Prayer is our line of communication with God. Yet, many Christians feel uncomfortable with prayer and don’t know if they are ‘doing it right’. How are we to pray? What is the ‘right’ way to pray?
To understand how to pray, it’s helpful to first look at the kinds of prayers there are and why we pray. Prayers can be private or public. There are prayers of confession, supplication, thanksgiving, and worship. There are also prayers that request God’s intercession or help.
Perhaps the most important reason for prayer is that of developing a relationship with God. Prayer is how we talk to God and let Him know how we feel, what we need, and that we love Him. Worship is a large part of prayer. When we worship God in our prayers, we acknowledge His sovereignty and His greatness. (Daniel 4:34) Worship expresses our desire to have God rule in our lives and our love for Him.
Prayers of confession are important in developing our relationship with God. Just as parents want their children to be honest with them, so does God want us to be honest with Him. There is nothing that we can hide from His view; He already knows what we have done. Confession is for our sake, not God’s sake. It is the acceptance of responsibility for our behavior and our opportunity to ask God’s forgiveness and help in doing better. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Supplication is the act of asking God for things in a humble and earnest manner. Prayer is our method of asking God for things. Prayer gives us the opportunity to communicate directly to God what we need and desire. (1 Timothy 2:1) While God already knows what we need and want, He wants us to ask Him for His help. He doesn’t barge into our lives; He waits for us to ask for His help.
Another kind of prayer is the prayer of thanks. Part of developing a relationship with God is recognizing what He does for us and thanking Him for it. He provides for us and cares for us and has saved us from death. In return, we should thank Him. “Be careful with nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6)
Sincere and thoughtful prayers have common elements. We should approach prayer with a pure and believing heart. There’s no point in praying if we don’t believe that God can or will provide us with what we need. Christians are instructed to pray in the name of Christ. We approach God simply and with forgiveness for those who have hurt us and ask for His forgiveness. Our prayers should be humble yet hold confidence in God’s loving response. When Christians pray together, we should be united and of one spirit in our prayers.
The Bible says that prayer should be done with a pure heart. (Psalms 66:18-19) This would suggest an order to prayer that would include first confession and then a request for forgiveness. In this way, we may worship God, ask for His help, and give thanks to Him with a pure heart.
When we pray, we must believe that God can help us. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22) This verse does not mean that God will give us things like piles of money if we only believe it. The things we ask of God must meet criteria that are holy and healthy. We must also understand that God sometimes answers prayer by saying no.
Christians pray in the name of Christ Jesus. “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13) This is as simple as saying, “We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen”. This is an acknowledgment of Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation. We would not be able to approach God without sacrifice if it were not for Christ.
If we wish to be forgiven, we must be willing to forgive. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:” (Matthew 6:14) An unforgiving spirit separates us from God. Even when it is difficult, we must be at least willing to forgive those that have hurt us.
Prayers don’t need to belong, formal or complicated. Simple, humble prayers are pleasing to God. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:6) “For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:14b) Perhaps the thing that makes us most uncomfortable with prayer is knowing what to say and how to say it. Talk to God like you would your best friend. It’s not necessary to use formal language with your best friend so don’t feel like you have to complicate your talks with God, either.
Unity in spirit and purpose should be sought in group prayer. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) A group leader can be chosen or the group members could add to the prayer spontaneously.
There is no particular physical position that we have to assume to pray. God honors our prayers whether they are made standing (Nehemiah 9:5), kneeling (Ezra 9:5), sitting (1 Chronicles 17:16-27) or bowing (Exodus 34:8). Try lifting your hands to the Lord, too: “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” (1 Timothy 2:8)
Prayer is not at all difficult once you get used to the idea of God as a friend and a benevolent father. He doesn’t require a complicated, formal prayer or kneeling on a hard bench. We can reach Him with our hearts whether we are on a city bus or on our knees by our bed. Open up your heart to Him and let the words flow out just as they would to your best friend. Where could you find a better friend than God?