Prayer has been defined or described in many ways.
Here are nine different descriptions of prayer, by various authors:
1. Prayer is asking and receiving. According to E.M. Bounds, “Prayer is the outstretched arms of the child for the Father’s help. Prayer is the child’s cry calling to the Father’s ear…Prayer is the seeking of God’s greatest good, which will not come if we do not pray.”
2. Prayer is approaching God’s throne. According to Spurgeon, “True prayer is an approach of the soul by the Spirit of God to the throne of God.” I would say it this way: it is the approach of the Holy Spirit in our soul that drives us to the throne.
3. Prayer is our service due Him. According to E. M. Bounds, “Prayer is not a duty which must be performed, to ease obligation and to quiet conscience…[it is rather] a solemn service due to God, an adoration, a worship…” Prayer is not only for our own sake, to make requests and to gain answers, it is also to please God, to render our service to Him in honor of His glorious name, which is due him. And our greatest service in prayer is our faith. When we pray with faith we pray with a spirit of thankfulness to God for the sacrifice of His Son; hence, we pray believing in Him, with a desire to do His will.
4. Prayer is letting Jesus come into us and heal us. According to O. Hallesby,
Our prayers are always a result of Jesus ‘knocking at our heart’s doors…He knocks in order to move us by prayer to open the door…giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting Him to exercise His own power in dealing with them…To pray is nothing more involved than to lie in the sunshine of His grace, to expose our distress of body and soul to those healing rays which can in a wonderful way counteract and render ineffective the bacteria of sin.
5. Prayer is an expression of our fellowship with God. Emil Erpestad gives us another look at prayer. Prayer, he says, is an expression of our fellowship with God. “[It is] the means by which fellowship with Him can become a part of our daily experience.” He says, “Conscious fellowship with God…has its beginning in the prayer of repentance…continued fellowship is possible only where there is some means of communication.” Hence, Erpestad suggests that prayer is communication with God; so, as communication (prayer) with Him continues, fellowship continues. And the reverse is also true—as fellowship continues communication (or prayer) continues.
I would agree with Erpestad, but I would go further. Since fellowship by definition is the sharing of things in common, I think prayer is not only the expression of our fellowship with God, it is fellowship with Him. For I believe that prayer is the sharing of the things of our soul that we have in common; that is, we share our Christ-like nature with His Christ-like nature.
6. Prayer is something we do naturally. In many respects prayer is one of the hardest things to learn to do, because in our selfishness and sin we find it impossible to grasp and believe who God is, and that He will help us and deliver us.
On the other hand, God has created in us a natural tendency to cry out to Him when we need help. Even if one is not a Christian, or even if he says that he is an atheist, God nevertheless has created in him a natural desire to get to know Him and to be dependent on Him and to cry out to him when he is in trouble and needing help.
Now if you are skeptical of this idea, watch and listen to a man (whether he is a Christian or not) as he is compelled to jump out of a ten story window of a burning building. What does he cry in his heart, and even out loud for all to hear? “Oh God, help me, save me?”
Unfortunately, because of our inborn sin and because of the devil that constantly temps us, we don’t always do what is natural. I have heard of people even on their death bed curse God.
7. Prayer is dominant desire. This description of prayer I think instructs us well and helps us to see clearly what real, effective prayer is, in contrast to prayer that is not genuine and not effective.
We know that all petitionary prayer begins with a wish or a desire; then we express that desire with a request. This is the basic meaning of prayer—from the Greek word deesis. In fact this Greek word can actually be translated as either desire or prayer. However, real prayer, prayer that is heeded by God, must have a desire that dominates, or over rides, all other desires (that are more of the flesh and not of the spirit). That is, this desire in prayer must be most important, making all other desires of less importance—so that there is no doubt what the number one desire of the heart is; hence there will not be doubting—going back and forth in the mind as to what is desired (“like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind,” James 1:6).
Prayer with this description (having dominant desire) energizes the will so much so that the desire for rest and sleep is forgotten, or even not needed—because this desire in prayer tends to energize the body. This would be the case with a couple “in love”—who would spend hours talking on the phone to each other, not even being aware of the time.
This would also was the case with our Lord who prayed to His Father at night, sometimes all night long (Lu. 6:12). Most of us would regard this kind of prayer as particularly earnest and sacrificial—I mean, it would be something that was hard to do. But if we look at it in the light that Jesus loved His Father and longed to be with Him, we get an entirely different idea. This all-night-prayer of Jesus’ I think was joyous and refreshing. That is because His prayer was made up of a strong desire that put all other desires in second place, even the desire for sleep.
8. Prayer is a struggle. If prayer is dominant desire, then prayer must also be a struggle to keep the mind and the desires of the mind on God’s will—and to keep those Godly desires dominant.
Certainly, every Christian struggles in prayer to keep himself on the narrow road as he journeys through this evil world. We struggle against the world’s system that offers us sex and food and riches and possessions and status. These things are all good gifts of God, and so are good for us in the right proportions and in the right context; but if not, if we use these things for our own pleasure and in disobedience to God, then they can be very damaging and corrupting; and it is sin.
Our struggle in prayer then is obviously not only a struggle against outward forces of the world, but also with inward forces of our own flesh. We struggle in prayer with selfishness, our love of ease, and all kinds of lusts. We struggle with our pride and with our temper and with our unwillingness to obey God and to forgive others and to pray for them.
And of course, perhaps most of the time unknowingly, we struggle in prayer against the devil and his demons, who are constantly urging us to relax in prayer—I mean to fall asleep and to quit praying. And they also keep putting things in our mind as we pray to distract us and confuse and discourage us. Yes pray is definitely a struggle.
9. Prayer is expressing the absence of God. Theodore W. Jennings Jr., in his book, Life as Worship, Prayer and Praise in Jesus Name, says, “In prayer we express the absence of something.” This something he says is God. He said, “Prayer expresses our need and desire for God, a need that grows out of our godlessness and godforsakenness.”
I like what Jennings has said; but it describes only the petition part of prayer, the part that is always crying out to God for what we need. Another part of prayer is praise. This part rather than expressing our lack and His absence expresses our joy in His presence. This is the part I think that will be most dominant in heaven.