Prayer is a key component in our relationship with God, as it is our main means of communication with Him. It is in prayer that we are able to converse with our Creator.
As Christians, we have been given the incredible privilege of coming into the presence of God as His children, due to the salvation granted through Jesus. We can speak with Him, praise, worship, and adore Him, tell Him of our love for Him, and thank Him for all He’s done and continues to do for us. We can bare our hearts before Him, expressing our troubles and needs. We can intercede for others in their time of need.
We can bring our requests to Him and ask for His help. We can tell Him how much we appreciate the beautiful things He’s created, and thank Him for the multitude of blessings we each have. When we’re weak and weary, we can speak to Him about it. When we’ve done wrong and have sinned, we can confess, ask for, and receive His forgiveness. We can speak with Him when we’re joyful or sad, in good health or bad, whether we’re rich or poor, for we have a relationship with the One who not only created us, but who loves us deeply and wants to participate in every aspect of our lives.
Relationship with God, and Jesus’ Example
Relationships require communication, and prayer is the main way we communicate with God. It is our means of inviting Him to participate in our daily lives, of asking Him to be directly and intimately involved with the things that are important to us. When we come before Him in prayer, we are asking Him to take an active part in our lives or in the lives of those we are praying for. Prayer conveys the reality of our overall situation, that we need Him and desire His presence in our lives.
When it comes to praying, there is much to learn by looking at Jesus’ example of prayer within the Gospels and reading what He taught about it. One of the most fundamental things that Jesus imparted to His followers regarding prayer was about having the right relationship with His Father. In the Gospel of Mark we hear Jesus say, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” Abba was what a son or daughter in first-century Palestine would call their father throughout their lives; it was a familiar word, like Dad or Papa, in the Aramaic language that was spoken in Jesus’ day. Jesus used this word in prayer and taught His disciples to do the same, because it expressed the close, endearing, familial relationship believers should have with God.
Jesus’ use of Abba (Father) set the tone for the personal relationship we are privileged to have with God because of the gift of salvation. We are the sons and daughters of God; not in the same way as Jesus is, but as children adopted into God’s family. When we pray, we are coming before Abba, our Father.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Teachings from the Gospels about Prayer
When Jesus taught about prayer through the parables, He made comparisons to situations such as the friend who borrowed the loaves at midnight, or the unjust judge who eventually answered the woman’s plea. Through these story examples, He made the point that if the friend or the unjust judge would answer the petitions made to them, how much more would our Father in heaven answer our petitions? He demonstrates that we can have confidence that our prayers will be answered by our generous, loving Father. Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
Once, when Jesus finished praying, His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. He responded by teaching them what is today called the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” This rich prayer teaches us to pray by: praising God, the one who is holy and above all; expressing our desire and willingness for His will to be accomplished in our lives; acknowledging our dependence on Him to take care of our needs; asking for forgiveness of our sins, and deliverance from evil.
Jesus, through His example, and through teaching and emphasizing a relationship with the Father, has shown the importance of prayer and how to pray and in what circumstances, and most importantly that our prayers should be grounded in an intimate relationship with God. We are to be like children who climb on the lap of their father, with no pretense or fear, knowing and trusting that their father loves them and will protect, provide, and care for them.
Looking at Our Own Prayer Lives
Prayer plays a vital role in our spiritual lives, our connection with God, our inner growth, and our effectiveness as Christians. Jesus’ example of prayer, of getting away from the busyness of His life, taking time alone in prayer, even spending whole nights in prayer, interceding for others and praying effective prayers, marks the trail for those who long to walk in His footsteps.
When we hold up our prayer lives to Jesus’ teaching and example on the subject, how do we fare? Do we pray often? Do we pray in faith, fully believing God will answer? Do we recognize that by praying we are asking God to intervene in our lives? Do we understand that we are praying for God’s will to be done, recognizing that His will may differ from ours? Do we realize that He does answer, but His answers may not always be yes?
As followers of Jesus, we strive to live in accordance with God’s will, which means that when we pray, we pray both in God’s will and for His will. As the Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Prayer is asking for the will of God to be done.
Developing Proficiency in Prayer
When we desire to achieve proficiency in an area, we often look to the examples of those who are already proficient in order to learn from them. For example, we see that Jesus rose very early in the morning, while it was still dark, departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed. The apostles gave themselves to the word and prayer and didn’t let the daily duties get in the way of what was most important for them. Martin Luther, when faced with so much to do, gave himself to three hours of daily prayer. John Wesley devoted two hours a day in the presence of the Lord. For these greats, and numerous others who have been effective in their Christian lives, time spent in prayer has played a significant role.
Of course, they most likely didn’t start with such devotion to prayer, but became more proficient at it as time went on. While the fast-paced lives many of us live today may not allow for spending hours in daily prayer, we shouldn’t dismiss these examples. Rather we should each look at our own prayer life, at the time we spend in His presence, and ask ourselves if we are investing enough time communicating with the One with whom we are in what should be our primary relationship. Does our time in prayer reflect our deep desire to have Him participate in our lives, or is it more of a hit-or-miss commitment?
Prayer isn’t meant to be a one-way conversation, with us speaking and expecting God to do all the listening. In times of prayer we should also open ourselves up to hear what God wants to say to us, through the Bible, through what godly teachers or preachers are saying, or through getting quiet before Him and opening our hearts to hear His voice. He can speak to us in many ways: through impressions He gives, thoughts He puts in our minds, through Bible verses or prophecies we receive. Prayer is communication, and communication is a two-way street. So besides asking God to hear what we are saying to Him, we should also be giving Him the opportunity to speak to us.
We are called to be in continual relationship with God, in a sense having an ongoing dialogue with Him, talking to Him, asking His guidance, praising Him, listening to Him throughout our day. This can be seen as the meaning of Paul’s general admonition to pray “continually” or “without ceasing.”
Prayer is our means of communicating with God, of coming into and remaining in His presence. As we climb onto our Heavenly Father’s lap, as His children, we can ask Him anything, we can trust Him with everything. We can feel His love for us, His assurance, His care. In our time of communicating with Him we learn from Him, and in time we become more like Him. If we truly desire to become more like Jesus, we must walk with Him on the path of prayer.
For more writings by Peter Amsterdam, visit Directors Corner.
 Mark 14:36. (Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
 Romans 8:15.
 Galatians 4:6–7.
 Matthew 7:9–11.
 Matthew 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4.
 Mark 1:35.
 Acts 6:4.
 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV.