How to Approach the “Hearer of Prayer”

“O Hearer of prayer, even to you people of all flesh will come.”​—PSALM 65:2.

1. What sets humans apart from earth’s other creatures, and what possibility does this open up?

OF ALL earth’s thousands of living creatures, only humans have the capacity to worship the Creator. Only humans are conscious of having a spiritual need and feel the desire to satisfy it. This opens up for us the wonderful possibility of having a personal relationship with our heavenly Father.

2. What adverse effect did sin have on man’s relationship with his Creator?

2 God created man with the ability to approach his Maker. Adam and Eve were created without sin. Thus, they could approach God as freely as a child approaches his father. However, that grand privilege was taken away by sin. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and lost their close relationship with him. (Genesis 3:8-13, 17-24) Does that mean that Adam’s imperfect offspring can no longer communicate with God? No, Jehovah still allows them to approach him but only if they meet certain conditions. What are those conditions?

Requirements for Approaching God

3. How should sinful humans approach God, and what example illustrates this?

3 An event involving two of Adam’s sons helps us to see what God requires of an imperfect human who wishes to approach Him. Both Cain and Abel made efforts to approach God by presenting sacrifices to him. Abel’s offering was accepted, whereas Cain’s was not. (Genesis 4:3-5) What made the difference? Hebrews 11:4 states: “By faith Abel offered God a sacrifice of greater worth than Cain, through which faith he had witness borne to him that he was righteous.” Clearly, then, faith is a prerequisite for gaining access to God. Another prerequisite is seen in Jehovah’s words to Cain: “If you turn to doing good, will there not be an exaltation?” Yes, Cain’s approach to God would have been accepted if Cain had turned to doing good. However, Cain rejected God’s counsel, killed Abel, and ended up as an outcast. (Genesis 4:7-12) Thus, early on, the importance of approaching God in faith along with doing good works was emphasized.

4. What should we recognize regarding our approach to God?

4 Recognition of our own sinful state is essential if we wish to approach God. All men are sinful, and sin is an obstacle to approaching God. The prophet Jeremiah wrote concerning Israel: “We ourselves have transgressed . . . You have blocked approach to yourself with a cloud mass, that prayer may not pass through.” (Lamentations 3:42, 44) Even so, throughout human history God has shown himself willing to accept the prayers of those who approach him in faith and with the proper heart attitude, observing his commandments. (Psalm 119:145) Who were some of these individuals, and what can we learn from their prayers?

5, 6. What can we learn from Abraham’s approach to God?

5 One such person was Abraham. His approach to God was accepted, for God called  Abraham “my friend.” (Isaiah 41:8) What can we learn from Abraham’s approach to God? This faithful patriarch asked Jehovah about an heir, saying: “What will you give me, seeing that I am going childless?” (Genesis 15:2, 3; 17:18) On another occasion, he expressed his concern over who would be saved when God rendered judgment against the wicked in Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 18:23-33) Abraham also made supplication in behalf of others. (Genesis 20:7, 17) And, as in the case of Abel, Abraham’s approach to God at times involved an offering to Jehovah.​—Genesis 22:9-14.

6 On all these occasions, Abraham felt free to speak with Jehovah. However, his freeness of speech was coupled with a humble view of his standing in relation to his Creator. Notice his respectful words, found at Genesis 18:27: “Please, here I have taken upon myself to speak to Jehovah, whereas I am dust and ashes.” What a fine attitude to imitate!

7. What matters did the patriarchs take to Jehovah in prayer?

7 Patriarchs prayed about a variety of matters, and they were favorably heard by Jehovah. Jacob uttered a prayer in the form of a vow. After asking for God’s support, he solemnly promised: “As for everything that you will give me I shall without fail give the tenth of it to you.” (Genesis 28:20-22) Later, when he was about to meet his brother, Jacob implored Jehovah for protection, saying: “Deliver me, I pray you, from my brother’s hand, from Esau’s hand, because I am afraid of him.” (Genesis 32:9-12) The patriarch Job approached Jehovah in behalf of his family, offering sacrifices for them. When Job’s three companions sinned in their speech, Job prayed in their behalf, and “Jehovah accepted Job’s face.” (Job 1:5; 42:7-9) These accounts help us to identify matters we might take to Jehovah in prayer. We also see that Jehovah is prepared to accept the prayers of those approaching him in a proper manner.

Under the Law Covenant

8. Under the Law covenant, how were matters taken to Jehovah on behalf of the people?

8 After Jehovah delivered the nation of Israel from Egypt, he gave them the Law covenant. The Law prescribed the arrangement for approach to God through an appointed priesthood. Some Levites were assigned to act as priests on behalf of the people. When matters of national importance arose, a  representative of the people​—sometimes a king or a prophet—​took the matter to God in prayer. (1 Samuel 8:21, 22; 14:36-41; Jeremiah 42:1-3) For example, at the dedication of the temple, King Solomon approached Jehovah in heartfelt prayer. In turn, Jehovah indicated his acceptance of Solomon’s prayer by filling the temple with His glory and saying: “My ears [will be] attentive to prayer at this place.”​—2 Chronicles 6:12–7:3, 15.

9. What was required for proper approach to Jehovah at the sanctuary?

9 In the Law given to Israel, Jehovah included a requirement for acceptable approach to him at the sanctuary. What was that? Every morning and every evening, in addition to offering animal sacrifices, the high priest was required to burn perfumed incense before Jehovah. Later, underpriests also rendered this service, except on the Day of Atonement. If the priests did not render such respectful homage, Jehovah would not be pleased with their ministry.​—Exodus 30:7, 8; 2 Chronicles 13:11.

10, 11. What evidence do we have that Jehovah accepted the prayers of individuals?

10 In ancient Israel, was approach to God possible only through designated representatives? No, the Scriptures show that Jehovah was pleased to accept the personal prayers of individuals. In Solomon’s prayer of dedication at the temple, he entreated Jehovah, saying: “Whatever prayer, whatever request for favor there may occur on the part of any man or of all your people Israel, . . . when he actually spreads out his palms toward this house, then may you yourself hear from the heavens.” (2 Chronicles 6:29, 30) Luke’s account tells us that when Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer, was offering incense in the sanctuary, a multitude of nonpriestly worshippers of Jehovah were “praying outside.” Evidently, it had become the custom for people to gather in prayer outside the sanctuary while incense was being presented to Jehovah on the golden altar.​—Luke 1:8-10.

11 Thus, when Jehovah was approached in the proper manner, he was glad to accept petitions from those who represented the nation as a whole and from individuals who sought to approach him personally. Today, we no longer live under the Law covenant. Nevertheless, we can learn some vital lessons about prayer from the ways in which the Israelites of old approached God.

Under the Christian Arrangement

12. What arrangement is in place for Christians to approach Jehovah?

12 We now live under the Christian arrangement. There is no longer a physical temple in which priests represent all of God’s people or toward which we can turn when we pray to God. Nevertheless, Jehovah still has an arrangement in place for us to approach him. What is it? In 29 C.E.,  when Christ was anointed and appointed High Priest, a spiritual temple came into operation. * This spiritual temple was the new arrangement for approaching Jehovah in worship on the basis of the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ.​—Hebrews 9:11, 12.

13. With regard to prayer, what is one parallel between the temple in Jerusalem and the spiritual temple?

13 Many features of the temple in Jerusalem well picture the provisions of the spiritual temple, including those related to prayer. (Hebrews 9:1-10) For example, what was represented by the incense that was offered, morning and evening, upon the altar of incense in the Holy compartment of the temple? According to the book of Revelation, “the incense means the prayers of the holy ones.” (Revelation 5:8; 8:3, 4) David was inspired to write: “May my prayer be prepared as incense before you.” (Psalm 141:2) Thus, in the Christian arrangement, the sweet-smelling incense appropriately represents acceptable prayers and praise to Jehovah.​—1 Thessalonians 3:10.

14, 15. What can be said about approach to Jehovah by (a) anointed Christians? (b) the “other sheep”?

14 Who may approach God at this spiritual temple? At the physical temple, the priests and Levites were privileged to serve in the inner courtyard, but only priests could enter the Holy. Anointed Christians with the heavenly hope enjoy a unique spiritual condition foreshadowed by the inner courtyard and the Holy, which enables them to render prayers and praise to God.

15 What about those with an earthly hope, the “other sheep”? (John 10:16) The prophet Isaiah indicated that people of many nations would come to worship Jehovah “in the final part of the days.” (Isaiah 2:2, 3) He also wrote that “foreigners” would join themselves to Jehovah. Indicating his willingness to accept their approach, God said: “I will . . . make them rejoice inside my house of prayer.” (Isaiah 56:6, 7) Revelation 7:9-15 gives further details, telling of “a great crowd” from “all nations” who gather in worship and prayer to God “day and night” as they stand in the outer courtyard of the spiritual temple. What a comforting thought that all of God’s servants today can freely approach God with full confidence that they are heard by him!

What Prayers Are Accepted?

16. What can we learn about prayer from the early Christians?

16 The early Christians were people of prayer. Concerning what matters did they pray? Christian elders requested guidance in selecting men for organizational responsibilities. (Acts 1:24, 25; 6:5, 6) Epaphras prayed in behalf of fellow believers. (Colossians 4:12) Members of the congregation in Jerusalem prayed for Peter when he was  imprisoned. (Acts 12:5) The early Christians asked God to give them boldness in the face of opposition, saying: “Jehovah, give attention to their threats, and grant your slaves to keep speaking your word with all boldness.” (Acts 4:23-30) The disciple James urged Christians to pray to God for wisdom when under trial. (James 1:5) Do you include such matters in your petitions to Jehovah?

17. Whose prayers does Jehovah accept?

17 God does not accept all prayers. How, then, can we pray with the assurance that our prayers will be accepted? Faithful people to whom God listened in former times approached him in sincerity and with the right heart attitude. They showed faith and backed this up with fine works. We can be assured that Jehovah will listen to those who approach him in like manner today.

18. For their prayers to be heard, what requirement must Christians meet?

18 There is an additional requirement. The apostle Paul explained this, saying: “Through him we . . . have the approach to the Father by one spirit.” To whom was Paul referring when he wrote, “through him”? To Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:13, 18) Yes, we can have free approach to the Father only through Jesus.​—John 14:6; 15:16; 16:23, 24.

19. (a) When did the offering of incense in Israel become offensive to Jehovah? (b) How can we make sure that our prayers are like sweet-smelling incense to Jehovah?

19 As already mentioned, the incense offered by Israelite priests represents the acceptable prayers of God’s faithful servants. However, at times, the incense offerings of the Israelites were disgusting to Jehovah. This was the case when the Israelites were burning incense in the temple but at the same time bowing down to idols. (Ezekiel 8:10, 11) Likewise today, the prayers of those who profess to serve Jehovah but at the same time practice works that conflict with his laws become like an offensive odor to him. (Proverbs 15:8) Let us, then, continue to keep all aspects of our lives clean so that our prayers are like sweet-smelling incense to God. Jehovah delights in the prayers of those who follow his righteous paths. (John 9:31) However, some questions still remain. How should we pray? For what can we pray? And how does God answer our prayers? Our next article will consider these and other questions.

[Footnote]

Can You Explain?

• How can imperfect humans approach God acceptably?

• In our prayers, how can we imitate the patriarchs?

• What do we learn from the prayers of the early Christians?

• When are our prayers like sweet-smelling incense to God?

[Study Questions]

[Picture on page 23]

Why did God accept Abel’s offering but not Cain’s?

[Picture on page 24]

“I am dust and ashes”

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“I shall without fail give the tenth of it to you”

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Are your prayers like sweet-smelling incense to Jehovah?