What is a prayer?
Now that is a concise question! Ha! Of course, it cannot be answered so concisely…but I will try.
What is prayer?
We can always begin by defining prayer according to the standard English, Greek, and Hebrew dictionaries, but I think that the person who asks “What is prayer?” is not so much looking for the dictionary definition of prayer, but rather, how to pray, and how to see answers to prayer.
So in trying to answer the question, “What is prayer?” I think the simplest and most practical answer is best.
You see, most people learn about prayer by listening to others pray, and this often leads to some very bad prayer habits and practices. Most people, when they pray, seem to think that prayer requires a spiritual tone of voice, a new set of words, a sing-songy cadence and rhythm, and maybe even the repetition of certain words or phrases.
So it is not uncommon to hear people pray this way::
Father God in heaven, holy art thou above all things, and thy name, Father God, is worthy to be praised, Father God. Hallelujah! Praise Jeeeezus! Can I hear an Amen?
Oh, Father God, Lord God, Holy Jesus, we come before you today, as your children, Father God, to beseech you with our many needs, Father God. But before we do so, oh Holy Father in Heaven, we ask thee to forgive us for our many sins. We have failed thee in so many ways, Father God, so that as the prophet Isaiah says, all our righteous works are as filthy rags before thee, Father God! And so we thank thee for sending thy holy Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe and the master of all, the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world, to die for our sins on that wretched cross, oh holy Father God, – Hallalejujah! – praise Jesus – so that we might be forgiven of our many trespasses against you, Father God…
And the prayer goes on this way for many minutes. What is prayer? Not this. The person doing the praying will often work himself up into a bit of a frenzy, until he is shouting and shaking, and people who are listening are nodding their heads, shouting “AMEN!” “HALLELUJAH!” “PRAISE JESUS!” and so on.
This may not be your practice in praying, but it is a common practice and illustrates that when it comes to the question of “What is prayer?” we often learn what prayer is not by thinking about prayer or learning from Scripture what prayer is, but rather learning by watching and listening to others pray, and frankly, we learn some very bad practices this way.
Even if you do not pray the way I have written above, listen to yourself pray sometime, and ask yourself, “Where did I learn how to pray this way?” Why am I saying these certain words? Why am I changing my voice? Why am I bowing my head and folding my hands? Why am I closing my eyes? Why do I pray to Jesus, or to the Holy Spirit? Why do I repeat this certain phrase over and over, or use those certain words?
So when it comes to asking, “What is prayer?” I like to tell people that prayer is nothing more than talking to God as you would talk to a spouse or a friend. Of course, although I have said it is “nothing more” than that, prayer is certainly nothing less! Think about it! The fact that we can talk to God as a man would talk to a friend! There is no idea more shocking, more amazing!
People are often jealous that Moses spoke to God as a man speaks to a friend, but the fact of the matter is that Jesus has enabled all people to speak to God in this way! We do not need a priestly mediator, or special words, or a holy language, or a spiritual frenzy in order for God to pay attention to us. All of that is religious prayer, which is not the kind of prayer God wants.
I think sometimes God sighs at our religious prayers. He rolls his eyes as we go on and on and on.
He is always paying attention to us, and is with us throughout the day, going where we go, doing what we do, and hanging out with us as we eat, as we work, as we drive. This means that we can talk to him as a man speaks to a friend.
What is prayer? It is simply telling God what is going on and keeping him the in the loop on your life. Are you angry? Tell God. Are you sad? Let him know! Did you just sin? Yeah, he saw it, and he is not mad about it, but he does want to talk to you about it. Did you see something beautiful or experience something joyful? Thanks him! Are there needs and concerns? Ask him for advice or help.
What is prayer? It is simply talking to God in a normal way, just as we talk to anybody else.
What this means it that if you are asking “What is prayer?” you don’t really need to read books on prayer. You don’t need to be taught how to pray. You don’t need to attend prayer training seminars. You don’t need to learn a prayer language. You don’t need to memorize lots of Scripture in order to pray. If you know how to talk, you can pray! Just imagine God sitting next to you, and talk to him as you would talk to anyone else!