Prayer is something that we as Christians know that we should do, but we seldom actually do it; we know that we should pray but the question which I and maybe yourself usually gloss over or is the how and the why of prayer.
I hold my hands up and admit that I struggle with prayer. It is something that I have always scuffled with. Oftentimes I fall asleep during prayer. Oftentimes I drift off into another galaxy and forget why I was actually praying. Often I really can’t be bothered to pray. I am sure you can resonate with one. But what really bugged me deep down was not the drifting into a slumber or my thoughts running away, but the fact that deep down I didn’t really understand and didn’t know how to pray and why I was praying. If I was praying in public, my prayers would sound fabulous but when it was just ‘My Lord and I’, our conversation wasn’t quite the same.
Then as I read the book Prayer which a good friend of mine suggested to me, it brought out the simple but poignant point that “prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend.”
This was so profound to me because I analysed the conversations I had with my friends and I realised that I could talk to them for hours but when it came to opening my heart to God, well… lets just say it was a different story.
How are your conversations with God? Do you talk to Him as you do with your earthly friends? Could you spend hours talking to Him or is it a microwave prayer? Do you solely ask God for things, or is there more substance to that in your prayers?
If you have the time, read Luke 11:1-13 it is a potent and eye-opening lesson of the essence of prayer.
“Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
In 2020 I attended a Generation Youth for Christ (GYC) online event which was entitled “If We Ask” which focused on prayer. Each morning they had a ‘United Prayer’ session where people from around the world would come on zoom and simply pray together. The outline for the popcorn prayers was: adoration, thanksgiving, repentance and then supplication (another word for ‘asking’). For me this was the first time experiencing this somewhat formatted but still personal prayer and it blew me away. One morning after the session it hit me that – “[I] do not know what [I] should pray for as [I] ought” (Romans 8:26), like the disciples I was clueless about the essence of prayer.
However, the beautiful thing about God is that although the disciples, who had probably grown up praying, had been with Christ for some time, they still didn't’ know some of the ABC’s of prayer. You may be in the same position and that is okay. God is patient and He works with us. But as they heard Jesus talking to the Father as to a friend, they desired to know how to pray properly and so Jesus gave them the template for prayer:
“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”
Although this prayer can be repeated verbatim, the Lord’s prayer was a template for communion with the Father.”
Prayer is relational, it is a conversation with God as to a friend. Don’t get caught up in the mindset or thought which I often slip into; “I don’t pray like [insert name here]” or “I wish I could pray like [insert name here].” Each relationship is different, as on earth so in heaven. You do you, and talk to God in a way that reflects your relationship with Him.
If you don’t pray like [insert name here], that is perfectly fine because your journey, experience and relationship with God is not the same.
The first point on how we should pray is to pray aloud.
This may seem like a ‘duh’ moment, but I believe, and understand from personal experience that it is one that we easily forget. Maybe you are like me and usually pray in your heart, this, especially when you just wake up, or when you are tired is a recipe for sleeping and warranting your mind to drift. The reason why the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray was because they heard Him pray; when they heard Him in a deep conversation with God prayer appeared to them in a new light, before it was a vain ritual.
In Gethsemane, Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death” (Hebrews 5:7). By praying aloud, it means that you will somewhat contemplate about what you are going to say, it means your conversation must have a purpose and direction, and this will lead to less diverted thoughts while in conversation with your heavenly Father and less likely chance of you falling asleep on Him too.
Now once we enter into the conversation, Jesus teaches us not to pray to Him but to “Our Father” which is in heaven. When we pray we must realise who we are praying to, this makes all the difference and will dictate the rest of your heart to heart with Him.
When we are praying to our heavenly Father we must realise that He is acquainted and touched with our difficulties (Hebrews 4:15) and that we are opening up to a Father who loves us so much. How do I know this? 1 John 4:9 coupled with John 3:16 tells us this:
“This the love of God was manifested toward us, that God [the Father] has sent His only begotten Son into the world” that, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
You are not just praying to anyone, you are praying to your Father who gives you every good and every perfect gift (James 1:17), your Father who formed you in the womb and who says that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14), your Father who has amazing plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11), your Father who has amazing thoughts about you (Psalm 139:17). Your Father who declares that you are the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8), your Father who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all you may think or ask (Ephesians 3:20) – that is who you are praying to.
Have you ever witnessed the audacity that a child has when asking for something from their parents, it is not presumptuous at all but bold and full of faith, and these little ones don’t come to their parents timidly. We can learn from that. We are told to come “boldly” not timidly, “to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The only way we do this is through the immense faith and understanding of who our heavenly Father is because when you come to Him you must believe that “He is” (Hebrews 11:6).
Who “is” He to you?
The way you view your heavenly Father will heavily influence your prayer life.
After acknowledging God as your Father Jesus taught us to Hallow His name: hallow simply means to honour or reverence His name. Although prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend, there has to be a balance, a level of respect and reverence in the heart to heart with Him.
While adoration is a key aspect of prayer, there is a key underlying principle that needs to be recognised: Prayer does not bring God down to us, but prayer brings us up to God. Hallowing His name is more for your sake rather for the Father’s.
The reason why hallowing God precedes any asking and so forth is because as you praise God, as you adore Him you are internalising, realising and cementing in your heart and mind who God is. As you “magnify the Lord” (Psalm 34:3) in prayer you realise how awesome He is, you remind yourself of all the amazing things He has done, is doing and will do. And as you do that, your confidence in Him should naturally grow as the heart to heart progresses. As you magnify Him, your problems which you will bring to Him later, they will be diluted down to their real place – the bigger God is to you the smaller your problems will be.
If you find praising and adoring God difficult, especially in trying times, don’t be ashamed – I have and sometimes experience the same thing too. A good solution to this is to write down regularly what you are grateful for.
What are you grateful to God for?
Submission is another aspect in prayer that needs to be included: “Your will be done”
Submission is such an important element because it is easy to forget that prayer does not bring God down to my level but elevates me up to His level. Prayer is not about changing God, it is about changing me. Oftentimes I have come to God, all pompous and proud calling the shots: God do this, do that. I want this, I want that. By doing this I am in essence indicating that I know better – but I don’t. He knows the end from the beginning; if God were to show us the plans He has for us I am certain we would pick the same, because His plans far outdo our plans and desires for ourselves. His timing is better than ours.
But we must be willing to submit to His will for our lives. However it will be difficult to submit to His will if we don’t believe that “He is”, that’s why Jesus starts off the prayer with “Our Father” and then proceeds to “Hallowed be Your name.”
As you spend more time in God’s word, day in and day out making it your food and drink you will better understand God’s will and your prayers will become more and more like Christ’s, and as time goes by your relationship with Him will grow and you’ll be able to confidently say “not as I will but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Request or Supplication is the next element that I am sure we are all familiar with: "Give us day by day our daily bread.”
This is when you ask God. I love how Jesus put it and how He didn’t put it. He said “day by day”not week by week or month by month or year by year but “day by day”: teaching us to take each day as it comes. Sometimes we can get so lost in praying for tomorrow that we forget about today and lose the beauty and the blessing of today (I’m not saying don’t pray for the future).
Confession - “forgive us our sins”.
Confession in prayer especially when we wake and before we go to bed is key: we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standard, and confessing of our known sins is a prerequisite to our prayers being being heard and answered (Isaiah 59:1-2; Psalm 66:18-19). Sometimes it's hard and we can’t find where we have fallen so to speak, but we can ask God to reveal to us where we might have fallen and He will. In the meantime we can just pray for God to forgive us of anything we might have done unknowingly.
Don’t be discouraged by your short comings though, remember that God is merciful and His desire is to cleanse you from all your sins and to forgive you (Psalm 130:4), always keep in mind the promise that if you confess your sins He is faithful and just to forgive you of your sins and cleanse you from all of them (1 John 1:9): your sins and iniquities will He remember no more (Hebrews 8:12).
Forgiving - “we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.”
As we confess our sins, being forgiven is also dependent on us forgiving others. Jesus said “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
All these points are some of the key elements of prayer.
You may be a seasoned Christian or maybe you are a new believer but you struggle with prayer, don’t be discouraged. Try some of the tips and the format that Jesus outlined and as you do that and make prayer a habit, prayer to you will become like breathing – it will become a natural instinct.
But maybe you have never prayed before, don’t worry there is a first time for everything God invites you to “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). Just talk to Him in a way that feels comfortable for you and as you continue to do that you will get the hang of opening up to God and your relationship and flow of conversation will flourish.
If you would like a prayer partner or someone to help you pray, just send me a message and I am sure we can sort something out.
In the meantime pray without ceasing (2 Thessalonians 5:17), be anxious for nothing but bring everything to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6) and remember – “prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend.”