If you ask someone to define “pray,” you’ll probably get a bunch of different answers. Some believe prayers must follow a certain script, while others believe they can only be said at certain times of day. Some people pray out loud, but others pray in their heads.
It can be tough to answer questions like “what is prayer?” or “why do we pray?” when it seems like everyone has their own idea. Is it even possible to get a definitive answer? Yes – let’s unpack what prayer is and some of the reasons why it’s worth doing:
What is prayer?
It might be easier to understand what prayer is after we’ve defined what it isn’t. Prayer isn’t a magic spell that we speak over our lives. It isn’t a way to manifest the future we hope for or guarantee good things will happen to us. It isn’t a shout into the void, a cry for help that falls on deaf ears.
The Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly what prayer is, but it does give us some great examples. The Apostle Paul said a prayer for strength for the Christians in Ephesus, which you can read in Ephesians 3:14-21. David, who was the King of ancient Israel, prayed in Psalm 51:1-4 asking God for mercy and forgiveness from a mistake he made. Jesus himself gave his disciples an example of how to pray:
“Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ Jesus said, ‘This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your kingdom come soon. Give us each day the food we need, and forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation.”’” Luke 11:1-4
Prayer doesn’t have to follow a specific format or be about certain things; we can talk to God about anything, anytime – and he hears us! Jeremiah 29:12-13 says “when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”
In the dictionary, we see “prayer” defined as “an address to God.” In other words, prayer is simply talking to God. When we tell God about what’s going on in our lives, ask him for help or wisdom, and thank him for who he is and what he’s done, that’s prayer.
What are the benefits of prayer?
There’s a lot we can gain from talking to God. Here are a few examples of the benefits of prayer:
- Peace of mind. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4:6-7
- Comfort in difficult situations. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
- Guidance to make wise decisions. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” James 1:5
- Help to avoid temptation. “There he told them, ‘Pray that you will not give in to temptation.’” Luke 22:40
- Help for others. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16
- A closer relationship with God. "The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth." Psalm 145:18
Does prayer work?
It’s normal to question whether prayer works, especially if you prayed for something that didn’t work out the way you’d hoped. Maybe you prayed for a job offer to work out, for a disease to be healed, or for a relationship to be restored, only to find nothing changed. It’s valid to feel disappointed when our prayers aren’t answered in the way we want them to be, it’s important to remember these two truths about prayer:
1. God hears our prayers
1 John 5:15 says, “since we know [God] hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.” Our prayers don’t go in one ear and out the other with God. He leans in and listens to what we have to say, and he does respond one way or another!
2. God’s plan is often different from ours
Prayer is a great way for us to tell God what we’re hoping for, but he isn’t a vending machine. We can’t expect to get exactly what we ask for when we pray, because God may have something different in mind for us. Isaiah 55:8-9 says “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’”
It may feel like God’s ignoring you or letting your prayers go unanswered, but consider that he is responding – just differently than you expect. Sometimes God’s answers to your prayers will be a “yes,” but other times, they may be a “no” or a “not yet.”
Prayer is about so much more than simply asking for the things we want. Prayer help you find richness and value to our life by bringing us closer to God. If you find yourself asking “what is prayer?” or “why do we pray?”, keep this article close by or check out some of our additional resources:
Bible Reading Plan: 7 Days of Prayer
4 Ways to Engage with the 7 Days of Prayer
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