I think most people, Christians or non-Christians, recognize there is a need for prayer at certain times in their lives or at least appreciate it if someone says “I’m praying for you” or “May God’s blessings be yours”. And I think many people try to pray something, somehow, when they face situations which very much concern them. Even a Christian who often prays, myself included, can sometimes, feel at a loss for “what” to pray or how to pray.
About this post
(This post is also posted on our ministry website.)
It is everyone’s choice for what they believe about prayer or anything else. I respect you as a person even if we disagree on theology. I uphold freedom of conscience and thought and human dignity for each individual. However, please do not expect that this is a post about “prayer in general” because, it isn’t. Rather this post is about the Biblical doctrine of prayer from a Judeo-Christian perspective.
Truly heart-felt sentiments rolling across social media threads have brought me to taking time this week to outline and write this post on “prayer”. I’m praying that God will enrich your understanding in this topic and that His Spirit will lead you in all wisdom and truth!
This post is based mainly from personal study as I was praying for God’s direction for my outline, reading my Bible, and using a concordance. I also include small tidbits from past messages from various pastors or teachers I’ve heard over the years. You are also welcome to click on the graphic to download a pdf copy of a colouring sheet drawn by my cousin a number of years ago. Then, at the bottom of this post, I decided to supplement this post by linking to a few webpages from “GotQuestions.org” because I tend to like how they answer some of the more specific questions people might have about prayer. To begin, I’d like to share a short video also from GotQuestions called:
Why pray? – YouTube – click on the bolded words to view the short video.
God loves to involve people in the things that He does! A simple definition of prayer is “talking to God”. We can talk to Him about anything, anytime, and anywhere. If we didn’t pray, we wouldn’t have much or any relationship with God. We’d be missing out. (If you’d like, you can also download a free lesson mini-poster pdf on prayer from our curriculum by clicking on the graphic.)
The Answers to Our Prayers:
It’s not about how much human power WE have in how long we can sit/kneel/stand in prayer, how many we can count who say they are praying for something, or how rich our vocabulary and grammar is for our prayers. It’s about turning to God’s power, not ours. Zechariah 4:6b (NIV’84) reminds us that victory comes – “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD Almighty.”
Prayer is about seeing God’s power working out God’s purposes.
And it’s not about ordering God that He must do things according to our plans. Prayer helps us figure out what to do as God answers and guides us. He is God. He knows more than we do and we can be assured He will accomplish what is best for us; we cannot see “the big picture” but He does. (Isaiah 55:9)
Sometimes God’s answer to prayer requests is
- “Yes” ….. God can do what is impossible for anyone else to do! Sometimes, He’s waiting for us to just trust Him and ask Him for it. James 4:2 (NIV’84) says, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” God also keeps all of His promises. So if it is a promise that God has promised and already written in His Word, the Bible, you can know that the answer to a prayer that He’s already promised “yes” to, remains a “yes”. (A couple of examples of the many promises in the Bible are a prayer to be saved (Romans 10:9-13) and a prayer for wisdom (James 1:5). For prayer requests which are not already promised in His written Word with a “yes”, His answer might be “yes” or it could be
- “No“….. because He has greater wisdom and a greater plan. (Or it could be because of one of the reasons mentioned under “unanswered prayer” – see below.) And, sometimes God’s answer to our prayer is
- “Wait a while“….. because there is a better timing for something or perhaps He’s waiting for us to understand something else we need first.
Why is there, what people sometimes refer to as, “unanswered prayer”? The Bible again gives us reasons so that we can realize our need to be humble before this God Who wants to hear us and surround us with His peace:
- Our prayers need to be something that God agrees with. For example, He isn’t going to help you cheat or steal because that would be against His nature/His character. 1 John 5:14-15 says: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
- We can’t have unconfessed sin in our hearts and expect God to bless us. Because God is holy and perfect, our sin separates us from Him like a wall, or slows down or clogs the activity of the Spirit of God working in our hearts and minds. “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities [sin, evil, perversity] have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” Isaiah 59:1-2 (NIV’84). But we don’t have to be hopeless! God’s Word promises us that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (NIV’84)
- Wrong motives are another reason for “unanswered prayer”. James 4:3, 6b, and 10 (NIV’84) says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
- And a lack of faith [trust in God] also can cause unanswered prayer. The Bible says, “And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6 (NIV’84)
Pray to Whom?
(BTW, any time I share Bible verses as examples, please know that I encourage you to read them in context of the surrounding verses too – in your own Bible or on a free Bible app. 😀)
The Bible is abundant with Scripture describing Who God is! In Him we find solid foundation (like a Rock), care (like a Shepherd), strength, peace, delight, courage, justice, mercy, deliverance, love, and more! I can only mention a small number of example verses!
How can we pray? It matters very much “to Whom” we’re praying to. It has to be Someone Who hears, understands and cares about us, and has the power to change things. If we want what is good, we need to call on the God Who is good. God must be living, faithfully available wherever we are, perfect and trustworthy.
There is NO OTHER GOD Who matches this description other than the Creator God described in the Bible (i.e. the Judeo-Christian Scripture).
There is ONLY ONE GOD who can meet your needs of prayer. People, including you and I, are not God. Physical things around us don’t hear to answer with all-sufficient power to change just anything; they aren’t God either. There is only one good Spirit and that is the living God of the Bible. (Exodus 15:11, 18:11; Nehemiah 9:20; Psalm 86:5-10, 143:10; Daniel 6:25-27; Isaiah 40:13-14, 25-31)
The God we need to talk to is the One Who made us and cares for us – our Creator God! (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 96:5, Acts 17:22-31)
The God we need to talk to is King of Kings – Ruler over all, in control of every circumstance, and working out things for ultimate good. (Psalm 72:8, 11-12, 17-19; Romans 8:28).
The God we need to talk to is ever-present (available anytime, anywhere), all-knowing (He knows everything about anything), and all-powerful!
Who Can Pray to God?
Who can talk to this God and expect that He will hear them?
- Any person, regardless of their background or past, who has a sincere desire to pray to Him can from a humble heart. Here are a few verses that show the importance of recognizing any sin in our own lives that hasn’t been dealt with, first, when we come to God with our petitions: (Proverbs 15:8, Psalm 34:14-15, 18; Psalm 51:10; Micah 6:8; 2 Chronicles 7:14). Psalm 66:18 (NIV’84) says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Then the psalmist continues by referring to his sins being forgiven with verses 19: “But God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.”
- Furthermore, through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, anyone who puts their faith in Him for eternal salvation has access to confidently come to God and know Him personally more and more (Hebrews 4:16; Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:13-14, 18, 3:12; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5).
What Can I Pray?
Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray and He gave them an example that many of us know of as “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13). Other passages in Scripture are also examples of prayer and sometimes we pray these too.
Some example Bible verses for what to pray about are:
- (Psalm 119:18) – The Psalmist asked God to “open his eyes” to see God’s Word. We can do the same by asking the God to help us understand what we read in the Bible.
- (Psalm 19:14) – We can ask God to help us have thoughts and words (and actions too) which are good. We can also ask Him to lead us in “what” to pray for; and we can be comforted in knowing that He is there to help us in our weaknesses (Romans 8:26-27; Hebrews 7:25; John 17:20-23).
- (James 5:16, Colossians 1:9-11, Philippians 4:6) – We can pray for others – for health, for guidance, for safety, etc..
- (Matthew 5:44; Psalm 28:7, 91:4; Proverbs 30:5; Acts 4:29) – We can pray even for our enemies, that God will protect us and give us wisdom for how to handle situations.
- And of course, prayer also can include words of thanks and praise to God too!
But prayer does not need to be memorized or quoted – you can speak to God from your heart to His, in your own words, phrases, sentences. There is no need to make praying complicated or ritualistic in order for Him to listen. The Heavenly Father answers prayer because He loves His children, His people, coming to Him as they are (1 Peter 5:7).
Prayer to God is not repeating the same words over and over like a mantra (Matthew 6:7). You can imagine how God would feel to hear someone just say one word or phrase over and over by thinking about how you would feel if your friend phoned you and just repeated one or a few words to you over and over – you’d likely want to hang up! God is personal and wants to be communicated with personally.
So talk to Him as with a friend. Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”
Our God is Able!
So, I encourage you to pray – for yourself, for individuals you’ve connected with, for people in our churches, our communities, our nation, and around the world. Talk to God often and get to know Him. He loves YOU!
“In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. For this reason I kneel before the Father, from Whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him Who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” Ephesians 3:12,14-21 (NIV’84)
(Note: The Scripture quotes on this page as hyperlinked pop-ups or written out are from the New King James Version of the Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise mentioned. I personally like to use either NKJV or the New International Version 1984 (NIV’84) in my studies so used a combination of that here.)
For further study, you might like these short web articles: