Few Christians would dispute the necessity of prayer (after all, the Bible is full of commands to pray), yet for many, prayer remains awkward and a bit mysterious.
For some, prayer is usually reserved for crisis moments, such as an illness, financial complications or family issues. The thought seems to be, “I don’t want to bother God with little things I can take care of myself.”
Others use prayer sort of like rubbing of a magic lamp, requesting God to grant their wishes. But for some, prayer consists only of following along when the pastor prays on Sunday morning.
The main purpose of prayer, though, is simply to have a relationship with God. It’s not your finely crafted words or your deep spiritual thoughts that get God’s attention – it is your heart.
For example, have you ever spent an enjoyable time with someone you love and realized that the words hardly mattered because the important thing was just being with them? That’s the kind of relationship God desires to have with us – to just enjoy being in His presence.
The focus is more on communicating what’s in your heart than trying to say a bunch of pious-sounding words.
Sure, there is a conversation involved but it doesn’t have to be long and elaborate to be effective. Martin Luther said, “The fewer the words, the better the prayer.” Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matt. 6:7)
That doesn’t mean your prayers should be short, but the focus is more on communicating what’s in your heart than trying to say a bunch of pious-sounding words.
And what if you can’t think of any words? Sometimes, especially in moments of distress or sorrow, we are so overwhelmed we don’t know what to pray for. God has provided a “translator” for those times.
In Romans 8:26-27, Paul tells 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 God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
There is no one right way to pray. Jesus provided a sort of template in the Lord’s Prayer, which includes praise, thanksgiving and making requests. There is certainly nothing wrong with making requests of God – Jesus tells us to ask God for what we need and Paul says that we should make our requests known to God.
Jesus set the example for how to do make requests through prayer. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest, he pleaded with God to take away the need for his sacrifice, but he concluded with “yet not my will, but your will be done.” (Luke 22:42) We can ask God for anything, but the reminder here is that His will for our lives comes before our own desires.
On the National Day of Prayer today and for the days to come, prayer will play a vital role in our personal and corporate spiritual development. It isn’t hard. All we have to do is open up to God and pour out our hearts.