What is the importance of asking for things if God knows what we need?
Doesn’t He promise to take care of us?
Why is it important to ask repeatedly?
What does the Bible say about prayer?
Prayer has been used and abused, encouraged and ignored, welcomed and persecuted in all nations and by virtually all societies on earth.
As is always the best practice, one would be best served to start by first looking at what the Word of God says about Prayer.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 - Pray without ceasing.
Matthew 26:41 - Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
James 5:16 - Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Psalm 34:17 - When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
Colossians 4:2 - Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
The above is just a small sampling of God’s view on prayer. With more than 600 references to prayer in the Bible, this is clearly an important subject that deserves thoughtful research. One thing is obvious in these readings, the Lord clearly wants His people to pray.
What exactly is prayer and why does God want us to invest our time praying?
The Reverend Billy Graham explains prayer like this: “Prayer is spiritual communication between man and God, a two-way relationship in which man should not only talk to God but also listen to Him. Prayer to God is like a child’s conversation with his father. It is natural for a child to ask his father for the things he needs (Graham, 2014).”
In an account in Luke 18, a story is told of a persistent widow. The widow has a desperate issue which she needs to bring before the traveling judge. One challenge she faced was a cultural one. In that day and time, as a woman, she had no chance of being approved by the judge to even present her case. She had no husband who could represent her, nor did she have funds to bribe the judge as was common in that day. Also, the judge was a self-proclaimed disrespecter of God and his fellow man. Because of this, her situation seemed futile. However, she refused to give up. She determined she was going to continue coming to the judge asking for justice until he relented. This judge finally relented simply because he was annoyed by her desperate pleas. She wore the judge out. Remember, the judge had admitted that he did not love God nor did he respect man. Yet he granted the widow’s request, so she would stop bothering him.
The Bible goes on to explain. We are welcome to go to the Lord with our requests. It gives a much different account of how the Lord views our pleas versus how the judge felt about the widow. Luke 18:8 says, “I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” Instead of being annoyed about hearing from his people, God is actually bidding us to come before him with all requests which He will answer quickly and justly. This does not mean we can use God as our “genie” to grant all of our wishes. Remember, God is always on the lookout for our very best, and what we want, and what we’re asking for may not be what’s best for us.
Wiersbe puts it this way: Jesus did not say God’s people are like this woman; in fact, He said just the opposite. Because we are not like her, we should be encouraged in our praying. He argued from the lesser to the greater: “If a poor widow got what she deserved from a selfish judge, how much more will God’s children receive what is right from a loving heavenly Father (Wiersbe, 1989)!”
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him (Matthew 7:9-11)!”
What are some of the benefits of prayer?
Though God is aware of all our needs, when we bring our requests before him, there is a work done in our hearts as well. John Piper simply states, “Prayerlessness is disobedience (1983).” Though true, there is so much more to it!
An exhaustive list of the benefits of prayer would be too arduous for this article, so here are just a few.
To Praise, Worship, and Hallow the Name of God
As a Christian, how often do you stop and really think of just how good God is. Do you see him in the beauty of the day or in the kindness of strangers? Life gets busy, and we become distracted. Being deliberate in prayer helps us to remember to worship our Creator. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on where God is working and to praise him for his direction.
A side benefit of praising the Lord is the mindset change that occurs. It is impossible to worship the Lord and focus on yourself. Either your heart is set on Him, or you are not worshiping.
Another side benefit of praise and worship is a perspective shift. Usually when we go to God in prayer, our problems seem very large, and if we’re not careful, they can appear even larger than God. Praise and worship changes that perspective. It reminds us of just how big, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, and magnificent God genuinely is. As our heart shifts back to reality, our problems take on their proper size and insignificance in comparison to God Almighty. I’m not at all being aloof with your cares and concerns, but in relation to his mighty power and authority, all concerns no matter how big can be confidently left in God’s hands. The resulting benefit is the peace that floods one’s soul and surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
To Align Our Heart with God’s
As with any relationship, if there is no communication, it is impossible to maintain a bond. Praying with an open heart and sincerely seeking the Lord absolutely aligns your heart with His. To create this bond, you must share your heart honestly, read his Word, and get quiet enough to listen without the possibility of distraction. Many do the Triple 5 Rule, which is 5 minutes of praying for your needs, 5 minutes reading Scripture, and 5 minutes of quiet reflection and listening.
To Align Our Heart with Others in Fellowship, Discipleship, Outreach
Let’s face it, if you have even one person in your life, you will face times when your relationship meets a crossroad. Prayer banishes bitterness, clarifies confusion, and defines direction. Prayer is always the first and best thing you can do when facing a challenging friendship. Whether in your family, your community, or in your church, the most effective way to cultivate healthy relationships is to be continually in prayer. “Healthy churches are praying churches. It’s really that simple (Rainer, 2011).”
Ultimately, prayer is about building our relationship with God. He loves to hear from us in the same way that we love to hear from our children.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Man is at his greatest and highest when upon his knees he comes face to face with God (Lloyd-Jones, 1984).”
A Personal Story
Many years ago, my marriage hit an all-time low. Every emotion known to man tugged at my heart. From anger to frustration, back to love, and drifting again to questioning, my heart floundered. I was a pastor. I knew I should take everything to God in prayer first, not last. Of course, just as a plumber has leaky pipes at home, just as the lawn care expert has tall grass at home, my prayer life was far from where it needed to be.
When I finally began to pray, there were far more tears than words. In fact, I couldn’t speak a word. All I could do in the presence of the Lord was cry like a small, wounded child. That’s when God showed up. That’s when Romans 8:26 became most real to me, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” My Pentecostal friends use this as a proof text for speaking in tongues but that day my groans were just sobbing tears that somehow got understood. In that moment, in my spirit, I felt him surround me with his lovingkindness, and I experienced the peace that surpasses all understanding. It took months of counseling, soul-searching, correction, confession, and a limitless supply of forgiveness on both sides, but God healed our marriage and answered all my prayers. My family is together today because God answers prayer!
Graham, B. (2014, June 1). What is Prayer? Retrieved May 12, 2018 from Billy Graham Evangeilcal Association: https://billygraham.org/answer/what-is-prayer/
Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1984). Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Eerdmans Pub Co.
Piper, J. (1983, January 9). Always Pray and do not Lose Heart. Retrieved May 12, 2018 from Desiring God: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/always-pray-and-do-not-lose-heart
Rainer, T. (2011, January 27). Prayer and Healthy Churches. Retrieved May 12, 2018 from Thom Rainer: https://thomrainer.com/2011/01/prayer_and_healthy_churches/
Wiersbe, W. W. (1989). Be Courageous. Lincoln, NE: VIctor Books.