This article is part of the Questions and Answers series.
Q: What does our prayerlessness reveal?
A: Where prayer is present, it’s saying something—it’s speaking, shouting. It teaches the church that we really need the Lord. Where prayer is absent, it reinforces the assumption that we’re okay without him. Infrequent prayer teaches a church that God is needed only in special situations—under certain circumstances but not all. It teaches a church that God’s help is intermittently necessary, not consistently so. It leads a church to believe that there are plenty of things we can do without God’s help, and we need to bother him only when we run into especially difficult situations.
Q: Why do we need corporate prayer?
A: Prayer is oxygen for the Christian. It sustains us. So it follows that prayer must be a source of life for any community of Christians. It is to the church what it is to individuals—breathing. Yet many of our gatherings could be likened to people coming together merely to hold their collective breath. This would explain why people seem to have so little energy for actually living out the Christian life. But breathing together is what our churches need.
A: Prayer humbles us like nothing else. When we pray, we’re reminded that prayer is not like other disciplines in the world that require impressive aptitude and increased exercise to bring about great results. If someone hopes to get rewarded or compensated for playing an instrument, for example, then he must first achieve a level of expertise through years of practice. Great results spring from a grueling, long-term regimen.
Q: What if our prayers aren’t eloquent?
A: If prayer is like breathing, then it isn’t about our expertise. It’s about our experiencing the power of the One to whom we pray. It’s about the great expectations that grow in us when we have a genuine experience of the God who hears and answers. We don’t need experts, and that’s a strong encouragement to churches filled with many members and even pastors who feel like novices. I’ve experienced the beauty of weak prayers that meet a willing Savior.
Q: Does prayer always fix things?
A: Think of prayer as God’s prescription for life in a fallen world. This prescription works like any other. Imagine being prescribed a medication for an ailment that’s been bothering you. You may leave the doctor’s office with nothing but a sheet of paper, but something changes. What causes you to smile even when your present sickness is severe and your circumstances haven’t changed? One word: hope. A prescription isn’t the medication itself. It merely connects you to the medicine. Your illness may still be bothering you, but the prescription reminds you that your sickness is temporary because you’ve found a solution. Like a prescription, prayer eases our concerns before repairing our circumstances.
We need God always, and our joy comes from Jesus’s presence first and foremost.
Q: What is prayer not?
A: While prayer is more than casual conversation with our Creator, it’s far from twisting God’s arm to get what we want. God is all-powerful. We can’t twist his arm. He’s too strong. We can’t barter with him any more than my infant daughter can barter with me—she doesn’t own anything I need or want. We can’t demand anything from God because it’s impossible for someone without needs to be coerced.
Q: What is prayer for?
A: But when we pray as Jesus taught, we’re reminded that God’s presence and person is precious—far more precious than his provision. God sets the agenda, and this is best for us. So, as we pray this way together, he forms us into a community of people who confess that our dependency on him is not primarily circumstantial. We need God always, and our joy comes from Jesus’s presence first and foremost, regardless of what we get in terms of material provision. And you know what? As this truth is cemented in our hearts through prayer, God in his kindness grants us a greater experience of his presence.
This article is adapted from Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church by John Onwuchekwa.