In the Bible, God commands people, multiple times, to pray. But why do we need to pray?
This is a question many Christians, as well as people with other beliefs, have asked.
If God is in control of human history and also directs individual lives, what’s the point of praying? The answer lies in understanding what prayer is.
If you see prayer merely as a means of taking some level of control of your life and the world — as a means of leverage — then you will inevitably be troubled by what appears to be unanswered prayer. But if you see prayer primarily as an ongoing conversation with God, then you’ll realize there is really no such thing as an unanswered prayer.
If prayer is first and foremost a conversation between you and God, then His promise to always listen may be the answer your heart needs most.
God might not choose to do what you ask Him to do when you ask Him to do it. You might have seasons when you find it hard to hear what He’s saying for all sorts of reasons. It’s hard when someone says no, or even not yet, to what seems like a good and valid request.
But if prayer is first and foremost a conversation between you and God, then His promise to always listen may be the answer your heart needs most.
There is a famous verse in the Bible that is often misinterpreted, and it’s vital to the questions we’re thinking about here: “Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, New International Version).
You can interpret this verse as saying if you focus on enjoying God, He will give whatever you want. Or you can understand it to mean that if you take delight in God, over and above anything else in your life, He will shape your heart so it wants the things He already wants to give you. His desires will become your desires.
It’s safe to say that the second interpretation is more consistent with the teaching of the rest of the Bible. Scripture does not guarantee God will provide you whatever you want right now.
With this in mind, let’s look at the reasons we choose to pray — and some reasons we often choose not to.
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What a great question. Prayer is counterintuitive. In what other situation do you ask for something or plead with someone when you know for certain their mind is already made up about what they will do?
Psalm 115:3 (NIV) even tells us, “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.”
To understand all this, we need to think about what Christians call “the sovereignty of God.”
It’s true that God already knows everything that will happen for the rest of eternity. He knows the big events and the small moments of each of our lives, and nothing is beyond His control. So it’s a mistake to think of prayer as the way we change God’s mind or alter His direction in a situation.
Prayer is a process through which we learn to trust God. He listens to us patiently. He takes our requests seriously. Then He considers everything in the context of the bigger picture only He can see.
Pete Greig, the founder of the 24/7 Prayer movement, says, “In prayer, we use our will to come into agreement with God’s will — ‘Let your kingdom come.’”
God knows better than you do what the eventual outcomes of every situation will be. If you pray for dry weather for an outdoor event your church has planned, God might know of another reason why it needs to rain that day. It’s easy to accept this idea when it does not affect a personal situation in your life, but the test of faith comes when God asks you to trust Him with something or someone that matters to you.
Again this is a valid question. In the Bible, we read these words,
You have searched me, LORD, and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue You, LORD, know it completely. (Psalm 139:1-4, NIV)
If God knows what you are thinking, why is He so concerned about you talking to Him? Because prayer is one of the main ways you develop a connection with God. In prayer, you’re talking with Him, not just to Him.
The apostle Paul tells us, “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).
It’s interesting that Paul does not say that when you bring your concerns to God, God will give you peace by explaining or resolving every situation you bring to Him. Instead, he suggests that the peace of God in your heart and mind is somehow more likely to satisfy you and ease your fears than if He fixed or explained everything immediately.
Through prayer, you develop a trusting relationship with God. Over time, you also learn to recognize His voice as He speaks to you. The Bible clearly shows Him choosing to act in response to the prayers of His people.
Through prayer, God transforms your heart so that having your requests fulfilled becomes secondary to feeling truly known by God and precious to Him.
If you are new to prayer, try using our beginner’s guide to prayer to develop the habit of talking with God.
God invites you to pray in all circumstances. Prayer is essential to the way He transforms you, and the Bible encourages you that your prayers can have a powerful effect in the world. So what can you expect to see happen as you commit to praying regularly?
You will recognize that you are not God.
Every time it occurs to you to pray, you are saying, “In my own strength, I cannot do all that I want to do. I need something more, someone else.”
You gain strength from God Himself.
Prayer is a way of inviting God to join you in life’s struggles. You invite the Holy Spirit (Link to brief 4: Who is the Holy Spirit?) to do what He was placed within you to do.
You realize the world does not begin and end with you.
Being dependent on someone else to meet your needs is humbling. When infants cry or scream, someone usually comes and meets their needs. It’s easy to allow prayer to become too focussed on registering complaints or making requests (or demands). Whether you pray for yourself or another person, you acknowledge that someone else — God — is the center of the universe. You acknowledge that He needs to change something about you or the situations you are bringing to Him.
You surrender control to somebody else.
Everyone craves control to one degree or another. Some just believe they’re better at being in control than others. Prayer allows you to admit to God that He belongs in the driver’s seat of your life.
You communicate your real feelings about a situation.
Prayer creates a safe space to process your thoughts and feelings. Do you feel ready to give God control of your life? Do you feel safe being completely known by God, or does that make you feel exposed? You are under God’s protection — in His safekeeping? Over time, as you pray, you will feel able to bring the real you to your moments with God.
You trust that God is with you.
Unless you are happy to admit that you talk to floors or ceilings, when you pray, you’re believing that someone is listening. The more you trust in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit as you pray, the more you will learn to trust Him with the outcomes.
You feel inspired to take steps of faith.
Perhaps you have a desire to be bolder in talking about what you believe. Or maybe you have a neighbor or colleague you feel God nudging you to go deeper with. Praying for that person is a step of faith in itself, because God may invite you to be part of the answer to your own prayer.
Explore what it means to take a step of faith.
The Bible shows God waiting to act in response to prayer.
God knows what He wants to do in the world and in our individual lives. He wants us to lean on Him in every situation, and He wants to change the world through us.
“If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples” (John 15:7-8, NIV).
Read more about how God acts in response to our prayers.
These are just a few of the outcomes when people come to God through prayer. As you choose to bring all your fears, hopes, ambitions and desires to God, you will see Him respond in ways that speak to you specifically.
So how does this sound to you? Scary? Intriguing? Exciting? Or utterly confusing?
All of those are natural responses. Prayer is a mysterious activity because, in prayer, you choose to humble yourself before someone you cannot literally see, hear or touch.
It’s not surprising that many Christians struggle with prayer, then, and some of us go through seasons when we choose not to pray at all.
Here are just a few reasons why people sometimes decide not to pray — and what we think God wants to say to you if one of these reasons keeps you from praying.
Have you ever brought a need to God and felt like He did not do what you hoped He would or, worse still, gave you no sense that He’d even heard your prayer? You are not alone.
God never promises to answer prayers the way you want Him to. But as you spend time with God by praying and reading the Bible, you will develop trust in Him. This trust guards your heart during times when you feel let down by God, or even angry with Him.
God is also completely willing to listen to you no matter how you feel about Him at that moment. Try reading Psalm 13 to discover what honest conversations with God sound like.
Do you ever try to pray but struggle with the feeling that you’re doing something wrong? Maybe you do not feel as connected to God as you want to, or perhaps you just struggle with distraction.
Even the 12 men who spent three years with Jesus — His disciples — had to ask Him to teach them how to pray.
He answered by giving them a simple prayer that Christians the world over have been using ever since. You can read what’s known as “the Lord’s prayer” in Matthew 6:9-13.
We have also created “How to Pray: A Beginner’s Guide” to help you develop the habit of praying regularly and to refresh your time with God if you’ve already had that habit.
There’s no getting away from the fact that sometimes you just want to do things in your own strength rather than relying on God. Human beings have a natural inclination to be prideful, wanting the credit for making things happen in their lives.
When you pray, it can feel like you are being passive about something important — asking God to act while you do nothing. This feeling is not the truth.
Prayer is about expressing our dependence on God’s Holy Spirit to live the way God wants us to live. Jesus warned His disciples about trying to branch out and do things in their own strength:
If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. ... If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:5,7, NIV)
Prayer is one of the most active things you can do as a Christian. It demonstrates that you are deciding to rely on God’s strength and not your own. It also demonstrates your willingness to give Him all the credit when your prayers are answered.
Your enemy, the devil, wants you to try to live in your own strength because he knows you will inevitably experience more failure that way. He knows those failures lead to disappointment that can turn into resentment toward God. His purpose is to break down your connection with God by whatever means possible. Exploiting your pride is one of his favorite tactics.
If you want your relationship with God to grow deeper over time, you need to communicate with Him regularly.
This is an example of what Christians call spiritual warfare.
Learn more about what spiritual warfare looks like and what it means for your growth as a Christian.
The reasons people neglect or avoid prayer are understandable. Everyone experiences times when praying feels like too much hard work without any obvious reward. But if you want your relationship with God to grow deeper over time, you need to communicate with Him regularly.
There are no rules about how many times each day or each week you need to pray if you want to see God respond. But the more time you spend with anyone, the more known and safe you will feel. The more you bring someone into the situations in your life that matter, the more you will understand how they think and respond. This is true of a friend or a spouse, and it’s true of God our Father.
God wants you to know Him in a way that transforms every aspect of who you are. Prayer is one of the ways He chooses to make that happen.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7, NIV)
Here are some resources we recommend to help you pray:
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