What is Prayer? The Basics of a Profound Invitation from God

For any Christian, prayer forms the core and the crux of their faith. We devote considerable time pondering on the right methods of prayers, the appropriate timings, and the suitable requests – but have we ever stopped to wonder, what is prayer really? When I shut my eyes and initiate a conversation, what exactly transpires?

Let’s get back to the basics and take a quick look at the nature and theology of prayer. What exactly is prayer?

4 Basics of Prayer for the Christian

Prayer is Communication with God

Prayer is a lot things, but at its core, prayer is simply communication with the God of the universe. And the God of the universe invites us to speak with Him in prayer. In fact, we have direct access to Him.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

Prayer is talking to God the way you’d talk to a friend, a sibling, a parent, and a person in authority. Prayer is telling God about your day, thanking Him for what He’s given, confessing, interceding for others, praising Him for who He is, lamenting or complaining about something hard, asking for help, and a million other things.

But at the end of the day, it’s simply talking and listening – staples of a quiet time with Him.

Prayer is An Invitation to Ask

If prayer is simply communication, one of the biggest things God invites us to talk to Him about is our needs. Prayer is a popular topic throughout the scriptures, and one of the most common topics as it relates to prayer is asking for things.

  • Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)
  • Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)
  • Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)
  • You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:3)

The list goes on, but one thing is for sure: we’re invited to ask Him for things. And we’re actually promised that He will answer.

Tim Keller says that God will always respond to our asks in prayer – He will either give us what we ask for, or He’ll give us what we would have asked for if we knew all things as He did.

Prayer is an invitation to ask for things.

Prayer Shapes and Changes Us

We pray to ask for things, but what most Christians find is that prayer often changes us more than it does our circumstances.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Romans 12:1-3 (NIV)

Prayer renews our minds and ultimately transforms us into the image of Jesus. In it we learn about ourselves and we come to know who God is and understand God’s attributes more deeply.

One of my favorite passages is from Philippians 4:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

When we’re anxious, Paul tells us to let God know what we’re feeling and what we desire. He doesn’t necessarily say that the circumstance will change, but the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds.

When we’re anxious about something and go to God in prayer, we’re given peace. Even if the situation doesn’t change, we change.

Prayer Honors and Glorifies God

Worship is at the heart of prayer. Prayer honors and glorifies the Father. He loves when we take advantage of His invitation to approach His throne and talk with Him. He delights in His people coming to Him – just like a father delights in his children.

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5:8

Revelation tells us our prayers are kept as bowls of incense in the throne room – they’re a delightful aroma to God. He is pleased to inhale the praises, requests, and words of His people.

Devote Yourselves to Prayer and Experience God

It’s true that there are way more verses on the need to pray than there are on the nature of prayer in the Bible, and there’s probably a reason for that. God invites us to, “Come and see.” He wants us to take Him at His Word and experience the Trinity in prayer. If you aren’t sure exactly who the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is, grab a book on the Holy Trinity.

There’s something mystical about it. We don’t fully understand how it works and there’s no perfect rhyme or reason as to why some prayers get answered and others don’t.

But one thing is for sure: when we pray, we experience God. And when we experience God, He is honored and we are changed.

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