What is Prayer?

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 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. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

 ~ James 5:13-16

Prayer is powerful and effective.

But what is prayer?

How would you define it?

Google defines prayer as: “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.”

But one of their alternate definitions is: “an earnest hope or wish.”

I have to share a story with you.

Earlier this month I was feeling pretty down and out. I hadn’t slept well, I had a migraine; it was just a bad day. After fixing my husband’s lunch and seeing him out the door, I crawled back under the covers.

However, I had someone coming over at 8 in the morning, so I really needed to drag myself out of bed and face the day. I remember thinking how great it would be if the person would reschedule. I didn’t address God, but it was an earnest hope and subconsciously I knew He could do it if it were His will.

Would you be surprised to know that less than 15 minutes later that person rescheduled. I definitely counted it as an answer to prayer even though there were no flattering words or even direct appeals to God.

However, when I was looking up Scriptures on prayer, two that stuck out to me were Philippians 4:6 and Ephesians 6:18

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” ~ Philippians 4:6

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 Lord’s people.”Ephesians 6:18

With those two Scriptures in mind, it already started questions spinning in my mind.

Is not every petition or request to God a prayer?

If coming before God to ask for something isn’t always a prayer, what is?

So I looked up some more definitions of prayer:

Matt Slick posted his definition of prayer on the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) website saying: “Prayer is the practice of the presence of God.  It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made.  Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God.  Prayer is the needful practice of the Christian.  Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope.”

Here is one more definition. This one is from Dr. Ralph Martin (author of The Fulfillment of All Desire): “Prayer is, at root, simply paying attention to God.”

By these definitions, prayer is so much more than what we traditionally think of as conversations with God.

But they are definitions written by men, so I turned back to Scripture once more, looking up the definition of the Greek word for prayer, proseúxomai (pros-yoo’-khom-ahee) – which literally means, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes or ideas for His wishes (or will) as He imparts faith to us.

Prayer is coming before God with a heart that is open to His will.

Yes, it can be pouring your heart out to Him, but only when we do so knowing that He is Lord, and He knows best. It’s coming before Him and trusting that He can work all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Not asking Him to grant our wishes, but loving Him for being sovereign.Woman praying

I have no doubt that many, if not all, of the women reading this are prayer warriors. Yet I also know that many Christian women today struggle with their prayer life. Finding the time to pray, knowing what to say, remembering who to pray for, it’s a lot. But it is what God has called us to do.

Over the next 6 weeks (7 if you count today), we will be looking at some of the prayers from the New Testament. From Jesus to Paul, and the poor and the rich, the Bible gives us both humbling and amazing examples to follow.

The first section of Scripture I read today was from James 5 and the end of verse 16 says: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Jesus Himself said, And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)

When I first became a Christian, I thought that asking in His name  meant tacking “in Jesus’ name” onto the end of my prayers. But that’s not it at all. It essentially means exactly what my final definition of prayer says: “Coming before Him and trusting that He can work all things out for the good of those who love Him. Not asking Him to grant our wishes, but loving Him for being sovereign.” It is to echo Christ saying, “Not my will but yours be done.” (Matthew 26:39)

Hebrews 5:7 says, During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

His prayers were heard because of His reverent submission.

Our prayers are powerful and effective when we come before God in reverent submission. 

I want to close today with a prayer of my own:

Father God, thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving each and every woman who is reading this post on my blog, or attending this study at church. Let us have hearts that are set on You, Lord. Help us to come before You, open to Your will. I ask that over the next several weeks that You would open up Your Word to us and let it transform us to be more like Your Son. It is in His name we pray; amen.

Reflection Questions:

  • Based off my definition of prayer, how would you say you are doing in your prayer life?
  • Have you ever been confused about the meaning of asking for something in Jesus’ name?
  • When was the last time you came before God with the purpose of seeking His will?

Take it Deeper:

  • Look up the following Scriptures about prayer: Matthew 5:44; Matthew 26:41; Matthew 6:5-8; Mark 1:35; Mark 6:46
  • Download the study sheet (PDF)
  • Write your own definition of prayer and share it in the comments below.


“Prayer is an interchange of love between the Father and His child.
That desire you feel to pray is His love drawing you to delight in Him.
You only need to respond.”

~ Jennifer Kennedy Dean,
Executive director of The Praying Life Foundation



You can find the next post in this series here.

Prayer definition from Heather Hart


  1. Sandra says:

    Thank you for this wonderful bible study!
    My definition of prayer – Intimate time spent with God taking to Him your petitions and seeking His will. Whether it be a minute or an hour, it is prayer.

    • Heather Hart says:

      Thank you, Sandra! Great definition of prayer. The more I pray, the more I appreciate the simplicity of it. It’s not what we pray, how we pray, or anything about us, it’s all about loving Jesus and wanting to communicate with God. Wanting to talk to Him and wanting to hear what He has to say.
      Heather Hart recently posted…What is Prayer?My Profile

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