How to Pray, by R.A. Torrey
Chapter 2: Praying to God
After having seen some of the tremendous importance and resistless power of prayer, we now come directly to the lesson - how to pray with power.
In the twelfth chapter of Acts, we have the record of a prayer that prevailed with God and also brought about great results. In the fifth verse of this chapter, the manner and method of this prayer is described in a few words: “Prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).
The first thing to notice in this verse is the brief expression “unto God.” The prayer that has power is the prayer that is offered unto God.
But some will say, “Is not all prayer offered unto God?”
No. Very much of so-called prayer, both public and private, is not unto God. In order for a prayer to really be unto God, there must be a definite and conscious approach to God when we pray. We must have a definite and vivid realization that God is bending over us and listening as we pray. In very much of our prayer, there is really only little thought of God. Our mind is taken up with the thought of what we need and is not occupied with the need nor with the One to whom we are praying. Instead, our mind is wandering here and there and throughout the world. There is no power in that sort of prayer. But, when we really come into God’s presence, really meet Him face to face in the place of prayer, really seek the things that we desire from Him, then there is power.
Coming into God’s Presence
If we want to pray correctly, the first thing we should do is make sure that we really seek an audience with God - that we really get into His very presence. Before a word of petition is offered, we should have the definite and vivid consciousness that we are talking to God. Also, we should believe that He is listening to our petition and is going to grant the thing that we ask of Him. This is only possible by the Holy Spirit’s power, so we should look to the Holy Spirit to really lead us into the presence of God. And, we should not be hasty in words until He has actually brought us there.
One night, a very active Christian man dropped into a little prayer meeting that I was leading. Before we knelt to pray, I said something like the above, telling all the friends to be sure, before they prayed, that they were really in God’s presence. I also explained that while they were praying especially, they must have the thought of Him definitely in mind and be more taken up with Him than with their petition. A few days after I met this same gentleman, he said that this simple thought was entirely new to him. It had made prayer an entirely new experience to him.
If we want to pray correctly, these two little words must sink deep into our heart: unto God.
Pray without Ceasing
The second secret of effective prayer is found in the same verse, in the words, without ceasing.
In the Revised Standard Version, “without ceasing” is rendered "earnest.” Neither rendering gives the full force of the original Greek. The word literally means “stretched-out-ed-ly.” It is a pictorial word and wonderfully expressive. It represents the soul on a stretch of earnest and intense desire. “Intensely” would perhaps be as close a translation as any English word. It is the same word used to speak of our Lord in Luke 22:44, where it is said, “He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
We read in Hebrews 5:7 that “in the days of His flesh,” Christ “offered up prayers and supplication with strong crying and tears.” In Romans 15:30, Paul begs the saints in Rome to strive together with him in their prayers. The word translated strive means primarily to contend as in athletic games or in a fight. In other words, the prayer which prevails with God is the prayer into which we put our whole soul, stretching out toward God in intense and agonizing desire. Much of our modern prayer lacks power because it lacks heart. We rush into God’s presence, run through a string of petitions, jump up, and go out. If someone asks us an hour later what we prayed for, often we cannot remember. If we put so little heart into our prayers, we cannot expect God to put much heart into answering them.
We hear much in our day about the rest of faith, but there is no such thing as the fight of faith in prayer as there is in effort. Those who want us to think that they have attained to some great height of faith and trust because they have never known any agony of conflict or of prayer, have surely gotten beyond their Lord. They have even gone beyond the mightiest victors for God, both in effort and prayer, that the ages of Christian history have known. When we learn to come to God with an intensity of desire that wrings the soul, then we will know a power in prayer that most of us do not know now.
Prayer and Fasting
How will we achieve this earnestness in prayer?
Not by trying to work ourselves up into it. The true method is explained in Romans 8:26: “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.” The earnestness that we work up in the energy of the flesh is a repulsive thing. The earnestness created in us by the Holy Spirit is pleasing to God. Here again, if we desire to pray correctly, we must look to the Spirit of God to teach us how to pray.
It is in this connection that fasting enters in. In Daniel 9:3, we read that Daniel set his face “unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.” There are those who think that fasting belongs to the old dispensation. But when we look at Acts 14:23 and Acts 13:2-3, we find that it was practiced by the earnest men of the apostolic day.
If we want to pray with power, we should pray with fasting. This of course does not mean that we should fast every time we pray. But, there are times of emergency or special crisis, when men of earnestness will withdraw themselves even from the gratification of natural appetites that would be perfectly proper under other circumstances, that they may give themselves up solely to prayer. There is a mysterious power in such prayer. Every great crisis in life and work should be met in this way. There is nothing pleasing to God in our giving up things which are pleasant in a purely Pharisaic and legal way. But there is power in that downright earnestness and determination to obtain, in prayer, the things of which we strongly feel our need. This feeling of urgency leads us to put away everything, even things that are normal and necessary, that we may set our faces to find God and obtain blessings from Him.
Unity in Prayer
Another secret of proper praying is also found in this same verse, Acts 12:5. It appears in the three words, of the church.
There is power in united prayer. Of course, there is power in the prayer of an individual, but there is much more power in united prayer. God delights in the unity of His people and seeks to emphasize it in every way. Thus, He pronounces a special blessing upon united prayer. We read in Matthew 18:19, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven.” This unity, however, must be real. The passage just quoted does not say that if two shall agree in asking, but if two shall agree as touching anything they shall ask. Two persons might agree to ask for the same thing, and yet there may be no real agreement as touching the thing they asked. One might ask because he really desired it, the other might simply ask to please his friend. But where there is real agreement, where the Spirit of God brings believers into perfect harmony concerning that which they ask of God, where the Spirit lays the same burden on two or more hearts, there is absolutely irresistible power in prayer.