Prayer is a crucial part of the Christian life. God uses prayer to bring about change. Prayer forms us and it honors the Father. We need to heed Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing,” but to do so, we need to better understand prayer and how God uses it (2 Thessalonians 5:17). We need to know why, if God is sovereign, do we pray. We need to know when to pray. We need to know how to pray. Finally, we need to understand how prayer forms us. These are four questions we should seek answers to as we walk with Jesus.
Why should we pray?
Countless passages command us to pray so, if for no other reason than Scripture commands us to, we must pray. Let’s dive into the Word to see what it says about prayer.
Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.
-1 Chronicles 16:11
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
-2 Chronicles 7:14
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
We should pray because God commands it of us. We should also pray because we have a generous Heavenly Father who will answer according to His will and purpose for our lives. God is a keeper of promises. He is steadfast, and an anchor for our souls so why would we not trust His command when He tells us to pray?
When should I pray and about what?
Without fearing redundancy, I’ll echo the aforementioned command, “pray without ceasing.” We should pray constantly and about everything. God is the holy, all-powerful, all-knowing, triune Creator and Savior who always has been and always will be. He is faithful and good to hear every one of our prayers and to respond when and how He pleases. He is a loving Father who longs to hear from His children and has made a way for us to be in His presence while we eagerly wait for the day of His return.
Therefore, we are called to pray without end. Pray as you do the dishes, pray as you go to school, to work, to sleep, pray constantly. Pray about what your major should be, what relationships you should spend the most time investing in, how to escape apathy, to rise from depression, pray about anything and everything under the sun. Do not shy away from your Father because he does not shy away from you. He is not frightened or shaken by anything you do or do not pray about because He already knows about it and knows how it will end. Praise the Lord that we have a Father such as this!
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
– 1 Peter 5:6-7
How are we to Pray?
Pray with Belief
First and foremost, we are called to pray with a believing heart. If we pray with the wrong attitude, not trusting God to do what we are asking, why would He turn His ear towards us? God is a big God who is not intimidated by any prayer or request you have. Ephesians 3:20 says:
He is able to do far more abundantly than we could ever ask, think, or imagine according to the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, pray boldly, constantly, and about everything.
Over the past few months, I have been compelled to spend a lot of time in prayer over some big changes in my life. However, about a month into seeking the Lord about what to do, I realized that I didn’t believe that He would answer me according to His will. Praise be to the Father, though, because He did answer my prayer despite my unbelief. He answered it exactly at the right time, in the right way, and as a result, I could do nothing but obey in thankfulness. So, pray with a believing heart and watch for God to move.
Pray with Sincerity
Second, we are called to pray with a sincere heart. When we enter into prayer, we must do so in humility. When we pray, we should come before the Father seeking to repent of sin and confess where we need His help. It is important to approach God in prayer with more than mere requests, as we should also come to Him in our repentance.
Let’s consider the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. While he teaches His disciples to pray, He must instruct them to ask the Father for forgiveness continually. Since repentance and confession were important enough practices for Jesus to add into His model of prayer, how much more should we, who are recipients of the amazing grace of God, bow down to Him in repentance.
Jesus set the perfect example of a prayerful life. Not only did He give us a model for prayer, but the Gospels also record the circumstances in which Jesus prayed. Jesus frequently fled to the mountains, the wilderness, the garden, or even the sea to get alone with God (Luke 6:12, Mark 1:35, Matthew 26:39, Matthew 4:13). Many of us might live in a context where it is not possible to go to the mountains or the sea, but we can retreat as He did. We can go to our car, our backyard, to the top floor of our university’s library, or even to an empty church building to spend intimate time with God. We see from Jesus that there is value in the quiet and a purpose in solitude. Let us pray like Jesus, with believing and sincere hearts, to the God who listens.
Pray with Reverence
Lastly, we are to spend time praying with a reverent heart. As HB Charles Jr. puts it, we are to “seek the face of God rather than His hands”. Begin prayer like Jesus began all of His prayers, with acknowledging who God is and speaking out an expression of praise to God and His character. Then, make your requests made known to God with repetition. Paul, who had a “thorn in his flesh” requested not once, but three times for his thorn to be removed. Though the Lord did not remove his thorn, he continued to speak to the Lord sincerely, reverently and filled with belief that the Lord was able to remove it if that was His will. Paul writes:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
-2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Do we, like Paul, go before the throne of God open-handed or are we holding tightly to a wishlist? In your prayer life, when you ask for a thorn to be removed, are you okay with not knowing the why behind God’s answer? If not, pray earnestly that the Lord would change your heart.
How does prayer form the people of God?
And lastly, we come to answer the main question of this article. How does prayer form us? When we have believing, sincere, and reverent hearts, we begin to form a prayer that will cause God to be exalted and ourselves to be humbled. More than that, we will begin to see God in a way that lifts our hearts to His will and causes us to be dependent on Him, rather than ourselves.
When we pray as though we know just how big God is, we come into the right view of how small and insignificant we are. Praise God that even despite this incredible human frailty, we have access to the throne room! It is awe revoking to stand in the presence of God as one who stands before one of the vast oceans or the marvelous Grand Canyon. To know that He is grand and we are not is a comfort to us, as we are shown our need for Him. Humility keeps us from indulging in weak prayers, like those of the Pharisee who said:
God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get…
And instead, help us to be more like the tax collector next to him who could do nothing but cry out:
God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
This prayer changed the tax collector and the Pharisee. For the tax collector, his sincere prayer which acknowledged God’s ability to save man from man’s sinful nature justified him to God. On the other hand, the Pharisee who acknowledged his self-righteousness before a holy God caused his own heart to be further hardened from the true gospel.
Prayer shapes us. How we pray shapes us. Do not be quick to say “Amen” and do not hurry to read off to the Father your grocery list of needs. Remember that we are commanded to pray, that we come to know God through prayer, and that God answers prayers by shaping our hearts through it. Therefore, in your prayers, continue to seek Scripture, pray reverently, sincerely, and with wholehearted belief.