Regardless of what you believe, you’ve likely prayed before. Just about everyone has. But my guess is you’ve never really thought about what prayer actually is.
So, what is prayer? On the surface that might seem like a simple question. After all this practice is common in almost every culture. However, I think we often miss the significance of prayer and how we should approach it.
I want to dive into this and look a little more in-depth at what prayer is. I think this will help you better understand the purpose of prayer and have a better tool to grow your faith.
Table of Contents
What Is Prayer?
Below isn’t an exhaustive list of what prayer is, but rather some of the primary attributes we see of prayer throughout the Bible. My encouragement for you as you look through this list is to find one way you can deepen your prayer life this week.
Let’s take a look, what is prayer?
1. Prayer Is A Conversation
We often try to overcomplicate prayer. We often see it as formal and formulaic. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Prayer is simply an opportunity to connect with God. It’s a conversation.
That’s what Jesus is getting at in Matthew 6:7-8. You don’t need to babble, say the right words, or drone on until God caves and gives you want you want. You don’t need to overthink it, say the right words, or posture yourself just right. Just talk with God. Talk with him as you would a close friend.
A helpful practice is to picture him in the chair beside you as you pray. Prayer is sharing a cup of coffee and a good conversation with a friend. That image can help you remind yourself that you are engaging in a conversation. No need to overthink it or search for words. Just be yourself.
Prayer is a conversation with a God that loves us.
2. Prayer Meets Our Needs
We are told throughout the Bible to rely on God, to present our needs to him. Jesus demonstrates this in the Lord’s Prayer and Paul later elaborates in Philippians 4:6. Whether we have a physical need, wisdom, strength, patience, or even a longing in our life, we should present them to God. He’s a good God that provides for the needs of his children.
Now, prayer isn’t a time to get whatever we want. God is not Santa. And sometimes we don’t actually need what we think we do. And sometimes what we think we actually need isn’t even good for us. God can see what we cannot, and he will give us what we need.
We should present our needs to God. He cares about you and what you are going through. An important piece of prayer is allowing God to meet our needs.
3. Prayer Transforms Us
While prayer is an opportunity to present our needs and requests to God we should note this important distinction. Prayer doesn’t change God’s mind, but it does often change our hearts.
We don’t pray to change God’s mind. We pray so that God can change our hearts. Prayer is about the transformation of OUR heart. Prayer is not about twisting God’s arm into doing what we want him to do. Rather, prayer is about aligning our heart with his.
That’s important because many of us (myself included) often approach prayer as a time to get God to do our bidding. And again, we should present our needs to God. But we should also recognize that prayer is about our heart transformation.
If you were to read the prayers of David in the Psalms you would see that he often presents a need and then ends his prayers with something like, you’re a good God so do your will.
Jesus even echos this is Matthew 26:39 as he presents his requests to God, but ends with not my will, but yours be done. That simple sentence is a reminder of the purpose of prayer.
That’s a good practice of us today. It reminds us that God is the one transforming our hearts.
4. Prayer Is Worship
Prayer is a form of worship.
To worship simply means to give something worth in your life. That’s exactly what prayer is, it’s giving worth to God with our words.
Here’s a few practices I like that will help you see prayer as worship.
A simple practice to view prayer as worship is to just list the things you are thankful for. Take a few minutes a day and just tell God what you are thankful for that day. Maybe a good cup of coffee, conversation with a friend, laughter of your child, car to drive, anything…
Doing this will help you see all that God has done and is doing for you. All the little ways he blesses you. It’s a way we can worship God for his provision big and small.
Another way to worship God during our prayer time is to reflect on his goodness and glory. I find this easiest to do when I am praying in nature. Pausing and reflecting on the complexity and the beauty that exists all around us can help us see how incredibly majestic God is.
What is prayer? Prayer is a time for us to reflect on God’s goodness and glory, to worship him.
5. Prayer Is Natural And Learned
Prayer should be both natural and learned. What I mean is followers of Jesus should have a desire to pray, a desire to connect with their Savior. That should be a natural longing. However, that doesn’t mean you will instantly develop a robust prayer life; it takes time and dedication.
Think about a good friend. You likely have a desire to connect with your friends, you want to spend time with them. But you also have to put effort in; you have to commit time to actually building that relationship. It’s both natural and learned.
And the same is true for our prayer with God. It takes time to learn how to pray. It takes commitment to find the time to pray. It takes discipline to make it happen. Prayer should be a desire for Christians, but that doesn’t mean it all comes naturally.
6. Prayer Is For All Circumstances
Most of us tend to lean on prayer in difficult seasons, and we should! But prayer isn’t just for hard times, it’s for all times.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, or in other words, pray in ALL circumstances.
When we are happy we should pray. When we have a need we should give it to God. When things go right we should give God thanks. When things go wrong we should seek God for wisdom. In all seasons we should pray.
My guess is you have circumstances where you naturally run to God and others where you go at it alone. Work on going to God in every circumstance. Practice quick prayers throughout the day to turn your focus to God.
7. Prayer is Private And Corporate
Finally, prayer is both private and corporate.
We tend to associate prayer as a private practice done by individual Christians. And that is an important piece of prayer, but it’s not the only way to pray.
We should pray with others. That includes prayer with our friends and family and in churches when we gather.
The book of Acts records the events in the early church, and just about every time they get together you find them in prayer as a congregation. There is power when we pray together and for one another.
I think corporate prayer is one of the most neglected forms of prayer in our culture. And I get it, it can be uncomfortable and unnatural. But if you put the discipline in I think there’s some incredible blessings to praying together.
Closing Thoughts On What Prayer Is
I know when you read through a list like this there can be a lot of takeaways. And what often happens is we want to take everything we’ve learned and apply it at once. But that’s too much to do at a single time so we often fail.
Rather than doing that, my encouragement to you is to pick one thing about prayer and try practicing that this week. You can always come back later and try a second one, but start with one action, one takeaway.
I believe if you do that you will see your prayer life deepen and your faith grow. Prayer is an incredible tool for us to grow our faith and connect with the creator of the universe.
What to know how to pray? Check out: How To Pray To God (10 Powerful Ways To Pray)
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