I’m a talkative gal. I talk with my words, with my hands, with my eyes, and with my laughs, sighs and various other sound effects I feel communicate meaning. It can be a lot.
For some people, expression can be done very effectively with much less exertion. I am drawn to and impressed by that group of dignified, thoughtful communicators.
But what about God? Is there a perfect way we should approach him? What’s his communication style and is there a certain way to pray that guarantees results?
It breaks my heart when I hear people say “I don’t know how to pray” or indicate that their prayers aren’t very good, as though they should look at hiring a speechwriter. I want to square their shoulders to mine and almost nose to nose with wide eyes, in soft but firm whisper speak, working hard to cut back my sarcasm say, “It’s your Daddy. Just talk!”
I wonder though, have I oversimplified the idea? Is a desire to pray all we need to get started?
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Learning How To Pray For Beginners
For the basics of prayer, we’ll take our guidance from a few places in scripture. Let’s go!
Recite the Lord’s Prayer
Well, he doesn’t say to recite the Lord’s Prayer, but this bundle of verses was his response to the disciple’s question, “How should we pray?”.This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
I love that the disciples took the feelings of “I don’t know to pray” and “I don’t want to get it wrong” straight to Jesus! Scriptures prior to this indicate that Jesus wished us to keep our prayers simple, being aware that God already knows the need before we speak it. He also advised that we should not make a spectacle of prayer either in front of others or in our private space with God.
The Lord’s Prayer begins by calling attention to God’s majesty and his kingdom. Jesus submits to his Father’s will and requests that it come forth. He makes requests to the one who is able to meet our needs, including forgiveness and deliverance from temptation.
Prayer and Forgiveness
We are told to believe we will receive what we’ve asked for in prayer. Then there’s another command that is more difficult to obey, or at least harder to get pumped up about. Before approaching God, we are to settle any disturbances in our earthly relationships, whether that means asking for forgiveness or offering it to someone who’s wronged us.
We see in Jesus’s modeled prayer above that forgiveness and prayer go hand in hand. Forgiveness of others allows us to receive forgiveness of God. Humbly seeking forgiveness from those we’ve offended allows us an audience with God.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:24-25 NIV
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
It is one thing to say we forgive someone, but something different entirely to fully forgive and release the pain. If bitterness is preventing closeness to God, talk with Him about the issue. Our God of mercy is not offended when we bring Him our humanity, asking for help to be more like Him.
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Pray without Ceasing
Here are two verses that suggest we stay in an attitude of prayer at all times.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Luke 18:1
Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (HCSB)
We can’t always tune out every distraction, bow our heads and close our heads without ceasing. Those actions are not prayer, but customs of prayer and they serve a purpose. Prayer is simply talking or communicating with God, which is always a possibility no matter where we are or who we’re surrounded by.
Just like communication styles vary greatly from person to person, we all have things that help us feel more centered and connected spiritually or merely things we were taught. If prayer wasn’t modeled for you, there may be things you sense are important but feel very foreign. I challenge you to drop those and simply seek Him from your inmost being. Just for a few mornings, release all of you so that you’re fully focused on seeing more of Him! Be honest in telling Him, “I don’t know how to pray, but I want more of you.”
What Does Prayer Do?
What is the power of prayer? Why is it so important?
Here’s a list of benefits to prayer that we can count on!
- Prayer brings us into God’s presence, where change can begin.
- Prayer allows us to model Jesus’s behavior and attitude toward our Father.
- Prayer changes our perspective.
- Prayer improves our relationships; with God, with others and even our relationship with self.
As God answers prayers, problems still exist in other areas. Once one dam seems to be holding, another one breaks. God isn’t playing a trick and we aren’t being deceived. Problems won’t cease until we reach Heaven. But here on Earth, if we base our faith on answered prayers and problem resolution, we rely less on our relationship with God as the sole provider of our peace. Is it possible that this feeling of “I don’t know how to pray” is something you’ve convinced yourself of after not seeing quick enough resolution to an ongoing problem?
Relying on God because of his almighty power and endless love is where it’s at! Prayer and communion with Him from an attitude of surrender naturally beget a deeper prayer life. Affirming God’s power frees me to not care so much on whether I do or I don’t know how to pray. He’s all-powerful and covers my shortcomings.
It’s counter-intuitive, but praying frees us from hinging our faith on answered prayers. This is because communicating with God changes our heart!
Heart remedy? Sign me up! Let’s ditch the mantra of “I don’t know how to pray” and answer His open invite for peace through a relationship with Him!
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Steps in Praying
Now that we recognize the significance of prayer, knowing with it comes real change, we might be tempted to formalize the process. Adhering to rules and formal processes does not seem conducive to ongoing prayer that doesn’t cease. There are times when a step by step program or checklist proves helpful in moving us from flustered feelings toward God’s peace.
If we take a look back at the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’s prescription for how to pray, we see an attitude of reverence and surrender. When we have a short attention span or in those times we can’t quiet the mind, coming back to this example will be centering and settling. Having a fall back method or two will chase out the “I don’t know how to pray” sentiment that may be holding you back.
The ACTS Prayer Method is another method for guided prayer.
- ADORATION – Give praise to God!
- CONFESSION – Ask for forgiveness for whatever’s creating space between your heart and his.
- THANKSGIVING – Remember the verse above that calls us to give thanksgiving IN all things? That doesn’t mean we have to be thankful FOR all things. If your heart is burdened and being thankful is hard, you may pray along the lines of “Thank you for showing me I can trust you at all times” or simply, “Thank you for sending your Son, so that no matter how bad things get, I always have access to you!”.
- SUPPLICATION – Asking God to meet the needs of yourself and others.
The PRAY Method is similar.
- PRAISE – Giving God glory at the very start, gets the heart ready for this conversation.
- REPENT – Admit the sins you’ve chosen to carry out and allow time for God to shine a light on those you may not be aware of. This will happen naturally if we allow some stillness in the presence of our perfect God.
- ASK – This is the part many of us jump right into! Using either of these methods or the Lord’s Prayer as an example reminds us that the relationship is more important than a granted request.
- YIELD – If you practice mindfulness and meditation, this will likely feel like the sweetest part of prayer. I believe this act of surrender, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal and remind, is what praying without ceasing means.
In each of these three examples of how to pray, we see a pattern of praise and thankfulness, repentance of sin and making our requests known. If you forget to start out with praise and jump straight to another step, simply add the praise in at that time. It is more important to go to God earnestly than follow a set of rules. He knows our heart even if our words jump ahead.
Pulling It Together
Hopefully, you’ve moved from “I don’t know how to pray” to claiming communion with your creator as a gift rather than a burden or something to fear. Remember, our God is gracious and tender with those who approach him, seeking a deeper relationship. Basking in his presence may be all the motivation to pray that you need.
If you’re still sighing, “I don’t know how to pray.”, fear not. God’s got you by the hand. He wants this time with you! So much so, that he sent his only Son to be the once and for all sacrifice, granting us an open door with God.
Pulling it together may mean simply making time to pray so that you get used to talking with God. Many people advocate an early start to the day dedicated to God before any other interruptions arise. I love this method, but it’s not for everyone. There’s no rule to get caught up in on the perfect time of day or optimum length of dedicated prayer time. Prayer is about relationship! It’s your personal practice with your personal savior and will undoubtedly evolve over time. Even if you’re not getting up early for quiet reading, prayer and meditation time, I do recommend using prayer to set an intention for your day. Giving Him praise as you start your day, asking for His will and offering your surrender does not require an early alarm. Setting your eyes on Him will though lead to a deeper prayer life that looks more like “praying without ceasing” than “in case of emergency” seeking Him when all else fails!
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How To Pray Everyday
Here is a list of tools to practically take the first steps toward a daily prayer life.
- Echo Prayer App I love this app and its clean minimalist design. It functions as a place to hold your ongoing prayer lists as well as providing prayer reminders. I love using this app for all those Facebook prayers I promise! A daily reminder, labeled “Prayers I Promised”, lists the needs of my friends and family, as well as all the statuses I’ve committed to with a prayer hands emoji.
- Book Mark – My small group uses an index card method for prayer requests. Each week, we write our requests on an index card and all draw someone else’s from the stack. We commit to praying for that person’s listed needs for the week. Many of us reach out to that person and offer encouragement, too. I use my index card as a bookmark so that I see it every day and am reminded to pray for that need. Replicating this idea with your own list is easy and frugal!
- Prayer Journal – keeping a record of your prayers and your honest feelings is a beautiful way to be reminded of God’s work in your life. You can trace his hand in how your prayers were answered, and possibly more revealing is seeing how your heart changed after spending consistent time with him. I know my prayer journals reveal a major change in perspective over the years that can only be attributed to his work in me. It’s hard to feel like I don’t know how to pray when I’m simply writing what’s in my heart!
- Prayer Routine – Correlate a routine part of your day with prayer. Examples might be when taking your morning coffee or tea, on your commute, during exercise (especially if you’re exercising outdoors, surrounded by God’s creation!), or during kids’ naptime. Though we talked about praying without ceasing, it is important to set aside some time with limited interruption or a need to watch the clock. Approach the spiritual check-in time as you would any other self-care opportunity. I know you guard that time with unrivaled fierceness because it takes effort and intention and the reward is precious!
I hope this look at what Jesus taught about prayer coupled with practical tools for how to pray for everyday help you feel more equipped and abandon a mantra of “I don’t know how to pray”.
If working through a checklist like PRAY or ACTS feels comfy do it. If starting with great stillness and breathwork is inviting, go that route. If running in like little John-John Kennedy playing in his daddy JFK’s office is your speed, romp right up to the throne and lay it all out. As long as our prayers are done in reverence of His position being high above all others and a desire to see Him clean out what’s not of Him, I don’t think there are any wrong ways to pray. All the questions and fear and worry that come up in our talks are opportunities to know God more fully.
Be sure to also read these posts about prayer:
- Overcoming the Spirit of Gossip with Prayer – 7 Promises of Blessings
- Praying for a Rebellious Teenager: 15 Teenage Prayer Ideas