Christians for fear they will not understand. The problem with this is that we pray to the Christian God who does understand and who has given us examples of prayer in His word, which are suffused with such terminology. Use such terms; it’s Biblical.
Finally, God pleasing prayer is confident that our Father will hear our requests.
Such confidence is based upon God’s many promises that he will hear us. For instance, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7).
This does not mean that the Bible endorses the widespread practice among Christians of “name it, claim it, and it will happen.” This treats God like a pagan god, as though he responds to a formula that we utter. What happens when he does answer what we claim? Usually people answer that our faith was lacking. However, many prayers like this are made from great faith and hope and yet God does not heal the cancer or remove the back pain. Paul’s thorn remained after he had prayed three times for its removal. Christ however wanted him to suffer because it served to be vehicle for the power of God (2 Cor. 12). Believers need to open their eyes to see that God does not operate like this. Name and claim it theology gives a false confidence, and it will lead many people to discouragement.
In terms of spiritual realities we can have a simple confidence of being heard. If we prayer for the Lord to save us, we will be saved. If we ask that he will deliver us from evil, then he will do so. In matters pertaining to our temporal life, he will give what we ask if it tends to His glory and our good. Or He will give something better, either now or later.