At its most basic, prayer is talking to God. It is a direct line of communication with the Creator of the Universe. He wants — and has always wanted — us to talk to Him, because He loves us unconditionally.
It's a conversation — you're just talking to a friend. God doesn't expect you to use special sentences or words that you don't normally use. He wants to know what is on your heart — the things you worry about, the things you're thankful for, the people you care about and so on. Jesus gave us an example of how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13 with the prayer that we know today as the Lord's Prayer. It is the most prayed prayer on the planet. But those words we know so well can act as a kind of template to help us think of what to say.
It starts off 'Our Father in Heaven' reminding us that He is our heavenly Father who loves us and cares for us.
'Hallowed be Your name' reminds us to worship God, and to praise Him for all that He is and all that He does.
The phrase 'Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven' tells us that we should pray that we become aware of God's plan for our lives and for the world around us, not the plan that we may have in mind. We pray for God's will to be done, not for our desires.
'Give us today our daily bread' encourages us to ask God for the things we need, while 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us' reminds us to confess to God the things that we have done wrong — and that we should forgive other people who may have hurt us in the same way that God has forgiven us.
'Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one' is where we're asking God to help us gain a victory over sin — and for Him to protect us from the attacks of Satan.
So when you pray your own prayers and you can't think how to start, try this method of prayer that Jesus taught us. Use it as a guide for your own prayers.
And what a fantastic privilege it is to be able to talk to God so easily. The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6-7 that praying brings us a special peace:
'Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 4:6–7)
But sometimes the answer may not be the one that you were expecting.
Sometimes, what we ask for may not be right for us. He loves us too much to give us something that, in the end, may not be in our best interests. Sometimes He'll say yes — but the answer will come in an unexpected way. And sometimes, He'll say yes — but things will happen in His time, not ours.
We always want things to be fixed up right away, but often there are lessons for us to learn along the way. Sometimes, God will say yes — and by the way, here's much more than you were expecting when you originally asked. And don't forget, God knows us so well, that He knows what we want to ask Him — but, for some reason, we're often very stubborn about giving things over to God.
'The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.' James 5:16
Writing in The Word For Today, Bob Gass says:
We get a remarkable picture of what can happen in prayer when we watch a parent and a little child. Imagine a one-year-old who looks at you and holds his gaze. You’re charmed. He looks shyly at first, tilting his head away and looking out of the corner of his eye. You do the same. It’s fun. He turns his face to look directly at you. You mirror the turn. Then there’s a sudden noise behind him, and he looks startled — you mirror his surprised look. He’s so startled that he’s getting ready to cry, so you shift to a smile. He does the same, and he’s soon gurgling with joy. When a child makes eye contact like this, when someone lets him know that they understand what he’s feeling, his brain and nervous system make crucial connections inside his body. He is experiencing what’s called ‘neural integration’. By playing the face game, you’re literally giving the child peace. It heals him. He finds delight in your presence. And prayer works like that too.
In the Old Testament God instructed Moses to give the Israelites the following blessing: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face towards you and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6:24–26) In prayer we speak about ‘seeking God’s face’. That means sometimes prayer is about speaking, other times it’s about listening. But there’s a third ingredient. It’s the security that comes from sensing God’s smile of love and approval.