This post aims to provide a biblical overview of prayer, with the hope that it will inform and inspire you to commune with God daily.
Many Scriptures are mentioned, and some are in longer chunks, so feel free to explore this guide as you have the time or to find what you’re seeking!
It will cover the following:
– Why to Pray
– When to Pray
– How to Pray
– What to Pray
Why to Pray
When Jesus lost His life on the cross, bearing the complete cost of our sin, the veil in God’s temple tore from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51).
Why does Scripture take note of this event? It symbolized freedom to meet with God.
Christ’s sacrifice opened the way for sinful man to enter God’s presence—no human priests, no rituals, no rites required, only faith. Through belief in His death and resurrection, Jesus covers us with His righteousness, granting us audience with the Father.
That’s why we say “In Jesus’ Name,” at the end of prayer. It’s our faith in His Name that gives our prayers power.
Because of Jesus, we can boldly come to God with requests. We should not take this privilege lightly! The Lord is fully accessible to all Christians! We can have a closeness with God like never before, and we can trust that He listens to us.
“Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” 1 John 5:14 (HCSB)
That’s one of the attributes of God – He listens to those made righteous by faith.
The Lord likewise listened to Old Testament prophets and saints because of their belief in the coming Messiah.
As you may know, David wrote many prayers as psalms.
“But as for me, my prayer is to You, O Lord, at an acceptable time; O God, in the greatness of Your lovingkindness, Answer me with Your saving truth.” Psalm 69:13
This verse takes us to a new point – David waits upon God’s answer.
We have to ask: if the Lord is in control, why should we pray?
Does prayer change God and His will? The answer is no.
God is the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, and He knows all things from beginning to end. His ways are in no way manipulated by our pleas.
What prayer does do is change us.
God doesn’t need us, but we pray because we need Him. Praying is a primary means for us to deepen and enrich our relationship with the Him. Our prayers are pleasing to the Lord, as offerings from our heart.
“The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” Proverbs 15:8
Prayers are also a beautiful ingredient within God’s will. The Lord ordains prayer in our lives and uses it to weave the wondrous tapestry of His plans.
Paul writes: “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4
Revelation presents another picture of what prayers are to God: “When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Revelation 5:8
As we pray to Him the Lord accomplishes His purposes—whether it be bringing salvation to a friend or granting missionaries success in foreign lands. Our prayers do matter!
Our prayers are part of God’s sovereign works of grace to the world.
For more study, consider these Scriptures:
Jesus was devoted to prayer.
“Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32
Prayer is often under-appreciated, but is an invaluable ministry.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.” James 5:15-18
There are plenty of verses that attest to the necessity of prayer and its impact, many straight from Jesus. Both the Old Testament and New are sprinkled with stories of how God listens to the petitions of men. All of these are to illustrate God’s pleasure in humble faith.
Every Christian has the ministry of prayer. No matter your age or your abilities, you can pray and move mountains
As Jesus said: “I assure you: If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you tell this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. And if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Prayer can change our hearts, our marriages, our children, our nations, our churches, everything! All according to the perfect will of God.
When to Pray
Knowing the infinite value and beauty of prayer, what then should we do? Should we have a schedule for prayer?
Although Scripture doesn’t give us exact routines for prayer, it emphasizes the importance of consistency and persistency (Luke 18:1-8).
Our world is so broken and our need for Christ so endless that we must prioritize speaking with Him. Our love for Him overflows in prayer in a healing and vulnerable way that can’t be compared to anything else.
Both in abundance and in affliction He is our Rock, with prayer as our direct lifeline. It focuses our heart on Kingdom work, grounding and lifting our heart accordingly.
Consider the strong commands of these verses:
“Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.” Colossians 4:2
“Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.” Romans 12:12
“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
“Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18
These Scriptures encourage us to pray urgently and regularly.
We can pray throughout the day as needs arise, but there it is a special rest found in pausing and seeking Him in a quiet place, as well as in praying in fellowship with other believers.
Pursue praying in the early morning, like Jesus did, to orient your heart for worship and God-glorifying service each day.
David said: “At daybreak, Lord, You hear my voice; at daybreak I plead my case to You and watch expectantly.” Psalm 5:3
Pray before and after studying the Scriptures for understanding.
Pray while doing mundane tasks, like dishwashing and laundry.
Seek prayer partners to share requests with and pray with.
How to Pray
Now you may think this is about the content of your prayers, but that section actually comes next. This is more about a proper attitude for prayer.
Some struggle with prayer because they feel speechless and intimidated at the thought of talking to God. Others speak to Him without a second thought of His majesty, to the point of nonsensical or irreverent babbling. There has to be a balance, a middle ground.
Remember, as a believer in Christ, God loves to listen to you. At the same time, the Lord is the King of Kings.
We ought to come before Him with humility, respect, honor, gratefulness, and praise. This is a posture of the heart, but it shows itself with our words.
Sinners that we are, we don’t deserve anything. Yet God gives us everything in His Son! That reality should be reflected in our prayers.
Consider the contrast Jesus presents in Luke 18:9-14:
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’
“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus also instructs us to nurture a private prayer life with God, not a public one:
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6
David’s psalms are articulate examples of genuine prayers that elevate God:
“I exalt You, my God the King, and praise Your name forever and ever. I will praise You every day; I will honor Your name forever and ever. Yahweh is great and is highly praised; His greatness is unsearchable. One generation will declare Your works to the next and will proclaim Your mighty acts. I will speak of Your splendor and glorious majesty and Your wonderful works.” Psalm 145:1-5
We can freely share our heartbreaks and frustrations with God, but ultimately our prayers should esteem His authority and express our trust in Him. David himself has moments of pouring out his grievances, but in the end he finishes his feelings and supplications with praise.
Our prayers should come from a heart of worship and wonder, not entitlement.
To learn more about worshipping in prayer, consider going through my devotional Adoring His Attributes: A 30 Day Journal of Worshipful Prayer.
What to Pray
Now we’re probably at the section you were most eager for! Most of us grasp that prayer should be a major aspect of our faith, but are at a loss at what to say.
Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer, and it is a powerful template for us. It teaches us much about what should be on our minds and lips when we pray. However, before we dive in, we should be careful not to fall into just repeating lines. Again, as with all things of faith, it is about the heart.
Just before Jesus shares the Lord’s Prayer He says this: “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:7 (NASB)
Rather than repeat phrases to earn salvation or gain God’s favor, we should pray from our soulful dependence and yearning for God’s care and work in our lives.
The most beautiful and heartfelt prayers in the Bible come from unique, individual pleas to the Lord, such as those from Jonah and Daniel.
Now, breaking down the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 we see the following themes:
“Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” (v. 9)
Pray to give Him honor.
Like we discussed in the prior section, prayer is a rich opportunity for personal worship.
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” (v. 10)
Pray with surrender.
In your own words, share with the Lord for His will to pass, not yours, because you trust Him above all.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” (v. 11)
Pray for your needs.
God is faithful to provide whatever we need to live, until He is ready to take us to our home in heaven. This also means that we can pray for wants, but we should understand that our wise Ruler and loving Father knows what’s best for us—and His answer may be no, purposely delayed, or yes in a different form than we expected.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (v. 12)
Pray with confession and for forgiveness.
Sharing your sins and repentance with God is so precious to Him. It shows a meek heart that treasures the sacrifice of Christ and longing for Christlikeness.
Note that this line also assumes that we have forgiven others in our lives. As witnesses of Jesus’s grace to us, who showed mercy in spite of our countless wrongs against Him, we should be willing to forgive those around us.
Jesus says serious judgment in store for those who seek God but do not forgive their neighbor.
“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (v. 13)
Pray for a heart of obedience and for deliverance from sin and struggles.
One acronym that loosely follows this pattern and I love to use in personal prayer is ACTS:
A – Adoration (praising God for who He is)
C – Confession (laying before Him your sins)
T – Thanksgiving (giving gratefulness for Christ, His blessings, His work in your life and others)
S – Supplication (asking for help and interceding for others)
This lovely, high quality prayer journal from Daily Grace Co. has pages organized with a similar format. Writing down prayers is a wonderful way to grow in prayer, especially if it’s hard to concentrate or be consistent.
Extra Tip: Pray Scripture
One of the best ways to fill the void in your prayer life is to read, know, and memorize Scripture. If our desire is that God’s will be done, we can present praises and requests in His very own words. As the Bible teaches us its truth can fuel our prayers.
What does this look like?
Pray literal verses.
This can be especially true for the Psalms, many of which are actual prayers and songs of worship that can be said word-for-word.
Psalm 86 is one you can pray:
“For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.”
Personalize or pray the concepts of verses.
Every day when I read the Word I respond in prayer based on what themes or truths were brought to light. For example, I can praise the Lord for the glorious miracles He performed, thank Him for His promises, confess the sin I saw in the story, or ask to grow in faith like a biblical person.
Example from Proverbs 31:10-12:
Lord, grow me to be a woman of noble character, worthy of my husband’s trust.
Help me to be an excellent wife that does my husband good, and not evil, all the days of my life.
To practice this you can also go through another one of my prayer challenges, focused on studying psalms of David.
To close, we have one more aid when it comes to prayer – the Holy Spirit! He dwells in us, and when we bow our heads and bend our knees He moves to work in our heart.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26
Praise the Lord!