Think back to your day yesterday. How many times did you pray? What did you pray for? Could you stay focused? Did you struggle with your prayer? Prayer is such an important part of a Christian’s life. As Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” A Christian has a calling to a personal prayer life as well as to pray with and for others, and there are many practical ways that this can be put to use in the Christian’s life.
Let’s first look at the reasons for praying. First, God commands his people that they must pray. Martin Luther said, “As it is the business of tailors to make clothes, and of cobblers to make shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.” The Bible also points this out in a command found in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” Christians have to pray often; this is our calling from God.
Another reason for prayer can be demonstrated by thinking of a parent/child relationship. In order to have any sort of relationship, but especially a close relationship between parents and children, both the parents and the child have to communicate. In the relationship between God and his children, there also has to be communication. God communicates with his people through his word, the Bible. But that is only one side of the equation; the other side is us. We have to communicate too, and we have to do this through prayer. Simply put, prayer is children of God speaking to their Father with confidence of his love.
The third reason for prayer is that it is “the chief part of thankfulness,” as the Heidelberg Catechism says in Lord’s Day 45. We have received so much from God! He gives us our homes, families, friends, churches, the list could go on and on. We need to pray to express our thankfulness to God for all of this. Going to God in grateful prayer is a way of worshipping him, because a truly grateful prayer will give him the glory that he deserves!
Although God has given us so much, we do need certain things for both our bodies and our souls. We need food and drink for bodies, so we can and should pray for these things. This does not mean that we can just pray for anything we might want but maybe think we need, like a nice new car or a bigger house. God is not a vending machine, there to give us anything and everything we might want. This is made very clear in the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus prayed, the ultimate template for our prayers. Jesus prayed “…give us this day our daily bread…” He was praying for just the basic necessities of life, not for a fancy meal with the best wine, and this applies to every area of our earthly lives. Pray for only the basic necessities of life. In regards to our spiritual lives or souls, we need God’s grace and help growing spiritually, just to give a couple examples. We can’t expect to grow in our spiritual lives if we don’t ask God for help. Praying for the things we need teaches us to rely on God for absolutely everything we need.
Finally, prayer changes us and our perspective on life. There is a wrong thinking about prayer that Christians sometimes have, and that is the idea that if we keep praying relentlessly and get enough people to pray for something that we will finally persuade God to do something we want. When you might be tempted to think this way, remember what Jesus humbly prayed in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘“Thy will be done.” As my dad, Rev. Eriks, said in a speech about prayer, “Prayer is not about changing God; this is wrong theology. We are coming before a God who is sovereign. Prayer does change things, but it doesn’t change God or my circumstances. It changes me. We aren’t here to change God’s mind. When you pray like you should, it changes the way you think about things and puts you in a right perspective in life.” We realize when we pray how much we need to rely on God. Whether we are praying for a sick family member or a friend who is struggling with something, prayer reminds us that we are not in control and that we need to trust in the one who is in control of our life’s circumstances.
Now that we have looked at why we pray, we need to apply these concepts to our lives practically. Prayer is hard sometimes, and the questions can be asked, “I have a hard time knowing what to pray about. What can I pray about?” One simple answer to this question is to use the acronym “ACTS” to remember the different subjects that we should pray about. “A” is for adoration, “C” is for confession, “T” is for thanksgiving, and “S” is for supplication. There should always be a good balance between all these things in prayer. One thing that might be helpful is to write down a list of things in each of those categories to pray for. You can even look at this list while praying. Another thing you can do is to keep a prayer journal. It can be helpful to have a journal or notebook to write down ether your whole prayer or just a list of things you would like to pray for before you pray so that you are prepared. These ideas can help you be prepared for a public prayer and can also help you can help keep your mind on track so that it doesn’t wander during personal prayers.
Another thing to keep in mind is that although we want our prayers to be reverent, God is also our Father, and he loves us. We can pour out our struggles and hardships to him and just talk to him in our prayers. We have to remember that we as Christians have a relationship with God. He is above us, but still is our friend.
As you pray, also remember that the Word of God has a place in our prayers. Many Bible passages were written as prayers (Psalm 13 or Psalm 51, for example), but you can also change a passage of the Bible and use it in your prayers. An example of this would be to take Ephesians 1, where the fruits of the spirit are found, and pray to God about each one, asking for forgiveness when you did not exhibit one of them, thanking and praising him for when you did, and asking that he help you do better at exhibiting these fruits in your life.
Another aspect of prayer that I would like to touch on is praying with and for others. This is a very biblical aspect of prayer, built right in to the very first word of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our.” Another biblical example of this is when the Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2. The church was all gathered together and a huge number of people had just been added to the church. In Acts 2:42 it says this: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” The church as a whole was praying together, and no doubt for each other. James 5:16 also talks about the prayer in connection with the church: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Although this passage says that we are to pray for each other, it is implied that we also pray with each other. But why is this so important?
First, this is a biblical concept (see the above paragraph).
Second, this is a good way to learn about praying. By praying with others, you can learn how other pray and learn how to better your prayers. By listening to others pray, you may find a new, improved way to pray to God or hear a new idea about something you can pray for.
Third, praying together is a great way to begin and maintain good, God-focused relationships with fellow Christians. Prayer is such a good way to bear each other’s burdens and participate in the communion of the saints. Praying with a friend helps you both to focus on God and grow closer together as you get closer to God. This might be awkward at first, but remember that all of us are sinners, and so no one can pray perfectly here on earth. The only to make this a part of a relationship you have is just to start. Pray together before you eat a meal or just before you start a night out together, just to give a few ideas. This is also something you can and should do as a dating couple preparing for marriage. When doing this, remember your goal in prayer is not to impress others, but to worship and respond to God.
Finally, choose a time and focus for your prayers. Set aside a time or multiple times every day where you stop everything and pray — and stick to it! You might even need someone to keep you accountable as you start this. Also, try choosing a focus for your prayers. Each time can be different, and here are some ideas: our churches and their leaders, our church family, missionaries and missions, our nation, the persecuted church, and the list could keep going.
To conclude, I would like to encourage you to talk to others about your prayer life and be honest about the struggles you face there. Prayer isn’t easy, and it takes work. I would encourage you to read books on prayer, talk to others about it, and even pray about it. Most importantly, learn about prayer from God’s word. There are so many examples of godly prayers in the Bible, starting with the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus prayed, and including Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 1, and Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9:1–19. This all may seem overwhelming, but God will help and strengthen you! So, think forward to tomorrow. How many times will you pray? But most importantly, what will you pray for? What will you do to help you stay focused? What can you do to improve your prayers?
*Abbie is a contributing writer correspondent on the Beacon Lights staff and a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church.