When looking for direction on how to pray, it might be helpful to consider the images of prayer that you already have. Maybe prayer was something you heard at dinner or saw in a movie. You might just think it’s a good idea to pray since it’s something you’ve seen at church.
There are all kinds of philosophies and practices when it comes to praying, but what does the Bible say about prayer? If you’re a follower of Jesus, Scripture should be your number one source of direction for prayer. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, there’s still a wealth of wisdom to be gained from the Bible. Let’s unpack some of the most common questions about prayer that the Bible answers.
What is prayer?
At the most basic level, praying is talking to God. You can see multiple examples of these conversations with God in the Bible:
One writer even describes God speaking to us not as words, but as a deep sense of peace, calling it the Peace of God (Phil 4:6-7). If you’re curious about the kinds of prayers people have prayed in the Bible, check out this list! With so many types of prayer recorded in the Bible, are we limited to those expressions?
How do I pray according to the Bible?
If you’re looking to Scripture as your source of direction on prayer, you may be wondering how to pray according to the Bible. First, there is no right way to pray. You don’t have to say specific words or be in a certain physical position. The Bible talks about people praying while they sit (2 Sam 7:18), stand (Mark 11:25), kneel (Luke 22:41), or lay down (Matthew 26:39), both in public (1 Timothy 2:8) and in private (Matthew 6:6).
Second, prayer is mentioned over 650 times in the Bible! Obviously, that is a lot to start with if you’re looking for direction on how to pray. Instead, as you're learning to pray, you can start by simply praying the way Jesus taught us. In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us what is famously referred to as The Lord’s Prayer:
“Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.”
Remember, when it comes to prayer, Jesus is much less interested in the words we say. He isn’t giving us a script to follow in order to “activate” our prayers. Jesus is much more interested in helping us become people that talk with him regularly, and he gives us this prayer as a starting point.
Instead of using the Lord’s prayer as a script, use it as a framework for how to pray:
1. Praise God (verses 9-10)
The first few lines are just about telling God how great he is. He is our Father – what a gift to have him so close! Yet, he’s also holy, which means he is set apart from us and worthy of praise. Praising God is simply thanking him for who he is and all he has done (Psalm 95:2-3).
When you praise God, you are also acknowledging that his plans and purposes are most important. In prayer, we become more like Jesus by aligning our life with his plan and asking him to work in us and through us.
2. Ask God (verses 11-12)
One of the first ways we come to rely on God through prayer is simply by trusting. Prayer helps us trust God. He gives us what we need for the season we are in, forgives our own sins, and helps us forgive others. Through prayer, we remember that we have a relationship with God, and it helps us live well with ourselves and others.
3. Remember God is with you (verse 13)
One of the promises that God gives us in scripture is that he will be with us. That is, helping us live the way he designed us to live. This means that through prayer, he will help us overcome hurdles from ourselves (temptation) and from the enemy (Satan). This is what it means to “never stop praying” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) – simply living with an awareness of God throughout your day.
We know we’re praying according to the Bible when we use this type of framework to align ourselves with God’s will for our lives, for others, and for the world. When we pray like this, God gives us a bold expectation to see him work! (1 John 5:14).
And finally, you can end your prayers with the word, “Amen.” This word simply means, “Let it be so” and was once used as a way to acknowledge a covenant between two people (Numbers 5:22).
How do I know what to pray for?
At this point, you can start to cultivate a prayer life, which is a consistent practice or habit of talking to God. You may not know what to pray for, and it may feel a little funny to ask God for something. That’s okay! Take a look at some examples from the Bible that show the kinds of things you might pray for:
You can use some of the examples from the Lord’s prayer:
Strength and nourishment for todayFreedom from temptationHelp you forgive yourself or someone elseHis will to be done in the world
In other scriptures, we see people asking God for:
In fact, God so badly wants you to ask him that he himself will help you pray when you can't find the words (Romans 8:26)!
Still have questions about prayer? Take a look at these additional resources:
What is Prayer, and Why Do We Pray?
Are We Supposed to Pray to God?
Does Prayer Work?
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