Greek Word Study on Prayer
“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)
The Greek word most often used for “prayer” in the New Testament contains much deeper meaning than most believers realize. The word demands surrender and consecration on the part of the one making the request.
In Ephesians 6:18, Paul says, “Praying always, with all prayer…” In both instances the word “prayer” is taken from the most commonly used Greek word for “prayer “ which is proseuche. This is a compound Greek word derived from the words pros and euche. The word pros is a preposition meaning face-to-face. The Gospel of John uses this word when it declares “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God…” (John 1:1). The word “with” is taken from the word pros. The idea conveyed by this word is one of intimacy. The Holy Spirit is telling us that the Father and the Son had an intimate, face-to-face relationship in eternity past.
The second word, euche, is a Greek word that means a wish, desire, or vow. It was originally used to depict a person who made a vow to God because of some need or desire in their life. This individual would vow to give something to God of great value in exchange for a favorable answer to prayer.
This word, proseuche, shows us two important things about prayer. It tells us that prayer should bring us face-to-face with God in an intimate relationship. Prayer is the vehicle to bring us into a close, intimate relationship with God. Secondly, the idea of sacrifice is also associated with prayer. It depicts an altar of sacrifice and consecration in prayer where our lives are yielded entirely to God. It is a place of decision and surrender where we freely vow to give our lives in exchange to God for His divine life imparted to us. Because the word proseuche has to do with this type of surrender, sacrifice, and consecration, it is apparent that God wants to do more than merely bless us. He wants to transform us! He wants us to place our lives in His hands as we come before His throne.
Now let’s take a look at the word translated as “petition” (KJV uses the word “supplication”). This word comes from the Greek word deesis, which is derived from the verb deomai and most literally describes a need or a want. This word denotes a cry for God’s help that exposes our inability to meet our own needs. This word deesis is found in James 5:17, where it states, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly (Greek word deesis)…” Elijah recognized his inability to change the situation apart from God’s intervention. He prayed earnestly (deesis), out of his deep sense of need, asking for God to intervene on his behalf. Our appeal to God is to be out of a sense of humility, requesting Him to grant our petition.
These two Greek words proseuche and deesis are paired up again in Philippians 4:6, where Paul says: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer (proseuche) and supplication (deesis) with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” We find these two word used together in I Timothy 2:1 and 5:5 (here the NAS translates deesis as “entreaties”). It appears that Paul links these two words together for a purpose. The word proseuche focuses on the One to whom the prayer is aimed. The word deesis focuses on the need, or needs, being presented toward God.
Jesus used an interesting word for prayer when He told His disciples to “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). The word “ask” is the Greek word aiteo, and it means I ask or I demand. This word has primarily to do with tangible needs, such as food, shelter, and money.
At first glance, aiteo appears to be a strange choice of words for the act of praying, because the word is not one denoting the humble requesting of something. Rather, this word describes someone demanding something from God. But we should not be disturbed by this notion of “demanding,” when viewed in its proper context. The first part of John 15:7 provides us with a key to understanding, it says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you.” Jesus is saying that if His words take up proper residence in our heart and mind, we would never ask for something that is out of sync with His will and purposes. His Word would so transform our mind that when we prayed it would be in accordance with His Word.
This word aiteo is found in James 4:3, where James warns: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your own pleasures.” When we are not abiding our motives become distorted, and our demanding produces nothing. The word aiteo is used in I John 5:14 where it explains that “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Note the context is “according to His will.” As we allow God’s Word to take an authoritative role in our heart and mind, we give the Word the freedom to transform our thinking. Our mind becomes renewed to God’s will (Rom. 12:2), enabling us to pray in accordance. When we are abiding in Christ and His Word, knowing the will of God, we can pray with this kind of authority.
Allow me to close with the words of John Newton, who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. Writing in 1779, concerning the matter of prayer, he gave these words of counsel: “Thou art coming to a King, large petitions with thee bring; for His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much.”