When we learn that a friend or loved one is experiencing a time of adversity, “I’ll be praying for you,” are often the first words we think to say. We long to comfort, to empathize. But what are we really saying? Are we simply offering “good thoughts” or are we pledging to take these worries and concerns before our Heavenly Father? Is there a difference? And if so, why is prayer important?
Why Is Prayer Important?
Prayer is an incredible, and at times, an overlooked blessing for the child of God. When we belong to God, through saving faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, we have the unique opportunity and honor to approach Him in beautiful and sacred communion. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross—taking the penalty for our sin in the shedding of His blood—we can enter the Most Holy Place, something allowed only by the High Priest in Old Testament times.
Prayer aligns our hearts with our Creator and Sustainer and can become a treasured time of personal worship. Do we long to know the mind and heart of God? The key is to be still before Him (Psalm 46:10) and to linger in His presence. The Bible teaches that we are to lay our anxiousness before Him in prayers and petitions (Philippians 4:6-7), and God’s peace will sustain and guard our troubled spirits.
Prayer is a holy privilege as we become part of what God is doing in another’s life. The apostle Paul found great joy in praying, or interceding, for his friends in the faith. He opens his letter to the Philippian believers by expressing joy in prayer: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:3-6).
Prayer draws us closer to God and to fellow believers in Christ Jesus. There is a special intimacy between believers as they pray together. As we seek God’s heart for each other, self-interest fades, and we long to see our Savior work in the lives of others—growing and strengthening our co-laborers in Kingdom work. What an adventure, to join in what God is doing in the journey of other believers!
What Does the Bible Say about the Importance of Prayer?
Scripture is clear; prayer is vital in the life of faith. Consider the following verses:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2).
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12).
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (Psalm 145:18).
Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3).
Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).
And 1 Thessalonians 5:17 reminds us we can pray without ceasing, maintaining an attitude of prayer as we go about our daily lives.
How Important Was Prayer to Jesus?
Jesus is part of the Triune God, and yet prayer was still crucial in His life and ministry on this earth. He prayed as an example to His listeners, as in the raising of Lazarus (John 11:38-41). He prayed over meals (Matthew 14:19). And He prayed over children (Matthew 19:13-15), using their simple trust as an example of how to approach the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus often withdrew from crowds to seek time alone with His Father (Luke 5:16). If the Savior of the world sought time with God, how much more should we devote time in prayer!
In Matthew 6:5-13, Jesus taught His disciples to pray. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (vs. 5-6).
In John 17:6-19, Jesus prays for His disciples. Knowing the cross was before Him, He poured out His heart to the Father in thanksgiving and praise. He prayed for the disciples’ joy and protection as they continued the difficult journey of sharing the message of Christ with a broken world.
And in John 17:20-24, Jesus prays for us. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message (v. 20). This should take our breath away—before He laid down His life on our behalf, our Savior prayed for us! Even now, He is at the right hand of God, interceding for us (Romans 8:34). This is cause for great joy!
As the time of Jesus’ crucifixion drew near, the garden of Gethsemane was a place of intense prayer for the Lamb of God. Here, in emotional agony, Jesus yielded in obedience to the will of the Father. My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:39).
Perhaps most astounding of all, Jesus prayed for others as He hung on the cross and bore the weight of mankind’s sin and sorrow. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). What a beautiful, selfless example of praying for those who hurt us.
How Can We Get Started Praying if We Haven't Prayed in a While?
The prayer of utmost importance is the prayer of repentance and faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Luke 15:10, Matthew 3:2, Romans 6:23). John 3:16 tells us that God loved us so very much, that He gave His only Son to take the penalty for our sin. Only as we are reconciled to God through Jesus, can we approach the Throne of Grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).
For the believer, part of the joy of prayer is that we can simply come to God as we are—in simple humility and adoration for Who He is. Fancy words and phrases are unnecessary, as God desires our obedience and submission to His loving will. Also, Romans 8:26 offers divine help for the times we struggle to put words to the longings of our hearts. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. How freeing and affirming!
Strengthening our prayer life involves entering God’s presence in reverent expectation. Thankfully, He is near, even when we’re unsure of what to say (Psalm 145:18).
With an open copy of God’s Word, praying the Scriptures is a great way to begin. For example, consider Psalm 86:11-12: Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. These words were prayed and sung by David as he lifted his innermost self to God. We can pray these same words, perhaps as we gaze on the glory of God’s creation. Oh, how beautiful and powerful!
God’s Word is rich with the prayers of His people—in times of joy and wonder, and in times of sorrow and hardship. As we pray the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit will work in our hearts to grow and shape us more like Jesus. We will soon find ourselves joyfully lifting our praises and petitions, a natural result of our love and reverence for the One Who created us for a relationship with Him.
Father God, thank you for the gift of prayer. Thank you for placing within my heart a longing to know You. Please work in my life to make me more like Jesus. And Father, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, teach me to pray, that I may glorify You through worship and adoration, and through intercession for others.
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Leigh Ann Thomas is passionate about encouraging others to seek God’s best. She has penned four books, including Smack-Dab in the Midlife Zone—Inspiration for Women in the Middle, and Ribbons, Lace, and Moments of Grace—Inspiration for the Mother of the Bride.
You’ll find Leigh Ann on an adventure with her sweetheart of 37 years, getting silly with her grands, or daydreaming story plots on the front porch.
This article is part of our prayer resource meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.