Two Mistakes When
It Comes to Prayer

Here are two wrong conclusions we may come to about prayer. Feel free to download this graphic, save it to your phone, or share it! 

Messages: 28 Min

Praying to Know God Better

by H.B. Charles Jr.


is the chief
exercise of faith. 

Messages: 40 Min

How to Pray

by Tim Keller

3 Part Article Series: 10 Min

Why We Pray (Part 1): Correcting Two Misunderstandings


What’s your most intimate relationship? Why do you think that relationship is so intimate? Most likely it’s because you regularly communicate with that person on a deep, meaningful level. 

As with all relationships, communication is vital to sustaining a bond of trust and affection. The same can be said for the Christian’s relationship with God. Constant communication with God is necessary in order to know him better. 

One way we communicate with God is through his Word, the Bible. God speaks to us through his Word; we simply receive. We listen to what he has said about us, about himself, and about how to live and think. 

Every Christian has the God-given opportunity to speak to him. We call this privilege, prayer. God has invited us to speak to him, and as we speak to God, he transforms our character. 

Talking to God is so important that some Christian scholars have called prayer the “lifeblood” of the Christian faith. 

The Crisis that Keeps Us from Praying

What does the Bible say about prayer? We know that prayer is how we communicate with God. We also know that throughout the Bible, God commands us to pray (1 Timothy 2:1-4; Romans 15:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18; Mark 14:38). 

But God also tells us in the Bible that he has already made his plans. 

Here, many people run into a crisis that keeps them from praying. They ask, “How do we fit together what the Bible says about God and the Bible’s instruction to pray?”  

We will answer this question in three articles. To be clear, we won’t go through the practical details of how to pray, or when, or for what. Rather, we will be concerned with a theology of prayer: What is the purpose and point of prayer according to the Bible? 

In this first article, we will talk about two mistakes we can make when we try to understand how God’s plans and our prayers fit together. 

The first mistake is to say that we should pray in order to change God’s plans or to manipulate him. 

The second mistake is to say that we should disobey God’s command to pray and not communicate with him since he’s already established his plans. 

What God tells us in the Bible about his unchanging plans and character, plus the command to pray, leaves us with the question: Why do we pray? 

Why Do We Pray if God Already Has a Plan?

As we consider the purpose of prayer, we immediately come upon a problem. The Bible teaches that God is both omniscient (he knows everything) and immutable (he is unchanging). Here are two passages that confirm this: 

  • If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:20 NIV) 
  • He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind. (1 Samuel 15:29 NIV) 

If God knows everything so that nothing we tell him is new, and he also doesn’t change his mindwhy do we pray? What does prayer do? 


Mistake #1: We Pray to Change God’s Mind

Many people think that we pray so that God must give us what we want. This is usually accompanied by fervent, passionate arm-twisting as we try to convince God that what we desire is important.

Unfortunately, those who believe that we just pray to get what we want reduce God to nothing more than a cosmic slot machine. If we pull on his arm long and hard enough, we’ll eventually hit the jackpot. 

Jesus warns his disciples against this approach to prayer when he says, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8 NIV). As we can see, Jesus roots his approach to prayer in his Father’s nature. 

God’s “understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5 NASB). Prayer isn’t an exercise in telling him something he doesn’t already know. Prayer doesn’t inform God.

Because God is unchanging in his nature, plans, and purposes (Numbers 23:19), prayer also can’t be a strategic attempt to change his mind. Prayer doesn’t provide God with the information he needs to adjust his perfect plans—and it does not obligate him to adopt our plans. 


Mistake #2: We Neglect to Pray Because God’s Mind Is Made Up

On the other hand, if God is all-knowing and unchanging, some Christians see no reason for prayer. God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11 NIV), after all, so prayer feels pointless. God is going to get his way; no one can thwart his plans (Job 42:2). 

As you can see, these two attitudes towards prayer are opposites. On the one side, people think they must wear God down until they get what they want, while on the other side, people see no point in prayer because God will simply do what God wants to do, regardless of our desires. 

The problem with both approaches is they misunderstand the purpose of prayer. They see prayer only as asking God for stuff. But the answer to “why do we pray” is not “to get what we want from God.” 

Two Biblical Truths We Must Keep in Mind

Both these wrong attitudes towards prayer suffer from a faulty view of God. They see our relationship with God as merely transactional, not relational. And if relational, they don’t see our relationship with God in a way that’s true to who he says he is in the Bible.  

According to these attitudes, God either seems like an indulgent heavenly Father at the mercy of his child’s every whim, or a stern, unmoving Lord who doesn’t care about his children’s desires. 

There is some truth, however, underlying both mistakes. That’s why they’re appealing perspectives, and why many people neglect prayer, or pray fervently only to be disappointed. What is correct about these views is: 

  • Humans have a responsibility to pray 
  • God is all-knowing and unchanging 

As we continue to construct a theology of prayer, we need to keep these two truths in mind. 

But we’re still left with the question, why do we pray? Check out the next article to find out. 

Praise & Worship

Boldly I Approach

by Rend Collective
Video: 7 Min
by Don Whitney
at Southern Seminary

Without prayer the study of Scripture can
turn into a merely intellectual exercise.
Prayer without Scripture
will lack needed motivation and guidance. 

Messages: 52 Min

Pray & Fast

by David Platt

Video: 11 Min

God goes public
with his power and goodness
when he answers prayer. 

What the Heidelberg Catechism Teaches Us About Prayer

Q & A #116

Q: Why do Christians need to pray?

A: Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us (Psalm 50:14-15; 116:12-19; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking God for them (Matthew 7:7-8; Luke 11:9-13).

Translation © 2011, Faith Alive Christian Resources, Christian Reformed Church in North America.

Q & A #117

Q: What is the kind of prayer that pleases God and that he listens to?

A: First, we must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God, revealed to us in his Word, asking for everything God has commanded us to ask for (Psalm 145:18-20; John 4:22-24; Romans 8:26-27; James 1:5; 1 John 5:14-15).

Second, we must fully recognize our need and misery, so that we humble ourselves in God’s majestic presence (2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 2:11; 34:18; 62:8; Isaiah 66:2; Revelation 4).

Third, we must rest on this unshakable foundation: even though we do not deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord.

That is what God promised us in his Word (Daniel 9:17-19; Matthew 7:8; John 14:13-14; 16:23; Romans 10:13; James 1:6).

Translation © 2011, Faith Alive Christian Resources, Christian Reformed Church in North America.

Q & A #118

Q: What did God command us to pray for?

A: Everything we need, spiritually and physically (James 1:17; Matthew 6:33), as embraced in the prayer Christ our Lord himself taught us.

Translation © 2011, Faith Alive Christian Resources, Christian Reformed Church in North America.

Q & A #129

Q: What does that little word “Amen” express?

A: “Amen” means: This shall truly and surely be! It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for (Isaiah 65:24; 2 Corinthians 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:13).

Translation © 2011, Faith Alive Christian Resources, Christian Reformed Church in North America.

Deuteronomy 4:6 ESV

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?