In Bible Study groups and Sunday School classes I've taught or participated in, when this question was asked, "What should we as Christians do?" One of the most frequent responses is, "Pray!". It certainly sounds good and we know it's right. But do we really understand it? Sometimes, sometimes not. Hopefully, you can understand that this is not a subject which I can tritely pop up as a post without prayerful consideration and heavenly guidance.
Prayer is foundational to all spiritual disciplines because we can't do any of them without direct communication with God. It is the umbilical cord to our Heavenly Father. Without His leading and direction, spiritual disciplines are simply religion. It is out of relationship that we are reaching up to Him from our spiritual selves.
Prayer is an intimate connection to our Heavenly Father, God Almighty. Unfortunately, many Christians never become intimate with God well enough that they feel they can approach the throne of the King of Kings. So they resort to KJV language or treat Him as less than Who He is. "God please help..." is very common. Who are we to treat God as our sidekick? Another that is quite common is to roll out a list of requests as if He were a genie in a bottle granting our wishes or Santa Claus giving us what we want. Churches often fail to teach Christians what prayer is and how to pray. When we pray, we should consider the Majesty and Character of God, realizing we are His children with whom He loves to spend time. However, praying, "Yo, Daddy God!" as an inner city brother in Christ I once knew prayed is not a place to stay either. Although we may start out in the manners described above, we should grow more and more in our relationship with Him and our understanding of Him, with our prayers reflecting this relational growth.
Prayer is not a duty we must rotely perform to gain Heavenly favor. "Now I lay me down to sleep..." was fine when we were children. It was a great teaching tool. But do we continue in a similar manner? If we listen to ourselves pray, we might be surprised that we reiterate the same words over and over. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, the Lord's Prayer was never intended to be recited robotically. It was a basic format for us to understand what is important in prayer. Sometimes people use the praying scripture concept to replace their own prayers. That method was never intended to be a rote prayer either. Prayer is a internal compulsion or desire to converse with God in this love relationship.
So, how do we move past this? First, understand that the previously mentioned prayer forms are fine for those who are young in their faith. We mature in our faith when we listen more and observe God's responses. God invites us into His work through prayer for others. He wants us and those around us to grow closer to Him as we see Him work through our prayers. It is not our prayers that truly do anything, for we can't do anything apart from Him. It is not telepathy to someone to change or to get well. Rather it is God doing the work and we are to give Him the credit due His Name. When we do so, we point others to the One who Saves.
God's will is quite clear in Scripture, yet we neglect to pray in His will out of our lack of understanding in how to do so. All too often, Christians expect a certain outcome of their prayers and find themselves frustrated, angry that God didn't listen. "Why did He let my father die?" "Why didn't I get the job I asked for?" Because the lack of understanding of praying within God's will forms these sorts of attitudes. Death is the final healing. Why would we want to deny a loved one who has a relationship with God to be in His eternal presence in a perfect spiritual body? Because we don't like loss. We don't want to miss someone we love. Instead, we pray in our will. Sometimes God gives us what we ask for to help us understand that He has something much better in store for us. When we see the contrast, then we better understand that we need to seek Him out regarding our decisions.
Prayer is our spiritual shield against Satan. Once you grasp the essence of prayer, you will likely feel under "attack". It's because you are. Satan doesn't want us closer to God. Remember that he wanted to take God's place because he thought he was better. But Satan, a created angel now demon, tries to hurt us, discourage us, and lure us away. Don't be surprised by this. Instead, cling to God. Resist the devil and he will flee. Also remember that spiritual leaders like pastors, evangelists, missionaries and Bible teachers are constantly under Satan's attack. They need you to cover them in prayer. That is the very best thing you can do for them. I have also been under some spiritual attacks while pulling this blog post together and am no stranger to this sort of thing as a former pastor's wife and spiritual leader in a Christian martial arts ministry. Remember that Satan was defeated on the Cross when Christ died and rose again. As a believer in Christ, you need to use the shield of faith and sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God on your knees in battle. It is the only way to win the war.
Where do you start? Look up these verses:
You can look up more about prayer by using a Bible Subject Search or a Concordance or go to http://www.biblestudytools.com.
Begin in a place that is quiet at a time when it is best suited to do so. If you need to, set an alarm for yourself to prepare and begin. Always reflect on His nature and His works then share that with Him. This helps us stay focused on God. Keep a journal of what you share with Him. When you hear from Him, which eventually you will and be able to recognize it is Him, write down His responses to you. Write down what happens to the prayer requests you have. If an answer isn't what you expected, ask Him about it. Eventually you will either have a peace about it or He will share why He answered the way He did. If a Scripture passage comes to mind, maybe you should echo it back to Him as He has a purpose in bringing it up to you. Find out what He wants you to do with it. Maybe it is for someone He wants you to share it with. Feel like your prayers stopped at the ceiling? Ask Him to reveal to you what is in the way. He will show you. You must make the changes in your life to remove the road block to your prayers. Always keep in mind Who is God and who is not. Never forget to thank Him for what He has done and give Him proper credit for His deeds. May you be blessed as you grow through prayer.
For further reading on prayer:
Spiritual Disciplines by Richard Foster
Prayer by E.M. Bounds
Prayer: The Ultimate Conversation by Charles F. Stanley
The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie O Martian
books on Prayer by C. Peter Wagner
books on Prayer by Dutch Sheets
among many others