How to Pray — Part 1
What is prayer?
Doug Britton, MFT
Prayer is not simply saying words as a religious ritual. It is communicating with God.
Prayer is a privilege, an opportunity to communicate with the creator of the universe and the one who loves you the most. Prayer is listening to God. Prayer is worshipping and praising God. Prayer is asking God to bless your friends. And prayer is asking God to bless your enemies.
Prayer is more than asking God for favors (although it’s fine to do that, as long as that’s not your main focus in prayer). And it’s more than simply asking God’s blessing on your meals (although that’s a good thing to do).
Prayer is much more than following a formula of what to say and how to say it. It is being real with God.
When you pray, don’t think you must use fancy, formal words. It is fine to speak simply and sincerely, as to a dear friend or a loving parent.
What do you think?
1. What do you think prayer is?
2. What does it mean to say prayer “is being real with God”?
3. What part do you think prayer should play in a believer’s life?
4. What part does prayer play in your life?
Reasons we should pray
When we look in the Bible, we see many reasons we should pray. Here are some important ones:
The Bible tells us to pray.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4:2)
Jesus prayed, and we should follow his example.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
We are able to walk more closely with God when we communicate with him.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)
We need God’s help.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. (Ephesians 3:16)
Other people need God’s help.
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (Colossians 4:3)
God can perform miracles when we pray.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
We can find peace, joy, and comfort as we walk with God.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Make it personal
5. Which of the above verses motivate you to pray?
6. How can you remind yourself of these verses?
Pray with faith and wisdom
Pray with faith.
God always answers our prayers, sometimes with amazing miracles, sometimes in unexpected ways, sometimes with different timing than we expected, and sometimes by saying “no.” A key lesson is to trust God no matter what happens.
Pray in Jesus’ name.
When most Christians pray, we end our prayers by saying “in Jesus’ name, amen.” We usually do this because of Jesus’ words in John 14:13-14:
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:13-14)
What did Jesus mean when he said to ask “in my name”? He wasn’t saying if we add a few special words at the end of our prayers we will get anything we pray for. (If you read all the New Testament, you will not find the words “in Jesus’ name” at the end of any of the prayers.)
When Jesus said “in my name,” he was referring to praying in agreement with his will.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
Is it wrong to say the words “in Jesus’ name, amen”? Of course not. And it’s not wrong to pray if you aren’t sure your prayer is according to his will. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
However, it’s a good idea to pray for wisdom and to know God better so your prayers will line up more closely to his will.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)
Pray, but also do your part.
There are times when we need to pray and then leave the results in God’s hands. Other times, we need to pray but then take action. For example, if a child standing beside you stepped into the street as a bus approached, you would pray, but you wouldn’t just stand there and watch to see what happened. You would grab the child’s arm and pull him or her to safety.
Make it personal
7. Why can we pray with faith?
8. What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”?
Stay focused when you pray
If you are like many people, you may have trouble paying attention when you pray. Your mind may drift to problems at work, the grocery list, or problems with friends. Here are some things that can help you concentrate while praying:
- Pray out loud.
- Sing your prayers.
- Write your prayers in a journal.
- Kneel or walk as you pray.
- If you fall asleep when you pray in bed at night, get out of bed and stand up as you pray. You are unlikely to fall asleep while standing up.
Make it personal
9. Do you sometimes have trouble staying focused when you pray? Explain your answer.
10. How will the previous ideas help keep you focused?
Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4:2)
Make it personal
1. What is prayer?
2. What are four reasons we should pray?
3. Does God always answer our prayers? Explain your answer.
4. Why is it important to pray with both faith and wisdom?
5. What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”?
6. Do you sometimes have trouble staying focused while you pray? If so, describe what times of the day it is hardest.
7. What idea(s) will help you stay focused when you pray?
8. Write a prayer asking God to help your prayer life to be all that he would want it to be.
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About Doug Britton, MFT
Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)
Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.