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.
Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer during His earthly ministry. He prayed for Himself (see John 17:1–5). He prayed for His disciples (see John 17:6–26). With His dying breath, He prayed for His enemies (see Luke 23:34).
The apostle Paul was a prayer warrior as well. In almost every one of his New Testament epistles, he talks about praying for the recipients of his letters. In 2 Timothy 1:3 he writes, “Without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, he instructs the Thessalonian believers to “pray without ceasing.”
From a certain perspective, then, the conclusion seems obvious. Neither Jesus nor Paul would have invested such time and energy in a pursuit that ultimately made no difference. So prayer must change things, somehow.
On the other hand, anyone who’s ever lost a loved one or struggled for years—despite continuous, fervent prayers—may question whether prayer changes anything at all. Perhaps the best way to reconcile these opposing positions is to say that prayer can change things in one of three ways.
Prayer Can Change Things in Bold, Dramatic Ways
In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says, “For assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Occasionally, God gives us stark evidence of prayer’s extraordinary power. His demonstrations rarely, if ever, involve a displaced mountain. Instead, they involve everything from a sudden cancer remission to an unexpected job offer to a reconciliation that seemed impossible.
These answered prayers tend to have a polarizing effect. On the one hand, the people whose prayers are answered have something for which they can praise God for the rest of their lives. They have evidence on which to build their faith. Other people, whose prayers seemingly weren’t answered, may wonder why God refuses to work in such a dramatic way in their lives.
As time passes, even the people who did experience a dramatic answer to prayer may wonder why God doesn’t answer other requests in a similar manner. That may explain why such sudden, dramatic answers to prayer are relatively rare.
Prayer Can Change Things in Increments
Prayer can change things in gradual, sometimes imperceptible, ways. The apostle Paul, as we mentioned earlier, prayed for the believers in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Thessalonica, and elsewhere. Based on certain passages in his letters, we can conclude that his prayers were answered. Yet the changes he prayed for in people’s lives didn’t happen overnight. They occurred as part of their spiritual growth.
Likewise, when you pray to become more like Christ, God doesn’t immediately imbue you with a dozen Christlike qualities. When you pray for patience, courage, or discipline, He doesn’t immediately gift you with the patience of Job, the courage of David, or the discipline of Daniel. Instead, He gives you opportunities to grow in a particular area. He allows you to face circumstances that call for patience, courage, or wisdom, and He guides you through them.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of praying for just enough from God to become independent of Him. We ask Him to answer our prayers fully and immediately so that we won’t have to turn to Him again. But that’s not what He wants for us.
Look at the way He answered the Israelites’ prayers for food in the wilderness in Exodus 16. He didn’t fill their tents with a year’s supply of manna. Instead, He sent a day’s worth for them to collect and enjoy. God’s desire is for His people to turn to Him daily for our provisions. So He often answers our prayers in ways that bring us back to Him day after day.
Prayer Can Change Us
This is the aspect of prayer that largely goes unexplored in our search for answered requests. When we pray, our ultimate aim is to align our will with God’s. The problem is, we often go about it by trying to bend His will to fit ours. When that doesn’t happen, we question the efficiency of prayer or accuse God of not caring for us.
However, if we stay faithful to Him and continue to pray, in time He will bend our will to fit His. He will work in and through us to change our hearts. He will open our eyes to His work. He will give us the wisdom to recognize the perfection of His plan. He will loosen our grip on our own expectations.
Look at Matthew 26:36–39 for context. After Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for God to remove the cup of suffering from Him, He was ready to face what lay ahead. Yet God had not removed the cup of suffering from Him. The physical and spiritual agony of the crucifixion still awaited Him. Jesus’ prayer had not changed His circumstances, but it had changed His spirit.
The reason is that Jesus’ other request had been granted. After He prayed for the cup of suffering to be removed, He added these words: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” His second, and primary, request was that God’s will would be accomplished through Him. And that’s exactly what was going to happen through His crucifixion.
That’s all the assurance Jesus needed for His spirit to be revived. His prayer created a change because His will was aligned with God’s.
“…Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).
Luke doesn’t identify the disciple who approached Jesus with this request. We can assume, however, that he was motivated by more than simply a desire to keep up with John the Baptist’s disciples. The unnamed disciple, like the other eleven, likely saw the power of prayer in Jesus’ life. He saw the priority Jesus placed on prayer. He saw how prayer energized and sustained Him. And he wanted that same source of power, energy, and sustenance in his own life.
The disciple’s bold request was met with an even bolder answer. Jesus taught His followers a blueprint for prayer that resonates as powerfully today as it did two thousand years ago. Let’s look at four parts of the prayer the Lord taught His disciples to discover how we can pray like Jesus.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus establishes His priorities immediately in His prayer. He wants to do God’s will. Period. He emphasizes that point in John 6:38: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Jesus sets the tone of His prayer early so that everything that follows will align with His primary purpose.
They’re not easy words to say and mean. Putting God’s will and His kingdom first means sacrificing our own wants and needs. In Jesus’ case, it eventually meant sacrificing something much more precious. Matthew 26:39 records another prayer of Jesus, this one in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before He’s arrested. Jesus knows that in a matter of hours, God will turn His full wrath on Him to punish Him for the sins of the world. He’s facing unimaginable agony.
In his prayer, Jesus asks God to remove His suffering—but only if it’s God’s will to do so. Jesus’ first priority is for God’s will to be done, even it means torture and death for Him. He doesn’t just pray the words; He lives them—and dies for them. If we make God’s will our first priority, we’ll discover what it means to be used in powerful ways by Him. We’ll also discover the enormous potential of prayer that Jesus tapped into.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
Jesus emphasizes the importance of daily dependence on God. He doesn’t ask for a week’s worth of blessings. He asks only for today, because He looks forward to tomorrow’s prayerful encounter with God. He craves daily interaction with His heavenly Father.
That’s how God prefers to work too. In Exodus 16, he sends a morning batch of manna for the Israelites to gather, prepare, and eat. The next morning, He sends another batch. God wants His people to rely on Him daily for our provisions. Not only does it keep us close to Him, but it helps us maintain a constant awareness of where our provisions come from.
Staying focused on the Lord’s blessings of today also keeps us from giving in to anxiety about the future. Jesus emphasizes this point in Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
This portion of the Lord’s Prayer is for our benefit. Jesus was sinless. He had nothing to ask forgiveness for. We, on the other hand, need forgiveness daily. So Jesus helps us understand that forgiveness is a two-part process. We receive forgiveness from God and offer forgiveness to others.
In that sense, it’s similar to the apostle John’s teaching in 1 John 4:11: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” We love others because God loved us first. He showed us the way. It would be hypocritical to hoard His love without sharing it with others. The same goes for His forgiveness. We forgive others because God has forgiven us. Forgiveness, then, becomes common ground between us and God. It brings us closer to Him.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
God always provides a means of delivery when His people face temptation. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Jesus was no stranger to temptation. Before He started His public ministry, He embarked on a forty-day fast in the wilderness. Seeing that Jesus was physically weakened, the devil appeared to Him and tempted Him three times. Three times Jesus countered Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture. The Word of God was His means of delivery from temptation. Satan was no match for it and had to leave in defeat.
That same means of delivery is available to us today. So our prayer should be for God to remind us of His Word when we face temptation.
October’s Pastor Appreciation emphasis in many churches is a good reminder to pray for our servant-leaders during the month, of course. But these godly men and women stand in need of prayer every single day. Use these prayers as a starting point in your prayer time this month but let them also help you develop a lifelong pattern of lifting your pastor to the Lord.
Pray Blessings and Gratitude over Your Pastor
Numbers 6:24-26—“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
Thank you for sending our pastor to shepherd the church. I’m grateful for the love you put in the pastor’s heart for You and Your people. I appreciate the unique set of gifts and talents that enrich the pastor’s ministry and bless our church. Would You, in turn, bless the pastor today? Help the pastor to sense Your presence in such a sweet way. Fill the pastor up, Lord and use the pastor for Your glory today. And show me how I can support and encourage. Thanking You for this good leader, I pray this in Jesus’ name.
Pray for the Courage and Strength of Your Pastor
Joshua 1:9—“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
My pastor’s on the front line; an easy target for the enemy and his minions. My pastor’s preaching the Word faithfully from the platform each week as a community leader, and a completely sold out servant to You. Dear Holy Spirit, empower the pastor this day to boldly proclaim the truth of Your Word. Help the pastor not to grow weary in well-doing or to fall away but provide grace upon grace. I’m thanking You in advance for what You will do in and through our pastor this very day, in Jesus’ name.
Pray that Your Pastor Clearly Sees God’s Direction
Proverbs 3:5-6—“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Thank you for a pastor that seeks You with a whole heart. The pastor’s singular desire, Lord, is to serve and please You. So, Father, show the pastor the way. Give the pastor Your vision. Grant Your clarity. Make the complex simple. And then give the pastor boldness to step out in faith to accomplish Your plans for our ministry and for our church. It’s easy to be distracted by many voices, so Father let the pastor hear but one voice, and let that voice be Yours. These things I pray with hope and expectation, in Jesus’ name.
Pray for Your Pastor to Be Renewed with Energy
Galatians 6:9—“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Even though my pastor serves our church with what seems like boundless energy, no one is a superhuman; I know the pastor gets really weary. The demands on the body and spirit are nearly unending. Would You let my pastor find respite and relaxation from the day? Would You clear the mind, give a good sleep tonight, and refreshment for another day of kingdom service? Bless my pastor, oh Lord, for faithfulness and offer blessings with a new day to continue in faithfully service to You.
Pray for Your Pastor’s Focus to Increase
Matthew 6:33—“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
There will be hundreds of distractions in my pastor’s life today—fires to put out, unexpected twists and turns, and the noise and clutter of the world. I know that the deceiver will do anything he can to keep my pastor from study, prayer, and service. So, I lift my pastor up to You, dear Lord, asking You to help keep the main thing the main thing. Give “blinders” so that my pastor is keenly focused on You and on Your purpose for life and ministry this day. In Jesus’ name.
Pray for the Blessing of Wisdom to Increase
James 1:5-6—“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
I come to you today interceding for my pastor. I know there will be many important decisions that must be made, many words that must be chosen carefully, many needs that must be answered. It’s a day that the pastor can’t handle with only human abilities. The pastor needs Your wisdom and Your guidance. Only You know what today will bring, and only You know what the demands will be. Meet them, oh Lord, and give the pastor just what is needed, just when it’s needed. I’m thanking you, in Jesus’ name.
Pray that Love Will Surround and Encourage Your Pastor
John 13: 34-35—“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Dear Holy Spirit,
Today I pray for the fruits of the spirit in my pastor’s life—that love, joy, peace, and patience will guide; that kindness and goodness will be companions; that faithfulness will be the motto, and that gentleness and self-control will be evident to all. Help the pastor to see each person today through Your eyes. And help them to see You in the pastor. I love you, Lord, and I thank you for my pastor, in Jesus’ name.
Gift Ideas for Your Pastor
Looking to find a practical and meaningful gift for your pastor? Why not offer the gift of godly resources. We have some bestselling Bibles to add to our list. Check them out here.