Skip to main content

If God knows our hearts, why is there ever a need to pray?


“The Freedom to pray anywhere often leads us to praying nowhere.”

-Marshall Segal


When we talk about prayer, what are we specifically talking about? If you have been going to church for some years, this is almost second nature. When somebody says, ‘let’s pray’, most Christians seem to know what to do. If you are new to Christianity, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what’s happening.

Prayer is simply understood as talking with God. More specifically, we are praying to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. It is a conversation, but our thoughts are concentrated on God. Therefore, we can pray verbally or quietly without words, allowing us to connect with God.


You are not praying to seem spiritual but to build a sense of intimacy and closeness with your Heavenly Father. You may have seen people close their eyes, put on an overly sing-song voice, and use words you would never usually use while talking in an upward or downward inflexion. Those features don’t necessarily make for a good prayer. It’s not a performance, and so you shouldn’t be put off by how you see others praying. There is no formula for prayer, and there is no particular posture you should take. The best way to pray is keeping it as simple as possible.

The first ever recorded dialogue is in Genesis 3 between Adam and God. It’s not so much a prayer as a direct, in-person conversation. This is still within the instance where humans had direct access to God. Shortly after the early chapters of Genesis, the privilege of seemingly direct face-to-face conversation with God slowly narrows, perhaps because of an extenuating cause of the Fall of Humanity or because God would only reveal himself, pre-Christ, to a few people across the generations. As I read the whole of the scriptures, I tend to find myself thinking it is the latter.

In each book of the Hebrew scriptures, God seems to speak with individuals but requires them to deliver a message to their communities. In that sense, many people pray, but few people hear.

So, since humanity departed from a close relationship with God, as depicted in Genesis 2, we now have a communication problem.

Try sitting opposite someone and communicating your thoughts in total silence. You might pull some strained faces, nod your head or try and use your eyes. Besides looking a little odd, you would find it tremendously challenging to speak with each other. That’s perhaps what it might have felt like for humanity attempting prayer in the early years.

How Does A Prayer Work?

After The Fall of Humanity, the conversation between God and humans is seemingly the same through the first 11 chapters of Genesis. These chapters are widely understood to be poetic, so it’s hard to understand how prayer might have worked from them. It looks as though it was a face-to-face exchange. Would that have been standing face to face with God, a messenger in the form of an angel, or a sensory experience? Who knows. One thing is for sure is that it wouldn’t have been through the Bible since nothing had been written!

So, to help us with the here and now, we’ll build our theology around conversations with God primarily beyond these chapters. The earliest prayer outside of the Genesis Poems we see is in Genesis 12. The first historical account of the nation of Isreal begins with Abram – later known as Abraham. There is not a tremendous amount of help in how prayer functions because throughout Abram’s life, he only speaks with God on seven occasions, and one conversation is ten years apart. Furthermore, some of those conversations seem to happen through angels. At other times it looks like direct access in face-to-face conversation.

No doubt, the people of God were continually praying and seeking Him. As far back as history goes, humanity has directed prayers to God. I’m sure Abram continually prayed; we just don’t have much detail about it.

Consequently, we need to perform whole Bible theology and read across the scriptures to build a framework for prayer. Throughout the scriptures, prayer became a way of inquiring about God and sometimes hearing a response through one method or another. It does not always happen in one particular way, but there are some usual things we expect to happen when we pray.

In some respects, prayer is simple and yet, on a deeper level, a mystery. As those first prayers were being prayed in the early days of humanity, the people doing so had no framework for what prayer looked like and how it should work. Around two thousand years ago, Jesus summarised a simplistic prayer in what’s commonly known as the Lord’s prayer. It seems to simplify an entire history worth understanding of how we speak with God. 

So, what does prayer look like?


What Happens When You Pray?

In prayer, we are talking with God. In doing so, we offload all that is on our mind directing our thoughts and words towards God in the knowledge that they are heard. In listening, we take time to clear out distractions and allow time for God to interrupt our thoughts.

The Psalmists pen many songs and poems which take the form of prayer as they address God. Although they do not feature responses from God, they demonstrate who the writers understood God to be. They articulate a variety of ways in which we can express ourselves in prayer.

Whichever way we pray, we usually experience a type of spiritual engagement. On one level, we understand that our emotions shift while we pray. From a psychological perspective,  we begin to think about whatever we are praying about with a changed perspective. But also, there is a spiritual experience.

When we pray, the spiritual experience can be described as something inwardly similar to musical harmony. When the same musical notes play together from different sources, there is a resonance where it is almost perceived that a third and pleasing note is formed. It is more experiential than observable.

I have found the movement of emotion and perceived physical responses experienced during prayer, as in the above analogy, to be a valid description of what most people encounter while praying.

In 1 Samuel 16:7 we learn that ‘People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’. In an ancient Jewish mindset, the heart was more conceptual than anatomical. When the bible talks about the heart, it talks about the inward parts where we sense a spiritual experience that perceptually goes beyond emotion. The lurch within our stomach, the wave of joy that moves throughout us, the seat of emotion, compassion and authentic self emerging as we pray.

So, prayer becomes something more than speaking and listening. It becomes something more than an emotional response. All of the senses are egaged, and something perceivable yet inexplicable takes place within us.

How we express ourselves is more than words. This is why well-thought-out prayers, sung worship, emotion, crying out, and shutting up have as much to do with prayer as anything else. 

Prayer forms a functional part of our relationship with God. There is no point in having something inoperable. If your relationship with God is stated and not expressed, then it is not functioning. It is not enough to say words; we must bring ourselves wholly to a prayerful experience. 

Having understood more precisely what a prayer is, there are many reasons we should engage with it.


What Are Some Reasons To Pray?

  1. To know God Better.
  2. To better understand ourselves.
  3. To allow our hearts and minds to be transformed.
  4. To build our faith.
  5. To detach from the world.
  6. To overcome life’s problems.
  7. To make ourselves vulnerable and humble.
  8. To strengthen our commitment to The Lord.
  9. To receive direction.
KEY VERSES: Genesis 12, 1 Samuel 16:7
Bible references are taken from the NIV
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

No spam ever; unsubscribe anytime. I consent to receiving email updates.
No spam ever; unsubscribe anytime. I consent to receiving email updates.

Please note, we do not engage with unsolicited proposals of any kind. If your query is sincere, you may receive a reply.
Get access to FREE
Resources +
EXCLUSIVE freebies!
Subscribe Now!
No spam ever; unsubscribe anytime.
I consent to receiving email updates.
Do you think people should struggle to read the Bible?
No? Neither do we. That's why we write articles every month to help you!
Subscribe Now!
No spam ever; unsubscribe anytime.
I consent to receiving email updates.