Prayer—hard to get into, hard to understand, and how do we know if we’re doing it properly?!
The Bible is how God speaks to us; prayer is how we speak to God. Prayer is our way of communicating everything with God. It’s a huge part of our relationship with our Heavenly Father and should be a priority every day.
Bear Grylls, famous adventurer and survival expert, wrote this testimony about prayer in the foreword of Dirty Glory, a book written by Pete Grieg. He comments about the power of prayer in the lives of ordinary people:
I was about sixteen when I remember praying one of my first real prayers. I didn’t grow up going to church, but I’d always had faith. Then my godfather, who was like a second dad to me, died, and I was devastated. I remember climbing a tree and saying a very simple prayer: “If you’re there, will you please be beside me. Be my friend.” That was the start of something that has grown to become the backbone of my life.
Six years later, when my parachute ripped and I fell thousands of feet to earth, you’d better believe I was crying out to God—you don’t get many atheists in a situation like that! And maybe my prayers were answered, because the surgeon later said I came “within a whisker” of total paralysis.
Eighteen months later, as I stood on top of Everest mesmerized by the incredible curvature of the earth from the top of the world’s highest mountain, it was just natural to feel, “Wow, God, you made all this?” I guess that is worship. And what a privilege to climb mountains with the One who made them.
My Christian faith has so often been a quiet backbone to our life as a family and through my work. When I took President Obama into the Alaskan wilderness for an episode of Running Wild, it was a special moment to finish the adventure by praying together. Out in the wild you discover pretty quickly that even the most famous, extraordinary people are asking the same questions and looking for the same things in life as all the rest of us. It was another president—Abraham Lincoln—who once confessed, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.” Smart and humble man.
I probably don’t go to church as much as I should, but I do start every day on my knees, praying by my bed, asking God for strength and wisdom for the day ahead. That is the grounding for my day. Christianity isn’t about religion. It’s about a real relationship with God—[learning how to pray,] being held, being forgiven, finding joy, finding home. And at the heart of that kind of relationship is the conversation we call prayer: asking God for help when life is tough, thanking him for the good things, and trying to listen out for that still, small voice of his guidance.
Another, highly recommended book, Touchpoints for New Believers, beautifully answers some of the biggest questions about prayer:
Q. Why is prayer important?
A. There’s more to prayer than just getting an answer to a question or a solution for a problem. God often does more in your heart through the act of prayer than he does in actually answering your prayer. As you persist in conversation with God, you will receive important things such as the power and desire to obey him, the strength to overcome evil with good, the supernatural ability to love and forgive, the character to persevere in your faith, and the courage to be his witness [talk about God] to those who don’t know him. You can pray confidently for wisdom and guidance in all situations, knowing that you are asking for the very things God most longs to give.
Q. Does God always answer prayer?
A. God listens carefully to every prayer and answers it. His answer may be yes, no, or wait. Doesn’t any loving parent give all three of these responses to a child at different times? God’s answering yes to every request would spoil you and be dangerous to your well-being. Answering no to every request would be vindictive, stingy, and damaging to your spirit. Answering wait to every prayer would be frustrating. God always answers, but his answers are based on what he knows is best for you. When you don’t get the answer you want, don’t interpret it as silence from God but as a signal that he is pointing you in a specific direction. Your spiritual maturity will grow as you seek to understand that God’s answer is in your best interest.
Q. Does prayer—whether others are praying for me or I am praying for them—really make a difference?
A. It is easy to become discouraged if you think there is nothing anyone can do for you—or nothing that you can do to help someone you care about. But in fact, the most important thing you can do for others, and that others can do for you, is to pray. In ways beyond human understanding, intercessory prayer is a channel for the love and power of God, as well as creating a deep bond of fellowship between human beings. Thus, [prayer] is a vital source of hope.
So now we know that prayer is important and why we should do it for ourselves and others. But you probably have a ton of other burning questions. Let’s try to answer some.
Q. Can I pray effectively while doing something else at the same time?
A. Yes you can, in some circumstances. Praying in the shower is fine, or while you’re cleaning the house, walking the dog, or eating. Any moment when you don’t have to use full brain capacity to concentrate on something else is a good moment for prayer. You should, however, prioritize your prayers to God. If you’re just praying because you want to be distracted from something else, that’s probably not going to be the most effective prayer, because you’re not putting God first. Try to carve out specific, dedicated time for prayer.
Q. How can I know that God is listening?
A. God is always listening, He doesn’t turn off! If you want a way to track your prayers and note God’s answers, try a prayer journal, like this one. >> This may help you to review and see over time how your prayers have been answered.
Q. Why do I find it so hard to concentrate on praying? I get constantly distracted by other thoughts.
A. This happens to all of us! Try these techniques to stay on track:
- Write down your prayers first and follow your notes as you pray.
- Pray in a distraction-free zone. Sitting inside your closet is a great place to focus on praying and nothing else. Keep your phone in another room!
- Think about the best time for you to pray. Are the first minutes in the morning less of a test to your busy brain? Or the last minutes in an evening? Or do your best prayers come while sitting in your car before work?
Q. Do I have to start with “Dear God” and end with “Amen”?
A. Prayer requires no special words, times, places, or rituals. What’s important to remember is that God hears you always, and He knows your heart. If you begin praying and don’t start with “Dear God,” He still knows who you’re talking to! It’s a good practice to end with “in your Son’s name” or “in Jesus’ name”—acknowledging that our only path to the Father is through Jesus. Once you have that down, well . . . you might as well end with “Amen,” right?! (For a guide on how to pray, see What Should I Pray About? Below)
Q. Should I pray beside my bed, on my knees?
A. Well, that is entirely up to you. As mentioned before, there is no ritual required with prayer; you just get on with it! The main thing is believing and knowing God will hear you. Some people like to kneel, others stand, some even lie flat on their face, just as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane the night before He was betrayed by Judas; “He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39).
Whatever works best for you and however you find it easiest to concentrate in prayer, do that!
Q. Is it rude to pray for someone without asking permission?
A. Not at all. We know that prayers really do make a difference. Not many people would be mad that you’re spending time thinking about them and trying to help. Ask God what else you can do to help in addition to praying. He may give you some great practical ideas.
Q. Should I always pray before meals?
A. It’s certainly good form to do so! Acknowledging that all our gifts come from God is very important. Nothing on this earth is ours; it all comes from God the Creator and belongs to Him first. Letting Him know that you appreciate everything He has done for you, including supplying food, is always a good thing. Prayer helps keep us thankful every day for the many blessings He provides. If you forget to pray before eating, don’t sweat it too much; you can do a quick prayer of thankfulness as soon as you remember.
Q. What should I pray about?
A. Whatever is on your heart. The more you pray, the better you will get at it. Start with these basics as a framework for your prayers, based on The Lord’s Prayer:
- Begin with praise. What are the qualities of God you adore? Praise God for who He is.
- Confess your sins.
- What are you praying for today? This is where you can post your questions to God, ask for anything at all, ask for things for other people, and let Him know what is weighing on your heart.
- Praise God again for all the work He has done in your life, and thank Him for listening and responding to your prayers.
- Acknowledge that you pray to Him through Jesus Christ. Amen!
Q. Can I ask God for money? Or a boyfriend or girlfriend? A new job or car?
A. Yes, you can ask for anything! Bear in mind that He may say no to your request or He may ask you to wait. He will not give you something that would be harmful to you.
You are expected to do some work too; God won’t just give you a job offer with your favorite sports team. You’re still expected to do everything you can to get a job. Equally, when it comes to love, you’ve got to put the work in and go dating!
Q. If God knows everything already and knows what is on my heart, what is the point of praying?
A. Have you ever heard the phrase “ask and ye shall receive”? As the verses in Matthew 7:7-11 said above, “everyone who asks, receives.” Well, that directly applies here, in prayer. Yes, He already knows all about you, and He knows what you’re going to pray about; but unless we demonstrate honest faith in the Lord by sending our prayers to Him, He cannot answer them.
Does that help? Do you have more questions about prayer or the Christian faith? You can learn a lot from The Christian Basics Bible. This Bible breaks everything down into easy-to-understand chunks, and it references anything you may have a question about. Learn more and get it here. >>
There is also a fantastic free resource online at gotquestions.org. Got Questions is a website where you can ask anything about the Christian faith; it includes thousands of questions that have already been answered and are now available to search through and read.5