Prayer is an integral part of the Christian life. In fact, Scripture simply assumes that believers pray. You won’t find a lot of reasons for prayer, explanations for how it works, or lessons on doing it right. Instead, it talks about prayer as if it expects all of God’s people to find passion and purpose in its practice.
So why do we pray? How should we pray? When should we pray? Let’s look at ten Bible passages that help us understand the role of prayer in the believer’s life.
1. Seek 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.
Scripture makes it clear that we can trust God to protect, guide and provide for us. And when we stay connected to Him, we’re more apt to maintain our confidence and recognize Him at work in our lives.
Prayer is one of the ways that we “see His face.” It’s a personal discipline that helps us keep the Lord at the forefront of our minds throughout our trying days. And we are called to seek His face continually.
2. Hear the supplications of your servant (2 Chronicles 6:19–21)
Yet, Lord my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.
The word for supplication comes from the Latin supplicare, which means “to beg humbly.” Through prayer, we do more than share our requests; we communicate our passion. Our prayers shouldn’t always be the reserved recitation of a list of requests. We should pour our hearts out, humbly begging the Lord to move on our behalf.
3. If My people humble themselves and pray (2 Chronicles 7:13–16)
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.
Prayer is also tied to the act of repentance. Rather than simply feeling sorry for our actions, we must turn from that behavior and seek God’s forgiveness.
4. The prayer of the upright pleases Him (Proverbs 15:8)
The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked,
but the prayer of the upright pleases him.
It’s easy to impress others with our sacrifices. The author of this Proverb is familiar with wicked people bringing enormous, showy sacrifices to the Tabernacle while their hearts are far from God. But, when it comes down to it, the Lord is nearer to humble, prayerful seekers than self-serving people making a show of their religious sacrifices.
5. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43–47)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
Loving people who love you and responding kindly to people who treat you kindly is relatively universal. If we want a character like Jesus, we will love those who oppose us and desire reconciliation with those who hate us.
Prayer is an important training ground for developing that kind of love. When we pray for someone else, we’re remembering them before God, we’re advocating on behalf of that relationship or person, and it’s happening in secret. We’re demonstrating love and care without any promise of recognition or praise.
6. Do not pray like the hypocrites (Matthew 6:5–6)
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.
It’s easy to find ourselves in a position where we’re trying to recite prayers that will impress the people around us. Public prayer is acceptable—even Jesus prays publicly. But Jesus wants us to understand that when we pray to impress others, their pat on the back is our reward.
7. When you pray, do not keep babbling (Matthew 6:7–8)
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.
Many of the gentile religions featured prayers where deities had many names that needed to be acknowledged, and they might need to be persuaded into moving on behalf of the petitioner. Some religious traditions worked themselves into a frenzy during prayer, muttering away.
Jesus’ point wasn’t that long or wordy prayers were a problem. Instead, he wanted to communicate that our excessive verbiage, our hysteria, or our traditionalism doesn’t move God. God knows what we need and wants us to share transparently from our hearts.
8. This is how you should pray (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.’”
In what’s come to be known as “the Lord’s prayer,” Jesus offers instructions on how to pray. Here, He lays out more than a model to copy, but a picture of the sorts of things believers should pray about and for:
- Hallowed be Your name: Worship
- Your kingdom come: A willingness to pursue the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the world.
- Your will be done: Pray for ways that we can ensure that God’s will is being accomplished within our circles of influence.
- Our daily bread: Prayer includes acknowledging our needs and God’s provision.
- Forgive us our debts: Confession is a critical element of prayer. Talk to God about your failures and seek His forgiveness.
- As we have forgiven our debtors: We need to be proactive about forgiving others, too. Prayer is an important time to talk through these areas of forgiveness.
- Lead us not into temptation: We can pray for God to intervene in our lives to help us avoid situations where we might be tempted. We can’t always avoid temptation, but it’s vital to do so when possible.
- Deliver us from evil: We also want to be prayerful about avoiding the enemy’s schemes. We can’t always see the traps laid out for us, but God can. And we should pray for deliverance from them.
9. My prayer is not that you’d take them out of the world (John 17:13–15)
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
If we want to learn how and what to pray, it’s smart to look to Jesus as a model. Here Jesus prays for the disciples, most of whom will die as martyrs in a world opposed to the gospel. The world hated them, but Jesus didn’t ask for them to be removed from danger, but instead that they’d be protected from the evil one.
If we want our prayers to align with God’s will, we shouldn’t be so quick to pray that God takes us out of dangerous or uncomfortable situations, but rather that we would resist the temptation to compromise or check out. Sometimes the prayer has to be, “Father, protect me as I push forward.”
10. Pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened (Ephesians 1:17–21)
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
In this passage, Paul asks the Lord to give the church at Ephesus a revelatory understanding of God’s love for them. We can’t always persuade people into having a different perspective. But, through prayer, we can challenge someone’s worldview. We do the same thing when we pray for someone to have a change of heart, leading to salvation.
Is prayer a consistent part of your Christian life?
For a lot of Christians, having regular prayer time is aspirational. They want it, but they’ve struggled to get it started and make it stick. If that’s you, here are four steps for creating a consistent prayer time.
- Be realistic
Too often, we set impossible prayer goals. The truth is that 5–10 minutes a day is better than 30 minutes every once in a while. So set a small goal, and you can expand it over time.
- Plan your time
Prayer can be a struggle when we don’t have a plan. Try to know ahead of time what you need to pray for. As your prayer time grows, you may need to create a more detailed plan, setting blocks of time for intervention, praise, thankfulness, confession, etc.
- Find a consistent space
Maybe you have a corner of your living room that’s perfect for prayer, or it could be a park you like to walk in. Either way, it’s ideal to have a set place you go to pray.
- Set a goal for sticking with it
Instead of telling yourself that you will pray for fifteen minutes a day for the rest of your life, set a goal for a month. It’s easier to convince yourself to keep going when you have an end date in mind. However, once that month is up, you can set a new goal—eventually, it will just become a natural part of your life.
Pray with and for Jesus Film Project!
Jesus Film Project’s goal for people all over the world to hear the story of Jesus in their own heart language relies on the faithful prayers of many Christians. If you’d like to support us in prayer, please visit the Jesus Film Project prayer page!