John Piper says that prayer is “intentionally conveying a message to God.” Stanley Hauerwas says that prayer is “bending our will toward God.” Eugene Peterson says prayer is, “dealing personally and seriously with God as the central reality of life.” And Stanley J. Grenz has said that prayer “is the cry for the kingdom.”
There are a myriad of ways we can answer the question, “What is prayer?”
Perhaps ‘what’ prayer is is less important than its purpose.
E.M. Bounds writes that, “Prayer honors God; it dishonors self. It is man’s plea of weakness, ignorance, want; a plea which heaven cannot disregard.”
Oswald Chambers says, “Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished.”
In asking such a simple question we may quickly be confounded by a plethora of legitimate responses. The question is actually so open-ended and subjective.
What is prayer in a construct of thought? Let’s answer the question from the viewpoint of six recognised Christian traditions:
What is prayer from the Contemplative tradition? The contemplative is someone who engages mystically through meditation. There is inward engagement in the experience of God. Prayer, therefore, is a critically important in the inner world of the contemplative. Prayer is a central engagement of life.
What is prayer from the Holiness tradition? Virtuous life is the key to the believer who aligns to the holiness tradition. This is the disciple of Christ. Prayer is a key to life because it’s the way the disciple grows in God. For someone who lives to become more Christlike prayer is both a resource and tool, as well as a medium, for communicating with God.
What is prayer from the Charismatic tradition? When our lives are immersed in, empowered by, and under the direction of the Spirit of God, and we are prayerful, we find that prayer connects us never better with the Spirit of God. Prayer is the lifeblood of the person filled with the Holy Spirit – as every true disciple of Jesus Christ is.
What is prayer from the Social Justice tradition? Such a life that is involved in advocacy is derived from passion for the vulnerable. Prayer from the aspect of someone who lives for the liberation of the oppressed is about intercession. Prayer from the social justice tradition is about praying for the persecuted church, the Third World, minority groups, and anything or anyone really needing support or a leg-up in life.
What is prayer from the Evangelical tradition? If you have a burden for ‘the lost’ you will probably be caused to pray for those near and far who you think need Jesus. Prayer from the evangelical tradition is about intercession; for the lost, for the hurting who need Jesus; for anyone who does not know God. It’s about praying for those who don’t know God.
What is prayer from the Incarnational tradition? As we invite the Spirit of God within us to transform us, by healing us, by turning our experience of God into something real by his Presence, we experience something of the incarnational life. Prayer from the incarnational tradition is about imploring God to help us experience more of Jesus’ life in our own life; to become more essentially Christlike, by experience.
Prayer is many things to many people, but it should be about bending our will toward God’s; to pray for others to be blessed and to pray for ourselves to grow.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.