Prayer is something the Bible mentions 107 times, "prayed" 65 times and "pray" 306 times. Therefore it is obviously something very important. The Disciples evidently thought so to and said to Jesus: "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11v1). It therefore ought to be important for us to learn to pray effectively, but how should we go about it? Perhaps the best way to find out anything is to ask questions, so let's ask a few.
What is Prayer?
Prayer is quite simply a form of communication, between God and Man. In this world, apart from Praise, it is the only way we can talk to God.
It is not like a telephone. The conversation is not two way. It is more like an answerphone, where we can leave a message and then God gets back to us!
Why should we Pray?
Prayer, as well as being a chance to talk to God, also allows us to praise and honour God, to thank Him for all he does for us and to ask for help and forgiveness.
Who can Pray?
Everyone can pray.
2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Psalm 145:18 The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.
These scriptures show that even those who have "wicked ways" can turn from them and approach God. He is close to those who seek Him truthfully and sincerely.
Where and When Should we Pray?
We can pray at any time and in any place. There is, of course public prayer, which is done collectively during worship, and private prayer, which can be done anywhere. Nehemiah even took a second to pray, before answering a king in his palace (Nehemiah 2:4)
How Should we Pray?
The Bible has much advice about how we should pray.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
Matthew 6:5-9 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen [do]: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
So we should pray quietly, sincerely, not with many repetitions. It should be from the heart, not mechanical, at not overlong.
In the Bible, people often prayed on their knees, arms raised to heaven, even prostrate on the floor. This could be partly down to culture but there is nothing wrong with being demonstrative, as long as it is done sincerely and not for show. Speak out loud, say the prayer in your head, it is the content that matters, not your style!
What Should we Pray For?
Jesus gave his Disciples a model prayer, which they could use as the basis for their own prayers. It is often called "The Lord's Prayer".
After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as [it is] in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Here, we see the sort of things that a prayer should contain. First, there is praise for the Father (Hallowed means Holy, Set apart). Second, the prayer that God's Kingdom will soon be establisehed on the Earth, so that the Will of God will be done here as well as in heaven. Thirdly, and only third, is the request for God to provide us with what we need to live.
Fourth, is the plea for forgiveness and the promise to forgive anyone who has hurt us. (Luke 11 puts it "And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us"). Fifth is the request for God to keep us away from evil and not let us be tempted. The prayer then ends as it started, with praise to God.
Here are some more verses that tell us about prayer.
Matthew 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
One further things should be said of Prayer and that is "Who should we pray to?". The answer is God, not Jesus. Jesus himself prayed to God on many occasions and when he taught his Disciples, the prayer started "Our Father". Jesus plays an important part in the process, because he is our Mediator. He intercedes with God on our behalf and makes our prayers acceptable to God.
1 Timothy 2:5 For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
The last thing to be done is to return to the analogy of the answerphone. You might have wondered what I meant by that. I mean that God does not speak directly to us, but He does answer prayer. He might not give us what we want, but God gives us what we need. God does answer prayer, but the answer might be "No". God is not some genie to grant us three wishes, but a Loving Father, who cares for us and wants the best for us.
We might be best, when praying, not to say "Please God, help me get that job", but rather "Please God, guide me in the way I should go". Ask God for help, by all means, but don't give Him a shopping list. I heard of an American evangelist that used to pray before getting on an aeroplane - not for a safe journey or for God's blessing on his mission, but to ensure they would have orange juice on board! Is this the right attitude for prayer? I believe that a re-reading of the Bible verses already quoted will show us that it is not.
If we approach prayer in the right spirit of humility, we can build a deeper relationship with Our Father. If we sincerely ask for His help, God will influence our lives and steer us towards the Kingdom.