Once a month, you’re going to hear from our authors, from our team, or from a guest on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask.
Our theme this month in our Know His Word reading plan and loosely here on the blog is prayer. When I was assigned this blog post, we originally titled it, “What is prayer?” I responded each time in real life to this prompt with the shrugging emoji. Prayer, I believe, remains mysterious to all believers. While we may know what it is, we can’t quite grasp how it works in our finite minds. But the shrugging emoji tends to not be super helpful in answering questions, so let’s dive in and see what we can discover together.
If we want to go strictly Merriam-Webster’s, prayer is: “an address (such as a petition or confession) to God or a god in word or thought.” Wayne Grudem, in Systematic Theology defines prayer as “personal communication with God.” So that sums it up, right? No need to go further?
Right. Prayer seems simple enough. We teach our kids to pray, telling them they’re talking with God. And that is exactly what we’re doing when we pray! The confusion sets in when we realize that the omnipotent, omniscient God who created all the universe and holds it in His hands listens to us when we have something to say. Let that soak in a moment.
The Bible is filled with passages about prayer and passages that are prayers. We’re reading some of them this month in the reading plan. Many of the psalms started as prayers from poets to God Almighty. We’re told to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). We’re told to present our requests to God with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6). We’re told to confess our sins to Him (1 John 1:9). We’re told to pray at all times (Eph. 6:18).
We’re told to pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
In our history as human beings, we began in communication with God. God spoke the world into existence. Genesis says that God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. He spoke with them. Abraham spoke with God. Moses experienced multiple encounters with God—God speaking to him through a burning bush, God telling Moses the law, Moses asking God for provision for the people. In the Old Testament, the High Priest alone could be in the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, but God still communicated to His people through the prophets. And in the New Testament, God with Us, Immanuel came and communicated with us on earth. He walked and talked and ate with His people. He listened and spoke. When He died, the barrier between God and people—the curtain in the Holy of Holies—was torn from top to bottom. After He rose from the dead, He promised a Counselor who would live inside of us—the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts and encourages us, interceding for us when we don’t have the words (Rom. 8:26). God breathed out His Word, Scripture, so that we can know Him. We can now communicate with God whenever, wherever. That is prayer.
Since we’ve been discussing terminology in this series this year, I thought I’d also define a few prayer terms you might hear every so often.
Intercessory – Intercessory prayer is prayer for another person. You are interceding on his or her behalf, asking God for healing, for help, for salvation, etc.
Petition – This is exactly like a petition you might sign—it’s a request to God for yourself or someone else, for help or for forgiveness of sins.
Adoration – Some prayer strategies begin with “adoration.” In the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew (above), this is the part where Jesus says, “Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.” Essentially, this is an opportunity to adore God in your prayer.
In Jesus’ Name – You may hear prayers conclude with this phrase. We often use it to signify that our prayer comes in the authority of Jesus. As believers, we aren’t speaking on our own authority, but that of Christ. Jesus asked His disciples to pray in His name (John 14:13-14; John 16:23-24). However prayers in Scripture don’t conclude with this phrase, so it isn’t a requirement.
Supplication – Similar to petition, supplication simply means to ask or plead.
Amen – We typically say this at the end of prayers. It comes from the Hebrew word amen which literally means “truly” or “so be it.” The Greek word that we see in the Old Testament for amen is derived from the Hebrew and means the same thing. When we end our prayers with amen, we’re joining with people throughout the ages saying, “so be it.”
Here’s the thing: I still don’t know exactly how prayer works. I can’t say for certain that I’ve figured out why the God of the universe wants to hear from me, wants to know my desires and my needs, wants to listen to my confessions, but I know He does. Our God asks us over and over in Scripture to pray, to seek Him out. And He promises time and again that He listens (Ps. 145:18; Jer. 29:12; 1 John 5:14). So while I still may be making the shrugging emoji come to life, I’m also going to continue to pray, praising God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, for lending me His ear.
Elizabeth Hyndman is a Content Editor at LifeWay.