How to Pray
Let’s get right to the question I get most often: “Is there a right way to pray?” The short answer to this is no. Prayer is our time with God. The words can be out loud, in your head, a thought of gratitude, a cry for help etc. In fact John Wesley says this, “God will do nothing but in answer to prayer. Whether we think of, or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him. Proceed with much prayer, and your way will be made plain.” (“The works of the rev. John Wesley”, p.383)
We can talk about “what God does in prayer” in another post but I feel like this quote answers the question about “the right way” or “wrong way” to pray. We can’t pray incorrectly because prayer is a part of who we are. Prayer is our communication with God and because of that intimacy (whether it is with a group of people or an individual), each encounter is unique and precious. We may not always be attentive of our connection with God but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Steps to Prayer
That being said, I do think there are frameworks to prayer that can help our prayer time be more
meaningful. I don’t always practice my prayer in this way. While I like to think of God in a linear way, I know God doesn’t work that way. I have, however, found this framework useful when the words are hard for me to get out and I need a place to start.
Step 1: Praise
Step 2: Refer to Scripture
- Psalms – the book of Psalms is the ancient Hebrew prayer/song book. I say prayer/song because for some the difference is minimal. Jews have a cantor that leads in worship that will sing or “cant” or “chant” the words to a Psalm. We often sing words that have a prayer-like feel to them. Pray through the Psalms for strength (Psalm 46), lament (Psalm 22), and rejoicing (Psalm 103). There are more than just those three. You’ll find multiple examples of all of those types of Psalms in that book of the Bible.
- Philippians – this book is one of the shorter ones that Paul wrote. It is also his most joyful. I use each chapter for a different kind of prayer. Chapter 1 can be used to give thanks for other people in your life and to pray for them to thrive in their faith (Phil 1:3-11). I use Chapter 2 when I desire to be more Christ-like especially when I need to practice humility (Phil 2:1-11). Chapter 3 is a helpful reminder of sacrifice, hope, and perseverance (Phil 3:7-14). Chapter 4 reminds us to rejoice and to put our faith into practice (Phil 4:4-9)
- Ephesians – Another time that Paul prayed for a church. The prayer in Ephesians 3:14-20 shows the power and strength of God’s love.
- Jesus’ words – while the Lord’s Prayer might be recited more, Jesus also prayed for his disciples and for us as well. You can find that prayer in John 17.
- More of Jesus’ words – I’ll spend some time in another post to specifically talk about the Lord’s Prayer and why it is so powerful. You can find it in Matthew 6:9-13. Watch what Christine Caine has to say about prayer and specifically The Lord’s Prayer…
Step 3: Ask
Step 4: Listen
I’ll close with Andy Langford’s prayer from a post I did in 2011 when Hurricane Irene was wreaking havoc. I feel this could apply as a COVID-19 prayer as well.
O God, you divided the waters of chaos at creation.
In Christ you stilled storms, raised the dead,
and vanquished demonic powers.
Tame the earthquake, wind, and fire,
and all the forces that defy control or shock us by their fury.
Keep us from calling disaster your justice.
Help us, in good times and in distress,
to trust your mercy and yield to your power, this day and for ever.
Until Everyone Hears,
The Importance of Prayer
Most Jewish prayers start the same way…
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe…” They start with God in mind. Part of the reason why I think we ask the question “Why should I pray?” is because we start with ourselves in mind. We look at prayer and ask, “What we can get out of it?” This is not why we should pray. God is not a Coke machine, a bubble gum dispenser, or a vending machine. Prayer is not a transaction. Prayer is a connection.
But why do we need to pray?
- Scripture tells us to. The first that comes to mind is “pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians but the second one that comes to mind is in Philippians chapter 4, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Jesus did. Jesus prayed. Often. Throughout his life. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35 Jesus prayed at the beginning of his ministry and at the end of his life. If Jesus needed to pray, we certainly do as well.
- To understand. It is a means of discerning God’s will. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy will be done.” We want to understand the will of God so that our will aligns with God’s. We want our hearts and our minds to be transformed back into the image in which we were created – that process starts with prayer.
- Connection – We can’t get to know him if we don’t spend time with him. Spending time with someone is how relationships develop. There’s no quick way to do that. It takes time.
If God knows everything that is going to happen then why do I need to pray?
There is a difference between God’s Will for us and the plan for our life. God’s will is for us to spend eternity with Him. He won’t answer prayer in anyway that will jeopardize that. The plans for your life that don’t impact your salvation are fluid. God is not a micro-manager. He cares about the details of our lives but he doesn’t dictate them. He gave us free will and created us in his image with the gift of dominion over our own lives and the world – how we take care of each is up to us.
Who do I pray to?
At first this question seems a bit odd to me. But when I really thought about it I could see how it could be confusing. Do we pray to God? Or Jesus? Or the Holy Spirit? Or all three? Or the Trinity? The answer falls into the category of “there’s no wrong way to pray.” I’ve prayed to God. I’ve prayed to Jesus. I’ve prayed to the Holy Spirit. I’ve prayed to all three. I’ve prayed in the name of the blessed Trinity. In my theological tradition, none of those were heretical. I was praying to the same God, just different aspects of that God. When I praise Creation, I pray to God. When I’m thankful for salvation, I pray to Jesus. When I pray for inspiration, I pray to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I start by talking to God and end in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes people call me, Shannon. Other times I’m Rev. Karafanda. Often I’m called Mom. Close friends call me Doc. No matter what you call me, I’m still me. Pray to God. Get to know Him better. You’ll know what to call Him.
Why isn’t it working?
Change your mindset to view prayer as a process, and experience, a relationship and not as a means to a result. Prayer isn’t about “working” its about being with. Connecting. It always works. It feels different at different times. You may say the same prayer each day and hear something different each day in response. The world changes all the time – of course you’ll hear something different. But that doesn’t mean its not working.
Why is it important – does He already know what I need/want?
Can we change God’s mind?
This one is tricky. I would never want to think that I had the power to change God’s mind but I do think God’s mind can be changed. That is different from God changing His will. There is scriptural evidence of Jesus changing his mind in the story of the Syrophoenician woman’s faith. She argues with Jesus and is persistent in her request and Jesus changes his mind. Jesus himself prayed in the garden for what was about to happen to not happen IF it would be within God’s will for the situation to change. Jesus seemed to be telling us that God can change His mind but he won’t change His will.
I hope that I have cleared a path for you to be more open about prayer. I pray that you will connect with God and change the world. But even if that doesn’t happen in the way you might think I do know that if you connect with God YOU will change. And YOU are worth it.
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