The function of prayer is . . . to change the nature of the one who prays. — Søren Kierkegaard
Scripture shows us many types of interactions with God. We see Jacob wrestling with God for hours, and Job overcome with doubt and bitterness in His presence. We see Moses’ fearful excuses and Jonah’s stubborn resistance. Then there are the prayers of Jesus and Mary, which demonstrate complete trust and obedience, a perfect reflection of the will of God.
Our God is compassionate and kind. He will lead us in learning how to pray. The key is that He doesn’t want us to wait until we’ve got it right before we come to Him. It’s through our authentic engagement with Him that He forms us. It’s through the intimacy of prayer that we become like Him. So we should seek Him in His Word and then simply talk to Him. Through that genuine connection, we’ll grow.
We seek Him in His Word because, as we’ve said, prayer is our response to what He has revealed about Himself, our part in the dialogue He began. The goal is not self-exploration or self-expression; it is knowing Him and relating to Him with honesty and reverence.
John Calvin considered prayer to be “the chief exercise of faith… by which we daily receive God’s benefits.” We get to experience His love and joy. We get to receive His peace and strength. As we allow ourselves to be captivated by Him and open ourselves to Him, He’ll become more alive in us and transform us. Our attitude will become hopeful, our desires will reflect His, our actions will show His wisdom. Who we are and what we do will show the fruit of His life in us.
As we persist in prayer, we’ll develop a lifestyle of dependence, welcoming God’s mighty power to reach every corner of our lives. We’ll honor Him with our faith, adoration, and praise, and continually submit ourselves to Him, even when it involves suffering. We’ll also have the privilege of carrying out His purposes by praying for His will to be done and helping accomplish it.
And so the purposes of prayer are linked to what God designed us for: helping us to build our relationship with Him, to live in our true identity as worshipers of Him, and to become like Him.
True, whole prayer is nothing but love. — St. Augustine of Hippo
For some of us, prayer is one big awkward question mark. What exactly am I supposed to do?
Others of us have been around prayer enough that it feels familiar. We know what to expect from others and what’s expected of us. But we may be praying in a way that is actually quite different from what Scripture reveals about prayer. Or we might find ourselves in a season when prayer has become an afterthought — or something altogether forgotten. Or perhaps we’ve settled into a good prayer practice, but we could use some fresh inspiration.
I always think of readings that steer me in the right direction as train tracks. Scripture, liturgy, prayers of God’s people — these serve as rails that guide my heart and mind in the way they ought to go. They protect me from wandering off into territory that is worthless or dangerous. They are tools of the Spirit to move me in the direction of worship and true life in God, especially when I cannot seem to take a step on my own.
Compiling these entries and spending time reflecting on prayers from Christians throughout the centuries has been so good for my soul — wonderfully challenging, edifying, and thought-provoking. I’ve been astonished at how relatable their words are and comforted by seeing that, for ages, so many people have been wrestling with the same challenges that I wrestle with today.
I always seem to need the reminder that having problems in my life and conflict within myself is normal; this is the standard human condition. The important issue is not Am I struggling? but Am I staying close to God through the struggle? Am I depending on Him and finding ways to worship in the midst of all I’m experiencing?
Seeing these writers throughout history boldly face themselves, demonstrate striking self-awareness, and then present their open hearts (and whole selves) to the powerful presence of God has changed me.
I’ve been inspired by their vulnerability and courage.
I’ve gained wisdom from their insights.
I’ve found it incredibly helpful to borrow their words to express my heart to God. I’ve also been motivated to write my own prayers (some of which are included in this book and marked with my initials, C. M.).
I hope you have a similar experience of your own… one that nourishes your soul, impresses the love and truth of God deeper into your heart, and guides you into a sweeter life of joyful worship and intimacy with our good Father.
– Carrie Marrs
Excerpted with permission from A Prayer for Every Occasion by Carrie Marrs, copyright Zondervan.
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What about you? Is prayer a big question mark for you? Or do you just need some fresh inspiration? Come share about your prayer life on our blog!