What Is Prayer?

01 May 2007
What Is Prayer?
Photo Credit: graur razvan ionut

There are as many different types of prayers as there are individuals who pray them. Although Jesus showed His disciples how to pray and we have recorded in the Gospels that prayer, which we know as “The Lord’s Prayer,” His prayer was intended to be an example of the manner in which one may pray and not necessarily prescriptive for all prayers for all time.

Christian prayers are spoken to God. Examples in the Bible include public prayers, private prayers, family prayers, long prayers, short prayers, unacceptable prayers, acceptable prayers, prayers of thanks, prayers of confession, prayers of request and more. The emphasis of the Bible is that regardless of the type of prayer, God is accessible.

The Garden of Eden was barred and the human race was denied direct access to God, prayer has been and will continue to be the process that facilitates— at least in part—the re-establishment of that access.

prayer is personal

Prayer is intended to be a personal communication. Whether one prays in seclusion or amid the hustle of life, prayer is a personal communication between the individual and God. The privacy of personal prayer cannot be invaded by anyone who is not part of the circle of relationship between God and the individual Christian, unless that person chooses to include another.

Of course, the person will choose to do that at times; in the congregation, in the family, with a spouse or loved one.

But the strength of prayer is that it is available at all times, in all circumstances for the individual to communicate with God. No-one is excluded.

prayer demands authenticity

In Australia we have a great deal of respect for the person whom we perceive to be authentic. We call such a person “fair dinkum.” In prayer we can be fair dinkum. In fact there is not much point to prayer if we are not fair dinkum. God knows us better than we know ourselves and we don’t impress or fool Him when we hide our thoughts or tell less than the whole story.

It is just as important to be authentic in public prayer as it is in our private prayers. How many prayers have you heard in which you can almost predict what is going to be said because the prayer is a succession of tired clichÈs that barely mean anything at all. This is especially noticeable to those of us who have been Christians for many years.

I remember not so long ago going on a trip to the United States and attending a church where I could correctly predict the exact wording of each sentence of the prayer in advance as I listened to the first few words of that sentence.

I discovered that they used exactly the same old clichÈs in the United States as we had been using in Australia since my childhood. Don’t you think God must get pretty tired of that? While I know He reads the heart, one cannot help but wonder what is in the heart when it can’t find authentic language in which to express its thanks and its needs.

“Secondary language” repeats or reflects forms of expression accepted or adopted from elsewhere. What we need in our prayers is primary language— language that belongs to the speaker as an authentic reflection of their thoughts and experiences.

prayer is life-driven

Prayer will not persist if it does not reflect on events and experiences of life as it is lived every day. Our Father in heaven is pleased when we talk to Him about everything. He does not mind if sometimes we are angry at Him.
We will not always understand what happens in the world around us and it is entirely appropriate to express our frustration and sorrow to Him. You don’t have to soft-pedal with God. He has made us what we are and He knows our strengths and weaknesses.

prayer is awesome

I don’t mean awesome in the popular sense. The way my teenage sons used to use the word awesome—somewhere between “groovy” and “unreal.” But prayer is really awesome. Who are we talking to? He is a friend. But He is also God. He is our Creator, King of kings and Lord of lords. Now that’s really awesome. It never ceases to amaze me that God is interested in each of us as though there were no others. In fact I have a hard time working out how He can actually do it. But I know He does.

I’ve seen too many direct answers to prayer not to believe. But you have to see that for yourself. I can’t do it for you.

prayer is revealing

Prayer reveals God. It makes Him available to us. But it also reveals something about us. It makes us available to Him. It creates the prerequisite for hearing Him speak to us. It brings us to the point where we are ready to do His will.
Indeed, prayer may reveal more about us and do more to us than it does to God. No wonder Jesus knew how important it was to teach us to pray.

prayer is important

Prayer is not an alternative for the Christian—or any other seeker of God.

It is an imperative. In Steps to Christ, Ellen White put it beautifully: “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.”

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Barry Oliver
President, South Pacific Region, Seventh-day Adventist Church
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