Scriptural Selections: On Prayer, I
This is first in a fortnightly series of selections of scriptural passages that I plan to publish on this blog. These will be taken from the King James Bible, but I may add occasional bits from other translations, from the Apocrypha, and from the scriptures of other faith traditions as I go along. I group them by subject matter – and I begin with the subject of prayer.
I begin with selections that illustrate the commandment to pray, followed by passages that illustrate the how-to.
Please feel free to send me your comments and suggested improvements. – Thy Friend John
I Thessalonians 5:16-23 [Paul’s “Pray without ceasing.” The anonymous classic The Way of a Pilgrim is the journal of a nineteenth-century Russian pilgrim whose spiritual calling was to practice unceasing prayer]:
 Rejoice evermore.  Pray without ceasing.  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.  Quench not the Spirit.  Despise not prophesyings.  Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.  Abstain from all appearance of evil.  And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) reads “test everything” for “prove all things” and “shun every form of evil” for “abstain from all appearance of evil.” Paul’s meaning here seems to be that wherever evidence of evil appears, we should banish it from our heart, speech and actions, not that our primary concern should be the maintaining of “appearances.”]
Luke 18:1 [the Parable of the Unjust Judge]:
 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;  Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:  And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;  Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.  And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?  I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
[“and not to faint,” 18:1: the original Greek reads kaì mê enkakeîn, literally “and not to go bad,” or as the RSV has it, “not to lose heart.”]
 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;  Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:  That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.
Ephesians 6:10-18 [“praying always… in the Spirit.” For prayer “in the Spirit,” see Romans 8:26-27, below]:
 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;  And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:  Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints….
I Timothy 2:1-4 [prayers to be made for everyone, rulers in particular]:
 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;  For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.  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.
Matthew 5:43-45 [“Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”]:
 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;  That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
James 5:13-16 [“the heartfelt prayer of someone upright works very powerfully” (NJB). This passage is the Bible’s most specific encouragement to pray for healing]:
 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.  Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:  And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.  Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Matthew 6:6-9 [“your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (NJB)]:
 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.  But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.  Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.  After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name….
 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:  For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
John 9:30-31 [The response to his interrogators of the man born blind]:
 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.  Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.
Some “how-to” advices about prayer:
Romans 8:26-27 [The Bible’s most pointed advice to let the Holy Spirit direct our prayers]:
 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.  And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. [The NJB reads: And as well as this, the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words; and he who can see into all hearts knows what the Spirit means because the prayers that the Spirit makes for God’s holy people are always in accordance with the mind of God. The Greek for “in groans that cannot be put into words” or, as the RSV has it, “with sighs too deep for words,” is stenagmoîs alalêtois. Stenagma and the verb-form stenazô (groan or sigh) appear, significantly, in Acts 7:34, where Stephen retells God’s words to Moses at the burning bush, “I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning;” and also in Mark 7:34, where Jesus “looking up to heaven, sighed” in the course of his healing a deaf person with a speech impediment.]
 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.  For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
 …ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.  Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
Prayers smell good:
 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (KJV)