Prayer Lesson 2: What is Prayer?

What theologians have and now say about prayer

Now we come to the defining moment in our study. We will define what God means by prayer. You will be hard pressed to find a Christian who does not believe in prayer. It is a universal truth among Bible believers that prayer is an essential part of the Christian life. Yet, Christians define prayer in many different ways.


Roman Catholics pray. But when you ask a Roman Catholic to define prayer, he may tell you things that you will not believe. He may tell you that you are able to pray to saints. Mystics (eg. Quakers and Charismatics) pray. But when you ask them about prayer, they may tell you that God verbally speaks to you in prayer. Arminians pray. But when you ask an Arminian about prayer, he may tell you that prayer changes things. Therefore, we need to seek the Scriptures and define what prayer is. For it is in the Scriptures that we have an absolute definition.

This task is not easy. Men throughout the centuries have studied the Scriptures and given great understandings as well as errors. We will look at how the theologians understood Scripture’s teaching and glean from their works. Second, we will consider some key biblical passages and correlate them into a working definition of prayer.

The theologians’ definitions

Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

Question 116: Why is prayer necessary for Christians?

Answer: Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us;a and also, because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them.b

a Psa 50.14–5; b Mt 7.7; Lk 11.9,13; Mt 13.2; Psa 50.15

Westminster Larger Catechism (1648)

Question 178: What is prayer?

Answer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God,a in the name of Christ,b by the help of his Spirit;c with confession of our sins,d and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.e

a. Ps. 62:8; b. John 16:23; c. Rom. 8:26; d. Ps. 32:5–6; Dan. 9:4; e. Phil. 4:6

Question 179: Are we to pray unto God only?

Answer: God only being able to search the hearts,a hear the requests,b pardon the sins,c and fulfil the desires of all;d and only to be believed in,e and worshipped with religious worship;f prayer, which is a special part thereof,g is to be made by all to him alone,h and to none other.i

a. 1 Ki. 8:39; Acts 1:24; Rom. 8:27; b. Ps. 65:2; c. Micah 7:18; d. Ps. 145:18–19.

Charles Hodge (1872)

“Prayer is the converse of the soul with God. Therein we manifest or express to Him our reverence, and love for his divine perfection, our gratitude for all his mercies, our penitence for our sins, our hope in his forgiving love, our submission to his authority, our confidence in his care, our desires for his favour, and for the providential and spiritual blessings needed for ourselves and others.