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What is Prayer?

by David A. DePra

     What IS prayer? If you took a survey among Christians and

asked that question, you would probably get many wrong answers.

Some might say, "Prayer is asking God to do what you want." No.

Others might say, "Prayer is what you do when you are sitting in

church," sort of like a religious duty. Wrong. The worst answer of

all which you might get is this: "Prayer? I never pray. At least not

outside of church. I don't have time. Besides, the times I have tried

to pray, God didn't answer."

     Most people, even unbelievers, know about prayer. But do

Christians -- those who profess Christ -- really know what prayer is?

It would seem not. Because as we are going to see, if we knew

what prayer is, we would not be living the way we do.

Full-Time Christians

     In this world, there are many Christians who do indeed have a

growing relationship with God. Jesus Christ is their life.

But let's bring this down to practicality. What does it mean for

Jesus Christ to BE our life?

     Well, one of the best scriptures to point to is found in Acts 17:

For in Him we live, and move, and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

     Notice how there is NO ROOM in this verse for Jesus Christ

being outside of any aspect of our life. But there really isn't anything

new about this. If we have surrendered ourselves to Jesus Christ,

He is our Lord. We belong to Him. Every part of us.

     The Bible says this in dozens of ways. Perhaps the best picture

is that of baptism. Paul says, "Do you not know that as many of you

that were baptised into Christ......." The point is, baptism is a

total submersion INTO water. You are covered up and out of sight.

Thus, if you are "baptised into Christ" there is no part of you which is

outside of Him, anymore than any part of you is out of the water in


     Paul, the apostle, makes this even more clear in his epistle to the

Colossians. He tells that church that Christ is indeed their life.

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above,

where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection

on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead,

and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life

shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify

therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication,

uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and

coveteousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:1-5)

     So we see that every part of us is open and exposed to God. No

part of us belongs to ourselves. This is, of course, what the name

"saint" means. A "saint" is a "holy one." And a "holy one" is one

who is "set apart for God's use" -- that is -- belongs to God. Thus,

even the very term God often uses for the redeemed, saint, denotes

the fact that we belong to God, and that Jesus Christ is our life.

     This Truth should be obvious to anyone who knows the Bible, or

who has walked with the Lord. But many who profess Christ still do

not realize this. They still think that Christianity is a "religion." By that

I mean that they think that Christianity is a list of doctrines to believe

in, and a list of rules to follow. They think that you put on your

"Christian conduct" for the hour or two you are at church on Sunday,

and bingo!, you have done your religious duty for the week. God is

happy, and you are happy. Live as you please otherwise.

     Christianity is not religion. It is not a mode of conduct, a list of

doctrines to follow, or even keeping moral rules. Christianity, when

all is said and done, is a new birth. Not in theory, and not just

"positionally." But really. Thus, rather than be devotion to a

certain religious belief system, Christianity is devotion to a

PERSON, Jesus Christ.

     Christianity is a new birth -- into a regenerated relationship with

God Himself. Not just "positionally," but REALLY. If I am "in Christ,"

I have passed from death to life. I belong to God. And this impacts

me in everyway possible. How could it not? I am a new creation in

Jesus Christ!

Praying Always

     Ok. But as wonderful as all of this is, what in the world does it

have to do with prayer? Everything. For if in Christ, we live, and

move, and have our being, then it leads us to the conclusion that

for a growing Christian, prayer is something in which we live, and

move, and have our being. In other words, prayer is fellowship

and communion with God. It is oneness with God Himself through

His Son.

     Have you ever realized what you are doing when you pray?

You are IN COMMUNION with God Himself. You are in contact with

the very God of heaven. What could be more awesome?

     Our oneness with Jesus Christ is not part time. We don't move

in and out of Christ at will. No. We are either IN HIM or we are not.

It is all or nothing. It is ALL THE TIME -- or NEVER. Either in Him

we live, and move, or have our being, or we don't.

     What this makes us to see is that prayer is not part time. It is

continual and without ceasing. The reason we often do not think

of prayer like that is that most of us have been taught that the only

time we are "really praying" is when we are on our knees with our

hands folded. Or perhaps when we pray with others in church. But

this is not so, according to the Word of God. According to God,

prayer should be going on in us all the time.

     We need to rid ourselves of our traditional thinking about prayer.

We can pray to God in any position. And with any words. God does

not look at our words anyways, as much as He looks at our real

heart. And despite the fact that there is a need for intense prayer

at times, in "our closet," away from any distractions, it is still a fact

that we can pray to God during the day when other things are

occupying us.

     The point is, if we are in continual communion with God, then we

can be in continual prayer with God. If we live in Him, move in Him,

and have our being in Him, then we ought to begin acting like it. We

ought to ALWAYS be in an attitude of prayer.

     One of the ways in which we can practice communion with God

is by what the Bible calls, "considering God in all our thoughts." In

a nutshell, what this means is that I keep all of myself open and

exposed to God. My thoughts, my heart, my intentions. I am in a

continual conversation with God. I am open to His scrutiny. I refuse

to "fence off" parts of my life or make them "off limits" to God. No.

I belong to God. He has access to ALL of me.

     This is actually not optional. Note what God says about

someone who does have God in all his thoughts:

The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek

after God: God is not in all his thoughts. (Psalm 10:4)

     Notice that because of PRIDE -- my desire to get my own way

and for self-ownership -- I will not seek after God. Of course. The

moment I seek after God I am only too well aware of what He is

going to indicate to me: He wants me to turn from my way to HIS.

So I don't do it. There is a closedness about me. I shut God out

and reserve the right to do as I please.

     We need to see something here. We are not talking about

someone who necessarily tells God directly that he refuses to

obey Him. No. This is someone who avoids the issue altogether.

In other words, this is someone who thinks that if they ignore the

Truth, they aren't accountable.

     They are accountable. For if you know enough to refuse to hear,

you KNOW ENOUGH. Your sin is that you have not turned to God

and surrendered -- and that is just the beginning. The fact you may

be out of God's will otherwise is the secondary issue. But really, it

is all part of the same rebellion and unbelief.

     The fact is, anyone who is out of God's will is going to have a

great deal of difficulty praying. This is because as soon as they

open themselves to God, He will immediately shine His light on

that area of self-will. Pride tells them that it is easier to simply NOT

open up and pray. So they settle, at best, for a religious prayer,

rather than a real one.

     The reality of continual prayer as an extension of our communion

with God is all through the New Testament. It is, in fact, considered

so normal for someone in Christ, that the teaching about is

presented almost as a passing thought.

Pray without ceasing. (I Thes. 5:17)

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit. (Eph.


Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without

ceasing of the church unto God for him. (Acts 12:5)

That without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.

(Romans 1:9)

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in

our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and

labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the

sight of God and our Father. (I Thes. 1:2-3)

For this cause also thank we God without ceasing. (I Thes. 2:13)

That without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers

night and day. (II Tim. 1:3)

We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

praying always for you. (Col. 1:3)

But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the

ministry of the Word. (Acts 6:4)

     The apostles speak of prayer as a continual, on-going thing. It

is "without ceasing," "always," and practiced "continually." Prayer

is always going on, whether it be in church, private and intense, or

simply during the routine day. Of course! Communion with God is

our continual condition. Thus, so is the extension of it: Prayer.

Our Holy God

     Jesus talked more about prayer than we might think. He gave

us guidelines and content. And the entire book of Psalms is a book

of prayers -- of every possible variety. From these we get many

insights as to what is NORMAL for a Christian's prayer life.

     Of course, the blueprint for prayer is what we call "the Lord's

prayer." It captures the spirit God is after in prayer, and shows us

the content. Jesus also taught that we should "Ask, seek, and

knock." (Matt. 7:7) And He also taught that we must ask "according

to God's will," and "in the name of Jesus."

     If we were to take all of these teachings and boil them down, we

would find they all harmonize perfectly. But we would likewise be

able to glean from them certain fundamental points; certain aspects

of prayer.

     Chief among these aspects is captured in Jesus' first words in the

Lord's prayer. He said, "Our Father, who art in heaven, HALLOWED

be Thy name."

     Jesus is saying that we must approach God with a REVERENCE.

Now, we are apt to think of this in "religious" terms. Some folks, for

instance, pray to God with set formulas, thinking God will hear them.

Or perhaps, we simply say the words to God that we think He wants

to hear. But really, all of this is the OPPOSITE of revering and

honoring God.

     Why? Because part of reverence for God is to realize that He

already sees through all that stuff. If we REALLY revere God, we

will, yes, pay Him due respect, but do it by being HONEST and

OPEN with Him.

     You see, when I am honest and open with God, I AM saying, "I

will not insult you with my religiosity. You know me better than I

know myself anyways. So I might as well acknowledge this and

drop the religious act."

     One example of this would be if I were terribly upset or angry

with God. What good does it do to come before Him and pretend

I'm not? He KNOWS I am. Better to confess that I am upset, and

ask Him to forgive me for it, and to help me out of it. THAT is

treating God as HOLY -- because it is pure and honest.

     Notice that I didn't say "honesty" means we defend our bad

attitudes. No. We confess them -- as WRONG. It does nothing

but prolong our deception to pretend to God. And it is frankly an

insult to Him that we try.

     Is this Biblical? You bet. Read what both James and John say

about God:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh

down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither

shadow of turning. (James 1:17)

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (I John 1:5)

     Here we see one trait of God: He is honest, true, and without any

sort of "shadiness." Of course, this is no surprise. God IS holy, isn't

He? But what might surprise us, is that this is how God wants US to

become. He wants us to become transparent, vulnerable, and

totally free of areas where His light has not penetrated. Again, as

we saw before, we belong to God. There is no part of us we have

any business keeping to ourselves.

     How is God going to get us to this point? Well, we are in

communion with Him through Christ. And through prayer, we do

intensify this communion as we seek after Him, and grow to know


     Think of God as a giant, penetrating Light. John says He is that.

The more we are in communion with Him, the more He will search

us out with that Light. He will expose us for what we are so that we

can be set free by the power of the Truth.

     John shows this as He continues:

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have

fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one

with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us

from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,

and the Truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and

just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word

is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye

sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father,

Jesus Christ the righteous. (I Jn. 1:5-2:1)

     John is creating a tremendous picture here, using "light" and

"darkness" as spiritual dynamics. God IS light. But if we walk in

darkness -- that is, outside of God -- then what? We have NO

fellowship with Him. Sure. How could we have fellowship with God,

who IS light, if we walk in darkness?

     But we need to make this practical. John is surely talking about

someone who is not saved. That is clear. But there is an overall

application which can apply to a Christian who is walking in the

"darkness" of being outside of God's will -- walking in the "darkness"

of wanting to "hide" from God. This Christian is not in fellowship with

God. He may be saved, but he has chosen to "hide himself in the

shadow" of his own will. In other words, he won't expose himself to

God. He won't come out into the light. He is standing aloof from

Jesus Christ.

     No where is this more applicable than with regards to sin. There

are many Christians who rationalize, justify, and get comfortable with

sin. They hide themselves in the shadows, and won't come into the

Light of the Truth.

     God IS light. He isn't going to come over into our darkness. So,

if we are to have fellowship with God, we have to come into the Light.

We have to do that for salvation, but then stay there once we are

saved if we want to get free from error and from the residual

patterns of sin which continual to control us.

     What is the solution? Choose to come into the Light. We do this

by a faith in Jesus Christ which results in "confessing our sins."

     Now notice something important here. We do not come into the

light, that is, confess our sin, to GET GOD TO FORGIVE US. No.

God has ALREADY forgiven us for all sin. That happened when

Jesus died, long before we were born. So rather than confess our

sins TO GET forgiven, we confess them BECAUSE we see we are

forgiven. Confession is always the result of seeing I am forgiven

in Jesus Christ.

     Do you see the picture? If I stay in the Light I am going to be

exposed for what I am before Jesus Christ. But I will see this sin

along side of Jesus Christ, who already died for it. Thus, I will be

able to confess it -- say the same thing about it as God says -- that

it is wrong, and that He has forgiven it in Christ.

     None of this is possible if I will not open myself and expose my

heart to God -- if I want to hide myself in the darkness. I cannot have

real fellowship with God. I cannot truly experience freedom from sin.

     Where could this possibly apply more than in prayer? It is in

prayer that we open our hearts and expose our true self to God. It is

there that we come into the Light; keep ourselves there. This will

result in confession of sin, yes, but in a growing faith in the Christ who

died for it, and arose.

     Prayer is communion with God. If God is Light, we are not going

to have much communion with Him if we walk in darkness. We have

to come into the Light. We have to do so under the attitude that

"Hallowed be Your Name." In other words, "God, I belong to You.

And I want you to make me as holy as You are holy." This means

no lies and no secrets. No dark places. Only light.

     Confession of sin because of faith in Jesus Christ is one way in

which we revere God as holy. We open and expose every part of

ourselves -- including the ones which are not presenting operating

in a holy fashion. As the light of Christ shines on us, we confess

what He reveals. And then we are able to get free. We are then

made holy.


     Another aspect of prayer is the need for perseverance. God

will not always, perhaps not often, answer right away. Yet Jesus

tells us we should ALWAYS pray and NEVER give up.

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought

always to pray, and not to faint, saying, There was in a city a

judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man. And there

was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge

me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward

he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man, Yet

because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her

continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the

unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which

cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell

you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the

Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Lk. 18:1-8)

     The vital thing to see about this parable is the REASON Jesus

told it: To tell us that we ought to always pray and NOT to faint. This

word "faint" comes from a Greek word which means roughly "to lack

courage, or to lose heart." In other words, GIVE UP.

     So here is the point: Jesus said, "Always pray. Don't give up."

But wait. Let's ask a simple question. WHY would anyone give up

praying? Actually, there is generally ONE reason why people give

up praying for something: They lose heart that God will answer.

     Now, that is simple enough. We lose our hope and expectation

that God will answer. But let's probe deeper. Why? It is always

because God does not answer right away. In fact, things may seem

to be getting worse, rather than better. Instead of an answer from

God, the opposite seems to be happening.

     So people give up praying because instead of an answer from

God they hope for, the opposite happens. Contradiction and

supposed defeat. A common story, isn't it?

     Yet we do HAVE this parable, don't we? And the Bible says

that the reason Jesus told it was to encourage us NOT to do that

very thing. The suggestion behind this is wonderful: It means that

Jesus already knows that it will be NORMAL for things to look like

God won't answer. Jesus already knows that it will be NORMAL for

things to get so bad that you will want to give up. So He told this

parable, and saw to it that it was part of the Bible, so that you and I

would NOT give up.

     It is always encouraging to know that when it appears that things

are going wrong, that Jesus already said they would look like that.

It is always great to recognize that even the worst possible scenario

is under God's control. He has said, "Expect it to look like this. I

have told you beforehand. But don't give up. I'll answer you."

Jesus told this parable to encourage us to ALWAYS pray and

NEVER to faint. Here we see an admonition from God to us to

persevere through prayer until His will is done.

     Get that distinction: To persevere until HIS -- not our -- will is

done. This is not a teaching on how to "twist God's arm, and keep

twisting, until you get Him to do what you want." No. It is a promise

that God will do HIS will, and that we must continue in prayer until

the issue is brought through.

     The characters in the parable are an "unjust judge," and a poor

widow who want him to help her. The unjust judge was an ungodly

man, who could not have cared less. But the widow kept at him, not

relenting until she got him to help her. The judge finally gave in

because the widow "wore him out" with her continual pleas.

     This is NOT a teaching on how to "wear down God." We are not

being told, "If you are stubborn enough, God will give in." No. Jesus

said, "Hear what the unjust judge says. And shall not God avenge

His own elect which cry out to Him night and day." In other words,

Jesus is saying, "If an unjust judge, who could not care less for

anyone, will grant the request of a poor widow because she did not

give up, how much more will your Father in heaven, who IS just, and

who DOES care, hear your prayer!" Jesus would add, "So don't

give up. God has a will for your situation. Continue praying for Him

to do it."

     God wants people who will pray continually that His will be done,

and never give up until it IS. He wants people who will refuse to

give up because nothing seems to be happening -- or because the

enemy seems to be winning. All of these reasons to give up WILL

BE THERE, says Jesus. But don't surrender to them. Keep on


Some Rules

     Despite all of the teaching in the Bible about prayer, many

Christians still don't get it. Many continue to think that prayer is a

matter of us getting God to do our will. Except, of course, we don't

call what we want "our will." We usually paste our will on God, and

call it "His will."

     Jesus made is clear that God would answer every prayer that

is "according to His will." In other words, God wants to do His will.

And if we pray for that, it is like an invitation to Him. He will do it. But

as we have seen, it may take awhile for this to be executed. Yet

if something IS, in fact, God's will, there is no possibility that He will

fail to answer. We need to hang in there as did the poor widow in

our parable.

     We really need to get this straight: God will answer every prayer

according to His will with a resounding YES. But it is just as certain

that He will answer every prayer which is not His will with a NO. In

short, God will do only that which is HIS will. This is good news, not

bad news.

     Furthermore, God answers only prayer which is offered in faith.

But really, we cannot have faith for anything except God's will. Do

you realize that? Our faith finds it's source in God. We do not

generate it from ourselves. Thus, if something is not the will of God,

we cannot have the faith of Jesus Christ for it.

     What we can have is emotion, self-will, or deception. But those

things are not faith -- even though sometimes they can seem like it.

The reality is that I cannot "have the faith of Jesus" for anything

except those things which Jesus "has faith for." And that is GOD'S

WILL. Period.

     Lastly, I must pray "in the name of Jesus." This again leads us

back to God's will. For if I am praying "in the name of Jesus," I am

praying for whatever Jesus would pray for. He gives me no

authority to use His name otherwise. Thus, despite the fact that I

might use the words, "in the name of Jesus," Jesus authorizes the

use of His name for only that which is God's will.

     Using "the name of Jesus" also means I come before God, not

on my own merits, but on the merits of Jesus. This is wonderful,

because it means that if I am praying according to the will of God,

God will answer me just as surely as if Jesus were praying.

     These guidelines, or rules, for prayer, are intended to show us

that God has a will on this earth, for every situation. He would like

us to be vehicles through which His will is executed. Thus, we pray

for His will in our lives and the lives of others. We invite Him to

come in. And as He sees fit, and it agrees with His purpose, He

does answer us.

     God always answers our prayers according to His will. This is

why we need to pray according to His will. God, because He loves

us, won't deviate from His will.

     What if I don't KNOW the will of God. Often we don't. But we pray

that God will do His will anyways. "Not my will, but thine, " is what

Jesus said. Furthermore, part of the process of prayer is that by our

asking, we do grow to discern the will of God.


     When we have problems before us, we pray. That is good and

right. And it is true that God wants to solve those issues according

to His will. But there is something going on in these matters which

might escape us. It is really a greater purpose of God in prayer.

How many times when problems arise, and we spend perhaps

years praying about them, is the real result is MORE than just an

"answer" or resolution. In that process of praying, seeking God,

yielding to Him, we grow to know Him. In effect, when we pray, we

are not merely "getting a hold of an answer." We are "getting a hold

of God." Or better put, "God is getting a hold of us."

     And how could it be otherwise if prayer is communion with God?

If prayer is a matter of coming into the Light? Sure. I think I am

seeking God for answers. But I am seeking God Himself.

     Here is a great Truth: God wants to draw us into a closer and

closer communion with Himself. He wants to draw us into prayer.

Therefore, often God will allow or create problems in our life for the

purpose of getting us on our knees in prayer. THAT is why we are

going through what we are going through. God wants US.

     You see, we think that the problem is the thing. Well, God cares

about that. But He says, "I will handle that in good time. But what

I really want is YOU. I'm just using the problem to bring you closer

to Myself."

     Prayer is communion with God. And regardless of WHY we are

in prayer, it is still communion with God. And when we are in close

communion with God, we are in the Light. We are in a relationship

which will penetrate the greatest darkness.

     Here we see on reason why should continue in prayer no matter

what: God has bigger purposes for us than we can grasp. He does

want to answer our prayers. He wants us to have His will. But even

more importantly, God wants us to BECOME His will. The delay,

therefore, in God's answer, may be that He is presently molding us

into a shape which will fit His will.

     Do you truly WANT the will of God? Well, then be prepared to

BECOME His will. God cannot do His will in our lives any other way.

To give us His will, but not bring us into conformity with it would be

destructive to us. And frankly, why would we not want to BECOME

the will of God? This is the purpose for which we have been called.

And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the

Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to

the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good

to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his

purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be

conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn

among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them

he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and

whom He justified, them He also glorified. (Rom. 8:27-30)

     We often read verse 28, where Paul says that God works all

thing together for good, and leave it at that. But we need to read on

in order to discover WHAT GOOD it is that all things work together

toward! We need to keep reading to find out the PURPOSE for

which God has called us, and the PURPOSE unto which all things

work together for good. Paul tells us, "For those He did foreknow,

He did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son."

     THAT is the purpose for which we are called. THAT is the

purpose which lies behind all of God's workings. And it is certainly

His purpose in prayer. Through my communion with God in prayer,

God is doing a work in me which has a big part of conforming me

to His image.

     What is prayer?   Prayer is communion with God.  Be in

communion with God and the result is that you discern His mind and

His heart. You grow to know Him. This enables you and I to know

how to walk with Him in faith and obedience, and as a result to grow

into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

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