The Christian Bible Reference Site

What Does the Bible Say About Prayer?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Prayer?

Prayer is loving communication with God. Prayer is the expression of our inner spiritual needs. Through prayer we can find strength of spirit, guidance, wisdom, joy and inner peace (Psalms 118:5-6, Psalms 138:3, Isaiah 58:9-11, Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:7). Prayer may be long or short, alone or in a group, silent or aloud, but it should be a true communication with God and not done for public recognition (Matthew 6:5-8). Important aspects of prayer include1:

The Lord's Prayer

Jesus spent a lot of time praying. He often went to a solitary place and prayed for hours at a time, especially at difficult times in His ministry (Matthew 14:23, 26:36-41, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, 6:12). The famous Lord's Prayer is Jesus' model of the perfect prayer:

First, we call God by the affectionate term "Father," and praise His holy name:

Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. (NLT, Matthew 6:9)

We ask that God's will be done on earth and in our lives:

 May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. (NLT, Matthew 6:10)

We ask to be given the things we need, but we don't ask for things we merely desire:

Give us today the food we need, (NLT, Matthew 6:11)

We ask forgiveness of our sins and acknowledge that we must also forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 5:44, 6:14-15, Mark 11:25, Luke 6:28):

and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. (NLT, Matthew 6:12)

Finally, we ask for the strength to resist temptation and evil (Luke 22:40):

 And don't let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. (NLT, Matthew 6:13)

God Will Answer Our Prayers, but ...

Jesus said this:

"Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. "Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? "Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (NAS, Matthew 7:7-11)

God will answer our prayers and give us everything we need and more (Mark 11:24, John 15:7). But a wise parent will not give a child everything he or she wants. Similarly, prayer is not a magical trick to get anything we want or a "quick fix" for problems that we should be solving ourselves. God answers prayer requests in His own way in His own time (Psalms 40:1-3), and will not grant requests that are against His holy and wise purposes (1 John 5:14-15), are selfish in nature, are not in our best long-term interest, or those made with impure motives (Psalms 66:18, Proverbs 28:9, Isaiah 29:13, Isaiah 59:2, Hebrews 11:6, James 4:3).

Often, we must be persistent in prayer (Luke 11:5-13, Luke 18:1-8). The answer, when it comes, may be in a form radically different than what we expected, and we must be alert to that possibility (Deuteronomy 3:23-27, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God frequently uses other people, such as physicians, friends, relatives or new acquaintances, to supply an answer to our prayers (Daniel 10:11-12, Acts 9:10-17).

Sometimes, the answer must come from within ourselves and persistent prayer will help us find that answer. We may need a new attitude or a different way of looking at things (Matthew 5:8, Romans 2:1-5, 1 John 4:7-8), or we may need to make amends with someone (Matthew 6:14-15).

God Speaks to Us Through the Bible

God spoke directly to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus and a few other people in the Bible. We all wish God would answer our prayers immediately and personally, but most of us will never hear God's voice coming down from heaven.

God does, however, speak to us through the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is our main source of knowledge about God and His will for our lives. We have the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) as a basis for everyday living. We have Jesus' Great Commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27, John 13:34-35), as principles to guide every decision we make. We have Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, Luke 6:20-49) to help us apply those principles to everyday life. To give us courage, strength and hope, we have Jesus' assurance of eternal life for those who are faithful and obedient (Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 10:25-28, 12:4-7, John 3:16-21, 6:27, 10:27-28).

Not All Our Thoughts Are From God

Many thoughts come into our minds every day, especially when we are praying. We also get ideas from our dreams. Are these thoughts and ideas from God, or are they just from our own minds, or are they evil thoughts from Satan (John 13:2, 2 Corinthians 11:3, 13-15, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 1 Peter 5:8)?

God might be urging us to take some particular course of action, but how are we to know? Here are some ways to judge our thoughts and ideas:

If we have the right attitude and sincerely seek to do God's will, the Holy Spirit will guide us (John 14:15-17, 16:13, 1 Corinthians 2:12-13, Galatians 5:22-26, Colossians 3:16).

Amen

"Amen" comes from a Hebrew word meaning truly, faithfully or so be it. Following examples in the Bible, it is traditional to end prayers with an "Amen." (Deuteronomy 27:15-26, Nehemiah 5:13, 1 Chronicles 16:36, Romans 11:36, 1 Peter 5:11)

Does God Hear the Prayers of Sinners or Unsaved Persons?

Several similar Old Testament verses are sometimes interpreted to mean that God does not listen to prayers from sinners or the unsaved:
Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. (NRSV, Isaiah 59:2)

In context (Isaiah 59:1-8), God heard the prayers of the Israelites (verse 1). However, Isaiah was warning the Israelites that their prayers would not be answered because of their persistent sin and refusal to repent. 

This verse in John is also cited:

We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. (NRSV, John 9:31)

This was actually a comment from a man that Jesus had healed, so it reflects his own understanding rather than a Bible teaching.

We are all sinners in our own ways (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8), so these verses cannot be interpreted to mean that God will not listen to the prayers of any sinner. The overall Bible teaching is that God will accept the prayers of anyone who prays sincerely for forgiveness (Luke 18:10-14). We are also cautioned not to make judgments about who is a sinner (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1-6, Romans 14:10-11, James 4:11-12). Only God can make that judgment.

Forms of Prayer

Most people simply speak from the heart when praying. But there are "standard" prayers that are often used in public worship. The table below lists some of the popular and well-known prayers often recited in public. We can also use these prayers as inspiration for our own private prayers.

Favorite Prayers


The Lord's Prayer
Matthew 6:9-13

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory, for ever and ever.
Amen.


The Serenity Prayer
Reinhold Neibuhr

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

The Serenity Prayer (long version)
Reinhold Neibuhr

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it:
Trusting that He will make all things
right if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.


Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love,
where there is injury, pardon,
where there is doubt, faith,
where there is despair, hope,
where there is darkness, light,
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Mealtime Prayers


Bless us, O Lord, and these
gifts which we are about
to receive from thy bounty,
through Christ our Lord.
Amen.


For food in a world where many walk in hunger,
For friends in a world where many walk alone,
For faith in a world where many walk in fear,
We give you thanks, O Lord.
Amen.

Creeds


Apostles' Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty;
Maker of Heaven and Earth;
and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day He rose from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen."


Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and our salvation,
he came down from heaven.
By the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.

Children's Prayers


God is great,
God is good,
let us thank Him for our food.
Amen.


Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.
Amen.


Bless me Lord, this night I pray,
Keep me safe till dawn of day,
Bless my mother and my father,
Bless my sister and my brother,
Bless each little girl and boy,
Bless them all for heavenly joy.
Amen.


Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray Thee, Lord, thy child to keep:
Thy love guard me through the night
And wake me with the morning light.
Amen.


Father in heaven hear my prayer,
keep me in your loving care.
Be my guide in all I do,
Bless all those who love me too.
Amen.

Biblical Prayers


Twenty-third Psalm
NKJV, Psalms 23:1-6

The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.


Priestly Blessing
NAS, Numbers 6:24-26

The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.'


Paul's Benediction
NAS, 2 Corinthians 13:13

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with you all.


Fifty-first Psalm
NIV, Psalms 51:1-2, 10-12

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Catholic Prayers


Hail Mary (Ave Maria)

Hail Mary,
Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary,
Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now,
and at the hour of death.
Amen.


The Glory Be

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
is now,
and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen.


The Sign of the Cross

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.


Come, Holy Spirit

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created
And you shall renew the face of the earth.
O God, who has taught the hearts of the faithful
by the light of the Holy Spirit,
grant that by the gift of the same Spirit
we may be always truly wise
and ever rejoice in his consolation.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Miscellaneous Prayers


Prayer for Peace

Lead me from Death to Life,
from Falsehood to Truth,
Lead me from Despair to Hope,
from Fear to Trust,
Lead me from Hate to Love,
from War to Peace,
Let Peace fill our Heart,
our World, our Universe.
Amen.


Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits thou hast won for me,
For all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly:
For ever and ever.
Amen.


An Evening Prayer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

O Lord my God,
thank you for bringing this day to a close.
Thank you for giving me rest
in body and soul.
Your hand has been over me
and has guarded and preserved me.
Forgive my lack of faith
and any wrong that I have done today,
and help me to forgive all who have wronged us.
Let me sleep in peace under your protection,
and keep me from all the temptations of darkness.
Into your hands I commend my loved ones.
I commend to you my body and soul.
O God, your holy name be praised.
Amen.


A Prayer for Those Who Have Died
St. Ignatius Loyola

Lord, welcome those who have died.
Lord, welcome into your calm
and peaceful kingdom
those who have departed
out of this present life
to be with you.
Grant them rest
and a place with the spirits of the just;
and give them the life that knows no age,
the reward that passes not away,
through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

1 Herbert Lockyer, Sr., ed., Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.

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