Prayer, in one form or another, appears to be central to all religions, and is true of Christianity also. The first question which arises when one considers ‘how to pray,’ is ‘what is prayer’? While, there are as many answers to that question as there are books on prayer, within Christianity, prayer is understood as communication with God. Christianity is relational. To be a Christian is to have a belief in, and a personal relationship with, Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
This relationship colours how Christians pray. We are not praying to a distant and uncaring God, but to a God who so wants to have a personal relationship with us, that He allowed His only begotten son to be crucified on a cross, so that we may be redeemed. Yes, God has always wanted to have a relationship with us, as attested to in His relationship with Adam. You will recall in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8-9) that God came to visit and talk with Adam.
Thus, when Jesus was on earth, His form of prayer was unlike that of others, for He was praying to His Father, whom He knew intimately. So different was the prayer of Jesus from the contemporary Jewish prayer styles that in Luke 11:1 we read “And it happened as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus’s disciples saw that Jesus was doing something differently, and they wanted to share in it. Jesus answered their request and gave them a form of model prayer, or sample prayer format to follow. But more than that, in Matthew 6:5-8, He gave them an outline of how to pray, saying:
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward.
But you, when you pray, enter into your room. And shutting your door, pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly.
But when you pray, do not babble vain words, as the heathens do. For they think that in their much speaking they shall be heard.
Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask Him.”
As Christians, we need to recognise and know that the Lord God Almighty is also our Father, and that like all good fathers, He wants to have a relationship with His children. Prayer is typically the means of that communication; when we set apart time to be with Him and Him alone. Yes, there is corporate prayer, where many gather to pray in community and with one accord, but here we will look primarily at personal prayer: a one-to-one communication with God the Father, the Creator of all that has been created.
In Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus tells us first to enter into a quiet room, and shut the door and pray to God alone and in secret.
Next, He tells us that because God knows what we both need and want even before we ask for it, we should not babble and talk too much. If we have a list of things for which to pray, we need to take them to God, one at a time. We should not read them out like a shopping list – that is not conversation or communication with a beloved Father. Remember that pray is ‘communication with God’ and if we do all the talking, God cannot speak to us. If we so all the talking, it is not a conversation or dialogue, it is a monologue. We need to provide lots of quiet time for listening to that small still voice with is God. This is why we need to be in a quiet room, and comfortable; quiet so we can hear God and comfortable so we can be there for a long time in prayer.
Remember that God is not moved by needs, but by Faith. If God were moved by needs, Satan would be busy inflicting problems on all of us so that God would spend all His time helping us; then God would be working for Satan. That is not the case, as Faith is what God is looking for in us. God reacts to faith in a very strong and positive way.
God wants to hear from us and interact with us: that is prayer. It makes perfect sense therefore, that the fewer distractions we have, the better it will be. Let us look at a few simple suggestions as how help achieve that interaction:
- Take a notepad and pencil with you into the room. There are two reasons for this. First, the enemy will do his best to disrupt your pray session and the typical ruse is distraction. He will seek to fill your mind with all sorts of trivia and things on your ‘to-do’ list – especially the things you have forgotten to do, as guilt is a great distraction! Taking note of these items as they pop into your mind, means you can forget about them and deal with them another time. Once you have noted it down, the item is logged and cannot be used to distract you further.
Secondly, the Lord will put into your mind things of importance to Him for you to pray for, or to do. Noting them down means you will not forget them.
Thirdly, if you are praying specific prayers, you can journal them and later record just when the Lord answered them. Saying thanks to the Lord for answered prayers is only polite and good manners!
- Take a Bible with you. You may find you want to recite Scripture to God, or to pray particular verses. You may find God wants to give you bible verses and puts them into your mind, be they prophetic or for meditation purposes.
- Take a new and opened box of tissues with you. Prayer can be emotional. This is especially true if you have not prayed for a while, or it is the first time. When stronghold walls come down, so do tears.
- Give yourself plenty of time to pray so it is not rushed. With practice, one tends to pray longer.
- Do not take a watch or clock into the prayer room and turn of all phones and other devices, both inside and outside the room, which may interrupt you. The whole point of prayer is communication with God, and if one is making all the effort to find the place and time, then limiting potential distraction which are under our own control, does makes sense.
- Try to use the same place and hour for all prayer sessions. Like anything we use regularly, familiarity will lead to ease of use and confidence. The more one prays, the more natural it will become, the more intuitive it will become.
- Before coming to prayer before the Lord, we need to spend time in praise and worship. This will get our heart and mind in the right place to start preparing to hear God. Some people play praise and worship CD’s, others just sing. Our God is a God who cared about our hearts, so however we praise and worship Him, what matters is that it comes from our hearts. God does not care if we are good singers or not, whether we play a musical instrument or not, whether it is a popular Church song of a song of our own making, as long as it comes from our hearts. That matters to God. Once can also sing verses from the Bible, especially the Psalms, back to God, with tunes of our own making.
- Get into a comfortable prayer position. Sometimes expressing your thoughts physically and out loud, can make the experience more complete, for you are involving more of your senses. People vary in how they position themselves during prayer: sitting, kneeling, lying down on the floor, hands folded, clasped, or raised high, holding hands with other people, head bowed, dancing, prostrating, whirling, swaying, and so on. Some walk around when in earnest prayer. Eyes can be open, eyes can be closed. In Christian traditions, public prayer stances have changed over the centuries, from standing, eyes open, face upward and arms and hands outstretched to the heavens, to that which we now see in Churches. In a room alone with God, be led by God.
- Speak in Tongues if you have that gifting, before and after prayer in words. If words fail, pray in tongues.
- At the end of prayers, often people end or close with a special word like “Amen,” or a phrase such as “May God receive our prayers.” Some end simply by standing or sitting in silence for a minute or two, a good time to hear that still small voice of God.
Christians are required to pray, it is not optional. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:5 “When you pray….” Some Christians people pray occasionally, some even pray every day. Some pray for three minutes, some for three hours. Some say little prayers all during the day, some in one long session. Typically women are more regular prayers than are men, but the format or our prayer life is not dictated to us, as long as we do pray!
The next question is whether we are praying the right way. Is there a right way? Are our prayers being answered? Are we even praying to the right person in the first place? There are many different ways to pray, and there is the way Jesus Christ prayed and taught His disciples. It worked for Him, He got results. In the next post we’ll take a look at His example on how to pray and consider how we can improve the way we pray.