Prayer plays a key role in our worship of God. What are the worship choruses we sing, if not prayers set to music? What are the praise-filled Bible passages we read aloud on Sunday morning, if not prayers recited in unison?
The apostle Paul places prayer at the center of the Christian discipline of maintaining a continuous spirit of worship. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). There are several reasons that prayer plays such an outsized role in worship. Understanding these reasons can help us maximize the impact of our worship.
Prayer brings us into God’s presence.
The author of Hebrews writes, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). His point is that because of Christ’s sacrifice, we have direct access to God. He urges us to make the most of our access by approaching God in prayer with a sense of confidence and boldness, knowing that our prayers will be heard and answered.
By the same token, we should not be so bold that we lose sight of our surroundings. Prayer ushers us into the throne room of God. If we don’t take a moment to absorb the implications of that, we can’t fully appreciate the magnitude of the event. Prayer grants us a personal audience with the One who created the universe, who parted the Red Sea for the Israelites, who kept Daniel safe in the lions’ den, who sent a great fish to swallow Jonah, who sacrificed His only Son, and who raised Him from the dead. It’s an astonishing opportunity, when you think about it. So we must think about it. For best results, the boldness that the author of Hebrews recommends for approaching God in prayer should be mixed with a deep sense of awe and appreciation.
Prayer directs our focus on God.
Understanding who we’re talking to—and what a privilege it is—helps us keep our priorities straight when we pray. The first fruits of our prayer belong to God. Ideally, then, the bulk of our energy, passion, and creativity will go toward praising God and thanking Him for His work—in our lives and in the world around us.
The psalmists offer a master class in extolling the virtues of God.
“But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head” (Psalm 3:3).
“We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks! For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near” (Psalm 75:1).
“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy” (Psalm 145:8).
We can draw from their example or use our own experiences and creativity to place our primary focus on God when we pray.
Prayer helps us recognize our place—and our purpose.
Often when we turn to God in prayer, it’s in response to circumstances in our life—a medical crisis, a broken relationship, a job loss, a sense of helplessness or hopelessness. We pray in times of desperation, imploring God to do something on our behalf. More often than not, we have a pretty clear idea of what we want Him to do. In such cases, prayer becomes an “assignment.” We give God a job and wait for Him to complete it.
God is gracious; He will respond to “emergency requests,” though not necessarily in the ways we want Him to. However, when we pray in such a shortsighted way, we limit prayer’s potential in our lives. Prayer, in its most potent form, is a daily (or twice-daily or hourly) acknowledgment of God’s place in our lives—and of our place in His will.
Focusing our attention first on God helps us maintain a pleasing (to Him) sense of humility and obedience. As we extol His virtues and praise Him for His power, His wisdom, His love, and His ability to bring ultimate good from any situation, we can see our own circumstances for what they are—that is, firmly within His grasp.
The apostle Paul understood what it means to recognize our place, relative to God, in prayer. Acts 20:36 tells us that “he knelt down and prayed.” Paul’s kneeling posture reminded him that he approached God as a servant, a beggar. We should approach Him in the same way. Even if we don’t have the opportunity to kneel physically when we pray, our hearts should be bowed to God, seeking His purpose and not our own.
Prayer aligns our heart with God’s
The most profound example of seeking God’s purpose in prayer comes from Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His arrest, Jesus felt the full weight of what He was about to endure. He begins His prayer by saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39). It was certainly an understandable request from someone who was being pushed to the limits of human endurance.
But it’s how Jesus ends His prayer that resonates with us. He follows His anguished plea with these words: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Even in His vulnerable state, Jesus’ first priority is to align His will with God’s. Our aim must be to follow His lead in our own prayers. After we pour our hearts out to God, it is essential that we pray, in effect, “No matter how urgent or important these things seem to me, they pale in comparison to the urgency and importance of Your will. That is my first priority.”
That is the essence of worship and the essence of prayer.