The purpose of prayer is to talk with God. As we communicate our needs, worries, gratitude, praises, and requests to the Father, we build a relationship with Him based on faith that He hears, sees, knows, and can act (Hebrews 4:14–16; 10:19–23; Luke 11:9–13; 1 John 5:14–15). Just as we get to know other people through conversation, so, too, do we develop our communication with God through the conversation of prayer.
But the purpose of prayer is also to align our hearts, minds, and wills to God. The best example of this is from Jesus when He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39). Jesus brought His pain and desire to avoid the cross to God the Father, but bowed in humility to God's will (Philippians 2:6), the salvation plan for humanity (John 10:10–18; Luke 1:76–78).
God wants us to bring all of our desires and fears and worries to Him (Matthew 11:28), and then He wants that exchange with Him to change us (Romans 12:2). If we keep our prayers all to a list of what we want God to do for us, then we find our prayers start to feel flimsy and frustratingly repeated. If we bring those same requests to God and then ask Him what His will might be for that situation, we open the door to a deepening relationship with our Father in heaven. We also make room in our hearts and minds for the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out (Romans 8:26). Prayer is part of how God accomplishes His purposes in our hearts and in the world.
Prayer is for praise (Psalm 150).
Prayer is for request (Psalm 86:16).
Prayer is for repentance (Psalm 25:18).
Prayer is for pain (Psalm 6:2).
Prayer is for thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6).
Prayer is for relationship (Psalm 19:14).
Jesus gave us a model of prayer that we can look to even today in Matthew 6:9–13: "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."
In Jesus' prayer we see the many different aspects of prayer, from worship to request to repentance. He also advised against needless repetition, being overly wordy and doing it for show in public places (Matthew 6:6–8). Again, at its most basic, prayer is for relationship with God. We wouldn't use a script if we were meeting a friend for coffee. We would be relaxed and real with them and want to know what was on their heart, too.
And when we don't know what to say or how to pray, the Bible assures us that the Holy Spirit is a continual intercessor for us "with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26). This shows us that though there is a practical side of our conversation with God, there is also a mysterious side that the Holy Spirit brings that we cannot.
The New Testament is full of encouragement to pray in all situations as often as possible (Luke 18:1). The Bible is also full of examples of prayer, such as the Psalms, 1 Chronicles 4:10, 2 Kings 19:14–19, Isaiah 63:7—64:12, John 17, Acts 4:24–30, Ephesians 1:15–23, Ephesians 3:14–21, Ephesians 6:18–19, and James 5:13–18. First Thessalonians 5:17 sums it up very well: "pray without ceasing."
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