Prayer is often seen as something that requires practice to become ‘good’ at it. We may have heard others pray, and feel like our prayers just aren’t eloquent enough, or too short and sweet. We might worry that our lack of skill and practice might impede how effective our prayers are at getting heard and answered.
There are so many books about prayer: prayer and fasting, prayer and walking, prayer circles, and the best places and postures to pray in. Are all these necessary? Sometimes I wonder if all this extra stuff takes away from what prayer is: talking to God.
Though there is a lot of relevant and good information about prayer in many of these books, I wonder if they might sometimes impede, rather than promote our prayer life. I say that they might impede our prayer life, because for some people (I’m one of them) we might hesitate to go ahead and really pray, until all the books have been read and the ‘right’ way to pray effectively is made clear. We don’t want to misstep.
What Is Right?
Is there a right and wrong way to pray? What does the Bible have to say about it? Is there a special formula that we must follow to make our prayers more effective? Can someone be ‘better’ at praying that others?
The Bible does, in fact, have a few things to say about the right and wrong way to pray.
6 Instructions on Prayer in the Bible
1. Matthew 6:5-6. Don’t Be a Hypocrite
We shouldn’t pray with the intention to be seen and heard by others in order to make ourselves look good or appear more holy. Instead, it says to pray in private. This passage doesn’t mean that you should never pray in front of others – in fact, praying openly with and for others is a good thing – but we should be praying with the right motive and attitude: rather than seeking attention we should be seeking time with God, and we should be praying with an attitude of humility.
2. 1 John 1:9. Confession
If we’ve had a rough day and we know we ‘ve sinned in our attitude or in the way we handled a particular situation, or even the whole day, it’s difficult to come before the Lord in prayer. God knows how our day went, but as the saying goes, “confession is good for the soul”. When we accept God’s gift of salvation, God sees us as righteous, but our own shame and guilt can still impede our relationship with God. Confess to the Lord and allow him to refresh you and fill you with hope anew.
3. Philippians 4:6. Be Thankful
This passage tells us that we should make our requests known to God with thanksgiving. When we talk to God it should be from the heart, but the right kind of heart is a thankful one. Though we might feel like dumping on God at times, complaining about life and our current problems, God wants us to learn to be thankful in all circumstances.
4. James 4:3. God’s Will, Not Ours
James says that we ask but do not receive because we are asking wrongly. We are asking for things that we desire for our lives, and not what God desires. This may sound foreign to some people, but the Bible teaches us that God wants and knows what is best for us. He has a good and perfect plan for our lives, and this is the plan we should be praying for: God’s will, not our own.
5. 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Pray Continuously
This doesn’t mean pray 24 hours a day. But it does mean to speak to God often and throughout the day. Allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our steps means that we need to talk to him and bring all our decisions – big and small – before him. It means allowing the Holy Spirit, through Scripture that we have read, to screen our thoughts and our words and shape them to be pleasing to God. It means taking God along with us on our life’s journey, rather than just calling on him in times of need.
6. Luke 11:2. Reverence & Worship
We must always be mindful of who we are talking to. For some, intimacy with our heavenly Father means talking to him like our earthly dad. And though God does want intimacy with us – to hear about our thoughts and desires – we must not forget that he is the Sovereign Creator and Ruler of everything. We must humbly come before him in reverent gratitude and humility. Take time to worship and praise God for his greatness, holiness, and faithfulness.
This may sound like a lot to remember about prayer, but the most important thing to remember is that we need to come before God with a sincere heart. God knows our hearts and that’s what matters most. So, whether we are new to the concept of prayer or not, God simply wants to hear from us. He desires for us to talk to him and to speak to us in return.
How to Put These Habits into Practice
Let’s face it, habitual times of prayer can be difficult time to carve out. With the busyness of having families, jobs, and other commitments, prayer time can sometimes end up last on our to do list, or not at all. In fact, most of us only remember to turn to God in prayer when life gets too hard and we need God’s help.
I found myself turning to God only when I needed him the most – when I realized that I was facing something too big for me to handle. But I came to a point in my life, when I realized that by going to God daily, relying on him in the big and small stuff, I wasn’t getting overwhelmed when the big stuff came. God’s peace and strength was with me everyday and I wasn’t stunned by trials and bumps in the road because I wasn’t facing them on ‘empty’.
Allowing God to fill you every day, through daily moments of talking with him, allows us to experience the strength, peace, and joy in all circumstances that Paul talks about in Romans.
I’d like to share the new habits I formed that really helped to transformed my time talking to God.
5 Habits that Will Transform Your Prayer Life
1. Start Your Day on the Right Foot
We all know that we should start our day off right: with God. It helps us to fix and focus our eyes on him and what matters most. This is not a new concept. But how many of us are bright and bushytailed in the morning?
I definitely am not! I tried for years to set my alarm, be up before my children, and spend time in God’s Word and pray. Let me tell you, it has never been an easy task! And even when I’ve managed to become an earlier riser, my children were soon up asking for breakfast and several other things.
To compensate, I’ve tried moving this time to a later time slot in the day. But, if I’ve learned anything at all, starting the day with God is truly a game changer. So how did I manage?
Less is More
Less is more! I have a few devotionals that I have at the ready. I will read a short one-page devotional, containing a few inspirational Bible passages. This helps to wake up my mind and helps me begin to focus my thoughts on God.
Then I spend a short time in prayer. But my brain is mush in the morning and only gets primed after 1-2 cups of coffee. So, I read a prayer! Reading through a well written, purposefully thoughtful prayer allows me to talk with God and hear from him. I often read through it a second time and allow the words to be expressed from my own heart. I am incapable of formulating these words first thing in the morning, but this doesn’t have to hold me back from a sincerely heartfelt prayer to my Heavenly Father.
One book of prayers I recommend is called Start with Prayer: 250 Prayers for Hope and Strength by Max Lucado.
2. Steal Moments of Time
Once my mind is awake, I can now begin to pray throughout the day to God in my own words.
Be creative and steal moments away when you can pray to God. But be intentional and even habitual about these moments. Are there blocks of time in your day when you have a moment to yourself when you could pray, even silently? Maybe on your way home after dropping off your children at school, on your coffee break at work, or while washing the dinner dishes?
We got a puppy last summer, and though I new that I would end up being his primary caregiver, I am the only one that takes him out for walks! But I don’t mind because this is my alone time with God. I also like to talk to God whenever I’m alone in the car and when I wash dishes.
Find purposeful moments, and when you have those moments, make time with God a priority. And praying doesn’t require kneeling or even closing your eyes. Simply talk with God throughout your day. Include him in the big and small stuff.
3. Prayer List
My time may be carved out, but now what do I pray for?
Imagine going to a big meeting or presentation and not preparing what you were going to say.
Though talking to God is nothing at all like a presentation at a meeting, time is of the essence – we don’t want to waste our carved out moments rambling and not bringing every concern before the Lord.
My solution: make a prayer list. But I don’t just make a list of requests. I make a list of praises and I start with those. As I walk my dog in the morning, I praise and thank God for all that he has done in my life and the lives around me.
Afterwards I move on to the requests. I spend time on specific requests and move on to other request at different points in the day. By the end of the day, I’ve had a chance to cover everything on my list and anything else that God has brought to my mind while praying.
4. God-Centered Prayer
I realized that, for me, prayer was all about asking God for things. I think this is true for many people. We open with praising and thanking God, but then it’s time to get down to business: what do we need from God?
People ask God for things like a spouse, a job, or a house. These are all important things and, yes, the Bible does say that we should
‘Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you’1 Peter 5:7, NLT
‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done.’Philippians 4:6-7, NLT
A Better Way to Pray?
Those kinds of prayers are not necessarily the wrong ones to pray, but they are not what God is chiefly interested in. God’s plan for us it to take us towards holiness, towards a place where our lives are really pleasing to him.
So, when we make decisions or pray, we need to consider what will bring God glory, and help us become more Christ-like.
An Example of a God-Centered Prayer
“Lord, please provide a job that will provide for my family’s needs, with a boss I can respect, an environment where I can demonstrate and speak about the love of Christ with my colleagues, and a schedule that allows me to serve my family and in the church.”
It’s one thing to add ‘Your will be done’ as a kind of formula to close a prayer, but to truly pray for God’s will, is a sign that we are paying attention to where God is taking us; that we are truly focused on God.
One verse that sums up a right attitude towards God in our prayer life is:
‘He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.’John 3:30, NLT
5. Pray With Others
Many of us like to join Bible studies. It’s a great way to learn together, but mostly it’s a great time of fellowship. But the groups that seem to have the smallest numbers in attendance are prayer meetings. People tend to choose fun and fellowship over the more serious prayer time.
Being honest, I felt that way. But as I was growing in my faith, and hungering for a deeper relationship with God, I sought out more ways to connect and grow in my church family. I decided to attend my church’s ladies’ prayer meeting, which was primarily the older ladies of the church, and what I experienced changed my outlook on prayer.
Why Should We Pray Openly With Others?
Matthew 18:19-20 says this:
‘If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.’(NLT)
It is a powerful thing to openly pray with others. And I don’t mean listen to others pray and silently agree with them. It can be scary and intimidating to pray openly in front of others at first, but once you overcome the initial discomfort, an amazing thing will happen to your prayer life.
New Things Can be Scary
Have you ever learned how to do something – something you could never do before – and suddenly when you realize how great it is, you want to do it all the time?
For example: cooking. I was not always a great cook. I didn’t enjoy cooking at all! But once I learned some basic techniques and how to combine different flavors, suddenly I loved to cook. Not only did I enjoyed making home-cooked meals for my family, but cooking became a passion.
Well, joining this prayer meeting had the same effect. I can’t explain it any other way than to say that prayer is powerful. God is in our presence and the Holy Spirit is doing his work.
Openly praying with and for others also really helps you grow in relationship with others: your spouse, your children, your friends, and your church family. Want to get to know someone at their deepest level? Start praying with them!
Prayer has the power to change lives, beginning with your own. God did all that he did, so that we could have intimacy with him.
Start with Prayer: 250 Prayers for Hope and Strength by Max Lucado – Written for people who find it difficult to pray and struggle to find the words to articulate how they are feeling and what they need to ask from God.