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What the Bible says about prayer

Nearly everyone reaches a moment, when the only thing he or she can think to do is pray. Tragedy, uncertainty, unrest, fear, insecurity and trouble can bring even the most self-assured individuals to their knees. 

Right now Americans are nervous about the upcoming presidential election, shell-shocked from a number of deadly mass shootings, concerned about the jobs and real estate markets and the  hurricane season that has just begun. The days ahead are sure to be filled with many prayers for protection, prosperity, patience and peace.

Prayer is not a transfer of information, but rather an act of humility.

But why is it that the urge to pray only seems to come when the going gets tough? When life is going well and everything seems to be right on track, we think ourselves to be fully capable of handling it all. Many people only recognize their need for God when things begin to fall apart.

We turn to prayer because it is the most personal way to experience God, to encounter Him and to grow in knowledge of Him. According to the book of Ephesians, God’s desire is for us to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). 

Still, people are most motivated to pray when they need something from God. But what does the Bible say is the reason God wants us to pray?

Jesus provides clear instructions when it comes to prayer. In what is perhaps His most well known public address, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shares with His followers what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” His example models prayers of praise, submission to the will of God, reliance upon Him for daily sustenance and requests for forgiveness and deliverance. Jesus’ prayer focuses more on honoring God than listing needs to be met.  

Interestingly, shortly after this instruction on how to pray, Jesus reminds his followers that "the Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). This raises a fairly obvious question: if God already knows what we need, why bother asking?

The answer: Prayer is not a transfer of information, but rather an act of humility.

Prayer requires us to admit that perhaps we don’t quite know it all. In our culture, there is great pressure to have the answers, to convince everyone that we have it all together and to be completely self-sufficient. 

According to Scripture, God is all knowing and completely wise which means He understands everything about a situation and sees the best path through it (Psalm 147:5). While our days are filled with expectations and demands, God is waiting for the moment when we say, ”I don’t know, but I know who does.”

Ultimately, Jesus demonstrates through His own life that prayer provides an avenue to the Father. Throughout the New Testament, we're told that Jesus "often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16). He was actively carving out time alone to meet with the Father in prayer.

In Luke 10:27, Jesus issues the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” But how can we love someone with whom we never speak? It is only through prayer that one can move from knowing about God to knowing God.

Perhaps you’ve never experienced a moment when, out of desperation, you bowed your head to pray. That’s ok. There is a first time for everything. But you don't need to wait until a crisis looms to begin a relationship with God through prayer. 

If you have never really prayed, I urge you to give it a try. After all, the Bible tells us that your prayers will be met with God's delight (Proverbs 15:8, Psalm 149:4). The act of prayer leads to the peace, patience and perseverance we all so desperately need. With that in mind, what have you got to lose?

Dr. Charles Stanley is the pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta, founder of In Touch Ministries and best-selling author of many books. His latest is "The Ultimate Conversation: Talking with God through Prayer."