What Does Ellen White Say About Prayer?

Have you ever had a burden you just had to tell someone, but you were afraid of being judged if you did?

We don’t have to have that kind of fear when it comes to talking with God—a spiritual practice called prayer. Ellen G. White, an important figure in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a prolific writer, described prayer as talking to God in a personal way—He’s the friend we can tell everything to.

To see what Ellen White taught about prayer, we’ll cover:

First, take a look at this overview of her teachings on prayer.

Ellen White’s thoughts on prayer

Ellen White emphasized prayer as a way to keep the communication line open between God and us, building closeness with Him. It brings us peace and strengthens us when we are tempted to believe the devil’s lies or give in to some kind of temptation.

Just like you would talk frequently with your friend to keep your relationship strong, frequent prayer keeps you close to God: “Prayer brings the heart into immediate contact with the Wellspring of life, and strengthens the sinew and muscle of the religious experience.”1

The apostle Paul in the Bible alludes to this. He tells Christians that prayer results in God’s peace, which will guard our hearts (Philippians 4:6–7).

Prayer also empowers us to resist those ever-present pulls to do what we know we shouldn’t: “The prayer of faith is the weapon by which we may successfully resist every assault of the enemy.”2

So prayer is important, and it’s supposed to be the means of communication with God.

But you can’t see God. How, then, do you go about praying?

How to pray

Praying is not complicated. Ellen White describes it as “the opening of the heart to God as to a friend.”3 We may not be able to see God, but He is there, listening—and so happy that we are taking the time to talk to Him. And though it may seem hard at first, we can be vulnerable and honest with Him.

Ellen White also gave some basic guidelines for prayer based on Jesus’ example prayer in Matthew 6:9–13, typically called “the Lord’s prayer.”

She summarized this prayer by saying, “We are taught to come to God with our tribute of thanksgiving, to make known our wants, to confess our sins, and to claim His mercy in accordance with His promise.”4

She encouraged her readers to take the Lord’s prayer as a guideline rather than something to pray word for word.

While it is alright to pray a memorized prayer sometimes, making a habit of it can lead to what Ellen White called “formal prayer.” She wrote:

“The repetition of set, customary phrases when the heart feels no need of God, is formal prayer…. We should be extremely careful in all our prayers to speak the wants of the heart and to say only what we mean.”5

This aligns with what Jesus counseled in Matthew 6:7: “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words” (NKJV).

You could think of it this way—When you’re talking to your friend, you don’t usually say the exact same words. Similarly, God wants us to think about what we are saying and talk to Him sincerely.

Where to pray

A football player kneeling in prayer at a bench

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Prayers can be said in many places, both in private and in public. Private prayers are prayers we say alone, whether in our bedroom or somewhere else away from others. We’ll talk more about public prayers later.

Ellen White said this about private prayer: “In private prayer all have the privilege of praying as long as they desire and of being as explicit as they please. They can pray for all their relatives and friends. The closet is the place to tell all their private difficulties, and trials, and temptations.”6

When alone, we can talk to God about our darkest secrets and spend special time with Him.

Ellen White recognized that finding time alone can be a challenge. But God will hear us even if we are thinking prayers while we go about our day. These thoughts are like quick messages sent to God.

“It is not always necessary to bow upon your knees in order to pray. Cultivate the habit of talking with the Savior when you are alone, when you are walking, and when you are busy with your daily labor,” she said.

Similarly, many people in the Bible prayed on the fly, like Abraham’s servant who asked God to guide him in finding a wife for Abraham’s son (Genesis 24:12–14).

At other times, though, in the quietness of our rooms or in a worship service at church, we may fold our hands and close our eyes to avoid being distracted. Some may even kneel.

The reason for this? Kneeling is a way we humble ourselves before God, acknowledging our weakness and His power as the creator of the universe. Ellen White says, “Both in public and in private worship it is our privilege to bow on our knees before God when we offer our petitions to Him.”7

However, when our prayers are earnest and sincere, God hears our prayers regardless of our position or situation.

Conditions for answered prayer

When we pray according to God’s guidance in the Bible, we can have the assurance of our prayers being heard and answered (1 John 5:14-15). Here are some of those guidelines mentioned by Ellen White and outlined in Scripture. She sometimes refers to them as the conditions for answered prayer.

Faith

When we pray, God invites us to have faith in Him and His willingness to answer our prayers. All the while, we can trust that He knows what’s best for us.

“The prayer of faith is never lost, but to claim that it will be always answered in the very way and for the particular thing we have expected, is presumption.”8

“And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22, NKJV).

Not holding onto sin

We all make mistakes, but the way we respond to our mistakes is what makes the difference. Do we hold onto those sins, or do we go to God with humble hearts?

When we pray, God’s desire is for us to have the latter attitude.

“If we regard iniquity in our hearts, if we cling to any known sin, the Lord will not hear us; but the prayer of the penitent, contrite soul is always accepted.”9

“For we do not have a High Priest [Jesus] who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NKJV).

Recognizing our need of God

A key to effective prayer is feeling our need for God’s help.

“Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who long after God, may be sure that they will be filled. The heart must be open to the Spirit’s influence, or God’s blessing cannot be received.”10

Similarly, Psalms 145:18 tells us, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (NKJV).

Perseverance

At times in your prayer journey, you may feel discouraged with prayers that seem to go unanswered. That’s when perseverance comes in; it’s choosing to press on in prayer even when you feel like giving up.

“We must pray always if we would grow in faith and experiences. We are to be ‘instant in prayer,’ to ‘continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.’”11

Ephesians 6:18 agrees: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (NKJV).

Praying according to God’s will

A girl reading a devotional and praying

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

God answers our prayers according to what is best for us—not always what we ask for. That’s why it’s important that we’re always seeking His will when we pray for something.

It’s easy to pray for things we want or don’t want. And though God loves us to ask petitions of Him, He is not a good luck charm.

He wants us to talk to Him because we love Him, not because we want something.

Ellen White comments on this:

“We are so erring and shortsighted that we sometimes ask for things that would not be a blessing to us, and our heavenly Father in love answers our prayers by giving us that which will be for our highest good—that which we ourselves would desire if with vision divinely enlightened we could see all things as they really are.”12

Sometimes God says yes, sometimes no, and sometimes He asks us to wait. He sees everything and knows what will benefit us most.

Prayer meetings

During prayer meetings, people come together in small groups to read the Bible, pray, and encourage one another. But Ellen White gave some cautions about how to pray during these gatherings.

She didn’t want individual agendas to get in the way of the blessings:

“There are some, I fear, who do not take their troubles to God in private prayer, but reserve them for the prayer meeting, and there do up their praying for several days. Such may be named conference and prayer meeting killers.”13

Prayer meetings are meant to be times of spiritual growth and support for fellow believers, as Ellen White describes here:

“Our meetings should be spiritual and social, and not too long…. As in a united family, simplicity, meekness, confidence, and love should exist in the hearts of brethren and sisters who meet to be refreshed and invigorated by bringing their lights together.”14

Ellen White recognized that long prayers tend to be more for show and aren’t beneficial for the audience. Short prayers communicate the same thing and give everyone the opportunity to participate in sincere conversation with God.

Praying for others

Praying for other people is called intercessory prayer. “There are those all around you who have woes, who need words of sympathy, love, and tenderness, and our humble, pitying prayers,” Ellen White wrote.15

When others are facing challenges in their lives, we can bring them before God in prayer. We don’t always have to tell them we are praying for them, but sometimes it can encourage them when they know they’re being prayed for.

People we care about aren’t the only ones who need prayers. Our enemies do too, as Scripture says in Matthew 5:44.

She agreed. She talked about Job and how he prayed for his friends who had hurt him:

“When [Job] felt earnestly desirous that the souls that had trespassed against him might be helped, he himself received help. Let us pray, not only for ourselves, but for those who have hurt us, and are continuing to hurt us.”16

God loves and cares about everyone, even those we consider our enemies. By praying for them, we are taking part in that love. And we might find that our attitudes toward them change also!

Prayer and fasting

Fasting is a spiritual practice that usually involves not eating for a short amount of time—a part of a day or a couple of days—to be able to seek God in a more focused way. It’s often combined with prayer in situations that require difficult decisions or extra clarity of mind.

Many people in the Bible, including David, Nehemiah, Esther, and Paul, fasted and prayed in challenging circumstances (2 Samuel 12:1-23; Nehemiah 1:4; Esther 4:15-17; Acts 9:8-12).

Here’s how Ellen White describes it:

“For certain things, fasting and prayer are recommended and appropriate. In the hand of God they are a means of cleansing the heart and promoting a receptive frame of mind. We obtain answers to our prayers because we humble our souls before God.”17

Notice that fasting is not about earning God’s favor or getting quick answers. Instead, it helps us become more open to His guidance.

Prayer and fasting is something churches may do as a group over a particular issue, or something individuals may do by themselves.

Also, fasting doesn’t always mean eliminating food entirely. When encouraging people to fast and pray, Ellen White advised, “Entire abstinence from food may not be required, but they should eat sparingly of the most simple food.”18 Simple foods—like the fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts God created—can help us have clearer minds to focus on God in prayer.

Ellen White’s personal experience with prayer

Ellen White did not write extensively about her personal prayer life. However, this snippet from one of her letters summarizes it well: “I do beg and pray to be more like Jesus that I may reflect His lovely image. More and more I long to be filled with all the fullness of God.”19

She recorded this in her diary on one occasion: “I awoke at three o’clock a.m. I feel deeply the need of casting my helpless soul upon Jesus Christ. He is my helper. He is my all and in all. I am weak as water without the Holy Spirit of God to help me.”20

As we can see, she had a close connection with Jesus through prayer. Many of her visions occurred during or just after prayer too.

She prayed for herself, but she also spent many seasons in prayer for people, particularly those who needed healing. Many times, God answered those prayers in miraculous ways.21

In addition, it wasn’t uncommon for Ellen White to pray before large assemblies of people, whether at church services, meetings, or other events. The Ellen G. White Estate has one of her public prayers available to read.

Tips for your prayer life

How can we make Ellen White’s principles of prayer practical in our own lives? Here are some simple ways:

  • Make it a daily habit. Ellen White wrote, “Daily prayer is as essential to growth in grace, and even to spiritual life itself, as is temporal food to physical wellbeing.”22

Try picking a time of day without distractions to pray. It may be just 5–10 minutes, but consistency is the key.

Also, talk to God throughout the day as you are doing your different tasks. Ellen White and the Bible call this unceasing prayer. We don’t have to pray every waking second, but as we think of something, we can tell God about it.

  • Pray out loud. When we pray in our minds, it can be easy to become distracted and forget what we were saying. Talking out loud—even when no one else can hear you—helps with staying focused.

Ellen White agrees: “Learn to pray aloud where only God can hear you.”23

  • Be open with God. Think of Him as a friend who is eager to listen to what’s on your heart. You can tell Him about your day, your worries, your concerns, your joys, and so much more!
  • Become an intercessor. Make a list of people you’d like to pray for and begin praying for them on a regular basis. You might be surprised at how God’ll work in their lives!
  • Include praise and thanksgiving. God loves to hear our requests, but we can also take some time to appreciate everything He has done for us: “We do not pray any too much, but we are too sparing of giving thanks. If the lovingkindness of God called forth more thanksgiving and praise, we would have far more power in prayer.”24

These takeaways only scratch the surface. All through Ellen White’s teachings about prayer, we find reflections of the Bible’s principles and the thread of seeking God in a deeper way.

Jesus is our friend, and Ellen White encourages us that we can tell Him anything and everything in our hearts.

  1. White, Ellen G., Gospel Workers, p. 255. []
  2. White, Ellen G., Selected Messages, book 1, p. 88. []
  3. White, Ellen G., Steps to Christ, p. 94. []
  4. White, Ellen G., Prayer, p. 290. []
  5. White, Ellen G., From the Heart, p. 23. []
  6. White, Ellen G., Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 182. []
  7. White, Ellen G., Prophets and Kings, p. 48. []
  8. White, Ellen G., Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 231. []
  9. White, Ellen G., Steps to Christ, p. 95. []
  10. Ibid. []
  11. Ibid., p. 97. []
  12. White, Ellen G., Prayer, p. 102. []
  13. White, Ellen G., Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 477-478. []
  14. White, Ellen G., Prayer, p. 184. []
  15. White, Ellen G., Sons and Daughters of God, p. 274. []
  16. White, Ellen G., Prayer, p. 244. []
  17. White, Ellen G., Medical Ministry, p. 283. []
  18. White, Ellen G., Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 188. []
  19. White, Ellen G., “Letter 13,” December 13, 1850. []
  20. Burt, Merlin D, “The Prayers of the Lord’s Messenger,” https://www.adventistworld.org/the-prayers-of-the-lords-messenger/. []
  21. White Ellen G., “Letter 8,” June 1, 1849; “Letter 12,” 1850. []
  22. White, Ellen G., Daughters of God, p. 81. []
  23. White, Ellen G., Our High Calling, p. 130. []
  24. White, Ellen G., Prayer, p. 87. []

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