Trending Christian Blog and Commentary

How to Make Sure You're Not Praying Like an Atheist

  • Carrie Dedrick What topic related to Christianity, faith, and the Bible is trending online and in social media today?
  • 2017 Aug 03

Christians aren’t special because we pray. Any person, Christian or not, can shout out in search of divine help. Even atheists who claim not to believe in God can desperately seek him in prayer, though they expect that no one is listening to their cries.

So if anyone can pray, how can Christians be sure that we are not praying like atheists?

Pastor and Desiring God executive editor David Mathis writes that there is a certain aspect of Christian prayer that sets it apart. Put simply, we know the God we are calling out to in prayer.

Says Mathis, “Throughout the Old Testament, ‘calling upon the name of the Lord’ serves as a kind of code language for prayer. The phrase appears first in Genesis 4:26, then four more times in Genesis (12:8; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25), and a handful of times in the historical narratives, psalms, and prophets. It’s important to note that the refrain isn’t simply that God’s people call out to him, but that they ‘call upon the name of the Lord.’ This is more than the typical human instinct for prayer."

He continues, “... when the chosen people of the true God call out to him, they call out to him by name. They know him. Unlike pagan (or atheist!) cries for divine help, God’s people know him, because he has revealed himself to them, and made promises to them.” 

God’s personal name is Yahweh, but we who know God and enjoy a relationship with him are able to call his name in a more intimate way. 

Calling Out to God as Father

Scripture tells us that God is our Father (Romans 8:15). As his children, we are invited to address him in a personal way. Therefore we often pray, “Dear Heavenly Father…” or “Father in Heaven…” Even the Lord’s prayer, which we are taught to pray in Luke 11:2-4 begins, “Our Father, who art in Heaven...” 

Mathis explains it like this: “Many people know me on a first-name basis, but only my children call me Daddy. It’s one thing to know God’s personal name is Yahweh; it’s even more precious to be able to call him Father.”

Calling Out to God as Jesus Christ

When God came to earth as Jesus Christ, this also changed the way we pray. Having a relationship with Christ means being able to call out to him in prayer (1 Corinthians 1:2).

Mathis writes, “Since the coming of Christ, to call upon God by name has meant to know him in and through Jesus. God’s old-covenant people were those who called upon the name of Yahweh. His new-covenant people are those who call upon the name of Jesus.”

As Christians when we call out to God in prayer, we are doing more than seeking out a divine being in the abyss to help us overcome our circumstances. We pray with confidence, knowing that a loving God hears our prayers and is working for our good (Romans 8:28). 

“Christian prayer is indeed far more than human instinct. We do not pray as pagans, or even atheists, calling out to an unknown God. Rather we address the one who has taken the initiative, revealed himself, and made promises to us. We don’t strain our voice toward a hypothetical supreme being with cosmic powers, but wonder of all wonders, we pray with confidence to the God we know by name,” Mathis writes. 

If you are struggling with how to begin your prayer life, contributing writer Betsy de Cruz offers this helpful resource. A “wanna-be prayer warrior” herself, de Cruz says she has learned that prayer can become an integral part of your faith walk if you are willing to put in a little time and effort. 

Personally, I love this tip de Cruz shares: 

“Prayer becomes a lifeless exercise when we’re not looking for answers. Jesus invites us to expect God to work. ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.’ (Matthew 7:7)

“How much more exciting prayer becomes when we keep our eyes open to watch for God’s answers. Sometimes I wonder how many answers we miss because we don’t really expect God to respond.

“Remember Colossians 4:2: ‘Devote Yourselves to Prayer, being watchful and thankful.’”

Friends, prayer is a privilege. And how blessed are we that we can not only pray, but call out to God personally as Father and Son? Blessings to you as your grow in your relationship with God through intimate prayer. 


Carrie Dedrick is an editor of When she is not writing or editing, she can usually be found teaching dance classes, running marathons, or reading with at least one adopted dog on her lap. Carrie and her husband Dustin are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first baby, a daughter, in October 2017.

Photo credit: ©