What is prayer and why is it important? Many people consider prayer an exercise in which we present our needs to God in a petition. It’s like the old saying there will be prayers in schools as long as there are tests. This, however, is not the biblical definition of praying.
Jesus told his followers just before giving them the Model Prayer that God already knows their needs before they pray.
“….. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him”.
Matt: 6:8 NKJV
Or, as The Message puts it:
“ This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need.”(1)
If God already knows what we need, then why pray?
Probably the best answer is found in the Model Prayer that follows the above verse. It begins simply:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Matt. 6:9-10 NKJV
The word used in Greek for “Father” here is pater, and refers to a parent. This translates as “Our daddy in heaven…”. God is seen here as an authority figure, one to whom we are obedient.
The prayer then acknowledges God’s authority in what is to follow in the prayer and is an expression of worship.
The next part is what is really interesting. The actual translation is “may your will be done on earth as it is already done in heaven”. This is both a petition and a prophetic word, or command. As a prophetic word, it is rhema, or a command spoken with authority. It is spoken as the Word of God. It is the Sword of the Spirit referenced in Ephesians 6:17 and part of the armor of the Christian in spiritual warfare. (The same word, rhema, is used there and is an utterance or spoken word.) There are only two offensive weapons mentioned in the Ephesians passage: this Sword of the Spirit (Rhema word) and prayer. The rhema word referenced here is not so much to meet my needs or even the healing of a friend, but for the coming of the Kingdom.
Two classic examples stand out in the Bible. One is the prayer of Moses in Numbers 14. Earlier Moses had come down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and saw the orgy in the Israelite camp. As he went back to God in prayer, he demanded God to show him the Kingdom agenda. Everything looked wrong at this point. (See Exodus 32-33)
In Numbers 14 the Israelites had blown the Kingdom agenda again. God tells Moses that He plans to destroy the entire nation. At this point, however, Moses knows the agenda and claims authority on the Kingdom agenda. As a result, the prayer of Moses moves the finger of God and the nation is not destroyed. What we see here is that our prayers can move the hand of God as long as we know and claim authority on the Kingdom agenda. That is one awesome thought! Moses is able to see the Kingdom agenda from from his intimacy with God, to claim authority from that, and move the very Hand of God!
The second example is in Nehemiah 1. Here Nehemiah does the same thing with his prayer. In Nehemiah’s prayer, he claims authority for the Kingdom agenda God is revealing and giving to him in terms of the Rhema word spoken earlier to Moses.
In both examples (Abraham is another) we see these leaders moving in authority in terms of an agenda given to them by God that is revealed through their intimacy with God. Prayer, then, is really conversation with God, and moves out of our desire for this intimacy. It was there in the Garden with Adam and Eve before the Fall, and is again possible and restored through faith in Christ’s death on the cross and his Resurrection.
This type of prayer where we come humbly as a child before the parent and make our petition that, in reality, is already answered in heaven – is referred to by leaders such as Oswald Chambers as apostolic praying. It grows out of our personal desire for intimacy with God more than any other desire we have.
When we prayer, our struggle to find God’s agenda in our life is far more important to God than the physical answer to the prayer.
1. Matt 6:8-9 from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.