What is prayer? Prayer is asking God for things that He has promised to give. Prayer is one of the easiest things for new believers and one of the hardest. It’s easy because prayer is essentially talking to God. It can be challenging because we humans sometimes worry too much about how we pray.
We worry we’re not “doing it right.” We worry we’re asking for the wrong things. We fear God isn’t listening. We worry we won’t hear His answer. However, the good news is we serve a God who loves to listen to our prayers. He delights in them, desires us to pray, and longs for us to talk directly to Him.
“When people begin to pray, they begin a trip into the great heart of God,” says Betsey Kodat, author of four books on prayer, including Praying With the Scriptures: A Framework for Daily Prayer. “As with any journey, it begins with one small but beautiful step. Everyone has a unique prayer to offer to God because God made everyone different with a special voice to express in prayer. Each praying person is part of God’s orchestra. God has as many different instruments as there are people in His world.”
The first step in praying is to address God as our “Father.” “If you say nothing else and are quiet, you will have prayed well,” Kodat says. “All our lives long, Christians learn more about God. Our prayers grow as our understanding of God grows.”
Then continue as if God is someone you can easily talk to. “You don’t need to impress Him or use a special vocabulary. What opens up God’s heart is your vulnerability, openness, and honesty,” Kodat says. “The more you learn about yourself, the better you can pray because you are sharing yourself with God in prayer.”
Here are some other things to keep in mind as we pray and simple prayers each can use in our daily communication with God.
Short and Sweet
Prayers don’t have to be lengthy or filled to the brim with our words and feelings. Kodat recently came across these six-word prayers that “inspired me about how to pray today.”
God, thank you for my food. Amen.
Father, thank you for this day. Amen.
Lord, be with me this night. Amen.
This traditional children’s prayer, first introduced in the early 1700s, can be prayed by adults.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord, my soul, to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray to the Lord for my soul to take.
Follow Christ’s Example
Did you know the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray? Jesus didn’t berate or belittle them—he provided a blueprint for prayer Christians have followed for centuries. It’s even called The Lord’s Prayer and is one of the simplest prayers for new believers.
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.
(From Luke 11:9-13 or Matthew 6:9-13.)
Basing your prayer on Scripture is also an excellent way to connect with God. “One of the easiest ways to begin praying as a new Christian, and continue praying throughout life, is to use the Bible,” says author, Bible teacher, and gospel coach Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage, who publishes daily prayers online. “Choose a Psalm in a translation you can understand and read it aloud. I like to change the third person pronoun to a second person pronoun.”
By the day, you command your steadfast love,
And at night, your song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
(Based on Psalm 42:8)
Lord, give me the strength to face the challenges of the day.
(Based on Philippians 4:13)
Pray in Circles
It’s good practice to pray in ever-widening circles, asking God to meet both specific needs you know of and unspecified ones you don’t. Here’s some examples:
• Start with yourself
• Add your immediate family
• Expand to other relatives
• Fold in friends, neighbors, and co-workers
• Look beyond who you know to your general neighborhood, city/county, state, and country.
You don’t have to add all of those into every prayer, but it’s good to include them in your prayer life throughout the week.
Use Others’ Words
Besides the Bible, other books on prayer and with prayers can help us grow in our communion with God. Kodat recommends Powerful Prayers by Fern Nichols as “an excellent, short book which builds a prayer time around a Scripture verse.” Others in her prayer library include John Baillie’s Diary of Prayer; The Valley of Vision, a wonderful collection of Puritan prayers; and The Book of Common Prayer.
For joy in God’s creation: O heavenly Father, you have filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (From The Book of Common Prayer).
Here's another prayer from The Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald:
Lord, what I once had done with youthful might,
Had I been from the first true to the truth,
Grand me, now old, to do—with better sight,
And humbler heart, if not the brain of youth;
So wilt thou, in thy gentleness and ruth,
Lead back thy old soul, by the path of pain,
Round to his best—young eyes and heart and brain.
Above all, pray with a sincere heart seeking God, raising your voice to storm the gates of heaven with other Christians throughout the world. “Know that however you pray, your prayers join to the prayers of other faithful people worldwide,” Kodat says. “You are not alone—you are praying with the church worldwide.”