Prayer—communion with God that can be experienced in a myriad of ways from informal conversation to traditional words to utter silence.
“Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)
“In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for us in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27
“A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening.” Soren Kierkegaard
“I have so much business, that I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” Martin Luther
“All who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives.” Richard Foster
What is prayer? A common answer is Conversation with God. This is one way to think about prayer. There are examples throughout scripture of people talking with God and invitations to join in the conversation. But prayer is more than that. One writer of the Spiritual life says, “Prayer involves freely entering a relationship of communication and communion with God, for the sake of knowledge, growth, and mutual enjoyment.” (Thompson) So prayer is more than asking God for things. It is more than telling God things. Somehow in this cooperative and mysterious act of communicating with a Holy and unfathomable God we can grow, learn, commune, and enjoy each other.
It is said that our prayers are never the first word, but they are always answering speech. Our prayers are always in response to God’s invitation to us, to something stirring or calling out to us. It is the Spirit in us. “In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for us in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27) It is an amazing thought that God’s Spirit is always at work in us, praying and interceding with us in accordance with God’s will.
Richard Foster says, “To pray is to change.” As we go to God in prayer we are opening our spirit to the work of the Holy Spirit and that means that we will be transformed. Prayer is also our way to impact God and cooperate with the Spirit to bring about change in the world. [HM1]
Practice—a few ways to pray
- A.C.T.S.—This is a convenient acronym that can shape a simple prayer time. Each letter stands for a different focus of prayer. Spend a few minutes– or a few hours– in each area to form a well-balanced time of communing with God.
- Adoration—spend time praising God for who he is. Consider praying through a list of the names of God (website link)and acknowledging his unfathomable nature.
- Confession—Let God reveal to you the areas in your life where you have missed the mark, where you have failed to live the life you have been called to live. Acknowledge those places and allow a loving and merciful God to heal you and forgive you.
- Thanksgiving—Thank God for all the blessings and good things he has given you. Be specific and notice the small gifts as well as the obvious ones.
- Supplication—This is a big word that just means “asking”. This is the time to ask God for what is on your heart, for his will to be worked out in your life, for his provision and care.
- Pray the scriptures—There are wonderful prayers all through the Bible.
- The book of Psalms is a literal prayer book, so that is an easy place to start. As you read, let the words be your words and the cries be your cries. You can change words to fit your specific circumstances. Or let the words be a springboard for your prayers.
- Read the prayers of the Bible and just let them resonate in the silence of your heart.
- Search the Scriptures for prayers and verses that you could pray at different times of the day. (e.g. awaking in the morning, before meals, while you drive to work, when you cook, when you exercise, when you go to bed.) Write them down and refer to them throughout the day.
- Pray without words—Sit in silence and allow God to be with you. Have no agenda except to be with your Creator. As thoughts come, acknowledge them and then gently let them go and refocus on God. (See contemplative prayer or apophatic prayer or centering prayer for more description.)
- Walking prayer—Go on a walk or run or ride with God. Let Jesus walk with you and teach you. Allow God to speak to you through creation. (See description for parable walk)
- Write your prayers—write your own Psalms and prayers in a journal. Write songs and poetry to your Lord. Have a conversation prayer on paper.
Scripture references on prayer
Psalm 136:1-3, 26
Matthew 6: 5-14
Philippians 4: 4-7
Hebrews 4: 14-16
James 1: 5-8
1 John 3: 19-24
1 John 1:9
Bacovcin, Helen. The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues on His Way. New York: Doubleday, 1978.
Baillie, John. A Diary of Private Prayer. New York: Fireside, 1949.
Bloom, Anthony. Beginning to Pray. Mahwah, NJ.: Paulist Press, 1970.
Brown, Patricia. Paths to Prayer: Finding your own way to the presence of God. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.
Complete Book of Christian Prayer. New York: Continuum Publishing, 199?.
Book of Common Prayer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Foster, Richard J. Prayer: finding the heart’s true home. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
_____. Celebration of Discipline: the path to spiritual growth. New York: HarperCollins, 1978.
_____. Coming Home: a prayer journal. New York: Harpercollins, 1994.
Grieg, Peter and Dave Roberts. Red Moon Rising: How 24-7 Prayer is Awakening a Generation. Lake Mary, FL: Relevant Books, 2003.
Keating, Thomas. Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel. New York: Continuum, 19??.
Murray, Andrew. With Christ in the School of Prayer. New Kensington, PA.: Whitaker House, 1981.
Ortberg, John. The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.
Postema, Don. Space for God: Study and practice of spirituality and prayer. Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1983.
Wolpert, Daniel. Creating a Life with God; the call to ancient prayer practices. Nashville: Upper Room, 2003.
 Thompson, Marjorie J.Soul Feast; an invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life.Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.