When I was a kid, our mealtime prayer was, “Dear Lord, thank you for the food and drinks. Please bless them to the nourishment of our bodies. In Jesus’ name, amen.” Except, we often raced through it so quickly that words got slurred. “For the food and drinks” became “frfdndrnks” and “In Jesus’s name, amen” was “Injsnm-men.” If we were really bold, we’d try to leave off the nourishment part, but I think my mom felt we were already irreverent enough, so that never went unnoticed.
Back then, prayer was something required before we could shove food into our mouths (no matter how my mom tried to help us understand). But the reality is that prayer is a lifeline. It’s a blessing to have direct access to our Creator — to have His ear whenever we need it.
A dedicated practice of praying every day and spending time with God is modeled throughout the Bible, especially through Daniel. He was willing to continue pursuing a daily relationship with God, even under penalty of death. Not to mention the fact that numerous verses that tell us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2; Luke 18:1-8).
But people often ask, how do I pray? The Bible says that the Holy Spirit helps us in our prayers (Romans 8:26-37) and that we shouldn’t spout empty phrases over and over again (Matthew 6:7). It even gives us examples of how to pray.
“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'”
(Matthew 6:9-13, ESV)
But sometimes it’s hard to translate a template into our modern lives. So here are some takeaways that you can apply to your prayer life.
1) Make God the focus.
Jesus doesn’t start His prayer in Matthew with requests or problems. He also doesn’t stop at a simple “Dear Lord.” He begins by acknowledging God’s sovereignty and praising Him, making God’s identity His foundation. Too often, we are the focus of our own prayers, but our prayers are empty without God. Start with the solution to your prayer requests, rather than the problem. Offer God your praise and gratitude before you hand him a pile of problems (take a spin through the Psalms to see examples in chapters 33, 47, and 92, to name a few).
2) Your requests should align with God’s will.
How do we know God’s will? One way to ensure that you are doing this is to pray specific scriptures. Scripture reveals God’s will to us as we dig into it and apply it in our lives. The Bible says God will answer our prayers, but that doesn’t mean that He’ll grant us any request like a genie. Praying God’s will is about seeing things from God’s perspective versus trying to get him to see things from our perspective (1 John 5:14).
3) Ask for specific needs.
It might seem strange that Jesus asked for bread in this momentous example of prayer that would be repeated throughout generations. But it shows us the need to pray for specific things in the will of God. If our prayers are vague, how will we see the answers?
4) Remove barriers between you and God by confessing your sins.
Although we are ultimately forgiven of our sins through our belief in Christ, we won’t be made perfect until Jesus returns. Through the Holy Spirit, we wage an ongoing battle with sin. Sin distances us from God, just as it distanced Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18, ESV). This Psalmist exclaims how God has answered his prayers in this passage, but he points out the effect that sin has on our prayers when we keep it to ourselves, rather than seeking forgiveness and righteousness. By confessing our sins, we not only humble ourselves to God, but also reveal our to grow closer to Him.
As Dr. Ted Kitchens once said, “A lack of prayer betrays our spirit of self-sufficiency. Often we don’t pray because we don’t really believe it works.”