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Why Pray?

Prayer is essential.  Prayer is difficult.  These two things all Christians accept.  But why pray anyway?  What’s the big deal?

I think one of the reasons that prayer is so difficult for so many people is that we don’t truly understand what it is or what it is intended to accomplish.  It is not uncommon to hear someone say that prayer is important “because Jesus commanded it.”  Yes, the Bible does encourage us to pray, but that doesn’t represent an understanding of why.  Furthermore, it often has the effect that my wife has when she keeps “reminding” me to take out the trash; it simply isn’t very motivating.

So let’s spend a little time thinking about some basics of prayer beginning with, what is prayer?

So often I find that theologian Wayne Grudem provides some nice, succinct definitions.  He defines prayer as “personal communication with God”  [this resembles Dallas Willard’s definition of prayer as being an “ongoing conversation with God”].  Grudem continues to explain that this includes “prayers of request for ourselves or for others (sometimes called prayers of petition or intercession), confession of sin, adoration, praise and thanksgiving, and also God communicating to us indications of his response.”

I think there are a few very important concepts in this definition.  First, prayer should be thought of as communication or a conversation.  Behind these words is the idea of a relationship.  Prayer is vital for our relationship with God.  Just as it is essential for us to have regular and ongoing communication with our spouses and everyone else important to us in the world, so we must have regular and ongoing communication with God.  Furthermore, this communication is necessarily a two-way communication.  Just as my relationship with my wife doesn’t grow if my only communication with her is asking her to do things (for me or for others), so my relationship with God won’t grow if that is all I do with Him.  Therefore it is important that our prayers are real communication: dialogue, not monologue.

Based upon this point, it is important for us to understand that prayer is not an end in itself.  Rather, prayer is a means to an end.  And the end that prayer is striving for is a relationship with God.  Relationship with God is the ultimate goal and the ultimate “good,” and prayer brings us to that end.  Any prayer that does not accomplish the end of bringing us into a deeper relationship with God has been unsuccessful.

But a second concept that is worth pointing out is the variety of prayers that Grudem includes in his definition.  In my experience with the evangelical community (including my own personal life), prayer is over 90% intercession for others.  When we think of prayer or when we come together as a body to pray, we generally pray prayers of intercession.  I think this is one of the reasons we have a hard time praying for more than 5-10 minutes at a time: we simply run out of things to ask!

But prayer is much more varied.  Prayer sh0uld include time to confess our sins (specific sins…not just the very generic “I’m a sinner”), time to praise and thank God, and, yes, time to listen to God (primarily through the Scriptures as Luther told his barber!).

That is enough for today, but it is a good time to pause and ask ourselves a question: what type of communication does my prayer time consist?  Is it only intercession?  Do I confess my specific sins?  Do I praise and thank God?  Do I spend time in silence listening to God?

  1. April 7, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Your article is great. Thanks for sharing your reflections!

  1. April 27, 2010 at 9:02 am

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