This article was originally published with Convivium.
I was sitting in a wildly uncomfortable desk chair underneath flickering fluorescent lights when a school-wide favourite teacher posed the question: Why do we pray?
That may sound like an incredibly simple question or a deeply philosophical one depending on how you approach it, but either way the implications have a profound impact on our spiritual life.
There are a lot of questions surrounding why we pray. If God already knows everything that we are thinking, why do we need to pray? Why would we need to ask Him for healing, or for something else we need, if He is all-knowing and all-powerful?
The truth is I don’t fully understand exactly how prayer works on a systematic level in the spiritual realm. But where my knowledge and understanding fall short, the words of Scripture stand true. So where my linear brain can’t comprehend the complexities of prayer, I trust the simplicity of the mandate given in Scripture.
At its core, the reason for prayer is simple: We pray because God calls us to pray. God reminds His people in the Old Testament that if they would humble themselves before Him and pray, seeking His face and repenting of their sin, He would hear them and respond (2 Chronicles 7:14). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul instructs the Church to pray without ceasing (1Thessalonians 5:17).
We also pray out of a desire for intimacy with the Lord. Like any relationship, our relationship with God grows when we spend time with Him, tell Him the things that are on our hearts, and ask Him to show us the things that are on His. We talk to God, not to tell Him things that He already knows, but out of a desire for obedience.
In many ways, prayer is an act of simple and humble obedience. We see in Scripture that when God’s people pray, He responds to them.
For Christians, Jesus gives the model of how to pray. The words that many learned in childhood give us a framework for what prayer looks like, and the different ways we approach God.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Through Jesus’ concise words, we see five styles of prayer, each significant to our walk with God. He begins with a simple prayer of worship: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. He then moves into intercession: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Supplication comes next, with his request for God to: Give us this day our daily bread, before moving into repentance with the words: and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Jesus concludes with a prayer of lament: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
These five types of prayer are seen as well throughout the Psalms and the words of the Prophets. Cries of, and for, repentance fill the books of prophecy, songs of praise and lament, the Psalms. We see God’s people come to Him as little children in need of provision, and we see God’s faithfulness in answering.
Each of the five types of prayer is worth exploring for the relationship it brings us with God. Praise is prayer of worship and adoration. Intercession asks for God’s Kingdom to come, or calls to God to help another person or group of people. Supplication asks God for the things we need, and for Him to empower us for His work. And, lastly, lament cries out for God’s deliverance.
These prayers can all come in different forms. The charismatic cries out to God with all the passion one can muster. Others are moved by the quiet, devout depth of liturgical prayers. And then there are the simple prayers of children before bed. All reveal different ways God speaks to, and hears from, His children.
Of whatever type, in whatever form, prayer points us back to God. When we worship Him, when we ask for His will to be done and His glory to be made known, when we ask Him for the things we need, when we repent to Him of our sins, and when we cry out to Him for comfort and deliverance, all these things focus us back on Him. We are led back to who He is, how good He is, and how much we need Him.
Prayer is ultimately a reflection, not of us, but of God. God’s call for us to pray reveals His desire to be in relationship with us. When He asks us to pray for His provision, He reveals His delight in giving good gifts to His children. In our prayers for forgiveness He shows His mercy and His kindness, the kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
The constant beckoning of God in my life is to give myself to prayer. In recent months I have found myself praying with greater constancy than I ever have before. The combination of different changes in season of life has led me into prayer in new ways, and I am deeply grateful. As I study the words of Jesus, I am reminded to approach the throne of our Abba Father, fully surrendered and trusting whatever His response to my prayers may be.
So as I look forward, as I breathe out words of praise, plead my intercession, lift my supplication, bow my head in repentance and lift my hands in lament, I trust the work of the Spirit of God, not only drawing me into prayer, but further into the heart of God.