In a world where face-to-face conversations are how we primarily communicate, speaking to a presence you cannot see can feel awkward. Like, am I just speaking to myself, or is this actually doing anything? In this sense, prayer does not operate like many other 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 often don't vocalize them due to our fear of being judged. With that in mind, we can't treat God simply like another human relationship. While there are some parallels that help us make sense of our relationship with God, there are many other aspects that are different than human relationships. We've designed this guide to help you navigate this tension and give you some practical steps towards beginning your journey with prayer.



The first question in learning how to pray is quite 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. 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. Jesus insisted that God is close and relational. He frequently refers to him as “Father” or the Aramic word “Abba”, a more affectionate term.  This idea of a parent-to-child relationship is constant in 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. Going back to the point we raised in the opening paragraphs, 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 (NIV) 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 who God is and his loving character is essential to building a proper foundation in prayer. In this sense, using humans as an analogy can actually be quite helpful. Consider the differences in how people approach their human fathers or mothers. If they’ve grown up with distant parents who didn’t show affection, then it would be quite strange to approach them with outward acts of physical touch. But if our parents were affectionate, and always told us that they loved us, this transforms what we unconsciously do when we are interacting with them. This analogy works, because knowing God is a safe space and he cares about what we care about is foundational to taking the correct posture in prayer. We should be vulnerable, authentic to who we are and honest. We don’t need to be something we’re not or say things that seem disingenuous to who we really are. God meets you where you’re at, not wherever you think you should be. Contrary to public thought, prayers don’t need to be cloaked in religious jargon. They could be full of joy, or full of anger. The entire book of Psalms, which was written thousands of years ago, invites 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 necessary to process our emotions as they actually are so that we can move forward. Earlier in Psalms 42, we see another writer who has fallen into a deep depression and prays from that posture. 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.


Contrary to some religious stereotypes, God does not supply us with 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.  Which goes to say… pray as you can, not as you can’t.  That might mean starting with three minutes of prayer a day in the morning, or praying on the go, or praying while you’re waiting for the train. The most important thing is getting into a rhythm of prayer.  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.  So here are some helpful tips for getting into a daily rhythm of prayer. 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 more or less difficult to attain. Leaving your smartphone behind might be an obvious choice, but what about screaming kids, a pesky roommate or the honking right outside my window? One of our own personal go-tos is turning on soft 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 Prayer Meditations

Guided prayer meditations, such as  through the Hallow app, transcend the spiritual spectrum and provide 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.


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

Prayer is a two-way conversation with a relational God, not checking off an item on the morning to-do list. When we listen, we discover that God speaks to us through words that come into our heads, or pictures that come into our minds. 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. 

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 its 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 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.


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 we briefly touched upon above, since prayer is a two-way conversation with God, that means he speaks back. If you don’t consider yourself spiritual, this might sound quite strange. Joy Behar, host of the popular daytime T.V. show The View, implied that it was crazy to hear from God in a segment from a few years ago.  "It's one thing to talk to Jesus. It's another thing when he talks to you. That's called mental illness -- hearing voices." But if God is the same creator who put into motion the laws of science, the solar system, the oceans, the trees and the complex wiring of human DNA, why would it be irrational that he could speak into the very creation he made? We’re not saying that being skeptical when someone claims they’re hearing from God is a bad thing. In fact, the opposite is true. We should hold the voice of God in a very high regard and approach claims of hearing from him with a healthy dose of discernment.  We’ve learned from the past how much weirdness and religious dysfunction can come from people who claim they’re hearing from God. Look no further than David Koresh and the early 90s cult in Waco.  Multiple documentaries and films have been made about his story in recent years. Not only did David believe that the second coming of Jesus was imminent, but that God approved of his polygamy. But we shouldn’t write off the voice of God altogether because humans have abused, misinterpreted and misrepresented it.  The biblical text is adamant that God does speak – outlining at least ten different ways, including through dreams, thoughts, feelings, senses, prophecies and visions.  God may not have chosen to speak audibly (most of the time) in the same way humans communicate, but he still speaks in many other ways. This doesn’t mean that hearing from God will always come easy or clearly. At times this may be true, but many of the Psalms bear testimony for when it feels like God has gone silent. Hearing God’s voice is not a simple 1 + 1 math equation. It takes practice. And as we mentioned from the beginning, we must acknowledge the limits to likening a relationship with God to a human relationship – he is invisible, after-all. For this reason, it takes humility to swap our word choice in conversing with other people from “THIS IS WHAT GOD IS SAYING” to “I think this is what God might be telling me…”  In the end, discernment is a community job. Meaning, we should evaluate what we think we’re hearing from God in the context of our own local community. But remember, we FIRST use scripture as our primary evaluating lens, as God will never contradict himself. 



Learning how to pray is a 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. Even after discussing practical ways to dive into prayer, the idea of communicating with a presence you can't see  may still feel a bit abstract. As a reminder, start where you are, not where you want to be. People who have been praying for years 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 becomes the favorite part of your day.  These are just a few "best practices" to help you get started. For more, click here to visit our Prayer Hub.


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