The Bible doesn’t give us one succinct definition of prayer. We read in various passages about people praying on their knees or standing up. Others pray out loud, some sing, and still others are silent. There are instances in which prayer petitions God, makes requests of God, or praises God. Numerous verses declare that God hears prayers and that He answers them. Some answers come quickly and simply, others in unexpected ways at unexpected times.
One thing is consistent in all Biblical description and instruction concerning prayer: the practice involves the human heart in relation to God. Whether to worship Him, plead with Him, or simply listen to Him, praying is the act of opening ourselves up to the Lord.
Since praying is a position we take before God, prayer is not about our words, but rather our hearts in relation to Him. When we realize this, it changes how we pray. We do not have to string together beautiful sentences or worry about using up “wishes” wrongly. Rather, consider some of these points the Bible makes about how we are to pray.
1. Pray out of faith
“Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” –Hebrews 11:6
2. Pray without ceasing
Nothing is hidden from God’s sight. The Spirit is always with us. God knows and searches our hearts. In light of these truths, we are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray continually”. The gift of Christ’s reconciling us to God is that we are no longer separated from Him. Why waste thoughts and words on ourselves and sin when He is always eager for us to come before Him?
3. Pray according to His will
“This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us”. -1 John 5:14
The words are echoed throughout Scripture. God knows what is right in all things. When we ask for ourselves, out of sinful desire, or against His will, we ask wrongly. We must consider who the Lord is when we go before Him with petitions.
4. Pray in obedience
In John 15:7 and 1 John 3:22, we learn that Lord desires first and foremost our obedience. Scripture is dotted with examples of people who go before the Lord while rebelling against His commands. They never end up in His good graces. The Lord does not listen to those who do not listen to Him. He still loves us and offers grace when we sin, but the Lord is not one to compromise on upholding His truths.
5. Pray in the Spirit
Ephesians 6:18 uses the phrase “praying at all times in the Spirit”. Romans 8:26 describes how the Spirit helps us to pray, including when words aren’t enough. Praying does not depend solely on our communication skills. If we rely on the Spirit, we have one helping us to go before God.
6. Pray as one seeking
Many passages that reference prayer use the word “ask”. Often our prayers make requests. But many verses take “asking” a step further. We are to seek God in prayer. He desires that we seek to know Him more. Even further, He desires that we seek so that He can reveal more to us (Jeremiah 33).
7. Pray together
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” –James 5:16
8. Pray to God only
Several passages tell us to pray in secret. Others warn that we should not pray in a flashy way, or to gain attention. We can pray together with others. But prayer is opening oneself to God, not to the world. And not even to fellow believers, because no one except God is able to fully know our hearts and answer us. Never set up other people or things as idols in prayer: only God should be given free access to the totality of our souls.