Recent news has reported a big increase in the number of Google searches for the term “prayer.” The stories suggest that the increase in these searches is in step with the spread of Coronavirus and in general perhaps reflects people’s growing fears in recent times.
Just yesterday I caught a video on Facebook of Russell Brand, the British comedian, talking about “prayer” and this attracted (at the time I saw it) of nearly 5,000 views.
In this global crisis, people have questions and this current generation seek answers from Google or Alexa. Even questions of a spiritual nature start with a simple keyword search in your chosen engine, and see what the Internet has to offer.
The danger is that if you are taking your first tentative steps into prayer or spiritual matters, then you are likely ill-equipped to sift through the huge variety of answers you will be pointed to.
Meditation is a good example of where difficulties lie. What an Eastern religion means by the term is very different to what Christian (should) mean by it. Biblical meditation is about using our minds to consider God’s Word, not to empty them of thought altogether.
So with so much information out there, and not all of it good, I wanted to put forward my own views on prayer – what it is, how to do it and direct you to what the Bible says.
What is prayer?
Prayer is communication with God. It simply means to talk to Him, but also to listen.
It may be a straightforward definition, but prayer is not complicated. When I talk to my wife or children, I do not overthink it – i just talk to them about what’s on their hearts or what is important to me. The same is true for talking with God.
Let’s be very clear though, as a Christian, I am specifically referring to praying to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as made known to us through the Bible. Other forms of prayer depicted by other religions are not compatible with biblical prayer. Chanting, for instance, or using a mantra, is not a biblical practice.
I also need to say something about listening to God. I do believe that as we pray to God, we should expect to hear from Him also, but I do not want to cause confusion on this. It is possible, but extremely rare, for God to speak in an audible voice that you hear with your ears. I have never heard God speak in that way. So when I say, “listen to God,” I am generally not meaning you listen with your ears.
To listen to God is to be open to Him, and to be guided by His Holy Spirit. This guidance can come in a variety of forms, including through the Bible, an inner witness (that is, a sense on the inside of us of God’s guidance) and through other believers. It is not a simple subject and I cannot do it justice here. The main point is that if you feel God is directing you in a certain way, it will never – NEVER – contradict the Bible.
Let’s focus on talking to God in prayer and how to do it.
How do I pray?
Jesus’ disciples asked Him this very question.
Once Jesus was praying in a certain place. After he had finished, one of his disciples told him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
2 So he told them, “Whenever you pray you are to say,
‘Father, may your name be kept holy.
May your kingdom come.
3 Keep giving us every day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
as we forgive everyone who sins against us.
And never bring us into temptation.’”
Luke 11:1-4 (ISV)
There is much we could talk about in this one prayer alone, and indeed many books have been written about it. We know it as the “Lord’s Prayer,” but is perhaps better described as the Disciple’s Prayer.
Jesus goes on in the rest of that chapter to tell us more about prayer. He uses a parable to show us what God the Father is like, and to encourage us to be persistent in prayer – that is, to keep on praying.
There are a few points I would like to draw out from this passage today though.
Firstly, Jesus opens the prayer by recognising Who He is praying to. This is very important as the power of prayer lies in the One we pray to, not in our words or methods.
It is good practice to begin our prayers with words of worship and praise. Too often we can jump straight into our list of wants without remembering that prayer is not a means to get what we want, but to enjoy relationship with Jesus.
Notice that Jesus makes no mention of our physical position. He does not instruct us to bow our heads, kneel or lift our hands. These things are absolutely fine to do of course, but are not a requirement. Our physical attitude is not as important as the attitude of our hearts before God.
So, practically speaking, find somewhere that is quiet and comfortable. Turn off any screens or phone which may distract, and take a seat. Some find it helpful to close their eyes, but there’s always a risk of falling asleep!
Then, just talk. Talk to God about anything that is important to you. You can tell Him your hopes and fears. You can ask Him to help your family or friends. Spend some time recognising the things you have done wrong, and ask Him to forgive you. Thank God for the good things in your life, even if times are hard right now.
I strongly recommend people use the Bible to pray. Ask God about particular verses or passages, and to help you understand them. Use prayers that you find in the Bible, particularly those of Jesus and Paul. The Psalms of the Old Testament are also a great place to find inspiration.
If you are taking your first steps in prayer, then my advice is to keep it simple. Try not to clock watch as it is more about quality than quantity. God wants to listen to you and keenly wants a good relationship with you.
That relationship is made possible through Jesus Christ and His work at the cross. We dare not approach God on our own merits, as we fall very far short of God’s perfection. But when we approach God in and through the blood of Jesus – that is, recognising His sacrifice for us, and putting our trust in Him fully – we can approach God’s throne with boldness and know we will find grace and mercy there.
Why not spend today thanking the Father for the sacrifice of His Son, and rejoicing in the salvation we have through Him.