One of the most frequent concerns I hear from people is about their prayer life. This is not surprising. Prayer has been the topic of many books (I have at least 25 on my book shelf right now!). Most people are uncomfortable with prayer at best or have given up on prayer at worst. Prayer seems to be shrouded in mystery for them, and they cannot figure out what is missing to make it connect. In this post we will consider the topic of prayer–what is it, why should we, how should we pray, and how does it work?
What is prayer?
There is an extremely simple answer to this question: Prayer is personal communication with God. In reality, it doesn’t get much more complex than that. Sure, there are all different types of prayers, but they all boil down to one person talking to God.
Why should we pray?
The simple answer is: God told us to pray.
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I realize that even though it is that simple, it does not draw the typical person into a deeper desire to pray. So, why else should we pray?
1. We do not pray because God is unaware of our needs.
Jesus, while teaching His disciples about prayer, says that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” God already knows our needs and He knows our thoughts. Thus, we will not surprise Him in our prayers. I realize that this is also not encouraging. In fact, many people after hearing this simply conclude, “If God already knows, then I don’t need to pray!” This is so far from the truth and those who land at that conclusion are missing out on one of the most important parts of prayer.
2. We pray to show our dependence on God.
One of the top reasons we pray is to show our dependence on God. When we pray about something we are showing that we have faith in God. In prayer we are submitting ourselves to His power and authority. In prayer we are recognizing that He is supreme and all things are acting in accordance with His will. Prayer reminds us that we are in charge of nothing and that God is in charge of everything.
3. We pray to have a relationship with God.
God wants us to have a personal relationship with Him. Think about any relationship you have–what is the common denominator in all of our relationships? Communication. It is extremely hard to maintain any kind of real relationship with someone that you are not talking to regularly. Additionally, as we communicate it builds our trust in God. It is challenging to trust someone you don’t know. The sad truth is that the reason many “Christians” don’t trust God is because they do not know Him, and they do not know Him because they do not spend any time with Him. The more time we spend with Him, the more we know will know Him. The more we know Him, the more we will trust Him. The more we trust Him, the more we will depend on Him. The more we depend on Him, the more we will love Him. The more we love Him, the more time we will spend with Him. The relationship grows naturally just like any other relationship.
4. We pray to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
When we pray, we are joining into something that is bigger than ourself. Through prayer we are doing something that matters for eternity. Think about all the prayers over all the centuries all over the world. People have been praying for God to move in their lives and the lives of others. They have prayed that revival break out and that God would grow them personally. When we pray we join in that stream of praying for things of eternal significance.
How should we pray?
There are as many ways to pray as you can think of. One time I took each letter of the alphabet and used it to finish this prayer, “God I thank you that you are/can do ____.” Then I thought of as many words as I could that began with that letter. It was a great spiritual exercise. But, how can you start out if you haven’t been praying regularly? I really like the A.C.T.S. method for beginners.
A – Adoration
Adoration is simply praising God for who He is. In this part of your prayer you are recognizing how awesome God really is.
C – Confession
Confession is exactly what it sounds like. After we recognize the greatness of God, we recognize how sinful we are. In confession, we are agreeing with God that our sins are sins. Also, we are showing our inability to save ourselves. If we could get rid of the guilt of our sin on our own, we would not need God. Confession shows our dependence on God to save us and remove our sin and our guilt. This step will put us in a proper prospective in our relationship with God.
T – Thanksgiving
In this step you give thanks to God for His goodness and forgiveness. You can also thank Him for anything in your life. One time I tried to create a list of 100 things that I am thankful to God for. I slowed down around 60. Then I got inspiration from a professor. He told me to open my fridge and thank God for what was inside of it. I laughed, but he was serious. He said, “You have more to be thankful for in your fridge than most of the rest of the world has all together!” That really hit me hard. I had become numb to the fact that I had 3 different types of relish and 2 different kinds of mayonnaise, and the rest of the world was starving. I have a lot to be thankful for, even beets!
S – Supplication
Supplication is simply praying for needs. These could be your own needs or the needs of others. Notice that this is the last part of the prayer. Most people start here. They go to God and begin by asking Him for stuff. Typically, when they begin here they don’t pray much of the other types of prayers–or they skip them altogether. After we have sufficiently adored God, confessed our sins, and thanked Him, we are in a position to ask God for our needs. The other prayers set us up to pray in the will of God for our needs and not just give Him the list of things we want Him to do. He is our Lord, not the other way around. So, we ASK God for His help, not demanding from Him.
How does prayer work?
This is really the million dollar question, and one that is really the most challenging to answer. The other questions are simple, but how prayer works is a little mysterious. This is because prayer is not like telling a genie our wish and God grants it.
Another question that relates to this one is, “Does prayer do anything?” The answer is YES!
Luke 11:9-10—And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
Exodus 32:12, 14— Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. […] And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
1 John 1:9–If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God wants us to pray and ask Him for our needs, for His mercy and grace, and for forgiveness. The key here is praying in the will of God. Jesus showed us that our prayers must not be focused on our will but the will of God. In Matthew 6:10, Jesus tells His disciples to pray “your will be done,” and He prays the same way in Matthew 26:39 while at the garden of Gethsemane saying, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” We can have confidence when we pray for things that God has asked us to pray.
It has been said that God answers all of our prayers in one of three ways: yes, no, or wait.
The “how” of the way prayers are answered is the mystery. Sometimes, it takes years for a prayer to be answered, others are answered quickly. The speed at which our prayers are answered are more about God’s will than anything else.
When we pray and we are not answered right away or in a way that we expect, we still have to trust God. It really boils down to whether or not we believe that God has our best interest in mind. Do you believe that God knows what is best for you? Do you believe that he is powerful enough to make the best for you happen? Then we have to trust that the answer to our prayers is God’s best for us, even if it is not what we expect.