Est. May 2008

21 March, 2013

What Is Prayer?

When Christians (and others who pray) discuss prayer, either among themselves or with others, they’re often faced with an interesting question: why do it?  After all, asking for things of a Being who already knows your thoughts, desires, and needs seems like wasted effort; if you ask for something you don’t need, God won’t give it, and if you need something he already knows you need it and will eventually provide it.

Beyond the argument that prayer is mandated in the Bible, the reason most often given for prayer is that it is communion and communication between believers and God.  But again, since God knows us more intimately than we know ourselves, is there really any need for us to set aside time(s) to ‘talk’ to God in prayer?

So, if God mandates prayer but He doesn’t really need us to pray to him, who needs prayer?

We do.


Because prayer is a personal reminder (it reminds us) that God is really present, and is a focused acknowledgment of our awareness of His reality, presence, and oversight in our lives.

As an example, let’s look at Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6.  Here, Jesus teaches us to acknowledge God’s fatherhood over us and the holiness of his name (which is His very essence; v 9).  We are to acknowledge that His rule is the best of all possible governments, and though we know we cannot change His timetable we ask Him to guide our earthly governing until His kingdom finally comes (v 10).  We are to acknowledge Him as the source of all the necessities of life (v 11) and as the only one who forgives our sins (v 12a), and acknowledging that as He forgives, so must we (v 12b).  We know God doesn’t tempt us to sin, but we acknowledge Him as the only source of defensive power against it (v 13a).  Finally, we are to acknowledge God’s everlasting sovereignty, might, and holiness (v 13b).

Much in the same vein as all the tests described in the Bible (particularly in the Old Testament), prayer isn’t for God’s benefit, it’s for ours; it strengthens our faith, especially when prayers are answered, and it also allows us to unburden our souls in a similar (bur far greater and more important) way as when we talk with a trusted friend.  And, as I said previously, it reminds us of God's reality.

I think many people who wonder why we should bother praying are either of the ‘I-asked-and-didn’t-get’ school (why bother praying if God isn’t going to deliver) or of the ‘Oh-God-help-me’ school (they only pray when things are bad).  I ought to know – my early prayer life was a big hunk of both.  As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve noticed that my prayer-life has morphed over to more thanksgiving and praise than asking for things: I thank God for making me and sustaining my life, being there for me both ‘in sickness and in health’, and for guiding me through life (either with a gentle hand on my shoulder or a right nasty ding on the earlobe with a flicked finger).  And though my personal prayers have grown less formal in style, I still remember Who I’m talking to – I remember and acknowledge that He’s my Maker and Sovereign as well as my friend.  Believe me, my request prayers are peppered with ‘only if it’s Your will’.  No matter what, though, my prayers are geared towards acknowledging and (most often) thanking God for being there and knowing better than I can possibly know what’s good for me.

Paul tells us (I think it’s in Romans) that all creation reveals God’s glory and power (I’m paraphrasing here, folks); of course, we can learn somewhat about God through what He’s made.  But to know the Person behind the creation, you have to talk to Him – in any relationship, greater intimacy comes from communication, and with God, that communication is prayer.  And, like any relationship, you share both the bad things that happen and the good things.

So in prayer: talk to God about both the bad and the good.

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