What Is the Meaning of Prayer?


There are so many different views on the meaning of prayer.  One author, John R. Rice, says that prayer is nothing but petition.  He insists that prayer is not meditation or communion or spiritual enjoyment or praise or confession or humiliation; “[it is simply] asking something definitely from God.”1

Many other authors (that Rice would say are liberal or modern) seem to say the opposite—that prayer is fellowship and communion and friendship with God, and not a demand for His gifts. For example, E. M. Bounds said, “Prayer is communion and intercourse with God. It is enjoyment of God.”2

Ronald Dunn seems to agree with Rice.  He wrote, “Prayer is an act. While we should live in an attitude of prayer, prayer is more than an attitude.”3

Others I have read would disagree.  They would say that since prayer is communion and fellowship with God that would make prayer a consistent attitude and not merely an act.

So, as we see, with just these few authors, there are huge differences.   And there are many other definitions and descriptions of prayer, each different—some are just a bit different, others extremely different.  So what are we to conclude? Whose view should we follow?

Well, let me say right from the start that it is extremely important to know what prayer is, because you will conduct your prayer habits and your life according to that definition of prayer that you choose.  But, in saying that, I think it is also important not to be too rigid and narrow-minded in choosing a definition, as I think some authors tend to be. Therefore, I think we should broaden our thinking about the definition of prayer.

I have read so many good definitions of prayer.  And you know what?  I think 98% of them are right—even though they disagree with each other.  So what am I suggesting, that we just agree with all of them because they sound good?  No.  I am suggesting that prayer, and the definition of prayer, is bigger and broader than we may have thought


1 John R. Rice, Prayer Asking and Receiving (Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1970), pp. 47-49.

2 E. M. Bounds, The Reality of Prayer (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 9.

3 Ronald Dunn, Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1959), p. 184.


About Stephen Nielsen

I'm an author, a self publisher, and a painting contractor. I live in beautiful Minnesota, USA . Welcome to my blog site.
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5 Responses to What Is the Meaning of Prayer?

  1. JJSJ says:

    The key to answering the big question is “the Lord’s Prayer” [i.e., the Lord’s model prayer for N.T. believers, which appears in Matthew 6:9-13], which begins with a recognition of reverence — “hallowed by Thy name” — and closes with a doxological praise — “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever”. These critical elements in the Lord’s Prayer are NOT requests/petitions, so that proves that Biblical prayer is much more than just “asking [God] for stuff”. Although John R. Rice and Stan Toussaint are right about many theological topics, on this specific topic they are wrong because they miss what is taught in Matthew 6:9-13. (And some of the confusion can be traced to Westcott & Hort, and their more modern ilk, but that’s another topic for another day.) In sum, I concur with you, that “prayer, and the definition of prayer, is bigger and broader than we may have thought”.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. Many like John R. Rice separate praise from prayer, but I would rather include it and say that it is an aspect of prayer–the praise of prayer. I think confession, praise, petition, and even thanksgiving are all part of prayer.

  2. Lee says:

    I agree with both of you and all those mentioned. The main thing in my mind is that I PRAY. Slowing down long enough to stop and talk to God and the Lord. Whatever I say or about what, I think the Lord is pleased when I take time to pray.

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