History of Prayer in Christianity
Although the practice of prayer reaches to the far distant past and is a vital part of religions around the globe, Christian prayer traditions are based on the teachings of Jesus as revealed in the New Testament. With roots in Jewish prayer practices, a uniquely Christian form of prayer developed as instructed by Jesus.
Prayer is meant to be a central part of Christian life, something that is practiced daily in order to maintain closeness with God. Jesus taught the use of both communal fixed prayers, such as the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and private prayer that comes from the heart. There are many examples in the New Testament of Jesus removing himself from the world around and going privately to a quiet or remote place to pray alone.
Christians from all denominations practice this intensely personal form of prayer, directly communicating with God by opening the heart. Silent, meditative Christian prayer seeks to understand aspects of Christian life, clarifying what is required and how to respond. Jesus spoke strongly of the importance of private prayer, an essential part of daily Christian life. He taught that prayer should be done throughout the day in order to maintain a strong relationship with God.
Some conflict concerning the meaning of Jesus’ seeming condemnation of public prayer exists today among different denominations. Many believe it was “showing off” during public prayer that Jesus spoke against, rather than communal prayer, which was widely practiced in the early Christian church and, of course, still is today.
Communal prayer is practiced throughout the Christian world. Liturgical traditions are found in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and other churches. Many churches offer prayer services for members. These prayers act to enhance Christian life by inspiring members to strive for closeness with God and Christ while deepening their understanding of Christian religious wisdom.
Throughout Christianity, the physical action of prayer may differ based on each church’s historical traditions. Different positions, clothing or ritual may accompany prayer, but common to all is the attitude of prayer. Prayers are done in faith and with an open heart.