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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

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Prayer is that activity of believers whereby they communicate with God, worshipping him, praising him, thanking him, confessing to him and making requests of him. This article will be concerned mainly with those aspects of prayer connected with requests, whether personal or for others. Concerning other aspects of prayer see CONFESSION; FASTING; PRAISE; WORSHIP.

God’s power and human helplessness

Believers pray because they know that God is the source of all good, the controller of all events and the possessor of supreme power (Nehemiah 1:4-5; Nehemiah 9:6; Matthew 6:9). By praying they acknowledge that they have no power to bring about the things they pray for, but God has. Believers are in the position of inferiors to a superior. They have no right to try to force God to do what they want, but by their prayers they are admitting their own helplessness and their complete dependence on God (Mark 9:17-24; Romans 9:20; Romans 11:33-34). They are, in effect, inviting God to work his solution to the matter concerning which they are praying.

The answer to a prayer depends not upon the will-power, zeal or emotions of the person praying, but upon the wisdom and power of God. God looks not for an effort to work up feelings, but for a humble and helpless spirit that trusts entirely in him (Psalms 51:17; Proverbs 3:5-6; Luke 18:10-14). The merit is not in the prayer, but in God who answers the prayer. Only when believers recognize their helplessness can they really pray in the right spirit; for then they acknowledge that God can do what they cannot (John 15:5). Their helplessness causes them to trust in God, which means, in other words, that they exercise faith.

Faith and God’s will

Faith, therefore, is a basic requirement of all true prayer (Matthew 8:13; Mark 9:23; Mark 11:24; Hebrews 11:6; James 1:6-8). People do not need large amounts of faith. All they need is enough faith to turn in their helplessness to God (Matthew 21:21-22). Faith has no merit in itself, as if God needs people’s faith to help him do things. God has complete power in himself. Faith is simply the means by which believers come to God and ask him to exercise that power (Mark 11:22; Acts 3:16; Acts 4:24-31).

Since faith is part of the very nature of prayer, it is impossible for people to use prayer to get their own way. Those who try to use prayer in such a way are not really praying at all. They are arrogantly commanding God instead of humbly depending on him; they are wanting their will to be done instead of God’s (Matthew 20:20-23; James 4:3).

Long and impressive prayers will not persuade God; neither will an outward show of zeal and earnestness (Matthew 6:5-8; Mark 12:38-40). If believers expect to have their prayers answered, they must pray in the name of Jesus, not in their own name. That is, they must pray for what Jesus wants, not what they want. They must desire that certain things will happen for Jesus’ sake, not for their own sake. They must desire that glory be brought to God, not to themselves (John 14:13; John 16:23-24).

Answers to prayer

God promises to answer the prayers of his people, but only if they offer those prayers out of pure motives, according to his will, and with a genuine desire to glorify God (Numbers 14:13-20; Matthew 6:10; Matthew 18:19; John 14:13; 1 John 5:14-15). Believers should bear in mind that they have no right of their own to come into God’s presence with their requests. They come only because Christ has made entrance into God’s presence possible and because God in his grace accepts them. They come before God humbly and reverently, but they also come confidently (Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 10:19-22).

Although God’s people can pray with assurance, they have no guarantee that God will immediately give the things they pray for. In fact, he may not give them at all. The reason for this may be that he has something else in mind that will, in the end, be better for themselves, better for others and more glorifying to God. If people pray in the right spirit and with the sincere desire that God’s will be done, they are assured God will answer their prayers. In so doing he may give something different from what was requested. He gives what people would have asked for if they had the full knowledge that he has (Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 26:38-46; John 11:32; John 11:37; John 11:40-45; 2 Corinthians 12:8-10; Ephesians 3:20).

If believers live righteous and godly lives, they can have confidence that God hears and answers their prayers. But disobedience, unconfessed sin and an unforgiving spirit are hindrances to prayer (Psalms 66:18-19; Isaiah 1:15-17; Mark 11:25; Hebrews 5:7; James 5:16; 1 Peter 3:12; 1 John 3:22).

Believers are to pray with the mind as well as with the spirit (1 Corinthians 14:15; cf. Romans 12:2; Colossians 1:9). However, they may not always know how exactly to express their prayers or what exactly to pray for. In such cases the Spirit of Christ, who operates through them in all true prayer, presents the prayers to God on their behalf (Romans 8:26-27; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 6:18; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1; Judges 1:20).

Matters for prayer

Prayer is an exercise for Christians collectively as well as individually. It is one of the functions of the church, particularly of the leaders of the church (Matthew 18:19; Acts 1:14; Acts 2:42; Acts 6:4; Acts 12:12; Acts 13:3; Acts 20:36).

The Bible gives many examples of the matters believers are to pray about. In their concern for the world, they are to pray that the kingly rule of God will have its rightful place in people’s lives (Matthew 6:10; Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-4). They are to pray that God will send his servants into the world to bring people to know God (Matthew 9:37-38), and that God will protect and guide those servants to make their work fruitful (Acts 12:5; Romans 15:30-31; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:19; Philippians 1:19).

Concerning the church, Christians should pray that they and their fellow believers might know God and his purposes better, be strengthened by God’s power, have unity among themselves, grow in love, develop wisdom, exercise right judgment, endure hardship with joy, and bring glory to God by lives of fruitfulness and uprightness (John 17:20-23; Ephesians 1:16-23; Ephesians 3:14-19; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-11; Colossians 4:12). They should pray also for the physical well-being of each other (James 5:16).

Believers are to pray for those who treat them unkindly (Job 42:10; Matthew 5:44), and ask for mercy on those who have sinned and brought disgrace on themselves and on God (Exodus 32:11-13; Exodus 34:9; 1 Samuel 12:23). They are to pray for civil rulers, so that God’s will might be done on earth and people might live in peace (Matthew 6:10; 1 Timothy 2:1-2).

In relation to themselves, believers should pray in times of temptation and when they have spiritual battles (Matthew 6:13; Matthew 26:36-46). They are to pray for God’s guidance (Luke 6:12-13; Acts 1:24-25), for wisdom (James 1:5-8), for protection (Nehemiah 4:8-9; Psalms 57:1-3), and for the necessities of life (Deuteronomy 26:15; Matthew 6:11). By prayer they can overcome anxiety (Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 5:6-7).

Praying always

People can engage in prayer anywhere and at any time (Genesis 24:12-13; Nehemiah 2:4; Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12; Luke 18:10; Acts 10:9; 1 Timothy 5:5). In addition to developing the habit of speaking to God freely regardless of time or place, believers should set aside certain times when they can be alone with God and pray. Even Jesus recognized the need for set times of prayer (Daniel 6:10; Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35). A person may pray in any position, such as standing or kneeling, with hands stretched out or hands lifted up, with head bowed or head uplifted (1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Kings 8:54; 1 Kings 18:42; Ezra 9:5; Luke 18:11; Luke 18:13; John 11:41; Ephesians 3:14; 1 Timothy 2:8).

Praying in faith does not mean that persistence in prayer is unnecessary. On the contrary faith involves perseverance. Believers do not have to beg from a God who is unwilling to give; nevertheless they pray constantly, since their prayers are an expression of their unwavering faith. They know that their heavenly Father will supply his children’s needs (Mark 14:38; Luke 11:5-13; Luke 18:1-8; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Prayer'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bbd/​p/prayer.html. 2004.
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