People do pray. Survey after survey reveals an overwhelming 80 percent of Americans pray, with one study by Brandeis University placing it as high as 90 percent! But how many know what prayer is?
In the modern world, prayer is often talked about as merely an emotional or psychological support. The National Institutes of Health released a study showing that most use prayer as an “alternative medicine” or mental therapy.
But is that what prayer really is?
Instead of turning to surveys and doctors, let’s look at how the Bible defines prayer. It makes sense to seek God’s definition of prayer; after all, Christians are commanded to pray to Him!
What Is Prayer?
“Pour out your heart before [God],” exhorted David in Psalm 62:8. Pouring your heart out to God is a clear, simple description given by King David, a man who prayed often and whose prayers were so meaningful and effective, God recorded many of them for us today.
This shows prayer is not some kind of ritual to conform to, or a boring duty. It’s not something given by rote memory, repeated over and over. Instead, prayer is conversation!
It is a personal, intimate and understanding communication with God.
Through proper prayer, we converse with the true God, like a son or daughter would to their father. We pour our hearts out to Him. We share with Him our innermost thoughts, fears, dreams and much more.
Through this conversation we get to know our spiritual Father just like we would get to know our physical father. Some may have never known their father, but even our friendships can teach us a lot about talking to God.
If you invited a friend over to your house, you would expect normal conversation. There might be times it would get emotional, but it would be appropriate emotion that wouldn’t get the neighbors wondering what’s going on. It’s personal, respectful, engaging and appropriate for the relationship. Talking to God shouldn’t be different.
This becomes clear when you imagine your friends talking to you in the way they pray. Assuming they pray, what would that look like?
Some friends might be fearful to talk to you because they weren’t a prefect friend. You would have barely any conversation, if any at all!
Maybe most of your friends would only talk to you when they needed a favor and leave it at that. Can I borrow your car? Can you recommend me for a job? You would want to help, but over time, your friendship would fail because you friend is only in the relationship for himself or herself.
Some friends might talk to you using a standard formula they memorized from youth. Your conversation might be the same thing every day: How are you? My day is going well. How are you? My day is going well. How are you? … you get the point. You’d stop listening to your friend and never invite him over again.
Others might shoot for quantity over quality, not caring what they’re talking about, but just talking. This wouldn’t be as bad as some of the previous conversations, but no deep connection would be formed, and, in the end, the relationship would be empty.
Some friends might only speak to you in strong emotional outbursts and physical demonstrations. Instead of talking to you they would sing songs, speaking in unknown tongues, maybe even fall to the floor and roll on the ground!
A rare friend might even try to talk to you in old fashioned English: How art thou doing, friend? Maybe they would only talk to you after lighting some candles, burning some incense or ringing bells.
The possibilities are endless! Your friends would talk to you in the sincere belief that is the best way to reach you, but in the end, unless they asked you or bothered to get to know you, it wouldn’t forge the strongest relationship.
Obviously, people don’t talk that way to you. But the point is God doesn’t want you to talk to Him that way either. He wants to build a relationship, a friendship even, and that is done through a natural conversation in a proper attitude with the proper respect. No rituals; no rhetoric.
When we do this, we will start getting to know God, just like with our own relationships. How many times have we held a preconceived idea of a person, only to have it blown away when we spend some time talking with them? Prayer works the same way!
What Prayer Isn’t
Prayer goes far beyond just some mental therapy. Prayer is not about getting an emotional high or feeling good. Most of the time you will feel better for getting things off your mind, but if you’re in a trying time, you may not. That doesn’t mean you didn’t get through to God though, because prayer is not about striving for some emotional or mental high, it’s about communicating with God!
Perhaps one of the reasons why so many relegate prayer to a mental exercise is because their prayers aren’t being answered. People praying with that mindset, though, will never have their prayers answered! Pouring out our hearts to God is about approaching Him in the right way. God says He is weary of those who “draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). Jesus Christ said “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Just saying a prayer, especially one in an indifferent attitude, doesn’t mean God will hear or answer. If, however, you are sincerely seeking God out, and He doesn’t answer your prayers, don’t give up! Read our article “Why God Is Not Real to Most People.” It will help give you the answer to your unanswered prayers.
Also if you don’t know what to pray about, here’s a plan that will help you get started: ”The 30-Plus Program.”