08 Forms of prayer

“Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.” (Psalm 62:8)

Prayer is part of our soul’s life with God and is marked therefore by some of that many-sidedness and indestructibility which we find in life in general. This is also true of all forms of prayer, the way in which prayer is expressed. As we have seen, this may vary from the quiet, meditative mood to that of energetic, even violent, striving. Prayer is, as shown earlier, a condition of mind, an attitude of hearts, which God recognizes as prayer whether it manifests itself in quiet thinking, in sighing, or in audible words.

Because prayer is an expression of man’s personal life with a personal God, it readily assumes the forms and characteristics of personal life. We know that conversation between persons does not take place according to certain prescribed rules and regulations, but occurs freely and spontaneously as the occasion may require. That is what makes conversation personal, gives it life and freshness. The more personal conversation is in this sense of the word, the more it becomes real communication, a mutual exchange of ideas in which life speaks to life. So also with prayer. It should be free, spontaneous, vital fellowship between the created person and the personal Creator, in which life should touch life. The more that prayer becomes the unconfined, free and natural expression of the desires of our hearts, the more real it becomes.

As a vital means of communication between the soul and God, prayer can assume very different forms, from quiet, blessed contemplation of God, in which eye meets eye in restful meditation, to deep sight or sudden exclamations of wonder, joy, gratitude, or adoration. It may take the form of one word, as when we cry, “God!” “Jesus!” Or it may take the form of smooth, quiet conversation lasting for minutes, perhaps even hours. Or it may be an outcry from a violently agitated soul engaged in a bitter struggle.

We can classify all of these forms of prayer, each of which is well adapted to some phase of prayer life, under the following main headings:

1. Supplicatory prayer

By this we mean request prayer, the turning to God to receive something. Naturally, this aspect of prayer is always in the foreground. The word in Scripture which is most often used to designate prayer really means to express desire. There is something beautiful about this. It is the will of our heavenly Father that we should come to Him freely and confidently and make known our desires to Him, just as we would have our children come freely and of their own accord and speak to us about the things they would like to have. I pray God that nothing I may have said in the foregoing will have obscured this gracious aspect of prayer.

It is written “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6.) Herein are included also those petitions which we may learn afterwards were misused prayers. Do not be so afraid, in other words, of misusing prayer that, on that account, you omit giving expression to the desires of your heart when standing in the presence of God.

2. The prayer of thanksgiving

This follows naturally upon supplicatory prayer. Having received something from God, it is self-evident that we ought to return thanks to Him for it. Scripture contains a number of both direct and indirect admonitions to give thanks to God. The strongest is found in Ephesians 5:20 “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is what God means by the prayer of thanksgiving. From this we learn, too, that giving thanks should constitute an essential part of prayer.

It is easy for us to think that God is so great and so highly exalted that it makes no difference to Him whether we give thanks or not. It is, therefore, necessary for us to catch a vision of the heart of God. His is the most tender and sensitive of all hearts. Nothing is so small or insignificant that it does not register an impression with Him, whether it be good or bad. Jesus says that He will not forget even a cup of cold water if it is given in grateful love of Him.

3. Praise

Even in the Old Covenant they had learned to praise the Lord. In fact, the saints of God in the Old Dispensation had progressed far in the art of praising God. This comes to light especially in the Psalms. Not a small portion of the Book of Psalms is made up of songs of praise, praise to God, and in a large number of the remaining psalms we find that a doxology (a hymn containing praise to God) is used either at the beginning or at the close of a psalm.

“Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright.
Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.” (Psalm 33:1-2)

“Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:” (Psalm 103:1-2)

“Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.” (Psalm 146:1-2)

Praise and thanksgiving are very closely related to each other. Outwardly it is not possible to draw a clear line of demarcation between them. Both consist in giving glory to God. From ancient times, however, men have tried to differentiate between them by saying that when we give thanks, we give God the glory for what He has done for us; and when we worship or give praise, we give glory to God for what He is in Himself. In that event, praise lies on a higher plane than thanksgiving. When I give thanks, my thoughts will still circle around myself to some extent. But in praise my soul ascends to self-forgetting adoration, seeing and praising only the majesty and power of God, His grace and redemption.

4. Conversation

If prayer, as mentioned above, is the natural form of communication between the soul and God, it is also evident that it includes conversation. Conversation is the free and natural exchange of ideas between persons. The wider the range of subjects included in their conversation, the richer their fellowship.

To pray is to let Jesus into our lives. He knocks and seeks admittance, not only to the solemn hours of secret prayer when you bend the knee of fold your hands in supplication, or when you hold fellowship with other Christians in a prayer meeting. Nay, He knock and seeks admittance into your life in the midst of your daily work, your daily struggles, your daily “grind”. That is when you need Him most. He is always trying to come into your life, to sup with you. He sees that you need His refreshing presence most of all in the midst of your daily struggles. Listen, therefore, to Jesus as He knocks in the midst of your daily work or rest. Give heed when the Spirit calls you to look in silent supplication to Him, who follows you day and night.

5. Prayer without words

As we have already seen, prayer is really an attitude of our hearts towards God. As such it finds expression, at times in words and at times without words, precisely as when two people love each other. As conscious personalities we must and should give expression to our attitudes in words to one another. It is this faculty which lifts the fellowship of human beings to such a high plane and makes it so rich. But at the same time let us remind ourselves that life, in the last analysis, is inexpressible. There is something in our lives, and also in our fellowship, which can never be formulated in words, but which can be the common experience, nevertheless, of two who share with each other everything that can be expressed in words.

In the soul’s fellowship with God in prayer, too, there are things which can and should be formulated in words. We have spoken of that. But there are also things for which we  can find no words. It may be this to which the apostle makes reference when he speaks om Romans 8:26 of “groanings which cannot be uttered”.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”


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