Scripture indicates that prayer is central to the Christian life. It was said of the newly saved Saul of Tarsus, “Behold, he prayeth” (Act 9:11). The Lord Jesus “spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luk 18:1). Paul wrote, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2), just one of many NT injunctions encouraging a healthy prayer life. Thus, by illustration and instruction it is clear that prayer is crucial.
Congregationally, among all assembly activities, prayer is portrayed as a major function. From day one of the church, believers “continued stedfastly … in prayers” (Act 2:42). When Paul outlined the pattern for the prayer meeting, he made it the “first of all” item in his house of God teaching; it is as important as that (1Ti 2:1). Why, then, is the prayer meeting the Cinderella of assembly gatherings?
If prayer is so vital individually and collectively, what is its purpose? Undoubtedly, there is something puzzling about it. We know from the Word that we are dealing with a God who “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph 1:11), and so we refer to Him as being sovereign. “Who hath been his counsellor?” (Rom 11:34). The question infers that He does not need advisors, cannot be influenced, and His purpose is fixed. So are we to conclude that if what He has decreed is rigid, it is futile to appeal to Him? I think not.
Scripture does tell us that the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas 5:16), and Elijah is cited as exemplifying that. So the Word of God encourages us to see great value in prayer and to believe that God does answer prayer: “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jer 33:3). I repeat, there is something unfathomable about that, but it seems to indicate that God’s sovereign decrees take into account the prayers of His believing people, and thus there is the invitation to “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). In fact, it is not merely an invitation; it is a summons, a command in Scripture: “Pray without ceasing” (1Th 5:17). Are we obeying that command?
Be clear, prayer does help: “Ye also helping together by prayer for us” (2Co 1:11). “This shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:19). Paul believed that while God was superintending his circumstances, the prayers of the saints were a considerable factor in each new development. An old adage is that “prayer moves the hand that moves the universe.”
As we probe some of the reasons for praying, Paul’s words to the Philippians are apt: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Php 4:6-7). The verses demonstrate that prayer is the means by which anxiety can be exchanged for God’s peace. Metaphorically, worry is a gloomy cloud, or a cankerous worm that eats away at our joy, or a pervasive blight that saps our morale. The Scriptures liken it to a burden, weighing down the heart. How can the load be lifted? Where can the burden be left? The OT answer is “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee” (Psa 55:22). The NT concurs: “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1Pe 5:7). By prayer, the agitated saint can abandon the issue that seems as weighty as a millstone, and in a mysterious way, the peace of God sweeps over the heart and mind.
Hannah’s experience illustrates the point. She carried the burden of barrenness and was teased mercilessly by a rival who knew how to induce her tears. In the bitterness of her soul she prayed, and long before there was an answer, “her countenance was no more sad” (1Sa 1:18). Prayer had substituted God’s peace for grief’s pain; what an incentive to pray!
“Let your requests be made known unto God.” He is not unaware of your needs, but our verse in Philippians indicates that He wants to hear you articulate them in His presence. The word “supplication” indicates praying specifically rather than in general terms. So here is another of the purposes for prayer: It gives opportunity to express our dependence on divine assistance rather than being self-reliant. Christian living and Christian service need more than a determined spirit on our part. Power and provision from heaven are necessary if we are to be effective.
King Asa’s prayer captures these sentiments when he was faced with overwhelming odds: “We rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude” (2Ch 14:11). In similar circumstances, his son Jehoshaphat expressed it like this: “We have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee” (20:12). That spirit of dependence, expressed in prayer, is what God wants to hear when we supplicate Him. It could be that what we are asking for may not be precisely what God has in mind for us, as when Paul prayed three times for the removal of “a thorn in the flesh.” The difficulty was not removed, but he was promised grace for his affliction (2Co 12:7-9); the problem of unanswered prayer is covered elsewhere in this publication.
An Expression of Appreciation
Another purpose for prayer is that it gives an opportunity to express our thanks to God for past blessing. Even in stressful circumstances, Paul makes clear that the supplications should be made “with thanksgiving” (Php 4:6). Prayer meeting intercessions and supplications should be accompanied with “giving of thanks” (1Ti 2:1). Never be remiss when it comes to this. Only ten percent of the cleansed lepers “returned to give glory to God,” and the question was “Where are the nine?” (Luk 17:17-18). “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord” (Psa 92:1).
In summary, prayer gives opportunity to unburden anxieties, to express need, and to bless the Lord for His many benefits (Psa 103:2).
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.