What is prayer?

By Mindi Furby

The proper understanding of prayer is crucial to a believer's faith, yet is unfortunately misunderstood quite often. It's helpful to step back and observe what prayer is, what it's for, and then how it works.

What Prayer Is

Prayer at its most basic form is communication with God. It began in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) and continues through today as we pray directly to God through Jesus' name (Hebrews 4:16). Prayers are as diverse as conversation points we communicate with other people, for prayer is a conversation! We thank Him in prayer, plead with Him in prayer, praise and worship Him through prayer, be still through prayer, and submit ourselves to Him through prayer. Prayer is an excellent avenue of communication with God — one through which we respond to the many ways He communicates with us (His Word, other people, sermons, etc).

What Prayer is For

While there are many uses and benefits of prayer, the foundational function of it is tuning our hearts to God. Prayer is often mistaken (and used for) talking at God instead of talking with Him. We're all guilty of pummeling Him with our requests and pleadings rather than submitting to His will and leaving our requests in a surrendered state to His sovereignty.

Jesus provides us with perhaps the most excellent of teachings on prayer in the entire Bible during His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. He begins by instructing us what not to do. First, He tells us not to pray for show — not to use it as a bragging factor to show others how holy we are (Matthew 6:5-6). Second, He tells us not to use vague repetitions, prayers that we repeat out of habit and not passion (Matthew 7-8). Then He gives us an example of how to pray, which reveals everything we need to know about the subject.

When praying, we must always begin with a lofty view of God. We need to place God in His proper place in our hearts — at the Throne (Matthew 6:9). Only when we recognize and humble ourselves to God's position, authority, and sovereignty do we prepare our hearts to speak with Him. Too often we're guilty of speaking to God as if He's our genie, not the King and Ruler of the universe who demands and deserves utmost reverence. We'd never enter the presence of our president or a king without pause, neither should we enter God's presence through prayer without one.

The next part of the prayer holds the key to what our perspective should be when praying — more concerned with HIS will unfolding, not our own (Matthew 6:10). When we pray, we must ask (and beg even) for God's kingdom to be realized in ours, and for His will to be done even if it means ours isn't. This is crucial, and answers the underlying premise of most of your questions.

How Prayer Works

First, when we pray seeking God's will first, He rearranges our priorities to mesh with His. While we may think receiving a large sum of money from a donor is the best way to get out of debt, He may have other plans. He may want us to work hard, maybe even get a second job, to pull ourselves out of debt. He may want to teach us some valuable lessons through the process that we would've never learned if the money just came out of nowhere.

The point here is that God never tells us a method for answering our prayers, because often our prayers aren't in accordance with His will. His answers include as many no's and maybe's as they do yes' and wait's. Our goal when praying should always be to seek His will and leave the results to us.

Second, when praying with His will as our priority, He uses our surrender to reveal His desires. Basically, He changes our desires to His. When we pray with His perspective, suddenly the things we thought were important aren't anymore. Since He never reveals to us beforehand how He answers prayer, we cease worrying about it. If it mattered He would tell us. Instead, He deliberately chooses not to tell us how He will answer prayers because it forces us to seek Him first, trust Him, and rely on Him. Knowing how He'd answer prayer would render prayer worthless because it wouldn't require faith.

If our requests reflect His will, His answer will be yes, though not always in a form we expect. God cannot be put in a box; He doesn't always answer in the same ways. Sometimes He prompts people to do things they weren't planning on to meet others' needs (Acts 8:26-30). This is not a matter of impeding free will, but rather using someone's heart who has been tuned into His will.

Regarding God's presence and activity within this world, again, He doesn't explain exactly how He does things. If the universe appears to be fine on its own, it's because He first created it that way. (But it should be noted that the universe would NOT be ok on its own; right now God controls sin. If He stepped out and let it run rampant, the world as we know it would be destroyed forthwith).

God answers every question we need to know, through His Word or prayer. If we find questions without answers or if He doesn't seem to be answering them through prayers, we would do well to adjust our question — giving it careful scrutiny to ensure it's in alignment with His will, not the imposition of ours on Him.

Image credit: appropos; Some rights reserved


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Published on 12-20-13