The majority of Christians – perhaps all Christians, or people of Faith come to a point when they think or ask, “What is the purpose of Prayer?” And most certainly we have faced that moment of asking why God did not answer our prayers. I prayed to receive that promotion – I prayed for that healing. I prayed for that new house. I prayed for that…
We lean on passages in Scripture that say things like God giving us our desires, and prospering us. The Lord’s Prayer even exemplifies the idea with the words, ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ These, and other Scriptures can be taken as proof-text for a more Charismatic styled prosperity outlook on our Christian life. Ask and you will be given, right? But each and every one of us faces the reality that not all the desires of our hearts are granted. So then what is the reason we pray?
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
The topic of prayer is larger than one short blog post can expound upon but it’s worth a starting point, and this will be the first in two or three articles. For those of us in the faith community, we see prayer as our phone-line with God. It is how we talk to our creator, how we ‘text our bestie’ to put it into Millennial vernacular. Yet – even in this simple human life, when we text our bestie – we have a reason behind our check-in. A purpose for our call. More often than not, we want something.
When inspecting my past I started to understand why I struggled with this topic so much. Prayer in my former religion was quite prescribed. It had a method. A minimum time/investment requirement. A logbook to sign each day to show you had prayed. It had a particular sound. It needed to be fervent. (James 5:16) It was blood, sweat, and tears. When the Christ prayed in the garden, he certainly wasn’t kneeled down with crossed hands mumbling a silent little ditty. Right?
Well, that’s what I was taught to believe. In fact, we often mocked people who prayed in conversational tones. And we knew, with no ambiguity, that any prayer starting with ‘Father God…’ was bound to be a droll of ineffective mumblings. Even praying over our meals starting with a rousing Oooooh Goooood and continued into ‘fervent’ prayers.
Yet, neither is right nor is either wrong. For it is not the performance that matters but rather the purpose and request. I am convinced that if I whisper, “Father, thank you for the meal you have provided me and my family.”, that it will be as heard and as effective of a prayer as if I dropped into my former life and prayed, with much enthusiasm, many words and volume, “Oooh Jesuuuuusssss, THANK YOU for this food-ah, that I could not-ah and would NOT have-ah, without your blessings. Loooooord-Ah we need you here with us today-ah..” (you get the point)
The Meaning of the Word Pray
In the English Standard Version of the New Testament, the word Pray is found 56 times, in 53 verses and found 87 times throughout the King James Version. The English word ‘pray’ is translated from multiple Greek/Aramaic words throughout the New Testament. Looking at their meanings and contexts are valuable, but exhaustive. For brevity, I’ll not list all verse, but there are ten Greek words translated as ‘pray’ and 12 Hebrew words used as ‘pray’ or ‘prayer’. A few are;
The Greek word προσεύχομαι (pronounced pros-yoo’-khom-ahee) is found throughout the (three) Synoptic Gospels and means to worship, to supplicate, to beg. This is found in the Strong’s Biblical Concordance, #G4336. This word is not found in the Gospel of John. There are (5) locations in the King James Version where the word ‘pray’ is found and it is translated from a different word. Most other translations use the word ‘ask’ instead of ‘pray’.
The Greek word ἐρωτάω (pronounced er-o-tah’-o) is found in the King James Version 58 times and is translated as ‘pray’ in the Gospel of John whereas other versions translate this to the word ‘ask’. This word means to interrogate, or by implication to request, to ask, to beseech, desire, intreat, pray. This is found in Strongs Biblical Concordance #G2065
The Greek word εὔχομαι (pronounced yoo’-khom-ahee) is found in the King James version 7 times and means to wish, by implication to pray to God. This is found in Strongs Biblical Concordance, #G2172.
This is just a sample of the words used and it becomes interesting that different words are used throughout the New Testament, at different times. Why?
The Purpose of Prayer
For instance, as noted above, the Gospels translate different words to mean Pray amongst different translations, but not all. Knowing that the culture in which the Bible was written (Primarily Jewish) had different words for different contexts with the same basic meaning, this makes a difference in understanding the word. While I was learning Russian it was very similar. To reference someone’s ethnicity, such as American, was different based on gender, while the word ‘amerikanskiy‘ references the country as a global meaning.
Example: In English, we use the same word to indicate that we should read a book, or that we have read a book. Same word, different chronological meaning or context. Past vs. Present or Future tense. In other languages, they would have used a different word for each context, and we see this playing out with pray.
In some contexts, prayer was a form of worship. In other contexts, it was a form of sacrificial love, such as when Jesus said to ‘pray for those that abuse you.’ (Luke 6:28) And in others, it was to request something of God, such as when Jesus said, ‘Pray the Lord to send laborers to the harvest.’ (Luke 10:2) In another sense, prayer was a self-encouraging support mechanism, such as when Jesus said, “Pray that you enter not into temptation.” (Luke 22:40) And, as to the example of Prayer Jesus gave us, it includes many of these aspects – not as a prayer to be repeated, but to pray with an understanding of what prayer is in its totality.
And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” ~ Luke 11:2-4, ESV
In a sense, Jesus said that our prayers should be molded and modeled after this idea;
- Worship the God who is Holy,
- Worship the God who came and is to come again,
- Request that God provides us just enough of what we need, knowing He is our source (daily bread)
- Beg God to forgive our sins, our shortcomings and our trespasses, as we know we must do the same for those who owe us and who also beg us for forgiveness, more time to pay, etc.
- Point us in the way that would remove temptations from our lives
In essence, prayer was a realization that everything we have, everything we need, and everything we will be and come in to contact with is in relation to God’s Sovereignty. Prayer isn’t a repetition of the words of Christ, nor do I believe that is what Christ meant when he said, ‘When you pray, say…’. The ‘Sinners Prayer’ you’ll find in a Gideon Bible is a template of heartfelt repentance and dependence on God but the power is not in repeating those words in that exact order.
Prayer is neither the prescribed, monitored and controlled fervency of my past nor the turn-style slot machine method of the prosperity of the Name it and Claim It movement of today. Prayer isn’t a method of ‘getting what you want’, or getting God to ‘do what you ask’.
Prayer is multifaceted, intricate yet simple, beautiful and purposeful. I’ll expound on more examples of prayer in Part #2 but I’ve learned that for me, prayer is primarily an individual reminder and supplication to God, to remind myself that He is in charge, that He holds the reigns, that He is to be worshipped. To take ‘me’ out as the stories primary antagonist and to place him as the stories main character.
Too often prayer is me complaining. Sometimes, prayer is me wishing for something else. Sometimes, prayer is me wishing God would change so and so. Sometimes it is me wishing God would change me. Sometimes it is me wishing God would do something for someone else. Sometimes…
The reality is, it is all right, and it is all wrong.
There is far too much me in those prayers. Far too much of my will, my desires, my wants and my wishes. And it isn’t all wrong, even Jesus prayed for the cup of Gall to pass from him, but, he said, “Nevertheless, not my desire, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
In modern vernacular, Jesus was saying, Son to the Father, I would rather not have to go through this situation, but I know I’m here to do your will, and I will do it, to your Glory! Some have inaccurately and nearly heretically attempted to claim this was the weakness of a subordinate and created being begging God not to allow him to suffer, when really it was the Sinless Son who came to be an example for us, exemplifying how far we should go in fulfilling (and some indeed would go) God’s will.
Prayer is a personal connection with God, a channel to the Divine, but also to remind ourselves of His purposes, His Sovereignty, and His Will for our lives. Prayer isn’t to gain prosperity, prayer isn’t to coerce and direct God, and it certainly isn’t to demand and require things of God. We make our prayers and supplications (beggings) known to God, (Philippians 4:6) but He also knows what we need before we even think to ask Him for it. (Matthew 6:8)