Being in a relationship with someone requires some level of communication. It is how you know one another’s minds, can share your needs and concerns, and otherwise form a meaningful bond with one another. This basic principle carries over into our relationship with God. God speaks to us in several ways, including through Scripture, the church, the Spirit, and the wise, godly people in our lives.
One of the main ways we speak to God is through prayer. Depending on our upbringing and experiences, prayer is something that may be familiar. But given that this article is about how to pray to God, it’s safe to assume that prayer is something a bit unfamiliar to you, or you’re not sure if you’re doing it right.
Learning the importance of prayer
Prayer is especially important in our lives if we desire to follow Jesus. In many places in the gospels of Mark and Luke, we find that Jesus took time away from people to pray to his Father. Mark tells us that Jesus rose early in the morning while it was still dark to pray (1:35) while Luke tells us that Jesus went to a desolate place during the day (4:42).
We learn from this that there isn’t a perfect time to pray. We see Jesus praying throughout the day, or early in the morning, or late at night. We see him praying by himself, but we also see him praying for and with his disciples (John 17). Prayer allowed him to commune with his Father. Prayer too should be a huge part of our lives.
We also see people like Paul, who in his many letters reminds his readers often, “I pray for you always.” Prayer was a part of Paul’s everyday life. What we also learn from this is that prayer isn’t all about you, just like your life isn’t all about you. In our prayers, we are reminded to remember others, to pray for our political leaders (1 Timothy 2), etc.
Apart from Paul, we see from places like the Psalms that there are many diverse types of prayers, and many different things that one can pray about, such as loss, grief, anger, sickness, hopelessness, and lament. There are as many ways as there are things to pray for. The key thing is that prayer is an important part of a believer’s life that we simply can’t do without.
Learning how to pray to God
One place to start when learning how to pray to God is to see how other people do it. As we saw already, we find many examples of prayers to God in the Bible, from the disciples’ prayer (Matthew 6), the Psalms, etc. Many ancient and contemporary prayers can be found in prayer books or online.
These prayers all show us different ways to pray to God. We can learn from these and many other places but remember the key thing about prayer is that we are talking with the living God, and our unique personality and relationship with God will shape how we pray. So don’t worry if it doesn’t sound the same as how other people do it.
Another vital part of learning how to pray to God is to become like little children. Jesus spoke often about how believers were to be like little children in how we approach God. We are to be child-like (not childish!) in how we deal with the things of God. Children are often quite brazen, they are clear about what they want, and they trust that it’ll work out.
God calls us to trust in his love and willingness to provide for us in his way and in his time. We don’t have to complicate things in prayer, by adding bells and whistles to make it seem proper. One of the things Jesus rebuked people for was making a show of prayer – making prayers lengthy and wanting to be seen by others as spiritual (Matthew 6).
You can pray in secret to God, and he’ll hear you just as well there as anywhere else. Prayer is not about the length or special language you use to get God’s attention. As Jesus reminds his followers in that chapter, your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask him. Be plain and honest in your prayers, leaning on the Spirit to fill the gaps where you lack the words (Romans 8).
Those prayers where we ask for something from God are like any other request, and God will respond according to His infinite wisdom. Sometimes he can respond by saying “no.” At other times he will say “yes,” and at still other times he may say, “not right now.” God isn’t like a Magic 8 Ball that is only limited to these responses.
You may ask God for something, and instead of responding to your request, God can remind you of a situation in your life that you need to address, such as a broken relationship that needs reconciliation. Paul asked God several times to remove a “thorn” from him. We’re not sure what that thorn was, but God told Paul that he wouldn’t remove the thorn from him. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Paul asked God to remove his thorn three times, and God kept giving him an answer he didn’t like until Paul saw God’s wisdom and submitted. Prayer requires perseverance, and often we wrestle with God in our prayers. Whatever God’s response, we trust that he is working all things for our good, and he doesn’t want to harm us.
Jesus reminded his disciples that they need to pray and never give up, even though they receive no reply or a reply that isn’t favorable (Luke 18:1-8). This doesn’t mean that we can strong-arm God into doing what we want – God gave his answer to Paul, and Paul had to learn the wisdom in that answer. But it means we should persevere in prayer and not give up.
Getting started with prayer
If you want to pray or learn how to pray, just get started. There’s no time like the present to begin your prayer journey. As we look through the Bible at the different types of prayers, there are a few things that emerge as a pattern. Below are some key ideas for how to pray to God.
The acronym ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) has been used by many as a guide for prayer. One way to look at this is as a set of training wheels that help you get started and understand the value and purpose of communing with God. The acronym looks like this in practice:
Adoration: In your own words, take some time to give God praise and honor for who he is as the creator and Lord over all.
Confession: Take a beat to honestly deal with the sin in your life and the things that draw you away from God and the life he wants for you.
Thanksgiving: Name or list the things that you’re grateful for.
Supplication: Take some time to pray for the needs of yourself and others.
Though praying in this way isn’t mandatory, it does help you to understand that prayer is one way for God to speak to us and expand our view of the world. It addresses our hearts, challenges us to look beyond ourselves, and draws us to praise God and get our priorities straight. In other words, prayer shapes us, and the ACTS acronym shows that God wants us to worship Him, even though we are aware of our shortcomings. Through it, we become more aware of God’s goodness and the role God has for them in the world.
Another way to shape our prayers follows David’s lead in 1 Chronicles 16, where he calls on the people to invoke (call on), thank, and praise the Lord. Invoking is like supplication; we are simply coming before the Lord to ask for his help in any number of things for ourselves and other people. And we also find the familiar call to thank and praise the Lord.
Prayers can take a thousand different shapes. They don’t have to be neat, lengthy, or worded a certain way to be heard by God. The above guide is just that, a guide. While there isn’t a strictly right or wrong way to pray, there are mature and immature ways to pray, and the guide is intended to help you know the feel of a mature, rich, and deep prayer life.
“Praying”, Courtesy of Patrick Fore, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Drama”, Courtesy of Luis Alberto Sánchez Terrones, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Folded Hands”, Courtesy of Jacob Bentizinger, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Victory”, Courtesy of Alex Woods, Unsplash.com, CC0 License