Before the first generation of mankind had passed away, men began to call upon the name of the Lord (Gen. 4:26; Moses 5:4). Prayers, whether with (Gen. 12:8; 13:4) or without (Gen. 20:7; 32:9–11) sacrifice, were constantly offered by the patriarchs to God. The efficacy of the intercession of good men was recognized (Gen. 18:23; 20:7; Ex. 32:11).
Prayer is nowhere specifically commanded as a duty in the law, and prayers were not prescribed at the sacrifices except on two occasions: a confession of sin on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:21) and a thanksgiving when offering the firstfruits and tithes (Deut. 26:3, 13). It is, however, certain from the nature of things, and from the custom in later times, that prayer accompanied sacrifice.
Even in the times of the Judges, the children of Israel did not forget to cry unto the Lord, and a model of prayer is furnished by Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1). Samuel was recognized by his nation to be characteristically a man of prayer (1 Sam. 7:5, 8; 12:19, 23; Ps. 99:6). David’s Psalms, and the Psalms generally, breathe the highest spirit of prayer. The nation that possessed them must have been rich in teachers and examples of prayer. Remarkable prayers were prayed by Solomon (1 Kgs. 8); Hezekiah (2 Kgs. 19:14, etc.; Isa. 38:9, etc.); Ezra (Ezra 9:5); the Levites (Neh. 9:5, etc.); and Daniel (Dan. 9:3, etc.). “Making many prayers” was a part of the corrupt religion of Israel under the later kings (Isa. 1:15) and a marked feature of the religion of the Pharisees (Matt. 6:5; 23:14).
The attitude of prayer ordinarily was standing (1 Sam. 1:26; Neh. 9:2, 4; Matt. 6:5; Luke 18:11, 13); also kneeling (1 Kgs. 8:54; Ezra 9:5; Dan. 6:10); or prostrate (Josh. 7:6; Neh. 8:6). The hands were spread forth to heaven (1 Kgs. 8:22; Ezra 9:5; Ps. 141:2; Isa. 1:15). Smiting on the breast and rending of the garments signified special sorrow (Ezra 9:5; Luke 18:13). The Lord’s attitude in prayer is recorded only once. In the Garden of Gethsemane He knelt (Luke 22:41), fell on His face (Matt. 26:39), and fell on the ground (Mark 14:35). It is noteworthy that Stephen (Acts 7:60), Peter (9:40), Paul (20:36; 21:5), and the Christians generally (21:5) knelt to pray.
Prayers were said at the Sanctuary (1 Sam. 1:9–12; 1 Kgs. 8; Ps. 42:2, 4) or looking toward the Sanctuary (1 Kgs. 8:44, 48; Ps. 5:7; Dan. 6:10); on the housetop or in an upper chamber (Dan. 6:10; Acts 10:9). The Pharisees prayed publicly in the synagogues and at the corners of the streets (Matt. 6:5). The Lord prayed upon the tops of mountains (Matt. 14:23; Luke 9:28) or in solitary places (Mark 1:35).
As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.
There are many passages in the New Testament that teach the duty of prayer (Matt. 7:7; 26:41; Luke 18:1; 21:36; Eph. 6:18; Philip. 4:6; Col. 4:2; 1 Thes. 5:17, 25; 1 Tim. 2:1, 8). Christians are taught to pray in Christ’s name (John 14:13–14; 15:7, 16; 16:23–24). We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ—when His words abide in us (John 15:7). We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ’s name at all; they in no way represent His mind but spring out of the selfishness of man’s heart.