Prayer: What is prayer? How do I pray?


What is prayer? How do I pray? 

Mick Dobra, 2014,

What is prayer?

“The purpose of prayer is to express our submission to the sovereignty of God and our trust in His faithfulness. Prayer is the means by which we express all that is in our hearts to our loving and wise heavenly Father. Prayer is not to give God information, because God knows everything. Prayer brings us into reverent communion with God, worshiping Him and acknowledging Him as the giver of all things.” (1) 

“Address of God in word or thought involving praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition, and intercession.” (2) 

“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to the Word of God, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.” John Bunyan (3) 

“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” George Washington, October 3, 1789 

“Every great movement of God can be traced to a kneeling figure” D.L. Moody 

“if my people, who are called by my name, will 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.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) 

How do I pray?

Jesus’ Pattern for Prayer (1) 

Jesus was asked by the disciples how to pray, and this is His response, His model for our prayer life. 

9 Pray then like this: 

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.  

Matthew 6:9-13

Key elements of The Lord’s Prayer: 
Pray to God: Our Father in heaven
Exalt Him! hallowed be your name
Submit to Him: Your kingdom come, your will be done
Look to Him: Give us this day our daily bread,
Confess to Him: forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors
Depend on Him: lead us not into temptation
Trust in Him: deliver us from evil

ACTS (1) 

A simple acronym for us to remember that can help us incorporate the key elements of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. 

Adoration: Reflect on God Himself. Praise Him for His attributes, His majesty, and His gift of Christ.
Confession: Admit to God that you have sinned. Be honest and humble. Remember, He knows you and loves you.
Thanksgiving: Tell God how grateful you are for everything He has given you, even the unpleasant things. Your thankfulness will help you see His purposes.
Supplication and Petition: Make specific requests. First for others, and then for yourself.

Practice of Prayer (3) 

“Prayer is the proper work of the soul which loves Christ (Ephesians 6:18)” 

Here are 5 practical steps we can take to enrich our prayer lives. 

1. Use a prayer list!

Every Christian man should have a prayer list which lists, among other things, the names of his family and if married, spouse and children. Moreover, the list ought to be detailed, featuring personal items under the names of those closest to him… 

Sample prayer list headings: 

  • Family
  • Friends/Saints
  • Sick/Healing
  • Problems
  • Events
  • Ministries
  • Requests from Others
  • My Church/Pastors/Leaders
  • Universal Church/Persecuted Believers
  • Government Leaders

2. Quiet time!

Find quiet time, and give your best time!

Here Jesus’ habit is instructive: ‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed’ (Mark 1:35) The early bird gets the prime time. The real question for you is, when is your best time?

3. Place

Find a place where you will not be disturbed!

4. Prepare properly!

Again, it is not the physical details that are of prime importance but the condition and stance of the heart. Whatever helps you focus on the Lord, use it. 

5. Length

Often the best prayers are short and passionate. Luther himself said: ‘Look to it that you do not try to do all of it, do not try to do too much, lest your spirit grow weary. Besides, a good prayer mustn’t be too long. Do not draw it out. Prayer ought to be frequent and fervent.’ A legalistic commitment to duration can kill one’s prayer life. 

Spiritual Disciplines
Adoration, Meditation, Confession, Submission, Petition, and Prayer (3) 

Here we look at some spiritual disciplines that will help us deepen our prayer life. 


… sublime adoration and worship. This begins with a proper sense of awe in the presence of the God we know and serve… 

Reverence… the terror that came to Luther, ‘the horror of Infinitude’ that smote him at the altar – for our access to the awesome God of Heaven is real!” 

to lift God up as worthy and to ascribe great worth to Him.‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’ (Revelation 4:11).” 

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  

Psalm 19:1 


 “meditation – which involves personalizing and internalizing a segment of the Word…. begins with the devotional exercise of listening to the Word… The words of Scripture are not merely to be read but to be heard. They are meant to go to the heart!”  

“When the Psalmist speaks of meditating on the Law of God day and night (Psalm 1:2), he uses a word which means ‘to mutter’… Meditation is intrinsically verbal. This means the Psalmist memorized God’s Word.”

Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.  

Psalm 119:97-98 

Scripture made for meditation: (just a small sample!)
The Ten Commandments Exodus 20:1-17

The Beatitudes Matthew 5:1-11

The Lord’s Prayer Matthew 6:9-13

Kenosis passage Philippians 2:5-11

The Shema (hear, as in “hear oh Israel”) Deuteronomy 6:4-9

The Armor of God Ephesians 6:10-20

“You must remember this: You can never have a Christian mind without reading the Scriptures regularly because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know. If you are filled with God’s Word, your life can then be informed and directed by God – your domestic relationships, your child-rearing, your career, your ethical decisions, your interior moral life. The way to a Christian mind is through God’s Word!” 

“It is always best to drink at the well and not from the tank. You shall find that reading the Word of God for yourselves, reading it rather than notes upon it, is the surest way of growing in grace. Drink of the unadulterated milk of the Word of God, and not of the skim milk, or the milk and water of man’s word.” 
(“How to Read the Bible” a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon) 


“There can be no ongoing devotion without confession, which can take place anytime. Ideally it ought to take place whenever we sin. But all too often we are too proud and emotionally charged to acknowledge our sin at the time we commit it… But devotion is impossible if we are overloaded with guilt…” 

“Psalm 139, which systematically contemplates God’s omnipotence, ends with a prayer for divine investigation of the Psalmist’s soul:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! 

“The importance of confession for the devotional life cannot be overstated. ‘If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened’ Psalm 66:18, Proverbs 28:13” 


“Does adoration lead to anything else? Yes – the presentation of our bodies – or entire lives – in an ultimate act of worship… 

Our devotion must culminate in a conscious yielding of every part of our personality, every ambition, every relationship, and every hope to Him.”

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Romans 12:1

All-Prayer (3) 

… the believing soldier does the most astounding thing. He falls to his knees in deep, profound, petitionary prayer – for he has obeyed his divine instructions to take up what John Bunyan referred to as ‘All-Prayer.’

5 Elements of All-Prayer

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints
Ephesians 6:18

1. Pray in the Spirit
in the Spirit

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27 …

As we seek the Spirit’s help, He will speak to us through His Word, which conveys His mind regarding every matter of principle.

The spiritual discipline of meditation helps us learn to pray in the Spirit. 

2. Pray Continually
praying at all times

This characterized the practice of the Apostolic Church, as Acts 1:14 indicates: ‘All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer…’ 

Paul told the Thessalonians to ‘pray continually’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17)… 

Is continual prayer possible? Yes and no… the prayer called for here is not so much the articulation of words as the posture of the heart.

3. Varied Prayer
with all prayer and supplication

Varied prayer grows out of what we have just seen about continual prayer, because if we pray continually, the various situations we encounter will demand a variety of prayers. Think of the variety appropriate to life’s situations – prayer to resist temptation, prayer for wisdom, for power, for self-restraint, for protection of others, for growth, for conviction.

4. Persistant Prayer
keep alert with all perseverance

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”
Luke 18:1-5 

5. Intercessory Prayer
making supplication for all the saints

Pray for others, especially the saints. “There are many worthy petitions to make, but ‘saints’ – believers in Jesus Christ – are to have a large place in our prayers.” 

Petitionary prayers for others brings grace to their lives. Few people know that the stupendous achievement of William Carey in India was fueled by his bedridden sister who prayed for him for over fifty years. 

Sample Prayers

Jesus’ Prayer in the Garden

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:42

The Prayer of Jabez

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 1 chronicles 4:10

A Prayer from George Washington’s Prayer Journal

“O eternal and everlasting God, . . . increase my faith in the sweet promises of the gospel; give me repentance from dead works; pardon my wanderings, and direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation; teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments; make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber, but daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life – bless my family, friends, and kindred.” 

Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat
46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Luke 1:46-55

Tax Collectors Prayer

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
Luke 18:13-14 

Common Prayer

One of the things lacking in independent churches is the rich tradition of “common prayer.”

Such as these from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

Morning Prayer
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Evening Prayer
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands, I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

You can still find some modern editions of “Books of Common Prayer.”
Here is an older classic from Project Gutenberg:
Morning and Evening Prayers for All Days of the Week 

The index is toward the end.

Today individual churches will have a prayer ministry to lead and guide it’s members. Such as Bethany Baptist’s “Partners in Prayer” which has a daily scripture reading and prayer that can be listened to online as part of a prayer routine.

Prayers of great saints

The Prayer of St. Patrick
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.
Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.

I Know Not What I Am, But To You I Flee: A Prayer of William Wilberforce
O Lord, reassure me with Your quickening Spirit;
without You I can do nothing.
Mortify in me all ambition, vanity, vainglory,
worldliness, pride, selfishness,
and resistance from God,
and fill me with love, peace
and all the fruits of the Spirit.
O Lord, I know not what I am,
but to You I flee for refuge.
I would surrender myself to You,
trusting Your precious promises
and against hope believing in hope.
– William Wilberforce, 1759-1833

A Contrite Heart (The Prayer of John Newton)
by Reformed Reader

When John Newton was still young in years (25 or so) and young in Christ (only a year or two), he sometimes lamented his slow spiritual growth. Here’s a prayer of his from January 1, 1754. It is really a prayer all Christians can (should!?) pray. This is exactly what it means to have a broken and contrite heart – sacrifices that the Lord will not despise (Ps. 51:17).

“Alas! Most gracious Lord, what shall I say? I have nothing to offer for all thy goodness but new confessions of my guilt. That thou art kind to the unthankful and the evil, I am one of the most remarkable instances. Forgive me, I beseech thee, this year of misspent life, and charge me not with the long abuse of thy bounty. I owe thee ten thousand talents, and have nothing to pay. Yet I entreat thee to have patience with me – not that it will be ever in my power to make any amends by the best I can do, but because my Savior Jesus Christ, thy beloved Son, has done and suffered more than sufficient to atone for all my offenses, and to supply all my defects. Let me plead his merits on behalf of myself….”

More prayers from Scripture


1. “Fundamentals of the Faith: 13 lessons to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” by Grace Community Church, 2009, Moody Publishers. 

2. “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology” edited by Walter A. Elwell, 1991, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516 

3. “Disciplines of a Godly Man” by R. Kent Hughes, 2001, Crossway Books.

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