When you start to study prayer in the Bible, you realize something remarkable. Prayer isn’t a formulaic, ‘yes or no’, thing. While there is teaching in the Bible about how to pray, when you really lift the lid on the subject, the ultimate lesson is this: prayer is a personal language between you and God.
Even more remarkable than that? Prayer can be a conversation.
As a new believer it’s easy to worry about getting prayer wrong. It can be intimidating to see someone passionately pray out loud in church. Or, maybe you’ve been passionately praying for months and not seeing any breakthrough?
In this starter guide to prayer in the Bible we’ll examine everything from how famous Biblical heroes prayed, to how Jesus prayed and what to do about unanswered prayer.
First up, though, let’s take a moment for how prayer should make you feel, and why prayer in the Bible is such an important subject.
Why Is Prayer In The Bible So Important?
There’s a beautiful ancient prayer, written by 4th century Greek Bishop Basil the Great, which says:
“Oh Lord our God. Steer the ship of our life to yourself, the quiet harbor of all storm-stressed souls. Show us the course which we are to take. Renew in us the spirit of docility. Let your spirit curb out fickleness; guide and strengthen us to perform what is for our own good, to keep your commandments and ever to rejoice in your glorious and vivifying presence. Yours is the glory and praise for all eternity.”
In just one prayer you can see examples of many of the reasons why prayer is so important. And, what impact prayer should have on us.
Basil the Great uses the vivid picture of a ‘storm-stressed’ soul to describe the impact living in this broken world can have on us. Do you ever feel storm-stressed? Drenched, bruised, a little shaken up perhaps? This prayer reminds us that God is the quiet, safe, harbor for us all.
‘Show Us The Course’
This prayer also reminds us that God is our great navigator and guide. He directs our steps and lays a path for us to follow.
For His Glory And Our Good
The last few lines of this atmospheric prayer reinforce God’s incredibly kind nature. The Greek Bishop teaches us that, as we pray, we are strengthened and supported. We also praise and glorify God, entering into His presence.
Finally, this prayer describes God’s presence as vivifying. Entering into God’s presence, through prayer, has an energizing, life-giving and enlivening impact on us. As we pray, we are made new by God’s transformative presence.
Prayer is an incredibly powerful thing. As we look now at prayer in the Bible, and how some biblical characters prayed, you’ll discover that it’s a personal language that looks different for everybody. Your job is to discover how it is that you like to pray, and what conversation it is the God of the universe is wanting to have with you.
How Did Famous Biblical Characters Pray?
Whether you’re a new believer or a seasoned disciple, it’s good to get into the habit of learning from others. A church community is a brilliant way of building relationship with believers who have gone before us and can share their wisdom with us. We can also look to scripture and take note of how the people in Bible stories lived.
How Did Jesus Pray In the Bible?
Let’s start with the famous example of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane. You can find the story in Matthew 26:
“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
One very striking thing we can learn from this example is: Jesus didn’t overcomplicate prayer. His prayers were short, sincere and deeply felt. He didn’t use complex language or labor his point. Crucially, He was also not formal.
He cried out to HIs father, revealed His emotions and asked for help. And amazingly, because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can do the same.
What Can We Learn From David’s Prayer Life In The Bible?
David prayed with a gushing, intensity of feeling. To read his Psalms is almost to feel, for yourself, everything David describes.
Here’s an example, from Psalm 51,
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.”
David uses description and repetition to reinforce what he’s praying. He goes into great detail about how he’s feeling and he takes great lengths to describe and communicate the nature of God.
David was an exuberant and passionate man and this shaped his prayer life. It’s OK if it shapes yours too.
What Can We Learn From Peter’s Prayers?
We know that Jesus retreated to quiet places time and time again to connect with His Father. We can learn so much from this habit. Did you know that Peter did it too? We learn in Acts that Peter went up to the rooftop to pray. He left his brothers and sisters, left the crowd, and sought somewhere quiet and elevated to talk to God.
“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.” Acts 10:9
There’s much wisdom to gain from Jesus’ and Peter’s example of retreating to pray. As we pull away from distractions, people and our usual environment it becomes so much easier to connect with God and switch our perspective to His.
Jesus frequently chose mountaintops for His places of encounter with God. Peter opted for a rooftop. We know that Moses and Elijah too had significant encounters with God on mountains. This doesn’t mean you need to strap on your hiking boots, but rather it’s a call to set apart time to seek God’s perspective and invite His view to transform you own.
When Jesus Taught Us How To Pray
The Lord’s prayer is perhaps the most famous prayer in the world. It’s prayed during school assemblies, eucharists and church services all around the world today.
When Jesus taught us how to pray, He said these, now timeless, words:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation.”
Before sharing this prayer with His disciples Jesus gave them strict guidance about how to pray. “Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” He says in Matthew 6:5-8. He continues by encouraging them not to utter empty praises just to sound impressive, because “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Jesus teaches us that our “father who’s sees in secret will reward you.” ultimately confirming that prayer is a personal language. It is an exchange between you and God and it’s the prayers you utter in the secret place that transform you, your faith and this world.
What About When Prayers Go Unanswered?
The Bible teaches us to pray with confidence, knowing that a good father who delights in us, is listening. What do we do then when prayers go unanswered? How do we make sense of it when we have faithfully prayed and yet not seem any breakthrough?
While this question has been addressed at length by theologians around the world, the simplest and truest answer is to be found in the presence of God.
When we continue to seek Him out, even in our heartbreak and distress, we make a way to deepen our understanding of Him, His plans and His goodness.
Sometimes, we just have to submit our disappointments and grief to the mystery of God and discipline ourselves to trust Him again and again.
Matthew 10: 39 says: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Earlier in Matthew Jesus says: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Sacrifice and the denial of ourselves is a constant theme across scripture. Do not exclude these feelings from your prayer life, take a leaf from David’s book and pour it all out on Jesus. He will meet you, restoring your storm-stressed soul, with His lovingkindness.