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The essence of prayer

By Femi Aribisala
Prayer belongs to the generation of Jacob; the generation of those who seek God’s face and not his hand.

Jesus says we should pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1). But why do we need to pray? God says: “I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them.” (Ezekiel 11:5). Why then do we have to tell God what he already knows? God does not only know all the thoughts we think, he even determines when we think them. Then why pray when God knows what we are going to say before we say it?

Why pray?

Solomon says: “The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:1). Then why pray if we can only say what God allows us to say? Solomon says furthermore: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21). Why pray then if it is God’s counsel that always holds? Why pray if God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways? (Isaiah 55:8).

Indeed, as with everything else, we only pray because God enables us to do so. Jesus says: “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). If God does not enable us, we cannot even pray. Thus the psalmist pleads with God: “Revive us, and we will call upon your name.” (Psalm 80:18).

But what is the point of praying to God if the initiative to pray itself comes from God himself? Why pray if, according to Jesus, prayer should always be “God’s will be done?” (Matthew 6:10). Why pray if, according to Hebrews, God’s counsel is immutable? (Hebrews 6:17). The wise man says: “Every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33). That means God is the first determinant of even the most random things we do or say.

Jesus prayed

We begin to understand the import of prayer when we look at Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2). Knowing what we now know about Jesus, that he is indeed the Lord God Almighty, it is significant that he spent a lot of time in prayer. Why would God need to pray? Why would God the Son pray continually to God the Father?

The answer immediately informs our understanding of the necessity for prayer. The Son needs to pray to the Father in order to have a continuing relationship with him. Without communication, there can be no relationship. Therefore, we also need to be prayerful, that we may have a continuing relationship with God.

The Prodigal Son went to a distant land, far away from the Father. He wrote no letters home. But Jesus came to a distant land far away from heaven and remained in constant communication with God. He wrote letters home every day. He skyped, sent text messages and emails. He also spent a fortune making inter-galactic phone-calls.

Prayer then primarily concretises our relationship with God. Indeed, the privilege of prayer is the evidence that a relationship exists. This is a critical part of our inheritance in Christ. Thanks to Jesus, we can now: “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16).

Prayer gives us intimacy with God whereby we get to know and comprehend his love that surpasses knowledge. (Ephesians 3:17-19). Of a truth, there are so many things that flesh and blood cannot reveal to us. Only God can.

Jeremiah says: “Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” (Jeremiah 42:3). The truth of the matter is that we don’t know our right from our left; we don’t know what to do. “The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23). Therefore, it is necessary to ask God for direction because: “A man’s steps are of the LORD.” (Proverbs 20:24).

Laundry list

However, Jesus never prayed a laundry list prayer, like most of us are wont to do. He never prayed Father give me this and that. On the contrary, he says: “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8). Well, if he knows already, why does Jesus counsel: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).

Prayer belongs to the generation of Jacob; the generation of those who seek God’s face and not his hand. (Psalm 24:6). When Jesus gave us a guideline for prayer, our daily bread was only 1 out of 10 petitions. Moreover, our daily bread is Jesus himself, the bread of life, and not just food that perishes. (John 6:27). When we ask, the primary thing we are to ask for is God himself. When we seek, the only thing we seek is the face and kingdom of God. When we knock, it is in order to enter into the glorious presence of God for: “in his presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11).

Like praise which God inhabits (Psalm 22:3), prayer attracts God. It brings God so much closer to us: “The Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him.” (Deuteronomy 4:7). “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18).

Friends of God

True Christianity is not a religion of rules and regulations like that practiced in many churches. True Christianity is a relationship: a relationship with God and with his Son Jesus. John says: “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3).

When we are prayerful, we become like Abraham, friends of God. (James 2:23). To such friends, God says: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10).

That is why prayer is particularly efficacious when we are in difficulty, in trouble or in over our heads. When we pray, we are saying like Jesus: “Not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). When we pray, we are inviting God into our situations and circumstances as poor and needy people because it is God who: “performs all things for (us).” (Psalm 57:2). When we pray, we are asking God for help and for deliverance.

When we pray, we receive strength from God. “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31). When Jesus prayed at Gethsemane: “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” (Luke 22:43).

When we pray: “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard (our) hearts and (our) minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7). Accordingly, God says the reason why we are overwhelmed in life is because: “You refuse to ask for my help.” (Isaiah 43:22).


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