“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Before we get into types and techniques, it might be useful to address a fundamental question first: why pray? After all, an omniscient God not only knows what’s in our hearts and minds—what we’re going to say—He also knows what’s going to happen. So why should we go into our prayer closet, put on our prayer shawl, kneel down on our prayer rug?
Well, the short answer is easy. We’re Christians. Christians strive to be like Jesus. Jesus prayed. So should we.
As true as it is, we’re usually looking for more of an answer than that. It might be helpful to know why Jesus prayed.
Above all else in the Gospels, Jesus modeled for us what it meant to be in relationship with God. Original sin destroyed that relationship and Jesus came to restore it. The basis of that restored relationship with God is prayer.
Can you imagine being in a relationship with someone—let’s call him ‘Dave.’ But you never talk to Dave? And he never talks to you. What kind of relationship would that be? Others could tell us all kinds of things about Dave. We could read things that Dave said and wrote down. We could even spend time in the same room with Dave. But without speaking to Dave and without Dave speaking to us, we wouldn’t really know him. A real relationship would be impossible.
Similarly, reading what others have written about God, listening to others talk about Him, even reading what He has written—all are invaluable. Taken all together, they still fall short of the mark if your goal is to be in a real relationship with God.
So we pray. We speak to God. He speaks to us.
It’s an expression of our heartfelt faith and belief in Him. It provides continuing spiritual renewal. We pray to thank God and to praise Him. We pray to have our sins forgiven. We pray on behalf of our family and friends. We pray for guidance and wisdom and strength.
Does it matter that He knows what’s on our minds? Does it matter if your child asks you for a toy they’ve been talking about for three days? Does it matter if you tell your wife you love her? There’s something about the verbal expression of a thought that gives it more power. (That’s why some recommend speaking your prayers out loud even if you’re alone.) But even thoughts intentionally directed to God are meaningful to Him. Otherwise He wouldn’t have encouraged us to share not just the big issues in our lives but also the small, seemingly insignificant ones. What’s important to God seems to have less to do with what’s being shared and more to do with the sharing itself. Besides--and perhaps more important--if we don't bring things to Him, aren't we saying, in effect, we can handle it ourselves? What appears to be a humble 'I-don't-want-to-bother-God-with-this' may actually be a not so humble 'I'll-handle-it-myself.'
So we thank Him, praise Him, we confess to Him. And we ask for things. For ourselves. For others.
George Barna, the famous pollster of American Christians, tells us that 90% of Americans say they pray. (How many actually do is known only to God.) But a large number of those 90% say they are not sure that their prayers make any difference. Barna didn’t say what percentage of those prayers were asking for something. We suspect it might be the majority. Maybe by a wide margin. Can an omniscient God be influenced by prayer?
The Bible shows us He can be. Experience for many of us reinforces the point. And while we can’t get into a full blown discussion of free will versus predestination right here, suffice it to say that God has given us plenty of “wiggle room.” There are things that are the absolute will of God and they will be done no matter what. Then there are the things that fall under what could be called God’s preferences or desires. That’s where our own free will comes into play. He desires—prefers—for us all to be in relationship with him, but obviously he allows many not to be, based on choices they make. And finally, there seem to be things that God neither wills directly nor prefers or desires, but allows to occur anyway, knowing all things will eventually work for the good of His kingdom since he is all-powerful. Satan’s fall from heaven might be an example. Moses, Abraham, and others appeared to have had the opportunity to “change God’s mind.” So our prayers can have an effect, either great or small.
What's more, it appears that God has so arranged His creation that He often chooses to work through us humans. For instance, in 1 Kings 18:1, God told Elijah that He would send rain after three years of drought. But God waited for Elijah to pray for that rain 7 times before the drops began to fall. Certainly God could have sent the rain on His own. But for some reason, He wanted to partner with a praying Elijah.
Similarly, He waited for someone to step up and pray for forgiveness in Ezekiel 22:30 & 31. No one did, so God proceeded with His judgment. Otherwise, He might have taken a different course of action like He did in Numbers 14:11-20, when He pardoned rebellious Israelites because of Moses' intercession.
The idea that God intends to work through humans was underlined when Jesus became human to lead humans back into a relationship with God. Praying every step of the way.
Too often we pray only in a crisis, when we're feeling completely helpless and there's nowhere else to turn. There's nothing wrong with that, despite the old joke about the atheist and the bear. The problem is our failure to realize we are ALWAYS completely helpless and there is NEVER anywhere else to turn. Sooner or later, any illusion of any control we think we have, however slight, will evaporate.
So why should we pray? Prayer is how we plug ourselves into and participate in the Kingdom of God, here on earth. Just as Jesus taught us.