Summary: We have several needs when we pray, but our greatest need is to connect with Jesus, become like Him, and align ourselves with His will and plans.
In my last post, I talked about the power of memorization to apply God’s Word. In this post, I want to describe how to connect with Jesus through prayer.
I have talked about prayer in several other posts, like intimacy with Jesus through prayer and fasting, praying the Scriptures, how to handle unanswered prayer, praying the Lord’s prayer, and praying the prayer of faith.
But in this post, I want to take a practical approach to prayer by starting with the basics and advancing through prayer methods that help you build that intimacy with Jesus and make your prayers powerful and effective. Let’s dive in!
How Not to Pray
Sometimes, the best way to explain prayer is to talk about what not to do before you talk about what to do. When Jesus teaches on prayer, He first tells His disciples what not to do. Jesus says we should not heap up empty words in our prayers (Matthew 6:7). Too often we think the more words we use the more God listens to us.
God listens to us as soon as we begin to talk to Him. We don’t have to get His attention. We don’t have to yell or scream. Talk to God like you would talk to anyone else standing in front of you. This doesn’t mean you can be irreverent or not come into God’s presence without realizing with Whom we speak. There is a happy medium between these approaches.
You are God’s child. As your Father, He wants to hear from you. But there are also moments of reverence. As I will clarify in my post on worship, God is both transcendent and close to us. We must be reverent in His presence, but He is also our Friend who sticks closer than a brother () and Abba Father (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).
You can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence as His child (Hebrews 4:16). But like anyone who has seen God’s power on full display, humility is part of our approach. More than anything, we must be ourselves before our Lord. We must be genuine, for He knows when we are not ourselves.
Some people pray with flowery language, that Elizabethan vocabulary and grammar, especially when they pray in public. There’s no need for this. Prayer is not a rehearsed speech. It is connection with God Most High and our Lord and Friend. Prayer is in for others. It is for Him.
How Do I Pray?
So, how should we pray? In the same place Jesus tells us not how to pray, He then tells us how to pray by outlining an approach we should use as a model. I have talked about the Lord’s prayer before. While some people pray it verbatim, it is a template for our approach.
The first part reminds us who God is and how small our problems and requests are. But it also relates us to God as our Father, relationship over transcendence. It reminds us He is in heaven with all power to answer our prayers.
The first requests of our prayers should not be for ourselves, but for God’s Kingdom and will to be done on earth. Then, when we pray for our requests, we pray for what we need instead of what we want. Prayer is not a place for any of us to presume worldly desires.
Our needs are spiritual and physical, feeding the spirit, soul, and body. We ask for these things because we know God can, and wants, to do them for us. It requires just as much faith to ask God for our daily physical and spiritual sustenance as it does for the “big and impossible needs” in our perspective.
We often get this wrong. The beginning of our prayer focuses on God and us in relationship. The first needs are for God to move in our world. Then we ask for our needs, knowing that He is capable and desires to provide for us. That’s a lot different from our American laundry list of needs and desires first.
We can also learn how to pray from other saints. But we don’t observe them to copy them or so we don’t have to be genuine. Like Jesus’s prayers, they are a guide to show us how to reach out to Him in our own way, with our own words.
Scripture gives us a variety of topics for prayer. There are as many prayers as there are situations in our lives. It’s a way to reach out to God in our time of need, but also to just be with Him in His presence. We don’t have to have requests to pray. So, we learn how to pray from Jesus, the Scriptures, and other saints.
The Power of Prayer
Prayer is not just a way to reach God. We can use it to see His mighty hand move in our situation. He shows He is real. When we communicate with God, it is not a monologue. God doesn’t just want to hear our voices. He wants to hear how He can show Himself to us.
We must learn to hear His voice is much as we listen to our own voice when we pray. Too often we don’t learn how to pray in dialogue. We see what we want, and then we hang up the phone. But how do you feel when your friends do this to you? Your voice was not heard.
God feels the same way when we do all the talking. Leave moments of silence and solitude, waiting on the Lord so you can hear His voice. So stop every once in a while and listen for His voice. You won’t know how to hear Him if you don’t take the time to listen.
Paul talks about how the Holy Spirit deeply involves Himself in our prayers (Romans 8:26?). When you don’t know how to pray, don’t worry. The Holy Spirit understands and helps you to communicate your praise, needs, and heartfelt desire to meet with God in a sacred and secret place.
There’s no point in praying if you do not believe God can do what you request. Why would you ask Him if He wasn’t there for didn’t promise He will do it ()? Take Jesus at His word. He will move in your situation and life when you call on Him. Don’t try to do so much. Let God speak and act for Himself. All He has ever asked is our faith and humility.
Using Prayer Models As Prayer Starters
Throughout my website, I have provided prayer models from Scripture and shown you how I use them. Take these as examples to prime the pump. Don’t just use these as birds to copy and repeat. See the concepts and thoughts behind them, and implement those in your prayers.
I had not realized I talked about prayer so much throughout my blog. Follow the tags for prayer. One of the best ways to learn how to pray is to listen to others pray. But you mustn’t stop there. These are only aids as you learn how to pray. The very best way to learn is by doing.
Growing in Intimacy with God
We tend to use prayer to ask God for stuff. But God wants us to meet with Him, grow in Him, and spend quality time with Him. Is there time for requests? Of course. But God may see them to show Himself strong for us, fulfilling our needs as our Provider, and giving us a glimpse of what a good Father is like.
Do we see Him that way when we bring our requests? Is prayer about getting stuff, showing how needy we are, or testing the waters to see if God will come through for us? It should be about growing in our relationship with Jesus.
People like Abraham interceded before the Lord for sinful people in the city where his nephew Lot lived (Genesis 18:22-33). Sodom and Gomorrah were on the chopping block. Abraham wasn’t interceding for the people of the city is much as he was concerned about God’s character.
Perhaps Abraham first thought about his nephew. But then the question got larger than his own situation. He started to wonder about God’s character of righteousness. Abraham went the whole way from fifty righteous people to ten. Would God save a city full of wicked people for that few righteous people? God continued to say yes.
But there weren’t ten righteous people in Sodom. There were eight, and God went beyond Abraham’s idea of righteousness and saved those eight people. Prayer is a means for us to learn about God, His perfect character and expectations for us. God teaches us about ourselves. And God changes us in those intimate moments to be like Him.
Praying for Spiritual Change
How often did Paul pray for the physical needs of the saints in his letters? His prayers are his desire for their spiritual change and formation. Paul was deeply concerned for the spiritual needs of the churches to which he wrote letters of guidance and grace.
So what needs should we pray for? Jesus says God knows our needs, and we’re worth much more to Him than sparrows (Matthew 6:26). This doesn’t mean we can’t ask God for our simple needs. God is concerned with what we are concerned about. But we must learn to be concerned about what He is concerned about.
Are we concerned to grow in godliness, Christian character, a God sized vision of the world, and God’s heart for us and others? Prayer becomes about spiritual change, about meeting with Jesus and becoming like Him. Prayer itself is spiritual formation.
Our prayers may start with requests, with what we want or need, with our concerns. But they ultimately find their purpose in us realizing who God is, God’s concerns, and wanting to see them fulfilled in our world. And those are the kinds of prayers when we see God’s miraculous power, healing, and salvation come down from heaven through us.
Priorities in Prayer
From what I see in Scripture and the model prayers throughout, I pray with three priorities in mind. I begin with praise to God for who He is and what He does. This puts my mind in the right frame of reference for the rest of my prayer.
Then I pray for others, their spiritual and physical means for what they have told me what I know of them. I ask God to make Himself real to them. And finally, I pray for myself and my needs.
I don’t want to feel spiritual about it, as if I am avoiding selfishness by putting others first. God knows my heart. I don’t want it to be a futile act of not looking selfish. I genuinely want to not be selfish in my prayers. But I think we please God when we place ourselves at the end of our prayer rather than the beginning.
The spiritual change we need is to align ourselves with God’s plan and will. It’s not about us. It’s about God moving in our world through us. If our needs fit within that framework, we will see God answer them in even fuller ways than we imagine when we offer them. We pray to see God, to see His power, Kingdom, and glory in this world again.
Pray more often throughout your day and stay in an attitude of prayer. Take everything to the Lord. If you see an accident, pray for the people who may be injured. Incorporate everything you encounter in your prayers. How would Jesus pray for the people and needs you see?
Now that you have some practical approaches to learning how to pray and growing in prayer, I will now turn to teaching on postures in worship, Bible intake, and prayer. The way we approach Him shows our humility and desire for Him.