What Is Prayer?
"What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also." 1 Corinthians 14:15
Prayer is one of the most fulfilling aspects of Christian spirituality. It’s time set aside to simply listen to God, to place our lives in his hands, and to pray in response to the desires of his heart. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Scripture tells us to “pray without ceasing.” In John 14:13-14 Jesus states, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” But perhaps the most important Scripture on prayer is when Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:5-15.
Because this devotional is meant to stir your affections for God and lead you to a transformational encounter with him, I won’t walk you through an exegesis of verses 9-15. There are numerous resources (one of which I will point out in the extended reading) to assist you in coming to a better understanding of the depth and applications of Jesus’ model prayer. However, I want to focus your attention on verses 5-8 and lead you to a broader definition of prayer so that your prayer life would be marked by God’s nearness.
In Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus says:
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
First, Jesus teaches us that we are to pray in secret. What an amazing God we have that he desires to meet with us in secret! All of us have a longing to know our Creator in a way that no one else is allowed into. We each need a secret place with our Maker. It’s vital to our relationship with God that we set aside time to listen to him and talk with him one on one. It’s in this secret place that our relationship with him will go deeper and our lives will be radically transformed.
Next Jesus teaches not to “heap up empty phrases” just to be heard for our “many words.” Jesus makes it clear that prayer is more about relationship with the Father than the words we say. Prayer is more about the heart than the lips. It’s about opening our hearts to God and letting him show us his plan for transformation in both our lives and in the world around us. Mother Theresa said, “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” C. S. Lewis wrote, “I don’t pray to change God. I pray because I have to. I pray because I can’t help myself. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
Do you need God today? Do you need his presence in your life? Do you need to be changed through an encounter with your heavenly Father? Take time in guided prayer to “place [yourself] in the hands of God” and allow him to change you by his goodness and love.
1. Take a moment to place yourself “in the hands of God.” Open your heart to God and surrender your life to him that all of you would be completely his.
“‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.'” Jeremiah 18:2-6
2. Take some time to listen to God. Ask him to lay something on your heart that he wants to accomplish in prayer today. It could be prayer for yourself, for someone you know, or for the nation in which you live. Sometimes God speaks with words, sometimes an inclination or a thought. Pay attention to anything the Spirit lays on your heart and trust his leading.
“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20
3. Pray for whatever the Spirit puts on your heart. Ask God how to pray for it. Ask God for his will. Through prayer we align ourselves with the heart of God and agree with what he wants to do in us and in the world around us.
Oftentimes we make prayer far more complex than the Lord ever intended. The weight of change does not rest on our shoulders. It’s God alone who heals and transforms. Just as salvation is about receiving the gift Jesus already paid for, prayer is about saying yes to what God already wants to do. We never have to beg him for mercy or compassion. He is a Father filled with grace to a level we will never comprehend. But it’s in prayer that we discover the grace God has and open ourselves up to be transformed by it. And it’s in prayer that we agree with God’s heart for others that we might co-labor with him in what he longs to see happen in the world around us. May your prayer life be filled with the fullness of God and his powerful love.
Extended Reading: The Lord’s Prayer as a Paradigm of Christian Prayer by N.T. Wright