When I was a youth leader, and again more recently with my teen boys, I would hear them say: “I don’t know how to pray” or “I don’t know what to say.” They had somehow come to the conclusion that prayer was some sort of ritual or you had to use specific, even flowery language. They were wrong.
When I was growing up, I’d hear these prayers at church full of “Thees” and “Thous,” like they were pulled directly from the (Authorized) King James Bible, and I’d think that this is how you were supposed to pray. I didn’t know then, like my youth and my kids in turn didn’t know later, that prayer wasn’t supposed to be a script. There is no right or wrong way to pray.
So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.
There is a model in the Bible for prayer: The Lord’s Prayer, but it’s not a script. It’s not a “say this when you pray” but more of a “pray in this manner” or “pray along these lines.” It shows us the various parts of a prayer. The same parts as a conversation you might have on the street with a friend. There’s a greeting, praise, requests, more praise and a farewell. To put it simply, prayer is communication. It is a conversation with God. The above passage from Exodus tells us that the Lord and Moses spoke “as a man speaks to his friend.” That’s what prayer is. It’s not stilted and flowery. It’s a chat with a friend.
Another thing people get wrong about prayer is this tendency to rattle off a long wish list of blessings we would like. We reduce the conversation to what the Lord can do for us. At some point we have all fallen into this habit. Some of us have trouble climbing out of this rut. Eventually we will either stop praying or we will go out of our way to not ask for things. The former because we feel that prayer doesn’t work, and the latter because we feel guilty about what can be seen as self serving prayers.
Prayer is a daily admission of weakness. This is the sort of conversation you have with your very best friend. You tell them everything. This is the type of communication we should have with God. Sure, he knows everything, but he longs for us to have a close enough relationship with him that we will share everything with him. That we will be close enough to him to give voice to our fears, our weaknesses, our triumphs and our desires in conversation with Him. This kind of relationship is what I believe the soul longs for.
How do we pray? We talk. We share our lives with God. We study the Bible. We praise. We thank. We repent. We forgive. We converse about everything with a friend who sticks closer than a brother. That is how we pray.
When should we pray? We should pray daily. Actually, make that multiple times each day. Who in a deep relationship only speaks to the other party once a day? We should vigilantly keep open our avenue of communication.
Where should we pray? The best thing about prayer is you can do it anywhere, any time and any way you want. If you want to pray in a manner that sounds as if you swallowed the (Authorized) King James Version of the Bible, you can. If you want to pray in a closet, you can. You don’t need a phone or an internet connection. You just pray.
The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.
– Søren Kierkegaard
Ultimately, prayer is for us, not for God. He already knows everything we’re going to say, even if we don’t.
Prayer brings us closer to the Lord. It is a way of deepening our relationship with him. It helps us focus on Him by tuning out the external world and opening the lines of communication between Him and ourselves.