Prayer is an important part of the Christian life. It is the way we communicate with the Lord and praise Him. To understand the purpose of prayer, it is important to first understand what prayer is not. There are many wrong views in the world and culture about prayer, even among Christians, and these should be addressed first. Prayer is not:
- bargaining with God.
- making demands of God.
- only asking God for things.
- a therapeutic, meditation-type exercise.
- bothering God and taking up His time.
- a way to control the Lord.
- a way to show off one’s spirituality before others.
Many people believe that prayer is only about asking God for things. Although supplication is a part of prayer (Philippians 4:6), it is not the sole purpose of prayer. Praying for the needs of ourselves and others is needed and beneficial, but there is so much more to prayer. A. W. Tozer warned, “Prayer among evangelical Christians is always in danger of degenerating into a glorified ‘gold rush’” (Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings, compiled by Gerald Smith, Moody Publishers, 2008, entry for Feb. 26). But God is not a magical genie who answers our every wish, nor is He a weak God who can be controlled by our prayers.
The best way to learn about the purpose of prayer is studying the example of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Jesus prayed for Himself and for others, and He prayed to commune with the Father. John 17 is a great place to see Jesus’ use of prayer. He not only prays that the Father be glorified but also prays for His disciples and “for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20). Submitting to the Father’s will was another aspect to Jesus’ prayer life, highlighted in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). With any request we have, we must submit to God’s will.
In addition to interceding for others, prayer is also a way to strengthen our relationship with God. Jesus set the example, as He prayed to the Father throughout His earthly ministry (Luke 6:12; Matthew 14:23). Those in relationships will naturally seek to communicate with each other, and prayer is our communication with God. Other good examples in the Bible of those who spent time in prayer are David, Hezekiah, and Paul.
Ultimately, the main purpose of prayer is worship. When we pray to the Lord, recognizing Him for who He is and what He has done, it is an act of worship. There are many examples of prayer being an act of worship in the Bible, including 2 Kings 19:15, 1 Chronicles 17:20, Psalm 86:12–13, John 12:28, and Romans 11:33–36. How we pray should reflect this purpose; our focus should be on who God is, not on ourselves.
Interestingly, the model of prayer that Jesus gave the disciples in Matthew 6:9–13, known as the Lord’s Prayer, has all these elements. The first part includes praise and worship of God (Matthew 6:9), and then the second part moves on to praying for God’s will to be done (Matthew 6:10). After this, there is supplication for ourselves and others (Matthew 6:11–12), as well as asking for strength to deal with temptation (Matthew 6:13). Jesus modeled this prayer for His disciples, and it shows all the reasons for prayer with the central focus of worship.
Prayer is an important part of the Christian life, and one’s prayer life should be developed. Not only does prayer affect our lives and the lives of others, but it is also a way to communicate with the Lord and grow in our relationship with Him. At the heart of prayer is an act of worship to the Lord. God’s Word places an emphasis on the power and purpose of prayer, and, therefore, it should not be neglected.
Author Warren Wiersbe sums up the purpose of prayer well: “The immediate purpose of prayer is the accomplishing of God’s will on earth; the ultimate purpose of prayer is the eternal glory of God” (from On Earth as It Is in Heaven: How the Lord’s Prayer Teaches Us to Pray More Effectively, Baker Books, 2010, p. 78).