4 Min Read


Prayer “is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 98). It is one of the most important spiritual disciplines, and we can offer up prayers to God individually as well as corporately with other believers. Prayer may be spontaneous, offered at a moment’s notice and without following any specific model, or it may be more formal and liturgical, offered according to a specific pattern given in Scripture


Prayer occurs whenever we speak to God with our lips or with our minds, and it is one of the most common expressions of faith and devotion in the Christian life. The practice of prayer arises from the Scriptures, which testify that God’s people have prayed to Him from the very beginning of His dealings with humanity. The Bible records many of the prayers offered during biblical times, gives us models for prayer, and commands us to “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17).

The definition of prayer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism (see above) includes the core elements of Christian prayer. Just as the biblical saints expressed their desires for salvation, healing, the victory of God’s appointed king, and more, we are to offer our desires to God in prayer. These desires must be made according to God’s will, for the Lord gives us what we ask for only when we ask for things that conform to His will. It is simple to pray for things according to His revealed moral will, which is found in Scripture. When we ask for what God wants for us in our sanctification, He will give it to us. Much of what we pray for, however, is related to God’s decretive will. For example, we often pray for things such as healing, a new job, a spouse, and for other specific things in our individual lives about which Scripture does not speak directly. We may certainly pray for such things, but as we do not know God’s will ahead of time regarding such things—they belong to the secret things not revealed by the Lord—we cannot expect that God will always give us what we want in these areas.

Prayer is to be offered in the name of Christ, for we are told to ask for things in His name. We are also to confess our sins in prayer, knowing that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins if we trust in Christ (1 John 1:9). Thanksgiving is also a core element of God-honoring prayer. Just as the failure to give thanks to God is the root of sin, so the offering of thanksgiving to God is the root of holiness.

Although we may find prayer difficult at times, many models for prayer have been developed throughout church history to help believers develop a consistent prayer life. However, we dare not overlook the Bible itself as a model of prayer. The book of Psalms, in particular, is a book for songs that can be prayed, allowing us to pray word for word to the Lord using His Word to us, or we can develop our own prayers according to how the psalms are structured, reflecting the concerns they express. The Psalms, in fact, are a rich source for prayer, and we do well to have a prayer life that includes the various kinds of prayers found in the Psalter, such as psalms of thanksgiving, psalms of lament, imprecatory psalms, and wisdom psalms.

Jesus was known as a Man of prayer, and He gives us essential instruction on prayer in the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer includes the key elements that should be found in our prayers and directs us to the concerns that we should pray for preeminently. It is particularly important that we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom and the hallowing of His name. While our individual needs and concerns are important to the Lord and should be offered up in prayer, we should be praying first and foremost for the advance of the kingdom of God in our lives, in the church, and in the world.

Christians can be confident that God works in and through the prayers of His people in order to bring His perfect will to pass. Our prayers do not change God’s mind, but they can change our circumstances as the Lord intervenes to respond to our requests. We can also be assured that God knows what is best for His people and that He is working for our good and His glory, whether He says yes or no to our requests. God wants to hear from us, so we should never hesitate to go to Him in the name of Jesus. By His atoning sacrifice, Christ has opened the way for us to enter into God’s heavenly temple when we pray. That is a great privilege indeed.


The necessity and utility of this exercise of prayer no words can sufficiently express.

John Calvin

Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.2

Nothing is so necessary as that we should continually resort to the ear of God, call upon Him, and pray to Him, that He would give, preserve, and increase in us faith and the fulfilment of the Ten Commandments, and that He would remove everything that is in our way and opposes us therein.

Martin Luther

Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer 1

Prayer has a vital place in the life of a Christian. One might pray and not be a Christian, but one cannot be a Christian and not pray.