At its core, praying is simply talking to God. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to talk to God, but there are attitudes, habits, and traditions that can help guide you into a healthy relationship with God.
The most important thing about praying is simply that you do it! As basic as it is, praying can be strangely hard to get yourself to do. There are many possible reasons for this, but for the sake of overcoming any resistance you feel toward prayer, take a moment now to speak to God. Your prayer could be as short as, “God, help me to learn to pray.”
Even when you pray something simple, God hears you. He listens every time.
“I love the Lord, for he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy” (Psalm 116:1).
Acknowledge Your Obstacles to Prayer
Before we discuss some practical ways to get started praying, we need to uncover some of objections or obstacles to praying. The answers are different for each person, and may be shaped by your previous experiences, your ideas about God, your ideas about yourself, and other factors.
Jot down a few notes for yourself to explain any obstacles you think are making prayer more difficult for you. There are some common factors that hinder people from praying. Maybe you are busy and don’t know when you can incorporate prayer into your already packed life, or you want to pray correctly but don’t know how. Some want to show reverence to God, and don’t want to offend him by praying incorrectly.
For those who grew up in church, you’ve heard prayers that are always led by others; they may be formulaic or pre-written, and you don’t know how to pray without those resources. These prayers in your church may be long, emotional, and eloquent, and you’re not sure how to replicate that, especially when you’re not feeling emotional.
Sometimes, you stop praying when you used to pray a lot, because you felt like it wasn’t “working.” Maybe something really bad happened, even though your prayed it wouldn’t. or maybe you’ve done something really bad, and you don’t know how to show your face with God again.
This list, or the one you wrote down, may be overwhelming. The good news is, you do not need to deal with all these problems right now. Acknowledging them is a big step forward, and you can let God deal with them in his own time and way.
Here’s another chance to pray an ultra-simple prayer to share these concerns with God. You can pray in your own words or say something like this: God, I acknowledge that these obstacles are making prayer seem difficult to me. I give these to you now. Please take care of them in your own time and way.
Adjust Your Attitude Towards God
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
The most important ingredient when you’re speaking with God is not the words that you say. It’s the heart that you say them with that matters to God. In fact, he doesn’t always expect you to say words.
Think of the human relationships that matter to you most. You know that the manner in which you speak, and your heart in saying it, have a greater impact that using the right formulas to say what you’re saying. This is even truer with God, because he understands your heart and your motivations better than any human could.
Why do some of our requests from God get “answered” (fulfilled the way we asked) and others don’t? This is a perennial, universal question, and it has to do with our posture toward God in asking.
Jesus told a story of a widow who needed justice. The judge in her town was generally unkind, and he didn’t jump at the chance to help someone powerless and probably penniless. But she pestered him until he conceded. Jesus pointed out that if an unjust judge would help out someone who kept on asking, how much more would God help?
Persisting in prayer demonstrates belief in God’s character and power. It may seem illogical to keep asking when you’re not getting “results.” But you know you’re talking to the one person who can do something about your situation. The widow believed that her local judge had the power to bring justice. God is saying, “I have both the power and the desire to help you. So keep coming to me with your needs.”
The most important attitude to bring when you pray, and in your approach to God in general, is humility. You are not expected to have all the answers or do to it all correctly. Acknowledge that you cannot pray well enough to impress or persuade Almighty God; come to him like a child would.
Just after he told the story about the persistent widow, Jesus told another story about attitudes in prayer. One guy told God about his good deeds and thanked him that he was “not like the ungodly tax collector.” Nearby stood the tax collector, bent low before God, saying simply, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said that man walked away justified before God, whereas the other was unchanged.
Practical Ways to Pray
When it comes to a “how to” for prayer, the possibilities are endless. Below are some ideas for you to think through and experiment with. As you’re trying out new ways to pray, or seeking to overcome obstacles in your relationship with God, consider that what you most need is to find a way to pray today. You don’t need to figure out how to pray for the rest of your life.
Christians worldwide and throughout history have set aside times to pray daily, or multiple times per day. Those who find prayer somewhat difficult may enjoy marking out short times to pray throughout the day. Try praying for a few minutes with your coffee in the morning and for a few minutes on your evening commute or before you go to sleep.
Try starting with the Lord’s prayer. This is a pretty surefire way to pray “the right thing,” because Jesus scripted it out. Again, this is a practice espoused by Christians since the very beginning of the Church. So as you’re repeating these words, you’re joining in the forever prayer meeting at which God is present and listening.
Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
Forever and ever. Amen.
As you’re reading or reciting, look for a line that jogs a thought about your life or those you care about. Maybe finances are tight, and you think, “I’m not sure where my daily bread is coming from.” Then pray that in your own words, “God, please provide for my family. All we need is provision for today.” Most of us likely need to give some extra attention to “lead us not into temptation” on a daily basis!
You can pray as long or as short on these topics as you want or have time for.
Resources for planned prayer:
- Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle is a set of daily prayer books. They include prayers from several traditions such as Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox. The poetic and powerful prayers are mixed in with scripture readings.
- The Hour that Changes the World by Dick Eastman is designed to help you diversify your prayer life. You can use it to pray for 12 minutes or for an hour. It covers prayer emphases that are often overlooked, such as “watching” and praying for other countries.
Praying consistently at fixed times during the day will go a long way towards training your mind to turn to God throughout the day, when you’re not planning to pray. And sometimes, the sweetest, most meaningful moments with God are those that we didn’t expect.
Your emotions can become triggers to pray.
Joy and thanksgiving
When you see something beautiful or funny, you can say a quiet (or noisy!) Thank you, God! My family will sometimes notice something lovely in the world, like a gorgeous sky and we’ll say, Good job, God! These simple phrases turn our attention to God and acknowledge his work in our lives. Don’t discount the importance of these little prayers. God is a father and likes for his kids to say a cheerful “thank you” when he’s done something for us.
Fear and anxiety
One of the most efficient ways to grow in your prayer life is to learn to connect your fear, worry, or anxiety with prayer. Imagine, if every time you worried about something, you also prayed! That’d be a lot of prayer.
Choose a scripture or prayer to lift up every time, so you don’t have to think of words when you’re emotionally distraught. Try this one:
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.
This prayer is a theologically rich S.O.S. People shouted it out to Jesus as he walked by, whether they need help getting rid of a demon or restoring sight. And you can silently or loudly lift this prayer to God when you need help of any kind. You can follow it up with your own expression of need if you want.
Resources for unplanned prayer:
- The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. A short collection of thoughts about how and why to pray throughout the day from a very sweet and relatable monk.
- The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. This isn’t usually considered a book on prayer. But when you want to see all of your life as an opportunity for prayer, this book helps you to see how the spiritual world intersects with the daily stuff of life.
Infinitely more could be said about prayer, should time and space allow. Prayer is as boundless, timeless, and lifegiving as God himself, because it connects us to him. May God lead us into a richer and more consistent prayer life, so we can know him more.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Diana Simumpande
Allie Boman is a wife, mom, follower of Jesus and freelance writer in the Chicago area. She served for fifteen years with Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and studied classical piano in college. She loves to cook ethnic food and explore new places with her family. Her personal blog is QuickReads.blog. She’d love to connect with you!