In a world where face-to-face conversations are everything, speaking to a presence you cannot see can feel awkward. Like, am I just speaking to myself, or is this actually doing anything? Figuring out how to pray can feel frustrating and intimidating, as prayer does not operate like the routine staples of our lives. We're accustomed to knowing exactly where our effort and energy goes, such as depositing money at a bank and seeing that figure appear in our accounts shortly after. Prayer, conversely, is not always an immediate input and output, and it is not something we can constantly check the status of. How does one send or "activate" a prayer anyway? We live in a world where we can see that our iMessages were "Delivered." We can track where our Amazon packages are at all times, we can check to see if our job applications went through, and we can receive instantaneous feedback from our coworkers via Zoom or email. Yet it would appear at the surface, we receive no such confirmation with our prayers. We simply clasp our hands, bow our heads and throw our words out into the universe. These are all valid questions and thoughts that are part of the human experience. We all wonder them, but we keep quiet due to our fear of being judged. Our hope is that this would be a space where you would feel liberated to explore your deepest doubts and questions. Seriously, let your mind run wild. In a topic as meaty as "how to pray," our goal is to help you take some practical next steps in your spiritual journey.



The first question in tackling how to pray is simple: who are you praying to? It’s safe to assume that if you’re reading this, you likely believe you’re praying to something or someone. If that’s not the case, it might be worth investigating the existence of God. But for those of us that have concluded that God exists, the next questions are often: does he actually care about our problems? Every problem or just certain ones? Is he angry with us? Does he hear us? Or did this higher being set everything in motion with little interest in what happens after? Perhaps more than we realize, our experiences and influences have impacted our view of God, which has in turn affected the way we pray to him. Yet Scripture insists that God is close and relational. In fact, God is frequently referred to as “Father” or the Aramic word “Abba”, a more affectionate term. This idea of a parent-to-child relationship is constant, from the opening pages of Genesis to the later teachings of Jesus. In the book of Matthew, Jesus says: “You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?” In other words: if our own parents, with limited capacity in comparison to God, still look out for us, how much more does our creator and heavenly father love us? If you grew up in a healthy home environment, the tendency was likely to bring your problems, wants, needs, and expressions to your parents. In fact, this dependency exists on a biological level the moment we come out of the womb. See: attachment theory. What if we imagined God like this? Sitting there in the room as a loving father, ready and eager to listen to all we have to say? Of course, this doesn’t exactly come naturally. Our parents are physically there in front of us. God is, well... invisible. Not to mention, he has a much bigger and extensive resume than our parents. The oceans, the sun and the stars appeared? Yeah, those were his ideas. As the O.G. of science, he also carefully knitted together our DNA, the laws of physics and the cosmos. '”And I’m supposed to see this same being in a personal and relational way?" Yep, pretty much. This is what Jesus is getting at. Scripture says in Exodus 34:6 that God is described as the "compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." Our modern English vocabulary doesn't always do these words justice. In actuality, the Hebrew word for compassionate is rahum, which is derived from a root word meaning "female womb." The imagery evoked is that of a mother's care for her little baby. The adjective form of rahum is found thirteen times in the Hebrew Bible, and 11 of those occurrences are in connection with the word hannun, meaning "gracious." We see this language used throughout the rest of scripture, such as in Psalm 103 and Psalm 145, which each describe the Lord as "gracious and compassionate." Again, more parent language. The famed writer C.S. Lewis put it this way: "Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not." Knowing God's true character can transform the way in which we come to him in prayer. And thus, if we are to see God as he actually is, then we need to make time to grow our connection with him. Part of learning how to pray is learning how to set aside distractions and be intentional about what we’re saying. Scripture teaches us that God doesn't need us to speak to him, but he wants us to. Contrary to modern stereotypes, God doesn't give a laundry list of instructions for how to pray. Prayer does not have to be in a certain bodily position or for a certain amount of time or contain a specific amount of words. The goal would be to do whatever it takes to enter into a place where you can be open and authentic before God. Everyone has a unique way of centering themselves, whether it's sitting outside or curling up next to the fireplace. Whatever your way of posturing yourself is, the point is connection.



"Okay, so now what? I get the idea behind prayer, who God is depicted to be, and what I might pray about, I just...start?" Honestly, yes. If God is relational, consider how you speak with those closest to you. Although we may not outwardly admit this, one of deepest desires of our hearts is to find human connection that holds depth. Where we can be fully vulnerable, authentic to who we are and honest before another human being. The invitation would be the same with God. We don’t need to be something we’re not or say things that seem disingenuous to who we really are. God wants to meet you where you’re at, not wherever you think you should be. This is essential as we learn how to pray. If this isn’t something you’ve heard before or it sounds too good to be true, it’s worth noting this isn’t a modern invention we’re stewing up to make us feel better about ourselves. Nope. In fact the entire book of Psalms, which was written thousands of years ago, seems to invite us into this level of authenticity through the types of prayers we observe. “But I… cry to you… in the morning my prayer comes before you. O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?... You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness (Psalm 88) It's hard to comprehend that this Psalm is even in the Bible. It doesn’t make God look good. But that’s precisely the point -- this is how life actually is. God knows that in its present form, the world is far from perfect. He knows we’re bound to blame some things on him. But he also knows as our designer that it is healthy (and dare we say necessary) to process our emotions as they actually are so that we can move forward.Earlier in the book of Psalms, we see another writer who has fallen into a deep depression to the point that he’s questioning God’s existence. “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42) Again, it’s perplexing that a book making the case for God would include material from real people who are questioning if God is even there. But this is the invitation. We start learning how to pray to God by bringing our deepest doubts, rawest emotions and most troubling sorrows before him. It’s worth noting that this is an ongoing process. We can easily be vulnerable and forthcoming one time, yet quickly slip back into a pattern of pretending everything is fine. Thus, prayer is like growing a garden. It needs tending to in order to flourish. Clearing out the weeds and carving out a space to cultivate a deeper relationship with God requires not only vulnerability, but intentionality. So here are some helpful tips for getting into a daily rhythm of prayer. We do this with a degree of hesitation, as we must remind you that these are not requirements for a healthy prayer life, but rather tools to help you get started and use in specific situations. Know Your Space: As you start the journey of learning how to pray, there is some value in creating a calm atmosphere for your private prayer time. Jesus says to "go into your room," when you pray, which is symbolic for being in a quiet, unhurried space to truly focus. Can you pray anywhere? Absolutely. However, many find that their level of clarity improves when going to a space that's free of distractions. Ultimately it's not about creating a production or using artificial enhancements, but rather a concerted effort to enter into a serene environment. Consider the difference between having a face-to-face conversation with a friend at a quiet coffee shop as opposed to trying to talk over the wails of sirens at a busy intersection. Depending on your specific context, this type of environment might be tricky to attain. Leaving your smartphone behind might be an obvious choice, but what about screaming kids, pesky roommate or the honking right outside my window? One of our own personal go-tos is turning on soft worship or instrumental music that works almost universally in every situation. It helps create a peaceful backdrop no matter your setting and allows your mind to tune out the background noise to focus. Guided Prayers: Guided prayer meditations transcend the spiritual spectrum, providing an outlet for both the person learning how to pray and the seasoned prayer warrior. In short, you can choose from a selection of pre-recorded prayers that help you walk through specific topics (i.e. prayer for anxiety), while also allowing for a degree of spontaneity. This may feel a bit pre-programmed, until we realize that it’s hardly different than singing a worship song that speaks to your specific situation. Walking/Nature: Some people don’t like being stationary, so going for a walk and getting your body to move can help increase blood flow and in turn clear up your thoughts. For those with ADD, ADHD, or even just general antsiness, the chance to process without feeling confined to sitting in one spot can be valuable. Walking in nature specifically can renew our sense of wonder and allow us to notice the little details like birds chirping or flowers blooming. This deepens our awe for the world and brings us into a space of gratitude to God. Listen & Contemplate: There's one last practice to mention that isn't technically stated as a "prayer" but is valuable when we go back to the idea that prayer is a two-way conversation with a relational God, not checking off an item on the morning to-do list. Listening. When we listen, we discover that God speaks to us through words that come into our heads, or pictures that come into our minds. Crazy, right? We address the full scope of this in a separate blog here. But assuming you’ve wrapped your head around this radical idea, if you don't feel like you’re hearing or seeing anything, THIS IS OKAY. It takes time to learn how to differentiate between what is coming from God and what is just our own imagination. It’s essential that we look at scripture as a whole and cross-check if it's consistent with God's character and heart. If what we’re sensing comes in the form of a condemning or anxious voice, it isn't God, who, again, is "the compassionate and gracious God." Moreover, God won't condescend himself with what's already been written in scripture. If you have a thought and it isn't consistent with scripture, that isn't God. So keep practicing. Don’t get frustrated. Try to be still and not say anything, and listen to hear what God is trying to say and cut through the noise. Pray The Lord's Prayer: If you feel at a loss for words, Jesus himself actually put together a prayer for his disciples to pray. The Lord's Prayer unfortunately became something of a ritual within the 20th century church, but it’s essence is powerful. It encompasses everything from seeking strength from God to asking for forgiveness and overcoming temptation. It's the basic blueprint for prayer and sees that God's will and presence would invade our broken planet. Pray for Others and for Outcomes: Jesus advocates for interceding, which at its most basic form means praying for others. This includes both people we love and treasure deeply, AND those who have hurt us or are against us: "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). Make a list of people you want to pray for. It could be for blessings, guidance, forgiveness, or whatever is on your heart. Journal: If you aren't a verbal processor, or rather you just process better when you write things down, journaling or writing down your prayers can be a therapeutic practice. Not only will journaling help you put your thoughts into words, but it will also become a reference point for the future. Looking back and seeing prayers that were previously answered gives us confidence for what we’re currently processing through. As we learn how to pray to God, journaling is ultimately a practical tool for building a rhythm of voicing your thoughts to him.



As mentioned in the beginning, learning how to pray isn't a quick process in which we press a button and are good to go. Rather, it’s a transformative practice that is developed over time, in which we connect with God while partnering with him to bring change to both ourselves and the world around us. Our ultimate aim is to become people of love and thus prayer changes us from the inside out. Yet even after discussing practical ways to dive into prayer, there still might be some apprehension. The idea of communicating with a presence you can't see can make prayer feel a bit abstract. In fact, people who have been praying their whole lives still find they have room to grow and need to actively practice prayer to deepen their connection with God. As you grow more familiar with the practice, your perspective may shift in that prayer goes from being an abstract concept to something that is essential for our daily survival. Give yourself grace, and remember that this guide is just a starting point. These are just a few "best practices" to help you get started.


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