Have you ever had a question about prayer that seemed so obvious (at least to everyone else) that you were afraid to seek an answer? If so, you’re not alone. At some point in their spiritual journey, every Christian has had questions about prayer. We should never be embarrassed by the sincere questions we have about prayer, though, for they provide us a reason to search the Scripture to gain knowledge about God and to ask knowledgeable believers the questions we have about communicating with God.
Here are a few examples of questions you may (like me) have had about prayer but have (also like me) been too embarrassed to ask:
What exactly is prayer?
Prayer is an encounter with God that is initiated by God in which we humbly communicate and worship the Lord, confess our sins and transgressions, and ask him to fulfill both our needs and the desires of our heart.
Do I have to get on my knees or close my eyes to pray?
When we look to the Bible, we find that God’s people engage in a variety of positions when they pray. There is no Biblical required position for prayer. However, certain postures can be useful aids for prayer since they help us to express reverence and humility when we encounter God.
Are we required to pray?
Yes, Scripture commands that we pray (c.f., 1 Samuel 12:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Luke 18:1). As Tim Keller says, “To fail to pray. . . is not to merely break some religious rule—it is a failure to treat God as God.”
Should we pray, to the Father, to the Son, or to the Holy Spirit?
All prayer should be directed to our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that we can pray to one or all three, because all three are one. Prayer to one member of the Trinity is prayer to all. In Scripture we find examples of believers praying to the Father (Psalm 5:2) and to the Son (Acts 7:59). However, we never see an instance in the Bible where anyone prays to the Holy Spirit. Why is that? Because the Holy Spirit does not bear witness of himself, but to the Son (John 15:26). Nevertheless, because the Holy Spirit is God, we can pray to the Spirit directly.
Are there prayers that God refuses to hear?
Yes, there are at least a dozen types of prayer that God refuses to hear, such as prayers of idol-worshippers (Ezekiel 8:18), prayer requests made by those who doubt God (James 1:6–7),and prayer requests made by those refuse to pay attention to God’s law. (Proverbs 28:9, Zechariah 7:11–13).
Is it acceptable to repeatedly pray for the same thing?
Yes. In fact, as long as what you are praying for is within the will of God, you are encouraged by Scripture to repeatedly petition God with your request (Luke 18:1–7, Luke 11:5–12).
What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?
In John 14:13–14, Jesus teaches us to pray in his name: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Merely adding the words “in Jesus’ name” to our prayer has no special effect. Jesus is not giving us a magic formula that will force God to answer our prayers. What praying in Jesus’s name means is praying with the Son’s authority and asking God the Father to act upon our prayers because we come in the name of Jesus. Praying in Jesus’ name means the same thing as praying according to the will of God.
What is intercessory prayer?
Intercession is the act of intervening on behalf of someone who is in difficulty or trouble, pleading or petitioning for their case. Intercessory prayer is merely the act of praying—interceding to God—on behalf of someone other than yourself. Just as Jesus prayed for his disciples and other believers (John 17:6–25), Scripture makes it clear that all Christians are to pray for others.