The Bible talks about prayer a lot. Biblical characters constantly direct their needs and praises to God. Many passages also describe things to pray for and even prayer habits we should avoid. But what's interesting is that the biblical authors presume that God's people are praying people.
Prayer is a natural part of having a life-giving relationship with God, and the Bible almost reads as if this is commonly understood. In fact, there are times when God expresses frustration that His people don't seem to understand that.
I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one (Ezekiel 22:30).
In a time when Israel's wickedness was on the rise, God was looking for someone who was interceding on behalf of the nation, praying for mercy. But there was no one to be found. We can't miss the implication that the people should pray. It's obvious from God's words that no one could say, "But no one told me I was supposed to be praying for the nation." This kind of intercession should be a natural expression of our faith.
Knowing we should pray doesn't make it easy
The fact that we're supposed to pray isn't always sufficient motivation. Many Christians still struggle with maintaining a vibrant prayer life. And on top of that struggle, they feel the guilt of not praying more.
There are a lot of reasons why people don't pray regularly. Quite often, they just don't make the time for it. And when they do, it doesn't feel productive or make them feel more spiritually connected. Sometimes it's that we get hung up on questions about how prayer works and whether it’s truly effective.
But God just encourages us to pray and not put all of our focus on how it makes us feel or how we think prayer should work. To that end, let's take a look at 20 biblical verses on prayer and see what they have to tell us.
1. See His face always (1 Chronicles 16:8–11)
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
The writer of Chronicles focuses here on the ways we verbalize our faith. This includes:
- Praising God for what He has done.
- Proclaiming God's goodness to those around us.
- Lifting our voices in worshipful song.
- Rejoicing in God's name.
- Looking to the Lord and seeking His face.
Seeking God's face completes a list of verbally expressive ways that our faith takes shape, so it makes sense that seeking God's face is a way of saying we should communicate with God like Moses did (Exodus 33:11). From the beginning, speaking to God has been a natural part of people's relationship with Him.
2. Hear my prayer (Psalm 13:1)
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
The Psalms operate like a Jewish hymnal. And it runs the full gamut of responses to God, from praise and worship to frustration and lament. You'll find psalmists asking for the Lord to hear their prayers and celebrating answered prayers.
But like you see here, you also witness psalmists like David feeling like God is intentionally hiding His face and ignoring their pleas. Hidden in this lament is some encouragement. If someone like David struggled with prayer, it's OK that we do, too. We don't have to allow that to quench our prayerfulness—we can bring those feelings to God, too.
3. If I cherished sin in my heart (Psalm 66:18)
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened
If perfectly aligned hearts were required for productive prayer, the Lord wouldn't hear any of our prayers. We don't have to be completely free from sin in order for the Lord to respond, but the psalmist does make an important distinction. When we love and cling to our sin, it creates an obstacle in our prayer life.
4. Call to me and I will answer (Jeremiah 33:3)
Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.
Contextually, God is speaking to Jeremiah here—but this has a broader applicability. Those of us who know and love the Lord can be confident that the Lord will reveal Himself to us.
Jesus promises us that "when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come" (John 16:13).
5. Do not pray like the hypocrites (Matthew 6:5–8)
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
When we don't feel like our prayers are constructive and we don't feel like they're helping us get closer to God, we don't always just abandon the practice. Sometimes we use prayer as a way to exhibit to others how spiritual we are.
Jesus warns us against misusing prayer. Jesus often prays with the disciples, and throughout the New Testament we see the church gathering to pray, so He isn't forbidding public prayer. But He wants us to be careful that we don’t get off track and misuse what should be making us closer to God.
6. The Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:9–13)
"This, then, is how you should pray:
'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today 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 the evil one.'"
After warning us against misusing prayer, Jesus offers a prayer that most of us are familiar with. What's come to be known as the "“Lord’s Prayer" works well as a kind of formal prayer that we can pray privately or as a group. But it can also be an outline for prayer, helping us focus on certain prayerful elements:
- Praise (hallowed be Your name).
- Mission (Your kingdom come).
- Submission (Your will be done).
- Intercession (our daily bread).
- Confession (forgive us our debts).
- Forgiveness (as we have forgiven our debtors).
- Protection (prayers against temptation and for deliverance).
When we adopt the Lord's Prayer as a model, we can be specific in our prayers while preserving the example He lays out here.
7. Watch and pray (Matthew 26:41)
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
The Lord and His disciples were about to head into one of the most trying nights in history. Soon He would be arrested, falsely accused, and put to death. The disciples didn’t completely understand what was coming, but they would also have their faith and loyalty severely tested.
The Lord encouraged them to watch and pray that they would avoid the temptations that are coming. We, too, are oblivious to the temptations crouching around every corner. We should be vigilantly praying that God will strengthen us to avoid them when they rear their heads.
8. Whatever you ask for in prayer (Mark 11:22–24)
"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
This passage can cause problems if we read it as a guarantee. When our prayers aren't answered in the way we hope, it's easy to look at these words and assume that we didn't have enough faith. But as we know from other biblical passages, faith isn't the only variable that goes into how prayers are answered. Beyond the faith of the person praying, a few of the other elements include:
- God's will (1 John 5:14).
- Faith of people being prayed for (Mark 6:5–6).
- Prayerful persistence (Luke 11:5–8).
What Jesus wants us to understand is that we should pray expectantly, as if our faith was the only variable that matters. We should expect miraculous results in response to our faithful prayers.
9. Everyone who asks receives (Luke 11:9–10)
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
The words ask, seek, and knock are present imperatives, meaning they operate as ongoing commands. We are to be people who ask, seek, and knock by nature. And it is those kinds of people who experience results. Jesus isn't saying, "If you ask, you will always get what you asked for." What He's saying is that the askers, seekers, and knockers are the people who receive.
10. Those who humble themselves will be exalted (Luke 18:13–14)
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus addresses how the posture of our heart impacts our prayer. The Pharisee is proud, thanking God that he isn't as bad as the hated tax collector. The tax collector, on the other hand, simply beat his breast and asked for mercy. Jesus tells us that it was the tax collector who went home justified.
Our attitudes have a big impact on our prayer life. Throughout Scripture, we're promised that if we humble ourselves, God will lift us up—but the proud will be brought low (Psalm 138:6, Proverbs 3:34, 29:23, Matthew 23:12, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
11. The Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26–27)
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. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God.
One thing that should boost our confidence and empower our faith is the realization that the Spirit is praying for us, too. The Spirit searches us and intercedes for us, and those prayers effectively align with God's will.
We can make decisions based on the conviction that the Spirit brings our needs before God, even before we're aware of them.
12. Be faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12)
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
At this point in his letter to the church at Rome, Paul is laying out simple, rapid-fire instructions for Christians. Here we see three straightforward, but life-altering directives. We're told to be:
- Joyful in hope
The knowledge that God is at work reconciling the world to Himself and that we can trust in His sovereignty should give us hope. And that hope should make us the most joyful people on the planet. The fact that this instruction exists tells us that this is a choice we can make despite our circumstances. The next point tells us how.
- Patient in affliction
Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33). There's just no way around it. But He immediately reminds us that He has overcome the world. This knowledge should help us be patient in affliction. In the big picture, the troubles we experience are momentary difficulties in an eternal story. It's not crazy to think that this should enable us to still choose joy in our struggles.
- Faithful in prayer
But this joy and patience are impossible if we have to carry our own burdens and fears alone. The fact is that we can not only bring our needs and concerns before God, but we can also carry the burdens of others. Prayer empowers us to be a joyful and patient people.
13. Pray also for me (Ephesians 6:18–20)
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
At the end of the book of Ephesians, Paul talks about the armor of God. This metaphorical armor protects God's people from the enemy's schemes. This leads directly into these verses. Our prayers are what keep us aligned with God, our Commander. It's how we keep ourselves and one another energized and prepared for the battles that lie ahead.
Recognizing this importance, Paul asks for prayers for his evangelistic efforts. He doesn't count on his own words or arguments. He knows that without the Spirit's intervention, he doesn't have a chance. Think about it a minute; Paul, of all people, wants the Ephesians' prayers to ensure that he remains fearless. If he relied on prayers, how much more should we?
14. By prayer and petition (Philippians 4:6–7)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed and in over our heads. Paul reminds us that in every situation, we can learn to be thankful by bringing our requests and needs to God. Notice that there is an "if this then that" relationship here. When we regularly bring our needs before God, His peace guards our hearts.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the peace of God is only given to us when we pray. It's more likely that we are so swept up in life's challenges that we can't recognize or experience it. As we stay connected to God through prayer, it becomes easier to enter into His peace.
15. Devote yourselves to prayer (Colossians 4:2–4)
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
What are you devoted to? You know because it’s where your time, energy, and resources go. The very nature of devotion means that you can't be devoted to very many things. Paul asks the church at Colossae to devote themselves to prayer, which means that they have to shuffle their priorities around. Devotion requires single-mindedness.
We also need to recognize that, as he did with the Ephesian church, Paul asks the Colossians for evangelistic support in the form of prayer. This helps to demonstrate how much value Paul placed on the subject of prayer. It was so integral to his strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission.
16. Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
We spend a lot of time trying to determine God's will for ourselves. There are thousands of books dedicated to helping us answer this important question. And while there's nothing wrong with trying to discern God's plan for us, we should always start by focusing on how Scripture answers this question.
For example, Paul tells us that rejoicing always, praying continually, and giving thanks no matter what is God's will for us. And it doesn't require any special revelation. When we do the things that God has already asked of us, we’ll discover that God's path unfolds before us.
If you're interested in knowing more about finding God's will, take a look at these two articles:
17. Prayers for all people (1 Timothy 2:1–4)
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
You've never met a person who doesn't need prayer. Everyone you know is fighting battles and has needs that you know nothing about. From the most influential and wealthy person to the absolute poorest, everyone could use intercession.
What if you knew it pleased God to pray for these people? Paul tells us that it does. Our prayers have the potential of helping people come to a saving knowledge of God and they make God happy. That’s a win-win!
18. Approach God's throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:14–16)
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
The author of Hebrews uses his letter to communicate all the ways that the new covenant under Jesus was superior to the old covenant (Hebrews 8:6). In the Old Testament, coming before God was something you couldn't do lightly. There were rituals required to maintain our relationship with God and we needed a priest to mediate the relationship.
But the author reminds us that we have a new High Priest who has made God's throne available to all of us, and He understands and empathizes with our weakness. The natural implication is that we can come to God with confidence and receive the mercy we need.
And while this verse doesn't directly mention prayer, it's the subtext here. We don't need to be timid in our prayers. There's no reason for us to avoid prayer because we don't think we're in a good enough place to approach God. In fact, when we avoid prayer because of sin, we miss out on the empowerment that could overcome our behaviors and attitudes.
19. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful (James 5:13–16)
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Do you see how important prayer is to James? Prayer should always be our default position. Are you in trouble? Pray. Happy? Sing songs of praise (which is simply another form of prayerful communication). Are you sick? Gather your leaders for prayer. Struggle with sin? Confess to and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
James drives home his point that the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective. And that's a conviction we all should hold. Try not to interpret James' last sentence to say that if you're not righteous enough, your prayers don't matter. They absolutely do. We definitely shouldn't settle for unrighteousness in our lives, but we need to remember that we are clothed in Jesus' righteousness.
20. Praying according to God's will (1 John 5:14–15)
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
What does it mean to pray according to God's will? It means that the things we ask from God are aligned with His priorities and character. This is one reason that becoming familiar with Scripture is so critical. The Bible helps us understand God's desire and will, and the more we understand it, the better prepared we are to pray according to His revealed will.
We appreciate your prayers!
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