Did anyone ever teach you how to pray?
Probably not. After all, prayer is one of those things that we tend to learn by watching. If you grew up in a Christian home like me, you learned how to pray primarily by watching your parents and then doing what they did. (I’m sure my parents taught me more explicitly about prayer, but their example is what I remember most.)
If you came to faith later in life, maybe you learned how to pray by attending prayer meetings and observing what was done.
Here’s my main point with all of this: given the staggering power and privilege of prayer, we all could probably use some biblical instruction on how to pray.
Learning to pray by osmosis is a good thing.
Learning how to pray from the Bible is even better.
After all, God does have a thing or twenty to say about prayer.
To be clear, I’m no prayer warrior. This guide is just as much for me as anyone else. So let’s learn how to pray to God together.
1. How To Pray: With Reverence
The first step in learning how to pray is to remember who we are praying to. Prayer is no small thing. It is not an empty religious ritual where we mindlessly chant words. When we pray, we are coming before the living God, the King of Kings, the one who sustains the universe and keeps it from coming apart at the seams.
When Isaiah caught a glimpse of God, he was completely and totally undone. When he realized how holy and pure and righteous God was, he unraveled at the very core of his being.
In Isaiah 6:2-4, we see what Isaiah saw:
Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
This is the God to whom we pray. He is holy, holy, holy. He burns with such brightness that the angels cover their eyes. He dwells in unimaginable glory.
Do you want to know how to pray to God? Pray with humble reverence. Praise God for his breathtaking, overwhelming power and beauty and holiness. Bow your heart low before him.
2. How To Pray: Intimately
Yes, God is infinitely holy and righteous. But if you are in Christ, then God is also your Father. This is an absolutely breathtaking truth that should dramatically shape learning how to pray.
Prayer is a conversation with our divine Father, and oh how much our Father loves us. In Matthew 7:11, Jesus said:
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
I have three kids, and because I love them so much, I want them to ask me for things. I want them to ask if we can play “Uno” or if they can have an Oreo or if I’ll pay for them to do gymnastics. I’m their dad, and my heart pulses with affection for them. I delight to give my children good gifts.
God’s love for us is infinitely greater than my love for my children. He takes deep pleasure in giving good gifts to us. He loves to bless us.
Doesn’t that change the way you think about prayer? When it comes to how to pray to God, we don’t need to twist his arm to get blessings. He is eager and ready to pour them out on us.
I love how Tim Keller puts it:
The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.
Do you want to know how to pray? Pray to God with deep, heartfelt intimacy. Bring your every request to him, knowing that his posture toward you is one of love and generosity. He is eagerly waiting to hear your requests.
Approach the throne of grace with boldness, knowing that your Father sits upon it.
3. How To Pray: With Strong Faith
If God loves to give good gifts to us, then it follows that we should pray with faith. When we pray, we should believe that God really will answer our prayers.
No, I’m not advocating some sort of name and claim it theology that results in all of us receiving brand new cars and bags of money.
But when I see the promises Jesus made about prayer, I’m aware that all too often my faith is extraordinarily weak. In Mark 11:22-24, Jesus said to his disciples:
Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
This is a mind-boggling promise. When we pray, we are to believe that we will receive it from God.
Are there times when God says, “No,”? Of course. I’m so grateful for the many times God hasn’t granted my insane requests of him.
But when it comes to learning how to pray to God, our primary attitude should be faith. Our prayers should be pulsing with faith that God loves to bless and wants to give us good things.
Do you want to learn how to pray? Let your prayers be absolutely brimming over with faith.
4. How To Pray: With Much Thanksgiving
It’s so easy to ask, ask, ask, without pausing to first give thanks to God. Our lives are absolutely bursting with blessings if we only have eyes to see them. When learning how to pray, it’s absolutely critical that we learn the discipline of thanksgiving.
Psalm 30:4 says, “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.”
Psalm 9:1 says, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”
It’s so important to remember that prayer is a conversation with God, not some sort of magical formula that produces everything we want. We are in a covenant relationship with God. He is our God and we are his people. Prayer is actively engaging with our God, casting all our cares on him because we know he cares for us.
When God blesses us, the only right response is overflowing thanksgiving. We don’t deserve the overwhelming blessings God pours into our lives, and yet he never stops blessing us.
A lack of gratitude dishonors the Lord.
In his helpful book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God, Tim Keller says:
We are never as thankful as we should be. When good things come to us, we do everything possible to tell ourselves we accomplished that or at least deserve it. We take the credit. And when our lives simply are going along pretty smoothly, without a lot of difficulties, we don’t live in quiet, amazed, thankful consciousness of it. In the end, we not only rob God of the glory due him, but the assumption that we are keeping our lives going robs us of the joy and relief that constant gratitude to an all-powerful God brings.
When learning how to pray, it’s critical that thanksgiving be part of the equation.
5. How To Pray: Boldly
When thinking about how to pray, it’s easy to feel like our requests need to be perfect. Like we need to ensure that all our motives are correct and that we say the right words. As if God only accepts perfectly crafted prayers.
But here’s the good news. Jesus himself is praying for us. Romans 8:34 says:
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
When we pray, Jesus also prays for us. And he takes our weak, feeble, sloppy prayers, and presents them to God on our behalf. His righteousness purifies our prayers and makes them acceptable to God.
When learning how to pray, we don’t need to be constantly worried that our prayers aren’t “good enough”. Rather, we can trust that Jesus himself is making our prayers beautiful to the Father.
Again, to quote Paul Miller from A Praying Life:
God also cheers when we come to him with our wobbling, unsteady prayers. Jesus does not say, “Come to me, all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.
Isn’t that good news? We don’t have to learn how to pray perfectly. We don’t have to memorize lengthy prayers and then recite them flawlessly in order for God to accept our prayers.
We come to God with our messy, flawed, often misguided prayers, and he joyfully accepts them because of Jesus.
6. How To Pray: With The Bible Open
One of the most effective ways to learn how to pray is to pray with your Bible open. God has given us so many promises in his word, and each of those promises is an invitation to pray.
For example, in Philippians 4:19, Paul writes:
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
We can take this promise and use it as a springboard for prayer. You could pray something like, “Lord, you’ve promised to supply all my needs. Please provide for me today in every way, financially, spiritually, emotionally, and any other need I may encounter.”
I love how Charles Spurgeon put it:
The best praying man is the man who is most believingly familiar with the promises of God. After all, prayer is nothing but taking God’s promises to him, and saying to him, “Do as thou hast said.” Prayer is the promise utilized. A prayer which is not based on a promise has no true foundation.
If you want to learn how to pray, let the scriptures guide you. Take each promise of God and pray it back to him, confident that he will be faithful to fulfill his promises.
7. How To Pray: At All Times In Every Way
The beauty of prayer is that, because we are in Christ, God welcomes all types of prayers. Short prayers, silent prayers, prayers in the car, single sentence prayers before a meeting, prayers of desperation, etc.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul writes:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Paul is describing a life where communion with God is happening constantly. We’re called to cultivate a mindset of constant prayer and rejoicing and thanksgiving. Prayer isn’t primarily something that happens at a given time and in a given place, although it’s certainly helpful to have designated times of prayer.
Rather, prayer is primarily a lifestyle. It is the habit of constantly conversing with God, casting cares upon him, giving thanks for blessings, and rejoicing in his goodness. As you learn to pray, don’t restrict yourself. Pray at all times in all places to God.
The great preacher D.M. Lloyd Jones said:
Always respond to every impulse to pray. I would make an absolute law of this – always obey such an impulse.
Where does it come from? It is the work of the Holy Spirit; it is a part of the meaning of ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Phil 2:12-13).
I absolutely love that. Any time we feel the slightest impulse to pray, do it. Those impulses are the Holy Spirit working in us.
Let Us Learn How To Pray
Is there any greater privilege than prayer? Prayer is inviting God into the nitty-gritty details of our lives and asking him to do great things. And the testimony of millions of God’s people is that God indeed does do great things in response to prayer.
So let us learn how to pray. We’ll never regret a moment spent in prayer. We will regret all the times we failed to pray and tried to carry burdens on our own.