Stretching far back into antiquity, man has sought to understand the Mind of God. Moses sought it upon the mountain, David sought it through the Psalms, Solomon sought it through the search for wisdom, Paul sought it through Christ, and we seek it today through all of Scripture. The most basic and fundamental way in which these men, along with ourselves, encounter God is through prayer; however, there are times when we do not fully understand the true nature of the great privilege we have been given: that is, through prayer we are able to commune directly with God! And, hopefully, through a better understanding of the nature of prayer, we may also come to a better understanding of the nature of God. With that, let us begin.

What Is Prayer?

The word “Prayer” in the Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew word tephillâh meaning supplication or intercession and, in the New Testament, from the Greek proseuchomai also meaning to supplicate or to worship.  Now, these are very formal and linguistic definitions, and they do not fully capture the essence of prayer. The true meaning, purpose, and essence of prayer is found, not within a linguistic study of the words surrounding it, but it is instead found through its practitioners.

All throughout Scripture, the followers of The Eternal come before Him (be it in thanksgiving, supplication, worship, dispair) and speak to Him; when a supplication is rendered up to God, He then responds. What can we learn from this? We learn from this that prayer is, first and foremost, a Conversation with The Eternal. Now, this is not conversing in the same way that Allah “conversed” with Muhammed, or the way in which the Buddha transmits his teachings to his followers; no, this is full blown Conversation: Abraham bargins with God concerning the fate of the city of Sodom (Gen. 18:23-33), Moses entreated to see God’s face (Ex. 33:18-34:9), Christ himself even asks God that the burden of crucifixion be removed from his shoulders (Lk. 22:41-44). We see from these examples that prayer is first and foremost a conversation with God.

Logically, the question that now arises is something like, “Well, what is a conversation, anyway?” A conversation is normally defined as, “an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people : the act of talking in an informal way.” Conversation is more than that, though; conversation is an encounter with the mind of another! It follows then that prayer is an encounter with the mind of God! This is a hugely momentous realization! Through language, through the most natural occurrence of the human body spirited by the soul, we are able to encounter God and enter into His presence. This is an immense privilege and honor the likes of which was only possessed by a very specific individual of an already specially selected group from a particularly chosen people: the High Priest of the Levitical Priesthood. Aside from those who God called (such as Moses, Abraham, et al.), only the High Priest was able to enter into the presence of God; and even then, not without intense purification, and even then only on one day of the year!

The Holy of Holies

Back in the Old Testament times, God’s presence was honored in a different way than it is today. This is seen in the construction of the Mosaic Tabernacle in the book of Exodus. God sent down specific instructions regarding its construction, down to the materials to be used and the exact measurements of the items. The most important place within the entire Tabernacle was known as the Holy of Holies: it was here the presence of God was to dwell. This room was so Divine, so Holy, so full of the presence of God that all were forbidden to enter into it, lest God encounter their sins and strike them down. The Holy Place was just outside of the Holy of Holies and the area for sacrifice was surrounding both of these places. To further the barrier between the sin of the Israelites and the presence of God, a heavy curtain was hung between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place. And so it was from the time of the wandering and up until the death of Christ: a separation, a veil, a gap, existed between man in his sin and God in His purity, and supplication by an everyman unto the Lord was impossible unless done by a purified priest on behalf of the people.

The Death of Christ and the Tearing of the Veil

One of the most amazing results of the Sacrifice of Christ was that, with his death, the veil within the temple separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in two (Lk. 23:44-45). It was by this perfect sacrifice on behalf of humanity that the presence of God was permitted to once again dwell among us without the need for the ritual of purification and supplication done by a priest on behalf of the people! With the veil torn, imperfect and sinful humanity can once again enter directly into the presence of the Creator with supplication by the intercession of Christ through the washing and sacrifice of his blood.

Properly Conversing with God

Now that the nature of prayer has been established, we turn to the question of rightness once again: How do we converse properly with God? While a general answer is found in the lives of the chosen in the Old Testament, Christ himself gives us the most complete and definite answer to this very question:

Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory from the Son. Let me say it again: if you ask for anything in My name, I will do it. -John 14:13-14

Twice here, Christ gives us the answer to the question of how we should pray: In his name!

No problem! you may find yourself thinking. I always end my prayers to God by saying, “This I ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.” To that, I say, “Wonderful! But you’re missing the mark by a considerable distance.” When Christ says that anything asked in his name will be granted, he is not giving a magic phrase that guarantees our satisfaction; instead, what he is really doing is creating a rather stringent guideline regarding the proper and acceptable form of prayer. To pray in the name of Jesus is not to tack on words as an afterthought, but to pray as Jesus would pray! The prayers that are granted are not those asked with the name of Jesus, but the prayers that are granted are asked by a heart that is as Jesus is! It is only by living a life following in the footsteps and commands of Jesus that our prayers are answered; for when we live a life devoted to God our heart’s desires become His (Ps. 37:4)!

What Does Living This Life Look Like?

What does it even mean to live a life in the name of Jesus? Well, the New Testament is full of instances and examples of how Christ lived; but, for right now, we’ll just focus on his spiritual posture in prayer. The most powerful instance of prayer coming from the mouth of Christ is found at the garden of Gethsemane (Lk. 22:39-46). While we are unaware of the full prayer uttered by Christ (as all eyewitnesses to the event fell asleep from exhaustion), Lk. 22:47 gives us the most coherent and complete picture of the proper spiritual mindset of a prayer in the name of Jesus: Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done. Here we see that we are to seek after the will of God; we are to desire to fulfill His will at the expense of our own desires and comforts. This putting of God before ourselves is the first and foremost tenant of a life lived in the name of Jesus. We also see David, through the Psalms, crying out to God in joy, anguish, fear, supplication and every other emotion one could experience. From David, we learn that we are to be open with God; we are to willingly unfold our hearts to Him. This intimacy makes it possible to draw ever-nearer to the mind of God by which we may discern His will.

How Is A Life Lived In The Name Of Jesus?

Now that the terms and commands regarding the proper posture of prater have been defined, we can finally address the practical applications regarding everyday prayer life. The core of a well-rounded prayer life is steeped in Christ; therefore, each and every day should be devoted to growing closer to him. How is this accomplished? One may ask. Well, to find practicable examples of believers growing closer to God, we return once again to David. David had no fear, no reservations when it came to meeting with God; in our societies we are constantly constrained by social norms and shame regarding the true expresion of our desires. This kind of thinking and fear is not found on the road to Christ: each and every day must be devoted to seeking out a need within our hearts followed by an examination of how that need may be filled through Christ. Through this examination, we must find ourselves in conversation with God questioning, entreating, wondering, stating all of our thoughts concerning our present states. Through continual practice of this conversation with God, we will find that, soon enough, God begins to respond more fully. Through daily unfolding before the throne of God, we find ourselves ever more attuned to His Voice and therefore more readily able to discern His will, know His mind, find ourselves overcome by His Spirit, and able to do His work in a world He wishes to illumine with His light!