Prayer Lesson 3: What is Prayer?

Lesson 3: What Is Prayer?

We might wish that the Bible clearly defined what prayer is. We find many examples of prayer in the pages of Scripture, but no complete definition of the concept. Over the years, many people have tried to define what prayer is or what it should include. Most definitions seem to fall short in one way or another. Today’s lesson will attempt to define prayer by looking at the elements of prayer.

  1. Prayer expresses worship.
    1. God is worthy of unending adoration and praise for who He is and what He has done (Ps 150:2). Expressions of worship are not merely the prelude for prayer; prayer is worship. The primary goal of prayer is to bring glory to God.
    2. God is pleased when His people express their appreciation, praise, and adoration for His person and work. We should tell God what He means to us and rehearse before Him His great ways and works.
    3. OT examples
      1. 1 Sam 2:1-10
      2. 1 Chron 29:10-16
      3. Neh 9:5-6
      4. Jer 32:17-22
    4. NT examples
      1. Matt 6:13
      2. Luke 1:46-55
      3. Rom 11:33-36

Quote: Praise purges our souls of selfish indulgence and turns our attention to him to whom all things are due.[1]

Note: We must avoid irreverent familiarity when approaching God in prayer. Many today pray to God as if they were talking to a neighbor or a buddy. We must approach God in a manner fitting with His majesty and power and with our own sinfulness and weakness. We may come boldly, but never arrogantly, flippantly or presumptuously. Our prayer language should be respectful and honorable.

  1. Prayer expresses dependence.
    1. Petition or supplication is asking for God something.
      1. God invites believers to come boldly before the throne of grace (Heb 4:16) to make our requests (Phil 4:6). We should find it remarkable that God is sensitive to the desires of His sinful people. God is concerned about the seemingly trivial matters in the lives of believers (Mt 10:29-31). We can ask God for anything in keeping with His will and character.
      2. Unfortunately, the greed and selfishness of human nature often corrupt our prayers to the extent that we ask for things merely to “consume it upon [our] lusts” (James 4:3). We must be very careful not to reduce prayer to a self-centered repetition of “give me.” Our goal in prayer is to request what we think God would want for us, not merely what we want. God is not some kind of vending machine who can be manipulated into giving us what we want when we say the right words. God is not constrained by the creation. God does not depend on us; we depend on Him.
    2. Thanksgiving recognizes God as the source of the good things we enjoy (James 1:17). It is always proper to give thanks to God (Phil 4:6; 1 Thes 5:18). Lack of thanksgiving characterizes unsaved people (cf. Luke 17:17; Rom 1:21; 2 Tim 3:2).
  2. Prayer expresses confession.
    1. Confession is the acknowledgment of our sins and of our unworthiness, apart from Christ, to receive anything good from God. In confession, we agree with God that our sin is reprehensible and that we are guilty of it. We plead for God’s grace and cast ourselves on His mercy (Ps 25:11).
    2. Biblical authors like Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah often included themselves when confessing national sins (e.g., Ezra 9:6-7; Neh 1:5-6; Dan 9:4). David is famous for the confession of his sin (Ps 51). Solomon urges sinners to confess and forsake their sins (Prov 28:13). In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus stated that believers need to acknowledge their sins and seek reconciliation (Luke 11:4). John assures us that if we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins (1 John 1:9). God delights to forgive those who come to him in humble confession (Micah 7:18-19).
  3. Prayer expresses love.
    1. Intercession is likely one of the most common forms of prayer. We intercede for others when we lift up their needs to God in prayer. Prayer for others is an expression of love for them.
    2. Prayer for the salvation of the lost follows Jesus’ example (John 17:20). God uses intercessory prayer for the lost to bring them to salvation. Paul’s great burden for the salvation of his people led him to pray for their salvation (Rom 9:1-4, 10:1).


If we define prayer by its various elements, we could say that prayer is praise and worship, petition and thanksgiving, confession of sin, and intercession for others. We are not suggesting that every prayer must contain all of these elements. Any one of them constitutes legitimate prayer. All of them express our dependence upon God as our Father and Creator, and all of them should be included in our devotional prayer life.


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