I was praying with a brother at a men’s group function at church this past week. He confessed to me afterward that he wasn’t quite sure how to pray. I’ve grappled with this in my journey, so I wanted to provide a few thoughts that I’ve gleaned from Scripture over the years.
First off, one of the most important things, is that prayer is meant to be a conversation between you and God. Jesus models this for us regularly. He talks to his Father as though He is right there–because He is. But He is “right there” for you and me, too.
Along those same lines, another observation is that no special language is required for something you say to God to be considered a prayer. Just tell Him whatever is on your mind. Talk to Him as you would a friend. This is what He wants for us, to be in a relationship with Him. I think we all have a human tendency to think that there is some magic formula to prayer, that if we ask for something in just the right way, God will grant us what we are asking for. But this makes God seem like nothing more than a cosmic slot machine–put your dollar words in and pull the lever, hoping that this time you’ll get lucky.
Well, what about the Lord’s Prayer? you may wonder. Isn’t that sort of a “magic formula?” No, it’s not. In Matthew’s recollection of Jesus teaching his disciples what has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer, he noted that Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray.” (Matthew 6:9 (NIV), emphasis added). In other words, he lays out a structure for prayer. He is not giving us the exact words to say. He is pointing us that while God wants us to talk to Him like we would our dad, we must always remember to revere Him as well. He is reminding us that our dependence on God is a daily endeavor–not a “one and done” experience. He is helping us remember that the extent we forgive others is how we ourselves will be forgiven.
Something else I’ve learned about prayer from Jesus is that we are to be persistent about it–see Luke 18:1-8. There are still many mysteries about prayer, so I admit I don’t fully understand why He directs us in this way. One guess I have (this is not something from the Bible, only a guess on my part) is that God wants us to learn to depend on Him and to lean on Him daily–going back to the reminder in the Lord’s Prayer to give us our daily bread.
Another observation to close with: if you agree that prayer is meant to be a conversation between you and God, then part of your praying life should include listening as well since conversations are dialogues. This is admittedly another challenging aspect of prayer, and probably worthy of its own blog post. For now, let me say that the most common way I hear from God is through His Word. Sometimes it will be something I read in my daily Bible reading or hear in the Daily Audio Bible passages for the day. Other times, it may be one of my favorite verses popping into my mind.
In any case, what matters most about praying is that you do it. This is one of the most powerful weapons we have against the evil one. It brings us closer to God, and it calls His power into our lives. What could be better than that?