How to pray? There are many answers to this question, because this question could mean one of many things.
You may be wondering what sort of words to use, when to pray, or in what sort of manner. Let’s look to the Bible and find some answers.
Like so many other things, we want to “do it right” when it comes to prayer. How do we pray the right things? The Bible’s answer is different than we may imagine. How we pray begins not with folded hands, but with bowed hearts, with our attitude and motives (1 Samuel 16:7). This is what God cares most about in prayer. Our words mean nothing to him if they mean nothing to us (Matthew 6:7). He wants sincerity.
When we ask how to pray, we’re often concerned with practicality, and we really mean how often should we pray? In other words, does the Bible have expectations for how often we pray?
In response to this, we must ask ourselves a searching question. How often do I want and need to speak to God?
God knows, whether you acknowledge it or not, that you never stop needing him. When we come to the Bible with our question of how often to pray, God responds with, “All the time. Just don’t stop” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Though God commands us to pray all the time, our personal commitment to prayer will depend on how much we really understand our need for God. In other words, our prayer life is a good test of our humility. In which areas of your life are you convinced that you can succeed alone? How often do you need God’s help?
Finally, when we ask how to pray, we most often mean: What do I say? How do I speak to God? What sorts of things should I or should I not say?
To this we find many examples in Scripture of how people pray, and the Bible’s answer comes with a refreshing amount of freedom.
People pray with tears (1 Samuel 1:10), they pray by singing (Psalm 42:8), they shout in trouble (Lamentations 3:56), they talk plainly (1 Kings 18:36) both out loud and in their hearts, and in many other postures and situations.
God wants us to approach him as children, running to him as our Father (Matthew 6:9). The best way to come is in whatever state we are in.
Naturally, the thought of coming to God without reservation seems audacious and perhaps irreverent. The Bible answers our concern with a small and oft quoted verse, “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18 ESV).
Receiving God’s perfect love is wrapped up in that little phrase we say at the end of our prayers: “in Jesus’ name.” However we come to God, whenever, and whatever we say, we must come to God in the name of Jesus. This is the way God has provided for us to come to him (John 14:6).
Jesus died on the cross so that the sin of those who trust in him may be thrown in the sea and forgotten. If we come to God in Jesus’ name, our sins—even the present ones—are covered and forgotten, and we are received by God in love as his children.
Because we’re perfectly loved and no longer viewed by God in light of our sin, we don’t have to be afraid to approach God anymore. We trust that God receives the expressions of our hearts because he has actually suffered to make such an exchange possible, by giving his Son over to death in payment for our sins.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).
Scheduled or spontaneous, trembling or thrilled, journaling or kneeling, we’re welcomed to confidently “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 ESV).
There’s a wonderful children’s Bible that includes a short devotional which teaches kids how to pray. It says, “there’s nothing you can pray that would make God ever stop loving you.”
This is completely true for everyone who believes in Jesus.
Jesus told us that he’s the “way” to the Father (John 14:6). Once we, by faith, have set foot on that path, there’s nothing to keep us from running into the arms of our Father. That way is open to anyone who believes.
How “should” you pray, according to the Bible? Embrace Jesus, and run to the Father.