What is Prayer

Prayer is talking to God. The God to whom we pray is the all-powerful Creator, so He is able to intervene in our lives. He is a loving Father, so He cares about our needs and concerns. And He is the all-knowing Lord of the universe, so trustworthy to say “yes” when it is best and “no” when what we request would cause more harm than good.

There are many kinds of prayer: public prayers, private prayers, memorized prayers, spontaneous prayers, spoken prayers, silent prayers, written prayers, sung prayers, and many more. All of them put words to four basic ideas.

Thanksgiving – Someone said a sad day for an atheist is when he feels deeply grateful but has no one to thank! Christians know that God is the source of all of life’s blessings. So, we use prayer to say, “Thanks!” for what we receive. Since it is impossible to be truly thankful and discontent at the same moment, such prayers lift our spirits by reminding us that, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17)

Confession – We all mess up. Deep down, we know it. That’s why we feel sorry when we’ve done something wrong or failed to do what is right. Confession is the act of admitting our guilt, regrets, and confusion to the One who wants to help us make it right or move on. We join the rest of the human race in saying “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) And He will.

Requests – “God, help me!” is a very basic version of the third category of prayer. We need, so we ask. Be it provision, intervention, protection, or any of a million other requests, we believe God can do or provide something we can’t. In the process, we take seriously the words of scripture, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Of course, we can make misguided requests. That’s why the scriptures add a caution. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3) God is not a genie granting wishes, but a Father who takes seriously the sincere requests of His children.

Worship – Prayer is also one of the ways we worship God. To “worship” means to “ascribe worth.” In other words, we give credit where credit is due. If the history of humanity tells us anything it is that we are hard-wired to worship someone or something – be it an idol made of stone or a celebrity “idol” with a million social media followers. Worship keeps us sane because it reminds us of the fundamental reality of the universe: that there is only one God, and we are not Him.