The Heart and Purpose of Prayer

A man praying outside.

Prayer is the way we communicate with God. As mysterious as it might seem to talk directly with the Almighty, the Bible assures us that prayer is a two-way conversation between God and us. 

God made sure humanity has the opportunity to tell Him our concerns, worries, requests, and praises. 

But prayer is more than just talking to God. It’s a time to listen for the voice of God as well. 

So how does it all work?

Let’s learn more about:

  • Why and how we pray
  • What affects our prayers
  • Different types of prayers
  • How Jesus prayed, and
  • What we can learn from Him
A young woman with her hands folded in prayer and looking up.

Why and how we pray—and to whom?

When you think of God, who He is, and how He relates to mankind, what picture do you see? Too often He is pictured as a God who is distant from humans. Some think He is a God who has no dealings of communication with man. But the Bible paints a very different picture. 

In scripture, the Almighty God seeks to have an intimate connection with His children. How we can commune with Him is through the means of prayer.

We can pray directly to Him, in the name of His son Jesus, who died for our redemption. We don’t need a mediator in our communication with God, as Jesus is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Jesus prayed, in John 17:20-21, for his disciples, and for all who would believe in Christ through their word. His prayer was that they “may be one” in God. 

How powerful! Jesus’ prayer was the desire of the Creator of the universe, dwelling in the flesh. He was praying that all who hear the word of God will have an experience of trusting God through a love relationship with Him. 

This is the heart of prayer, to experience God’s presence in your life. 

Furthermore, when we get to know God through prayer, we become aligned with His will.  

When Moses went up to receive the Ten Commandments, the children of Israel rebelled. They worshipped the golden calf. As Moses returned, he was distraught and upset they had so soon forgotten God’s ways and His goodness. So Moses prays. But take note of this powerful prayer.  

“Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people” (Exodus 33:13, NKJV).

Moses understood the heart and purpose of prayer. He prayed he might know God and have a deeper experience with Him. But notice that he prays, “…show me now Your way…” to know God. 

The word “way” found in this verse can be translated in two different forms throughout scripture. 

The first is like a pathway, it’s the direction or journey that God desires for us to walk down. 

The second is more than this. It’s the actions, conduct and manner God desires us to display on this journey. 

Simply put, Moses sought the Lord to know Him. This looked like aligning himself with the impulses and mission of the God of the universe. 

This was a prayer of faith from the lips of Moses. It was plain and simple. It wasn’t some performance, but a real conversation with God. 

A young man holding a Bible and praying.

But there’s just one problem. It’s good to seek God’s pathway. Furthermore, it’s good to seek how we are to live and represent Him on that pathway.  But where does one get the power to do it? 

This has been the cry of humanity throughout history. Paul pens it this way, “…to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans 7:18, NKJV). 

But returning to the prayer of Moses, God provides the answer. 

“…My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14, ESV). 

That’s the answer. The answer is His presence. God’s presence in your life through the Holy Spirit dwelling in you will bring power. It will bring peace, and Christ in your heart (Acts 1:8; John 14:26,27; Ephesians 3:16,17). 

God’s very presence can be experienced through prayer.

“Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him,” said Ellen G. White, a prominent founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Prayer is the means given to humanity that provides the power to align their lives with God. Through prayer, we may know and experience His grace in our lives. 

Prayer is so much more than reciting a wishlist. We don’t want to limit God to a cosmic vending machine when He desires to be so much more in our lives. He wants to be our character builder, our loving Father who refines us as we grow and mature. 

When life is good and easy, or when life is tough and hard, He invites us to seek His will in the midst of it all. To live conscious of His presence, and be at peace (Isaiah 26:3). 

Furthermore, He calls us to not only seek Him in prayer but to have faith, believing that He will answer (Mark 11:24).

An open Bible

Conditions of Prayer in the Bible

Throughout Scripture there are numerous prayers that can encourage us. These prayers demonstrate how people have called upon God to know Him. 

As you read the following examples, take note of the conditions we may expect God to hear and answer our prayers. 

Jacob, when faced with impending danger from his brother, prayed to the Lord in faith. He acknowledged that he was “unworthy of all the favor and of all the faithfulness” God had shown to him. Yet, he relied wholly on the promises of God.

“God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the favor and of all the faithfulness, which You have shown to Your servant; for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. 

Save me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will assuredly make you prosper and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be counted.’” (Genesis 32:10-12 NASB)

In this prayer, we find Jacob

  • Claiming God’s promises
  • Acknowledging his sinfulness
  • Expressing faith in God’s will

Faith, in simple terms, is “being fully convinced that what He [God] had promised He was also able to perform” (Romans 4:21, NKJV). Even if we’re afraid our faith is weak, when we call upon God, we are exercising it and growing it. God is seeking to turn our doubts into a strong faith. He will help your faith grow.

Another powerful prayer in the Bible is the plea spoken by a tax collector. In Luke 18:9-14 we find these words, 

“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other…” (NKJV)

The Bible open on a wooden table with a branch over it.

These words also point out two important conditions of prayer:

  • Realizing our need of help from God
  • Confession of sin

Realizing our great need and trusting God’s fullness will open our hearts to receive Him. 

Moreover, the Bible also teaches that if we are hiding away anger, selfishness, greed, etc., in our hearts, we limit God from being able to work with us (Psalm 66:18). 

If we choose to trust ourselves and cherish things like pride, we push God away. We’re told sin is the very thing that separates us from our loving, merciful God who is ready to forgive and save (Isaiah 59:1,2). When all known sins are confessed and made right, we can pray to God and trust He will answer. 

The most inspiring prayers in Scripture proceed from the mouth of our loving Saviour. Each one of these prayers provides glimpses into the truth about prayer. His prayers were always of a pure motive, glorifying God (John 12:28; James 4:3). 

Let’s look at the powerful prayer Christ prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. 

“And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began praying that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. 

And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:35,36, NASB).

Here we see the God of the universe showing an example for humanity amid suffering (1 Peter 2:21). 

Although Christ was in agony, He sought God’s will that He may obey it (1 John 3:22; 5:14). He knew that the best option was to cling to God, and His will, no matter what. 

That was His safety, and God invites us to do the same. 

A man standing and looking out at the sky at sunset.

No matter what struggles or pain you may be going through, you can cling to Christ through prayer. 

God isn’t the one who brings the troubles and pain into your life. Sometimes these things are results of our own choices, and other times they’re simply the result of sin, which originated with the devil (1 John 3:8). But God promises that when you come to Him, seeking help, He is there for you.

You may claim His promises and trust that when you “pass through the waters” of doubt and trial, He will be with you. You won’t be overtaken (Isaiah 43:2, NKJV). God’s presence will guide you. For there can be many “afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivers them out of them all” (Psalm 34:19, NKJV).

One of the hardest parts of prayer is when we feel as if God hasn’t answered an earnest plea. It’s not always easy to understand why He chooses to say, “No.” Or why He chooses to say, “Wait.”

It’s important to remember that God’s timing is not always our timing. He knows the beginning from the end. He knows how all things will work together for our good (Romans 8:28). 

Part of faith is knowing our perspective is severely limited, and trusting God to know what’s best for us—even when things just feel wrong. God’s plan may not be what you expect, but His plan is always best!

A man and a young girl volunteering wearing shirts that say 'how can I pray for you?'

Types of Prayer

There are different types of prayer you may use in different occasions/settings. Some of the types of prayer include: 

Intercessory prayer. This is when you pray on behalf of someone else who is in need. Whether it’s spiritual or physical, intercession is praying that God will work in their life. 

An example of this type of prayer is when Abraham pleads with God for the city of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-33). Or when Moses prayed that his sister Miriam would be healed (Numbers 12:13). Another time was when he stood between the gap for the Israelites when they had worshipped the golden calf (Exodus 32:11,14). Moses was praying for God to have mercy on the Israelites!

These examples are all glimpses of the ultimate intercessor. “…Christ Jesus is He who died, but rather, was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34, NASB). Jesus prayed in John 17, not only interceding for His disciples but, for everyone who would believe in Him through their word. His desire was for them to be saved; to experience unity with God and with each other (John 17:21).

Why intercessory prayer is important for the Christian today is because when we pray for others, we are asking for God to work in their life. This can be a way in which believers can join Christ in His work of saving souls for eternity. Paul exhorts Timothy, “…that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1, NKJV). 

Not only is it a privilege to intercede for others, but it is a duty that God gives to Christians. Today we can intercede for family members, friends and colleagues. We can pray for God to work in their lives, bringing them to salvation. 

Sad woman crying next to her friend who is comforting her

Prayers of forgiveness. This is when you come to God with a sincere and repentant heart and ask for His forgiveness for your sins. 

We see this so clearly in the life of David when he prayed and sought forgiveness from God. He said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalms 51:10-12, ESV). 

When Daniel was praying to God, confused about a vision and prophecy, he pleaded for forgiveness. He realized that sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1,2), but through forgiveness we can find peace, understanding, and guidance. 

O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name” (Daniel 9:19, NKJV). 

Pauls writes to the church of Colossae and encourages them to bear “…with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:13, NKJV). 

It brings great joy to our heavenly Father for us to experience His forgiveness. And we can also experience a calming joy when we forgive those who do wrong to us.

Praying for forgiveness is so important for Christians today. In the journey of sanctification and becoming more like Christ, there will always be times when we mess up (Proverbs 24:16). It’s through seeking and receiving God’s forgiveness we learn to yield to His authority (Psalms 130:4) and find grace for victory in the Christian life (1 Corinthians 15:57).

A group of people at a church praying for someone with their hands on him.

Corporate prayer is when you’re praying with a group of people unified in one accord. This may be when the family comes together to pray, perhaps during worship. 

We find a prominent example of this when the apostles came together in preparation for the day of Pentecost. “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers… When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 1:14; 2:1, NKJV).

In the life of Christ we find He saw importance in corporate prayer. “Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28, NKJV). 

Praying together with others leads to revival (2 Chronicles 7:14). And in doing so we, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2). 

Young man standing by the window with his eyes closed.

Secret prayer or personal prayer is when you pray alone. This prayer is the most important prayer for the Christian. It is the strength and life of the soul. 

For, when we come with our lives opened to Him, the Bible says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, NKJV). We can lift our prayers to God in the secret place or when we are walking in the street. 

If there’s a perfect example of secret prayer, it’s in the life of Jesus. He constantly would be taking the time to find a secluded place and call upon the Father (Mathew 14:13; Luke 5:16, 6:12, 22:41,42). Even in the busiest or most distressing times, Christ could be found in prayer. 

This is a strong message for us today. You can pray a silent prayer in the busiest of circumstances. And you can know God inclines His ear to your petitions (Psalm 116:2). When we pray, we receive power for the Christian life. By abiding in prayer throughout the day, we can walk with Christ and bear fruit to His glory (John 15:4, 5).

A prayer group sitting in chairs outside in a circle.

Practical Prayer From the Life of Christ

The Bible tells us that if we desire to abide in Jesus, we should align our lives with His (1 John 2:6). This means that His life is our example. We can look to Him each day and behold His words and His actions. In choosing to live like Christ, the Spirit of God will supply the strength needed (2 Corinthians 3:18; Acts 5:32). 

Here are some practical prayer points that you can consider and practice:

“And in the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and prayed there for a time.” (Mark 1:35, NASB)

“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16, NASB)

  • Jesus would rise early in the morning to pray and seek His heavenly Father.
  • Jesus found a quiet and solitary place to pray.
  • Jesus would often pray throughout the day.

“Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.“ (Luke 9:28, NKJV)

And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31, 32, NKJV)

  • Jesus not only prayed alone, but He prayed with others.
  • Jesus prayed for people by name.
  • Jesus prayed that others may deepen their connection with God.
A husband and wife holding hands on a table.

The prayer life of Christ can both be inspiring and, at times, seem overwhelming. The simple point here is the Savior of humanity saw the need to pray earnestly and constantly. How much more do we need prayer? 

We can seek God with reverence, acknowledging Him as the creator—yet He even says He is our Friend (John 15:15)! We can pray earnestly to truly know Him and His ways. 

God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Christ can save all who approach God by Him, and we can approach Him through prayer (Hebrews 7:25).

Through prayer, we can receive the power to be aligned with God. We can experience His life-changing presence in our lives. 

Even though it’s easy to get busy, prayer is something God wants from us and it’s something that can do a tremendous amount of good for us! Imagine what it would be like if we truly brought everything to God in prayer. 

As the old hymn says, 

“What a privilege to carry 
everything to God in prayer. 
oh, what peace we often forfeit; 
oh, what needless pain we bear. 
All because we do not carry 
everything to God in prayer.”

Let your love for Christ grow and flourish as you pray to your Creator, who loves you dearly. 

Want to learn more about prayer? Check out these Bible Study options that focus on deepening your prayer life.


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