The When, What, and How of Praying: Building a Relationship
Just like with family or friends, your relationship with God takes time and intentionality to strengthen. How do we strengthen that relationship except through communication? Great news – communication with an Almighty God is one of the most exciting things a Christian can do! So why is prayer such a difficult discipline to practice? Here are some practical ways to build a strong prayer life.
Thanks to Grace in Color for the helpful prayer tips!
1. When to Pray
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
As Paul says, pray without ceasing! This isn’t as easy as it sounds, as you know if you are human and have ever attempted it.
· Choose a time and place.
Prayer can and should be anywhere at any time, but picking a certain part of the day (just waking up, right before bed, lunchtime, etc.) and spending a half hour talking to God is an excellent practice for discipline. Life gets crazy and busy! School, work, friends, and family all place demands on our lives. However, we can’t have fulfilling relationships with others without first having a fulfilling relationship with our Creator. Rightly ordering our priorities is the hardest thing we’ll ever do, but putting prayer time first is an excellent step. It might take sacrificing a little sleep or a favorite show, but we can’t let good things God has placed in our lives overshadow the very reason we’re living.
· Be consistent and persistent.
Prayer is essential to the health of our spiritual lives, just like food is essential to our physical bodies. Don’t feel like you have to limit your prayer time to your chosen time and place. Pray often! Pour out your heart to God whenever you feel tempted to get stuck inside your head. Use car trips, short walks to class, runs to the grocery store, and other errands to spend a few minutes talking to God. If somebody asks what you’re doing, tell them! Their life could change based on your answer. Don’t be afraid to pray the same prayers again and again, either. God wants to know that you really care about what you’re saying to Him.
2. What to Pray
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-7, ESV
How do you know what to pray about?
· Start with praise. End with praise. Fill it with thankfulness.
God already knows everything we’re going to say. He still wants us to say it. But most of all, He wants us to recognize that we have already been given the best gift of all – relationship with Him through His sacrifice! When we start by glorifying the character of God, our hearts take a posture that is worshipful to Him. He is worthy of our adoration.
· Pray for spiritual help before physical help.
More than healing, resolution, or friends, we need Christ’s redemptive power in our lives. Still pray for those things! But recognize your and others’ need for salvation and spiritual growth first. As Jesus said in John 4:13-14, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (ESV).
· Make a list for both big and small things.
Having trouble remembering who or what to pray for? Make a list! Told someone you’d pray for them? Do it in the moment while you’re standing there with them! It might seem weird at first but is an amazing way to make prayer a priority. Pray for big things that can’t be accomplished without God. Pray for small things that you might think He won’t care about. He is able to do more abundantly than all we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).
3. How to Pray
“Apart from me you can do nothing…If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
John 15:5-7, ESV
The heart behind your prayers is even more important than the prayers themselves. When we pray, God wants us to want His glory and His kingdom above all else. When Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He starts with a phrase praising God. The very next words are,
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10).
When we want what God wants, He will grant whatever we ask in our prayers. How can we want what God wants? We can read His Word and abide in Him.
· Read and pray the Bible to find out what God wants.
God will speak to you if you diligently read His Word. Studying Him before, during, or after you pray will help you understand His character and commune with Him more. Try letting Him speak first.
Praying psalms or other Bible verses is insanely powerful! A fun practice is reading through psalms and stopping after each verse to turn it into a prayer. When we pray the words that God has given us, he guides us in our understanding of Him.
· Watch for God’s answers to prayer – and keep track of them!
God does answer prayer! The more we pray and pay attention to what God is doing in our lives, the more we see Him working. We can also be in tune with how He wants to use us to answer others’ prayers. Keep an answered prayers list of ways you see God working. Go back to it whenever you feel discouraged and praise God for His care and faithfulness.
Talk to God for a moment. Ask Him how He wants you to connect with Him in prayer. Decide a time to pray consistently and try to stick to it for a week at a time. Write down anything from this devotional that you want to try in your prayer life.
Extra challenge: Write down your prayers and keep track of how God is caring for you. Start a prayer journal if you don’t have one!