Help me understand prayer.  by Lisa Hunt-Wotton

The last two decades for me has been a journey of unlearning.  A time of peeling back the layers of gnostic teaching and pentecostal rhetoric.  It has been an important time for me of sifting, testing and weighing up the things that I have been taught.  It has also been a time of growing up and of finding out what I believe and why.

My own mantra of cleaning around my home is: “if in doubt, throw it out”.    However, the danger with too many questions is that you may end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.  So my theological mantra has become: “if in doubt, look at the life of Christ”.  In all of the sifting and shaking one thing remains.  The life and teaching of Christ and His character.

One of the most confusing topics for me over the last three years has been prayer.  Why do we pray?  What is prayer?  How do you pray?  Does God answer prayer?  Once upon a time I could have easily answered these questions, quickly and confidently.  Now the older I get it seems the less I know.

Over my lifetime I have probably been taught just about every prayer style that there is.

  • Name it and claim it – including car parks
  • Believe it and recieve it
  • Spiritual warfare prayer
  • Renounce, relent, repent and cast it out
  • I have meditated, centred and been contemplative – still doing this
  • I have anointed oil all over the house and all over my children
    • even around my property
    • once even the dog
  • I have marched, yelled, sung and danced
  • I have gone into the enemy’s camp and took back what he stole from me.  Even though sometimes I wasn’t sure what it was I was taking back.
  • I have war-fared, interceded, anointed, made supplication, commanded, cut soul ties and spoke things into being
  • The laying on of hands and too many prayer meetings to count
  • I have cast out demons and had demons cast out of me.  Some of whom I had never heard of
  • I probably would have stood on my head if I was instructed too.  I wasn’t afraid of being a fool for Christ.  “I was a woman of faith”.  I only needed faith as small as a mustard seed (even though I have never seen a mustard seed).  But if I had faith I could move mountains.  Although I have never seen a mountain moved.  I must not have had enough faith.
    • I did have enough faith once to see my leg lengthened!

Forgive me for being a little tongue in cheek.  But what do you do when one day you begin to doubt what you have been told and begin to wonder; is all of this really necessary?  I’m sure you are saying yes to some of the things on that list and no to others.

Don’t get me wrong, prayer is a crucial part of being a follower of Christ.  We are told to pray for protection from the evil one, but have we gone a bit overboard?  What if depression is not a demon and is just a chemical imbalance?  What if not everything is a soul tie and that sometimes it’s just the process of heart-wrenching grief that cannot be short circuited?

If God lengthened my leg, why didn’t he heal my husband from cancer?


So when it comes to prayer, I am a bit shaky.   For some reason, all the steps and instructions that I used to know so well just seem a little odd now.  Have I changed, have I gone backwards?  Or am I finding out that prayer is really not that complicated?  I really don’t know, which is why I opened this article by saying that I am on a journey of unlearning.

Richard Rohr says that there are two pathways to transformation.  Prayer and suffering.  This is something that I really resonate with.  Prayer may not change everything around me but it certainly changes me.

So this is what prayer looks like for me today.  

  • It is a conversation with God.
  • It is being sure of the character and nature of Jesus.
    • That he is good
    • That he is love
    • That he wants to be in relationship with me
    • He is a wise counsellor and friend that I can trust
  • It is being sure that I can trust the fruit of the Spirit whenever I see it and in whoever I see it.
    • Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
  • It is about praying the way that Jesus taught.  I no longer trust formulas, or styles.  

Does God answer prayer? hmmmmmm…yes

Does God speak to me?  Yes

Do I believe that prayer changes the mind of God?  hmmmmmmm…

Do I believe that prayer changes me?  Absolutely.

Do I continue to pray for my family, friends and my community?  Yes of course.  But I pray according to the things above that I have listed.  I pray for peace, wisdom, joy, good counsel, forgiveness, protection from evil, mercy, grace etc….

I also continue to study what Jesus believed about prayer and how He taught us to pray


Jesus believed that prayer works – so I will trust His word on this one.

Mark 7:7-11 – “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Jesus got alone to pray – he taught us to pray in private

Matthew 14:23 – “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.”

Jesus also advises us to go into our rooms and shut the door.  Jesus is demonstrating that prayer is meant to be intimate – only shared between the individual and the Father.  In order to ensure that prayer is genuine, it should not require the reinforcement of an audience.

Jesus prayed for His disciples and He prayed for protection (so I can do that)

John 17:11,15,24 – “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Jesus taught us to be persistent

And so it is with prayer—keep on asking and you will keep on getting; keep on looking and you will keep on finding; knock and the door will be opened. 10 Everyone who asks, receives; all who seek, find; and the door is opened to everyone who knocks.  Luke 11:9

Jesus told us to not babble on (Matthew 6)

I’m not sure about you but I have heard a lot of babble prayers especially corporate prayers.  “And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard. 8Do not be like them, for yourFather knows what you need before you ask Him. 

Jesus began a model prayer for us with these words:

“So pray this way: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive those who trespass against us.   Don’t let us be tempted and deliver us from evil.  ” (Matthew 6:9-10).

Our Father

So who are we actually praying too? We are praying to God.  He is our Lord and King.  However, Jesus tells us that we can come to Him and call Him, “Father.”

Your Kingdom come your will be done.

I don’t think we have fully understood the dangerous and political context of this statement.  The Roman empire was arguably the most tyrannical, violent, cultish empire the world has ever known.  The whole empire was built on, and kept in line through violence.  If you defied the Empire/Caesar, you were destroyed.  Jesus is saying here that the Kingdom of God was and is above the kingdom or ruling empire of the day

“Your kingdom come” – as opposed to Caesar’s.

“Your will be done” – as opposed to Caesar’s.

This is a defiant prayer – an opposition to tyranny and oppression of the weak by the strong.  (source)

Give us our daily bread

This may not mean much to us who are considered the most wealthy of the world.  Jesus lived in a culture of inequality, where 80% of the population were impoverished.  This prayer indicated that God cared about your physical state.  God cares about your health and well-being.  To the poor – who struggled each day for their bread – this part of the prayer was comforting and affirming.  It was saying that everyone has a right to be fed and to be able to feed their family.


Forgive Us as we Forgive Others

In the time of Jesus, debt and slavery were one and the same thing.   If I owed you a debt, then you owned me until that debt was paid off.  In modern times, debt can still be very much synonymous with slavery, but it is much more subtle.  Jesus is pointing out that every person owes debts, whether physical or spiritual.  He is challenging his audience to forgive the debts that people owe them.

If you want to experience forgiveness, you need to extend forgiveness.

Jesus tells us to link the two. “Father, forgive us to the same degree that we forgive others.” For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins (Matthew 6:14-15).

Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven

To pray “your kingdom come” meant to align yourself with His kingdom.  It meant celebrating in the presence of God the fact that the kingdom was already breaking in.  The will of God is for His Kingdom to come to earth.  The fullness of this will be the redemption and restoration of all humanity and creation.

Why do I pray?

I pray because I love talking to God.  I love hearing His voice.  I love the comfort that I receive from Him. Like Mary, who chose to sit at the feet of Jesus, when I come to Him the cares of the world drop away for a moment.  So often we are like Martha, busy, frantic, so many things to do and worried about so many things.  As we sit at Jesus feet, the circumstances may not change, but we do.  We are more able to radiate peace and comfort in circumstances instead of fear and anxiety.

Maybe the fruit of the spirit operating through us is what dispels the darkness.   Love casts out fear.  Peace replaces anxiety.  Joy comforts us through times of mourning.  As we are transformed, maybe we are the answered prayer.  Maybe we are the answer to someone elses prayer.


Prayer is about Resonance.

Let me finish on this thought.   This is what Richard Rohr says about prayer. He swaps the word prayer with “resonance” to help us understand how it works.

“Prayer is actually setting out a tuning fork.  All you can really do in the spiritual life is get tuned to receive the always present message.  Once you are tuned, you will receive, and it has nothing to do with worthiness or the group you belong to, but only inner resonance and a capacity for mutuality. (Matthew 7:7-11)  The Sender is absolutely and always present and broadcasting; the only change is with the receiver station”.

(Richard Rohr)

Do I understand everything about prayer.  No.

Am I on a learning curve, Yes.

I am not throwing everything out but I am holding it loosely.  In the meantime I trust in Christ and the life that He demonstrated.


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Love Lisa

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6 Comments on “Help Me Understand Prayer

  1. This post resonated with me. The more I learn I realise how little I know. I have long dispensed with formulas, and no longer give short answers to long and deep questions. Perhaps I am a Christian agnostic. What I do know is that suffering has shaped me as much as prayer. I don’t have all the answers and am cautious of those that claim they do. I do know that I am unconditionally loved by God and rest in that.


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