Prayer is one of the main ways a believer experiences communion with God. In prayer, we talk to God, expressing our desires for those things that are in line with his will (1 John 5:14). Some prayers are prayers of joy and thanksgiving, while others are filled with sorrow over life’s circumstances or sin. While each of us is called to a prayer-filled dependence on God, believers often struggle to pray as they should. Self-dependence, unbelief, and a lack of understanding when it comes to prayer can keep us from enjoying the benefits of prayer. Here are some of the primary misconceptions we need to address:
Misconception #1: Prayer Should Be Easy
One misconception about prayer is that it shouldn’t require any work. While there may be moments when prayer just seems to well up out of you, seasons of spiritual drought can make prayer feel like a chore. You go to pray and the words aren’t there.
If you want a better prayer life but struggle to make it happen, don’t be discouraged. Jesus’ own disciples dropped the ball when it came to praying as they should (Matt. 26:40)! On one occasion, a disciple even asked Jesus for lessons on prayer (Luke 11:1). Prayer isn’t just something that happens naturally; it’s something we need to be discipled in. Where’s the best place to go to learn how to pray? God’s word! The entire Bible can help teach you the language of prayer, and Jesus himself gave clear direction when he taught his disciples what’s commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9–13).
Misconception #2: Prayer Is Just a Nice Sentiment
It’s not uncommon to extend our “thoughts and prayers” to those who are suffering. Does this actually do anything, though? Well, if saying this is just a kind gesture, no. But prayer in Scripture is never simply a thoughtful sentiment. Biblical prayer has the ability to move mountains (Mark 11:23), stop rain (1 Kings. 17–18), save souls (1 Tim. 2:1–4), and bring about God’s kingdom (Matt. 6:10). Prayer is effective! James said:
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:16–18)
Note how he highlights the similarity between Elijah and us. He was a man with a nature like ours. It wasn’t Elijah’s special status as a prophet that made his prayers powerful. It was the God to whom he prayed.Prayers offered up to God in faith, and in accordance with his will, accomplish what human might can’t. We should be encouraged to pray because God works wonders through the prayers of his people.
Misconception #3: Prayer Is about Changing God’s Mind
Prayer is not how we get God to do our bidding. Biblical prayer unites our wills with God’s will, and through it God accomplishes his sovereign purposes. Why pray if God is going to accomplish his will regardless of what we do? God has ordained that his eternal purposes would come about through the prayers of his children. God has given us the privilege of partnering with him through our prayers. In this process we’re transformed. Our wills are brought more and more into alignment with God’s holy purposes in the world, as we begin to pursue those things that are pleasing to him (1 John. 3:22). Prayer doesn’t bend God’s will; it brings it into actualization (Matt. 6:10).
Misconception #4: How We Pray Doesn’t Matter, as Long as We’re Sincere
Sincerity in prayer is crucial. The psalmist said, “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). Jesus warned against hypocritical prayer, because he saw how destructive it was among the Pharisees (Matt. 6:5).
While sincerity is a prerequisite to prayer, it’s equally important that we approach God in the biblical manner. Biblical prayer is offered up to the Father (Heb. 4:16), in the Spirit (Jude 1:20), and through Jesus Christ (John 14:14). Praying through Jesus, or in the name of Jesus, means that we’re coming to the Father through the mediation of the Son. Your confidence before the Father in prayer is rooted in your union with Jesus Christ! This is a freeing reminder that we don’t stand upon our own righteousness in prayer, but Christ’s. Praying in the Spirit means our prayers are aligned with God’s will. Spirit-led prayers are rooted in Scripture, and when we pray these kinds of prayers, we know that God hears us (1 John 5:14).
Praying to the Father, in the Spirit, and through the Son doesn’t mean that we can’t direct prayer to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. The Persons of the Trinity are One God, equal in power and glory. Because of this, each Person can be the recipient of prayer. This formula is meant to teach us that we don’t approach God alone, but through his Son and by the power of his Spirit. It reminds us that we’re dependent, but that even in our dependence we can be confident because we stand in Jesus, and not in ourselves.
What Does the Bible Say?
- Psalms; Dan. 9:3-19
- Matt. 6:9–13; Eph. 1:15–23, 3:14–21; Phil. 1:9–11; 4:6–7
In the Psalms, these kinds of prayers are called lamentations. You can read some of the more well-known lamentations in Psalm 22 or Psalm 88.