What Is Prayer?

Prayer is not an exclusive Christian practice. All men pray, whether they are heathen, agnostics, idolaters, Buddhists, or any of other religion or superstition; men pray and have always prayed. History records prayers long before the time of Moses, and the Bible informs us that men shall pray to the end of time, even if it be only to the rocks and mountains.

Most of these ancient prayers were not, of course, prayers in a Biblical sense. They were generally offered only in times of emergencies, such as an earthquake, an important battle, a pestilence, prolonged drought, or some other great calamity. They were motivated by fear, often the desire for revenge on enemies; for the Christian concepts of love and concern for the welfare of others appear to be completely absent in some primitive peoples. Their prayers were prayers for themselves and for the destruction of their enemies. Utter selfishness lay at the root of such petitions.

From the beginning of time, men have found themselves face to face with forces of nature with which they could not cope. The thunders roared, the lightening flashed, evil powers seemed intent on their destruction, and men stood helpless against the fury of the elements. A storm at sea would crush their stoutest boat, an earthquake would level their buildings, a volcano would spew out of its molten lava, or a pestilence might decimate the people. Utterly helpless, men felt the need of pacifying the evil powers that were evidently intent on their destruction, and of imploring the help of the good gods who sent sunshine and rain and other blessings. Man has been called a praying animal, and not without reason. Prayer is part of man’s nature, whatever his skin.

We call attention to this universal practice to stress the fact that prayer is a natural phenomenon common to all mankind. Many non-Christians pray habitually more than do Christians, as witness the Mohammedans and other Eastern religions. Prayer is inborn in man, a part of his nature. Missionaries capitalize on this implanted prayer habit and find it an excellent means to approach to uncivilized people. These people pray already. They need to have their prayers directed to the God of all, the One who made the heavens and the earth.

For the Christian, love of God is the true motive that leads him to pray. Fear, hatred of his enemies, selfishness, love of show, find no place in his thinking. He prays when he is in danger and asks God for protection from harm and accidents; he prays when he is sick or facing serious problems; but he has in mind that these are not the primary motives for prayer. The real ground lies deeper. Therefore, we find Daniel, when faced with the decree that under pain of death no one might pray to the God of heaven, “went into his house; and kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.” Daniel 6:10. He did not change his practice because of the decree. This illustrates Christian prayer at its best.

An appeal to God for help in time of crisis is right and proper. The Bible is filled with examples of this kind of prayer. However, we have to keep in mind that this is not to be the prevalent form of prayer, nor is it of the highest kind. Prayer should not be dependant on a crisis. We are not to do as the little newsboy did. He said he never prayed to God except at night. In the daytime, he could take care of himself.

Some are reluctant to call on God when they face a difficult situation, because they have neglected prayer previously. However, God is always pleased to have us pray; so no one need feel hesitant. It sometimes takes a special event to start the prayer habit and supply the needed incentive; God recognizes this, and there are occasions when God Himself supplies the event. Israel “wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses.” Psalm 107:4-6. When some rebelled against the Lord, “He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses.” Verse 12,13.

“Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He saveth them out of their distresses.” Verses 17-19. “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.” Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses.” Verses 23-25, 28.

These incidents reveal that the Lord uses all manner of means to call men to Him. He did that in older times, and He does this today. Therefore, we find a man on a raft in the midst of the ocean with certain death facing him, feeling after God and finding Him. An ocean liner goes down in a collision, and thousands pray while the band plays a church hymn. The president of a great nation wrestles with the problem of the emancipation of slaves, facing a decision that may cost much blood and even divide the nation; and finds his solution in prayer. A supreme council of world leaders gathers to decide questions that mean life or death to millions of innocent people, and every head is bowed in devout silence. God has many ways to incite men to prayer. The profound issues before the world teach men to pray as well as to think, and God uses them to further His aim.

God calls all men and uses all means. Men of erudition and scientific attainments, who never prayed before, are learning to seek God today. Working on weapons that threaten the annihilation of the human race, these leaders are appalled as they contemplate the use to which their inventions will be put. Therefore, God calls them, and some respond.

Men are discovering that human wisdom is insufficient for the world issues; that mankind is doomed unless some remedy is found. Humanity gropes for light. God is doing His part in awakening men’s consciences as they realize the way the world is going. Scientists have released forces that they can no longer control, and men are making a desperate attempt to save themselves from themselves. In their dilemma, they are turning to prayer in the hope that some higher power will come to their rescue. In doing this, they are admitting their own failure and demonstrating that man cannot save himself – a lesson that is being deeply impressed in current events

At a time such as this, it is well for the people of God to take stock of themselves. Have they any power in prayer that the world does not have? Are they taking advantage of the power that is at their command? Have they learned to pray? Have they learned to wrestle with god in prayer? And are they finding in prayer their stay and help? “Men ought always to pray.” In a special sense, this applies to our present time.

Prayer is the highest spiritual exercise of the soul. In its deeper form it passes into communication and fellowship with God, opens the doors to the throne room of the universe, and converses with God as with a friend. In the earthly temple, the Mosaic priest came nearest to God when morning and evening he offered incense on the altar. Likewise, the Christian comes closest to God in his daily devotions, as his prayers ascend with sweet incense of Christ’s righteousness to the throne of the Almighty.

Some Christians consider prayer a duty to be discharged at stated times to please God. When they have performed their devotions, they rest content that they have done what is required of them. They feel that they have reminded God of what He might otherwise forget or neglect, but to which He will now doubtless give attention. God loves these dear souls who daily call upon Him as a matter of duty; and from heaven, He sends the answer to their prayers when it is most needed. He knows the sincere desire of their hearts and overlooks their imperfect approach.

Nevertheless, most Christians pray not as a matter of duty but because they feel the need of communion with their Maker. Some use prayer books and recite the beautifully worded prayers prepared for their use. Others pray extemporaneously, pouring out their soul’s desire in their heart language that God understands. They pray for loved ones, for missionaries in far-off fields, for the sick and afflicted, for persecuted ones and those that suffer reproach for the Lord’s sake; they humbly petition God for forgiveness for their many shortcomings and for daily strength, and then leave their case with God. God loves to hear them pray.

More Than a Duty

The Bible not only encourages us to pray, but commands it. “Men ought always to pray,” says the Savior, “and not to faint.” Luke 18:1. This makes prayer a Christian duty that should on no account be neglected.

Nevertheless, to the true Christian, prayer is more than a duty: it is a high and blessed privilege. Paul speaks of love, as a duty when he says, “So ought men to love their wives.” Ephesians 5:28. There is indeed an “ought” phase to love as there is to prayer. However, in both cases the privilege phase far exceeds the duty aspect. No man truly loves his wife considers it his duty to do so. To him it is not a duty or a task; it is a privilege.

There are some vital questions that come to mind as we consider prayer. Some doubt that prayer accomplishes anything aside from the reflex influence it has on the one who prays. Does prayer ever change the mind of God and make Him altar His intent? Are answers to prayer only wishful thinking? Is prayer effective in the field of bodily infirmities? Is anyone ever healed of organic difficulty? Are souls saved because we pray? Is real communion with God possible? We shall consider these and other questions as we proceed. It is time that we face the subject of prayer realistically. This we shall do.

Memory Verse:

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:12


1.  In your own words, what is prayer?



2.   Give an example of a prayer that you felt in your heart was answered by God.



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