What is Prayer?


It’s a big word, right? Maybe even a scary word? Perhaps we all have an idea of what it means, but maybe not quite how to approach it. As Christians, prayer is a vital part of our life. Prayer is a privilege. And yet we can find it so hard to pray, so hard to appreciate the reality of what it is.

I think the best place to start, when it comes to understanding prayer is, of course, at the beginning. To be able to build prayer not only into our every day lives but into our very natures we need to first learn, or at least remember, what prayer is.

I don’t claim full knowledge on this, far from it. I’m always learning new things about prayer, even today I’m understanding more. Nor do I want to pretend that what I’m writing here is my own wisdom, I’m only passing on what people have taught me, and therefore what people have taught them. And most importantly, what Jesus, what God, has taught us all.

At The Globe Church we had our first day away a couple of months ago. Everything was built around the theme ‘Teach us to Pray’. The aim of the day’s teaching was simply that we would understand more about what it is to pray and how to pray. Jonty, our pastor, took the request of the disciples to Jesus, ‘teach us to pray’, and showed us how we need to ask this too. It was a wonderful day. Not only did I have a lovely time with my church family, learn how to bind books, and eat great food, but I realised that I wasn’t alone in struggling with prayer, that it wasn’t a mark of being a young Christian, or a fault that only I had. Prayer something that I think every Christian struggles with at some point, and yet it is not something that can’t be changed, it is not something that, with the help of our heavenly Father, we can’t work on.

So here is something wonderful that I learned:

Prayer is about humility. Prayer is about realising and knowing that we are not enough, that we need God, that we need a saviour. Prayer is about saying: ‘God is big and I am small’. It is about depending upon Him.

The book of Isaiah from the Old Testament is significant in expressing God’s glory:

Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting-place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being? – Isaiah 66:1-2

To come to God in prayer, we need to realise how big he is, how powerful and how strong he is, we need to come to Him in awe. Otherwise I do not think we are recognise who He is. Timothy Keller speaks about the essential awe of prayer in his book on the subject:

It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God.

And it also the way in which we may understand ourselves. At our church’s day away we were also shown to a extract in Luke:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I’ve get.”

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heave, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbles, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Jesus is showing us the humility with which we should have as we come in prayer before our Father in heaven. Prayer helps us to realise that we are small, that we are weak and yet we need God.

And yet this isn’t all, prayer isn’t just about recognising our place before our Heavenly Father. It is about experiencing an intimate relationship with Him. Because He cares for us, He loves us, He sent his very own son to die in our place, that we may be forgiven, made righteous before His eyes.

I was particularly struck  by a verse in the gospel of Matthew that I read today, a question from Jesus and an answer from Peter, a disciple:

  • ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
  • Simon Peter answered: ‘You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.’

That wasn’t the first time I’d read this verse, but after everything I’ve learnt about prayer recently, it just hit me how amazing it is that Peter, an ordinary fisherman, stands before Jesus, God come to earth, and acknowledges who He is. And yet more amazing, that Jesus is talking to him, that he cares for him, loves him, that he listens to him.

Because how beautiful are God’s promises when we realise who He is.

The creator of the universe, enthroned in heaven, our Father listens to us, cares for us, has made a way through Jesus to bring us into a personal relationship with Him. He loves us individually and he answers our prayers.