What is Prayer?

What is prayer? Anyone who has prayed knows that this is a complex question, because it is so bound up with human experience; but at the same time, the answer is simple. Tim Keller in Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God , drawing upon Scripture, pictures it as our embracing of God. “Prayer is a striving to ‘take hold of God’ (Isa. 64:7) the way in ancient times people took hold of a cloak of a great man as they appealed to him, or the way in modern times we embrace someone to show love” (21).

1. In prayer we approach God as the source of true blessing.

In the opening chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he tells the Ephesians the content of his continual prayers for them: "I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (Eph. 1:16–18).

Paul prays that the Ephesians would know God as savior, that they would experience his love, and know, "what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:19–20).

Using lofty language, Paul reminds them of what is most important. Through suffering, trial, temptation, persecution, division, aggression, frustration, hunger, and hurt, Paul’s greatest concern is that they would know God as he has revealed himself in the gospel—as the Savior who pours out his love upon sinners like you and me. Tim Keller explains it this way:

Paul’s main concern, then, is for their public and private prayer life. He believes that the highest good is communion or fellowship with God. A rich, vibrant, consoling, hard-won prayer life is the good that makes it possible to receive all other kinds of goods rightly and beneficially. He does not see prayer as merely a way to get things from God but as a way to get more of God himself. (Keller, Prayer, 21)

2. In prayer we embrace God through faith.

In prayer, we seek to know God, even as God himself is the reward in eternal life. God is the blessing that Christ won for sinners, and the Holy Spirit is given to us now as a down payment of a greater blessing to come. This is what Paul means when he talks about the Holy Spirit as the “firstfruits” of a new creation (Rom. 8:23). In salvation, God has given us himself, and through prayer we “take hold of God” much like how “we embrace someone to show love.”

And like “every blessing in the heavenly places,” we embrace God through faith. This is what prayer is all about. In prayer, we reach out to God to gain a deeper understanding of his mercy and love and receive him through faith in Jesus. Thus, no matter what you need in life, when you pray, seek to get more of God. He is the great reward that Christ has won for his people. Through Christ we receive the God who gives himself to be our eternal joy.

Photo of Silverio Gonzalez

Silverio Gonzalez

Silverio Gonzalez is a husband, father, and staff writer at Core Christianity. He earned his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary California. 

Related Resources

Go Deeper

A continually growing library of Bible Studies to answer the most vital questions facing Christians today.

Get the Bible Studies

Core Studies