Together in Prayer

Vertical Prayer with Horizontal Impact

What is Vertical Prayer?

Vertical prayer is prayer that is focused on God, on his glory, and on his kingdom. Vertical prayer aligns with Paul’s instructions in Colossians 3:1-2:

“Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Vertical prayer recognizes God’s sovereignty and at the same time bows to his will. It’s based on faith, hope, and a deep reliance on God’s love. Vertical prayer pleads for God’s will, desiring above all things his honor.

This is not to say that vertical prayer ignores personal requests. Consider the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), perhaps the best model of vertical prayer in Scripture. The prayer begins with an earnest entreaty for God’s name to be honored, his kingdom to come, and his will to be done. Then it moves seamlessly into personal requests for provision, forgiveness, and guidance. God relates to us as persons – after all, that’s how he created us. As a result, he expects us to bring our requests to him (Matthew 7:7). It’s the context of those requests and the heart behind them that determine whether they are part of vertical prayer or something more self-centered.

Suppose, for example, that I’m sick (this is not hypothetical; I’m recovering from a bad cold as I write). I could pray for healing simply so that I’ll feel better. Or I could pray for that same healing so that I’ll have energy for prayer and serving God (and maybe to write a blog entry). The motivation behind our prayers is the difference between vertical prayer and self-centered prayer.

James 4:2-3 speaks to this:

“You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
According to James, it’s possible to pray out of selfishness, and these prayers are not likely to be answered. He apparently has in view here praying for financial blessing. I can honor God with a prayer for financial blessing if my motivation is to be able to bless others in turn. But if my motivation is merely my own pleasure, then my prayer is self-centered and not vertical.

Since it’s possible to pray the same prayer out of godly motivations and out of selfish motivations, how can we know whether we’re praying vertically and honoring God? One way is to ask ourselves this question: “What will I do if God grants my request?” The answer to that question is a good indication of whether a prayer is vertical and God-honoring or self-centered and wrongly motivated.

About Andrew Wheeler

Andrew has led small groups and prayer groups for over 30 years, dating back to college where he led the prayer ministry of his InterVarsity chapter. He served in the prayer ministry of Willow Creek Community Church for over 20 years, including co-directing the prayer ministry at Willow Creek Crystal Lake. He is the author of Together In Prayer, a guide for leading prayer in a small group setting, and has written numerous articles for Prayer Connect and He is a featured blogger on Pray.Network.