10 Key Bible Verses on Prayer

So what does the Bible say about prayer? This term at in our Family Devotions at Dundonald Church, we are spending a whole term focusing on ‘The Wonder of Prayer.’ Here are 10 key verses from Crossway with short explanations helping introduce you to the doctrine of prayer as we look forward to the term ahead

This article was originally written for the Crossway website on March 11th 2020,
which can be accessed here.

Prayer Modeled in God’s Word

We can learn what and how to pray to God from his very word—even from the example of his own Son. Be encouraged to go the Lord in prayer and supplication by the following Scriptures with commentary from the ESV Study Bible.

Matthew 6:5–8

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Prayer was a pillar of Jewish piety. Public prayer, said aloud in the morning, afternoon, and evening, was common. At the set time of prayer, pious Jews would stop what they were doing and pray, some discreetly, but others with pretentious display. Jesus did not condemn all public prayer, as indicated by his own prayers in public (e.g., Matt. 14:19; 15:36). One’s internal motivation is the central concern. “shut the door.” Though public prayer has value, prayer completely away from public view allows a person (or group) to focus more exclusively on God.

Pagans repeated the names of their gods or the same words over and over without thinking (cf. 1 Kings 18:26Acts 19:34). Jesus is prohibiting mindless, mechanical repetition, not the earnest repetition that flows from the imploring heart (Mark 14:392 Cor. 12:8; cf. Ps. 136Isa. 6:3).

Hebrews 4:16

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

“Draw near” (Gk. proserchomai, “approach, go to, draw near to”) is used consistently in Hebrews to represent a person approaching God (Heb. 7:25Heb. 10:1, 22Heb. 11:6Heb. 12:18, 22; cf. Ex. 16:9; 34:32Lev. 9:5Deut. 4:11), which is possible only when one’s sins are forgiven through the sacrificial and intercessory ministry of a high priest (Heb. 7:25Heb. 10:22). The encouragement to “draw near” to God’s throne implies that Christians have the privilege of a personal relationship with God. “Confidence” translates Greek parrēsia (“boldness,” “confidence,” “courage,” especially with reference to speaking before someone of great rank or power; cf. Heb. 3:6Heb. 10:19, 35). It indicates that Christians may come before God and speak plainly and honestly (yet still with appropriate reverence), without fear that they will incur shame or punishment by doing so. “throne of grace.” God the Father, with Jesus at his right hand (Heb. 8:1Heb. 12:2; cf. Heb. 1:8), graciously dispenses help from heaven to those who need forgiveness and strength in temptation.

1 Thessalonians 5:16–18

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Joy in Paul’s letters is a basic mark of the Christian (Rom. 14:17) and a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is often associated with the firm hope of the Christian (e.g., Rom. 5:2–5; 12:12). “Pray without ceasing” suggests a mental attitude of prayerfulness, continual personal fellowship with God, and consciousness of being in his presence throughout each day. Christians are to be marked by thanksgiving (Eph. 5:4, 20Col. 2:7Col. 3:15, 17Col. 4:2). This probably refers to all of 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18.

Philippians 4:6–7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 6:25–34) that believers are not to be anxious but are to entrust themselves into the hands of their loving heavenly Father, whose peace will guard them in Christ Jesus. Paul’s use of “guard” may reflect his own imprisonment or the status of Philippi as a Roman colony with a military garrison. In either case, it is not Roman soldiers who guard believers—it is the peace of God Almighty. Because God is sovereign and in control, Christians can entrust all their difficulties to him, who rules over all creation and who is wise and loving in all his ways (Rom. 8:31–39). An attitude of thanksgiving contributes directly to this inward peace.

1 John 5:14–15

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

To ask God “according to his will” does not mean that, before Christians can pray effectively, they need somehow to discover God’s secret plans for the future (sometimes called his “hidden will” or “will of decree”; cf. Deut. 29:29). Rather, it means they should ask according to what the Bible teaches about God’s will for his people (sometimes called God’s “revealed will” or “will of precept”). If Christians are praying in accordance with what pleases God as found in the teaching of Scripture, then they are praying according to his will (cf. Matt. 6:10Eph. 5:17).

To know that he hears us in whatever we ask is enough, because communion with God is the goal of prayer. “we have the requests.” Human experience testifies that Christians do not always receive all the things they ask from God, even things that seemingly accord with his revealed will (see note above). This verse must be understood in light of other passages of Scripture which show that praying according to God’s will includes the need to pray in faith (Matt. 21:22James 1:6), with patience (Luke 18:1–8), in obedience (Ps. 66:181 Pet. 3:12), and in submission to God’s greater wisdom (Luke 22:42Rom. 8:281 Pet. 4:19).

Matthew 6:9–13

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Jesus gives his disciples an example to follow when praying. The prayer has a beginning invocation and six petitions that give proper priorities. The first three petitions focus on the preeminence of God while the final three focus on personal needs in a community context.

“Father” (Gk. patēr, “father”) would have been “Abba” in Aramaic, the everyday language spoken by Jesus (cf. Mark 14:36Rom. 8:15Gal. 4:6). It was the word used by Jewish children for their earthly fathers. However, since the term in both Aramaic and Greek was also used by adults to address their fathers, the claim that “Abba” meant “Daddy” is misleading and runs the risk of irreverence. Nevertheless, the idea of praying to God as “Our Father” conveys the authority, warmth, and intimacy of a loving father’s care, while in heaven reminds believers of God’s sovereign rule over all things. The theme of “heavenly Father” is found throughout the Old Testament (Deut. 14:1; 32:6Ps. 103:13Jer. 3:4; 31:9Hos. 11:1). Jesus’ disciples are invited into the intimacy of God the Son with his Father. The concern of this first petition is that God’s name would be hallowed—that God would be treated with the highest honor and set apart as holy.

Christians are called to pray and work for the continual advance of God’s kingdom on earth (the second petition; see note on Matt. 6:9–13). The presence of God’s kingdom in this age refers to the reign of Christ in the hearts and lives of believers, and to the reigning presence of Christ in his body, the church—so that they increasingly reflect his love, obey his laws, honor him, do good for all people, and proclaim the good news of the kingdom. The third petition speaks of God’s will. This means God’s “revealed will” (see note on Eph. 5:17), which involves conduct that is pleasing to him as revealed in Scripture. Just as God’s will is perfectly experienced in heaven, Jesus prays that it will be experienced on earth. The will of God will be expressed in its fullness only when God’s kingdom comes in its final form, when Christ returns in power and great glory (see Matt. 24:30; cf. Rom. 8:18–25Rev. 20:1–10), but it will increasingly be seen in this age as well (Matt. 13:31–33).

The fourth petition focuses on the disciples’ daily bread, a necessity of life which by implication includes all of the believer’s daily physical needs. Forgive us our debts (the fifth petition) does not mean that believers need to ask daily for justification, since believers are justified forever from the moment of initial saving faith (Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1; 10:10). Rather, this is a prayer for the restoration of personal fellowship with God when fellowship has been hindered by sin (cf. Eph. 4:30). Those who have received such forgiveness are so moved with gratitude toward God that they also eagerly forgive those who are debtors to them. On sin as a “debt” owed to God, see note on Colossians 2:14.

This final (sixth) petition addresses the disciples’ battle with sin and evil. “Lead us not into temptation.” The word translated “temptation” (Gk. peirasmos) can indicate either temptation or testing (see notes on Matt. 4:1James 1:13). The meaning here most likely carries the sense, Allow us to be spared from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin (cf. Matt. 26:41). Although God never directly tempts believers (James 1:13), he does sometimes lead them into situations that “test” them (cf. Matt. 4:1; also Job 11 Pet. 1:6; 4:12). In fact, trials and hardships will inevitably come to believers’ lives, and believers should “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when trials come, for they are strengthened by them (James 1:3–4). Nonetheless, believers should never pray to be brought into such situations but should pray to be delivered from them, for hardship and temptation make obedience more difficult and will sometimes result in sin. Believers should pray to be delivered from temptation (cf. Matt. 26:41Luke 22:40, 462 Pet. 2:9Rev. 3:10) and led in “paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:3). “deliver us from evil.” The phrase translated “evil” (Gk. tou ponērou) can mean either “evil” or “the evil one,” namely, Satan. The best protection from sin and temptation is to turn to God and to depend on his direction. “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen” is evidently a later scribal addition, since the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts all lack these words, which is the reason why these words are omitted from most modern translations. However, there is nothing theologically incorrect about the wording (cf. 1 Chron. 29:11–13), nor is it inappropriate to include these words in public prayers.

Mark 11:24

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

God delights to “give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:11) and is capable of granting any prayer, though we must ask with godly motives (James 4:3) and according to God’s will (1 John 5:14). “believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Those who trust God for the right things in the right way can have confidence that God will “supply every need. . . according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19), knowing that he will work “all things together for good” and will “graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:28, 32). Some have misused this verse by telling people that if they pray for physical healing (or for some other specific request) and if they just have enough faith, then they can have confidence that God has already done (or will do) whatever they ask. But we must always have the same perspective that Jesus had—that is, confidence in God’s power but also submission to his will: “Father, all things are possible for you. . . Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Ephesians 6:17–18

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

The weapons for warfare are spiritual because they are rooted in prayer, which is the Christian’s most powerful resource. Prayer is to permeate believers’ lives as a universal practice, as seen by the use of “all” four times in this verse: “at all times”. . . “with all prayer”. . . “with all perseverance”. . . “for all the saints”. Prayer in the Spirit is a form of worship (John 4:23–24) enabled by the Spirit of God, who intercedes on behalf of the person who prays (Rom. 8:26–27).

1 Timothy 2:1

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.”

Paul turns to expounding in specific terms what true gospel living (1 Tim. 1:5) should look like. He calls for prayer and he addresses hindrances to prayer (1 Tim. 2:1–15). In describing life that properly emerges from the gospel, Paul first mentions prayer for the salvation of all people. This also leads to a discussion of godly living and appropriate behavior in corporate worship, particularly unity, modesty, and proper submission. Paul’s point is not to list all the ways to pray but to pile up various terms in reference to prayer for their cumulative impact. This is a call for all sorts of prayer for all sorts of people.

James 5:16

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Sometimes confession in the community is needed before healing can take place, since sin may be the cause of the illness (cf. 1 Cor. 11:29–30). Pray for one another is directed to all the readers of James’s letter and indicates that he did not expect prayer for healing to be limited to the elders (James 5:14). The righteous will have great power in prayer, as God grants their requests.

All commentary sections adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

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