Note: In this first of a four-part series, Andrew Mills explains what prayer is so that we can begin or enhance the process of building a rich prayer life.
Have you ever wished for something? Perhaps you’ve tossed a coin in a well or blown out candles on a birthday cake while wishing for happiness, peace, health, money or something else. But as a Christian, you don’t need to put your trust in wishes because you can have hope in something much greater. A wish directed to no one will be granted by no one, but a desire expressed to the Lord can actually make a difference in the world. Prayer is one of the strongest tools that God has given us to change the world for the better.
Think about your best friend for a moment. What makes your friend especially valuable to you? You might be thinking things along the lines of: we enjoy doing things together, he understands me, we can talk about anything, I feel better when I can express my fears to him, etc. Friends are incredibly valuable because we are designed to be relational. The backbone of friendship is communication. Prayer isn’t just about asking for whatever you want, it’s about building a relationship with God. Just like the strength of your friendship is directly related to your level of communication, your spiritual health is directly related to your prayer life.
I hope these two thoughts are enough to whet your appetite for learning more about prayer — about it’s power and how to do it. Prayer is one of the chief things that distinguish believers from non-believers.
Did you know that the first term used to describe God’s people was not Jews, Israelites, Hebrews or Christians? The first name to refer to His people occurs in Genesis 4:26, “Those who called on the name of the Lord.” Praying to the Lord identifies you among God’s people.
A great place to start building our understanding of prayer is by asking the basic question: What is prayer? In its simplest definition, prayer is a cry. Not all that different from a baby who cries to have needs met, we can cry out to God and express our needs. The needs can range from the physical such as food and health needs, to the spiritual such as battling temptation or doubt. When we cry out to the Lord with our needs, help is surely on the way. “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” – Psalm 145:18
In fact, the English word for prayer has its background in a Medieval Latin word (precaria), which refers to something obtained by begging. The beauty of being able to ask God for our needs is that He is the only one that can actually meet them. Scripture tells us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
While that is a starting point to understand prayer, there is much more that we can learn.
According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, which is a document that will help you learn about many aspects of the faith, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.”
In part two of this series, I will break down this definition to help us better understand it.