I’ve often wondered how to pray. There have been times in my life where prayer has been easy and other times where it has been like wading through tar. There have been whole seasons where I’ve ignored prayer and other times where I’ve prayed constantly. So many aspects of prayer are still a mystery to me, and I’m sure they always will be, yet prayer is a source of great richness and joy. Prayer is a topic Jesus was asked about, and it’s one of the few times that He gives a direct answer to a question.
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'”
Here are some things that I have learnt from this passage and on my journey that might help you answer the question “How to pray?”
1. Who are you talking to?
When Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He has them start the prayer with “Father”. It’s a subtle point that sometimes we miss, but it’s worth pausing and allowing its truth to sink in. When we pray, we are not coming to a distant, faraway God; we’re coming to a Father. Moreover, we are coming to one who is close and invested in us, His children. When Paul talks about the father-child relationship in Romans, he uses the Greek word “abba”.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
The word “abba” is the most intimate word for a child talking to their Father. It speaks of the way the Father sees us and longs for us to relate to Him. When I’m thinking about how to start a prayer, I remember this and begin with Father. It causes me to see Him as He wants to be seen, as my loving Father who is listening to my every word.
2. Remember who He is
Often when I’ve come to pray, I’m concerned with events that are happening in my life. It may be a friend in trouble or something I’ve seen on the news. The situations can be overwhelming, and that can lead to frustration, disappointment or helplessness. What has aided me many times with the question of how to pray is those few words that Jesus taught us, “hallowed be thy name.”
The modern version would say, “Holy is your name.” That line is a form of praise; it’s a place for us to pause and remember. We remember who our Father is. He is the one who spoke the creation into existence and holds the stars in place by the power of His word. Our Father is the one who raised Christ from the dead, breaking the hold of sin and death forever. He is vast, powerful, wise, majestic and awesome.
3. His Kingdom, not mine
How do you pray? Notice how Jesus teaches us to start our prayers? “Your Kingdom come.” Not my Kingdom or my desire. His will, not mine. It’s a simple way to make sure the alignment in our prayers is correct. Part of the process of prayer is me changing to be more like Jesus. Jesus actually modelled this part of prayer for us in the garden of Gethsemane.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Matthew 26: 36-39
How do Christians pray? Not my will, but yours.
4. How to Pray? Keep it simple
There isn’t a food much more simple than bread. It is eaten across the world from the poorest household to the richest. In His teaching on prayer, Jesus invites us to ask God for this simple, basic need. He encourages us to stay in the moment, to ask for what we need today. There have been times when I didn’t want to pray simple prayers.
I also used to think that I had to pray a proper prayer, that somehow my eloquence would make God respond to me quicker or more powerfully. It’s not true. Our Father responds to our prayer because He is good, not because we get it right. “The fewer the words, the better the prayer,” said Martin Luther. Isn’t that reassuring? We can talk to God in everyday language, just like we talk to a friend. I find this description of Moses and God so helpful.
Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.
Exodus 33: 10-11
The Glorify App has a great section on prayer that can help you on your journey. In all the questions of how to pray to God, the best advice I ever received was to relax and enjoy it. It’s not a stress, an obligation or a chore. Instead, it’s a loving Father, welcoming His dearly loved child into His presence and them spending time together. Doesn’t that sound beautiful?