The Bible is full of prayers. Herbert Lockyer says, "Exclusive of the Psalms, which form a prayer-book on their own, the Bible records no fewer than 650 definite prayers, of which no less than 450 have recorded answers." As early as Genesis 4:26 we read that "people began to call upon the name of the LORD." Recorded prayers allow the student of the Bible a glimpse of the prayers of others, at times providing the specific words and at other times only demonstrating that the individual engaged in prayer of some sort. Even communication between the Godhead—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is made available to us in the written Word. Biblical instructions include praying often (without ceasing in fact), with faithfulness and hope, for others and ourselves, in line with God's will, with and without words, and by divine help. We're given specifics for which to pray. The prayers of the Pharisees are condemned, and we hear warnings about wrongful prayer. We even read about disciples learning directly from our Savior specifically about how to pray. Yet in a book loaded with prayers, there is no clear and obvious definition of what prayer actually is.
For centuries theologians have attempted to define prayer. They diligently examine the various prayers contained within the Canon as well as the instruction and teaching on prayer. Through their findings, they've come to an understanding of prayer and attempt a definition. For example, Wayne Grudem says, "Prayer is personal communication with God." Millard Erickson argues that "Prayer is in large part, a matter of creating in ourselves a right attitude with respect to God’s will." Appealing to Psalm 27:8, John Mueller suggests the definition is, "the communion of a believing heart with God." And John Calvin, while not providing a clear definition of prayer, still says it is, "a kind of intercourse between God and men." As varied as all of these definitions are, they all seem to get at the same thing: a relationship between God and man.
God desires to be in relationship with his creation. Nothing in the Bible could be clearer. In fact, the Bible itself—God's Word—is a merciful revelation intended as a mechanism of communication that draws us into a relationship with its divine Author. God is reaching out to us, calling us into a relationship with himself. Prayer is an important aspect of this relationship.
Jesus teaching was purposed to draw all men into a salvific relationship with the Trinity. Notice that Jesus proclaims, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8); but James 4:2 says, "You do not have, because you do not ask" and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 instructs that we should "pray without ceasing." Is this some kind of contradiction? Why would God want us to pray if he already knows our needs? Because he wants a relationship with us! Jesus paints a beautiful picture of this relationship in Luke 11:9-13:
"And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"Do you see the relational factors in Jesus' plea? “Ask!” he says, as if almost begging. And look at the question and answer that follows. Father, children, good gifts. Jesus desperately wants his disciples to enter into this relationship and he wants them to pray.
Prayer is about a relationship with God.
1. Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible: A Devotional and Expositional Classic (Grand Rapids: Mich, Zondervan, 1959), Publisher’s Forward.
2. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Mich, Zondervan, 1994), 376.
3. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Mich, Baker Academics, 1998), 431.
4. John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Miss, Concordia, 1934), 428-429.
5. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody: Mass, Hendrickson, 2008), 564.