What is Prayer?

Think back to your days in grade school. Who would it be if you were given the opportunity to write a letter to one famous person? In fifth grade, I had an opportunity similar to this. Our teacher helped us develop our penmanship by letting us choose one celebrity to write a personal letter to. Some chose singers, others T.V. actors. But me? I chose Jackie Chan. Watching my teacher stuff my hand-written letter into an envelope addressed to Jackie Chan was exciting. Several thoughts went through my head: “Will he receive it?” “If he gets it, will he even care to respond?” “If he responds, will he respond in a meaningful way?” Many of us think these same thoughts when we pray to God. We wonder, “does God even hear me right now?” “Does he even care?” “Does he even know what I need?” “Will he come through for me?” Many of these thoughts emanate from a place of not actually knowing what prayer is. We know a little bit about how to pray, but our theology of prayer is weak. So, what is prayer? And why should we pray? I believe the answer from the Bible to those questions is this: 

Prayer is humankind’s verbalization of worship, confession, thanksgiving, and requests to God the Father because of God the Son’s suffering, death, and resurrection in place of sinners.

Let’s unpack this statement together. Firstly, prayer is communication. It is a means of expressing thoughts and feelings to God. Because we are created in God’s image, we have a built-in desire to relate to one another, but most importantly, to relate to God. Since God is relational, we are relational. So prayer is an expression of being made in God’s image and is fundamentally a way for us to communicate our hearts to God. But what are we verbalizing when we pray? That is where the next part of my statement comes in. Suppose you were to open the Bible and examine how God’s people have prayed. In that case, you might be able to categorize their prayers into four categories: worship, confession, thanksgiving, and requests. David says that he “extols” God in Psalm 145– this is worship. Earlier in Psalm 51, David acknowledges his sin to God– that is confession. In the Psalm before, Psalm 50, verse 14, the writer says that God desires a sacrifice of thanksgiving. And lastly, the New Testament shows us in Matthew 7, that God even calls us to make requests of Him. Worship, confession, thanksgiving, and requests are all types of prayer in the Bible. Our worship, confession, thanksgiving, and requests, though, are all directed to one person: God the Father. God, who created and upholds all things with a mere word (Hebrews 1:3), is worthy of our worship. God, who is Holy (Isaiah 6:3), is worthy of our confession. God, who makes his sun shine on the “evil and the good” (Matthew 5:45), is worthy of our thanksgiving. And the God who loves to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11) is worthy of our requests.

Our prayer is shaped by the God we pray to. But what energizes prayer best is considering that God the Son, Jesus, has made prayer possible through his suffering, death, and resurrection. This is the how behind Christian prayer. And it is why my statement above concludes with: “…because of God the Son’s suffering, death, and resurrection in place of sinners.” Because of the first man and woman’s sin, all of humankind is separated from God because of sin. Romans 5:12 tells us that we are “dead” in sin. This death is characterized by a physical death but more importantly, a spiritual death. We are all separated from God, barred from His presence because of our rebellion.  However, in love, God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ and suffered the death we deserve. He suffered in a way that unlocks God’s presence to us like never before. Ephesians 2:13, tells us that we “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” As a result, we have bold, confident access to God. And how do we enjoy this access to God? Through prayer. At the Cross, Christ unlocked unlimited, pure access to God. And now, today, we reap the benefits of His suffering through prayer (Hebrews 4:16). 

Although my letter to Jackie Chan in fifth grade was fraught with uncertainty and intimidation, our prayers as Christians do not need to be. We can freely verbalize worship, confession, and thanksgiving to our Holy, Perfect, Good God and Father. Furthermore, we need not muster up the energy to pray from our own will. Instead, we should look to Christ, who suffered, died, and was raised to life so that we might enjoy a relationship with God through prayer. 



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