What Prayer Is, And What It Is Not

Unrecognizable father with his son playing with cars

Years ago I was going through a change. I happened to pick up a book on prayer by the author E.M. Bounds.  You know how sometimes the right book, podcast, or message just seems to find you when you need it the most? This book was exactly that. There were many lessons about praying that seriously challenged my faith, enough that it changed the way I acted concerning prayer. In one article in the book titled “Answered Prayer,” Bounds brought to life this truth: If you do not have specific answers to the prayers you have prayed, you have no proof that there is a God who answers them.

Wow! This concept really challenged my idea of prayer. I had been a Christian for a some time, but my attitude of prayer had been something closer to this: “Good Christians pray and bad Christians don’t pray. It was a religious practice to me, like having a healthy diet. Prayer was something that helped you along life’s way (sort of like Prozac) or like a pressure valve: if you weren’t practicing it, your life would eventually just blow up. 

But as I read E.M. Bounds, he forced me to look at the things Jesus said about prayer and decide whether I believed Him or not. Here’s one of them:

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:9-10

If I was going to be honest with scripture, I had to admit that Jesus expected us to pray for things and receive exactly what we petitioned for. This challenged my worldview. I hadn’t been taking Jesus’ words that seriously.

Some might say, “But don’t you have to pray according to the will of God?” Yes, you must be asking for things that are part of God’s will. But the truth is, most of the time I hear that argument, it is coming from a place of doubt or an explanation of why something hasn’t happened. What I’ve discovered is that there is more that is in the will of God than outside of it! Somehow, I had this idea that God was really hesitant about this “answering prayer” business. And heaven forbid you ask Him for something that was not His will! To me that was just the sort of thing that would irritate Him.

But Jesus is saying something completely different. He is much more willing to answer your prayers than what you think. Instead of worrying about whether something is really the will of God or not, Jesus tells us, “just ask.”

The picture is that of a Father and son. God is the Father, and we are His kids. How simple an idea! Don’t think of prayer as asking the CEO of a huge corporation (who has spent months outlining their strategy and purpose) for something minute and personal. Instead, see it like Jesus described it: like a son asking his dad for something he needs. It’s that simple, and we are commanded to see it that way.

If you want to learn more about prayer, I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer.