8th June 2021 Canvey Methodist Church Bible Studies

What Is Prayer?


Hymn: Sweet Hour of Prayer



Today’s Bible Study is on the topic of “Prayer” . This theme was prompted by a conversation I had on Sunday in the Church car park, just before the start of the service of worship, and whilst welcoming our congregation to church. 

The question asked was: “When there is so much need to pray for, how can we do this without our prayers seeming to be like a shopping list?


The first thing I would say is that I don’t think that God minds us coming before Him, at all, with a list of petitions. However, that said, there is so much more to prayer than petitions alone! There are also Prayers of praise and adoration, prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of confession.


It seems that people approach prayer for very different reasons. 


In August 2005, “Newsweek magazine” and “Beliefnet” asked 1,004 people what they believe and how they practice their faith

One of the questions they asked was this: 

“What do you think is the most important purpose of prayer?”


Here are the responses they received:


a. To seek God’s guidance (27%)

b. To thank God (23%)

c. To be close to God or the divine (19%)

d. To help others (13%)

e. To improve a person’s life (9%)

f. Other (4%)

g. Don’t know (5%)


What is the purpose of prayer? As the answers above suggest, there are many reasons)


Prayer, then, is not just a petition, it is about our relationship with Almighty God. 

In 1818, the hymn writer James Montgomery put his thoughts about prayer into a hymn which we know today as “‘StF529: Prayer is the soul's sincere desire uttered or unexpressed”.o

If you would like to hear as well as read the words, please do click on the link below:




Otherwise, James Montgomery’s hymn lyrics are as below:


“Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,

Unuttered or expressed;

The motion of a hidden fire

That trembles in the breast.


Prayer is the burden of a sigh,

The falling of a tear,

The upward glancing of an eye,

When none but God is near.


Prayer is the simplest form of speech

That infant lips can try;

Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach

The Majesty on high.


Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,

The Christian’s native air,

His watchword at the gates of death—

He enters Heav’n with prayer.


Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice,

Returning from his ways,

While angels in their songs rejoice

And cry, “Behold, he prays!”


O Thou by whom we come to God,

The Life, the Truth, the Way,

The path of prayer Thyself hast trod—

Lord, teach us how to pray!”


Prayer is therefore something that is intensely personal and profound; an action and activity in which we draw close to, and enter into relationship with Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


In the Bible we find this intimacy in prayer spoken of, not only in the New Testament but also in the Old.


Here, in the Old Testament we discover that Prayer is 


[1]. Seeking the Lord……. that is, seeking God himself - not his will, not his gifts, not his salvation, but simply him.


1 Chronicles 16:11- Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always


Psalm 119:2- Blessed are they who ... seek him with all their heart


Amos 5:4,6- Seek me and live ... seek the Lord and live


[2] It is also desiring, deeply desiring, the Lord's help in a difficult situation.


2 Samuel 21:1- David sought the face of the Lord

Psalm 34:4- I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me ...

Psalm 77:2- When I was in distress I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands…


[3] Prayer is also a desire for the Lord's wisdom in difficult situations.


Chronicles 20:3ff- The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him ...


2 Chronicles 26:5- Uzziah ... sought God ... as long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success


[4] It is also an expression of our personal dependence upon the Lord.


Psalm 22:26- they who seek the Lord will praise him .

Psalm 27:8- My heart says of you. "Seek his face!" Your face, Lord, I will seek.

Psalm 69:32- you who seek God, may your hearts live!


[5] Finally, the Old Testament writers saw prayer as desiring communion, a deep intimacy with the Lord.


Psalm 70:4- May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you .

Psalm 105:3,4- Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always


The New Testament also sheds light on the wonderful and fulfilling nature of prayer in relationship with God through Jesus.


Within its pages the exact nature of prayer is revealed. Helpful instructions are given as to how we should pray to God and why we should do so, even though God already knows what we are going to say?


Here is what the New Testament writers say about prayer.


Prayer is faith based communication with God. Prayer is an act of faith because you don’t have physical “proof” that God is listening. When you pray, you acknowledge that there is a God, and that you need Him. 

2Thessalonians1:3;  We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.


James 5:15; And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.


Revelation 8:3-4 – And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints of the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. (ESV)


Revelation says that God does in fact receive our prayers like smoke from an altar. There are many types of prayers, but one we often forget is praying for wisdom:


Prayer is also communication because it is two-way. When we pray, we should expect God to answer. Here we hear again from the Old Testament texts


Jeremiah 33:3 – Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. (KJV)


Psalm 119:169 – Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word! (ESV)


God hears our Prayers  wherever we are. It is our attitude that counts. 


Where to Pray? Anywhere & anytime, but Jesus tells us where our attitude of  prayer should always be:


Matthew 6:6: "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."


Instructions on How to Pray

This is where we started off, with a concern that with such great need around us, that our prayers would soon resemble a shopping list rather than a humble approach to God. What are we to do?


Fortunately, in Matthew 6:9-15 Jesus comes up with the answer, telling us how to pray. This pattern for our prayers is what is now referred to as the Lord's prayer.


"This, then, is how you should pray: "'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."


When we unpick this pattern for a thriving prayer life we find that it consists of


a). praise,

b).submission to His Will, 

c).petition for daily needs, 

d).request for forgiveness and protection.


I rather like the way that Max Lucado, the Christian author, sums up this pattern of prayer that Jesus gave us, into a "pocket version", in his book - ‘Before Amen’.  It gives us a simple way to remember Jesus' example.




-You are good.


-I need help. Heal me & forgive me.


-They need help.


-Thank You.


-In Jesus’ name,




The Bible also instructs us


To pray "in the Spirit".  We are praying to the Father, through the Holy Spirit within us, made possible by the authority of Jesus.


Ephesians 6:18 reminds us to also pray in the Spirit - "Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints."


When to Pray

1 Thessalonians says: "pray continually;"


Ephesians 6:18 says: "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."


Who Should Pray

Matthew 6:6 says: "But when you pray" ... not…” if you pray”. 


As Christian believers it is the breath of our spiritual life to spend time in prayer with our Heavenly Father.


Perhaps the best focal verse for this Bible study on prayer is Ephesians 6:18 where St Paul emphasizes the importance of prayer.


For Whom We Should Pray


The saints -  Ephesians 6:18 - "keep on praying for all the saints." (believers in Christ)


Our enemies - Matthew 5:44 - "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,"


Everyone including leaders - 1 Timothy 2:1-2 - "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness."


I also find the following helpful when praying:


Using “Arrow” prayers.

Many of us have busy lives and some (including me) have poor memories. I therefore pray for a person as soon as I have heard about their particular prayer-need. 


Pray Retrospectively. 

If I forget about a need for a particular day or time,(or I find out about it afterwards), I still pray for the person after the event. God, after all, is outside time, the Alpha and Omega (the beginning and the end). It is us as mortals who live within time. God hears our prayers and is with the person ‘in the moment’ and at the time of their great need.


Starting and ending the day with prayer: 


Perhaps using a 

hymn or a worship song , 

Bible Reading notes,

 or a passage from the Bible to lead me into prayer.


Not being afraid to be quiet and still before God. 


To be in God’s presence. To ask the Holy Spirit to prompt my prayers.


To use a prayer list or prayer diary. 

This way, everyone gets prayed for. It also gives a practical way of looking back to see how God has answered prayers. 


To pray in faith but also to be willing to let God to do things his way and His time. 


Like a good parent with their children, God knows best, and can say “No” or “Wait” as well as “Yes”. Of course we want Him to say “Yes” every time, but you and I never have the whole picture before us and don’t always know what is best . 

( 1 Corinthians 13:12 New International Reader's Version (NIRV). 12 Now we see only a dim likeness of things. It is as if we were seeing them in a foggy mirror. But someday we will see clearly. We will see face to face. What I know now is not complete. But someday I will know completely, just as God knows me completely).


There are some mysteries that we will not know about until we get to heaven, and once there, standing in the closer healing presence of God, “where every tear gets wiped away and where there is no pain”, I suspect that the sins, pains and injustices that concerned us so greatly whilst here on earth, will be seen in a new light and their impact dwarfed in and by the immense love, grace and peace of God through the sacrifice and wounds of our Saviour, Jesus.


I hope that this brief dive into the deep ocean on the subject of prayer has been helpful. Again, my apologies that it has not been possible to discuss these thoughts tonight in our zoom Bible study. 

Perhaps we can do so next week.


Hymn StF 531: What a friend we have in Jesus.




Loving God, we give you praise that you are only ever a prayer away. Thank you for this precious gift of prayer. Encourage us, we pray, dear Lord, to enter into your presence frequently knowing that you always welcome us as a loving Father welcomes his children to spend time with him. As we spend time in your presence, may your Holy Spirit guide us in the prayers we offer to you. Prayers of Silence, of praise and adoration, of thanksgiving, of confession and of petition. In so doing may we pray within your will that your kingdom may come in the lives of those around us. Lord God, please guide us, please fill us, please embolden us in our prayers . In Jesus Name. Amen.