Prayer is simple. When you boil it down, it's really just the act of talking to God. But there have sure been a lot of rules set up by people about what's right and what's wrong. Do we need to "assume the prayer position" when it's time to talk to God? Should we be standing up or sitting down, or kneeling instead?
Should our eyes be closed or open, hands folded or spread out? Are there certain words we should be using or places we should be when praying? Is it better to pray in the morning or at night? Do we have to say "amen" at the end? Does any of it even matter?
Some people think that if they don't say certain things or pray in a very specific way, then their prayers are invalid. They believe that if they don't follow some magic formula of prayer, then God won't even listen, much less answer them. Have you ever been told that you have to pray a certain way?
Jesus Himself said that it didn't matter when He told His disciples, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:7-8).
God doesn't care where or when we pray. He doesn't care what position our bodies are in or if we've got our head down, hands clasped, eyes shut. He doesn't even care how you order your words, if you started with "Dear Jesus" or "Heavenly Father" or "Hey, God." If you forget to say "amen" or if you fall asleep in the middle of a prayer at night, He is still going to hear you and know what's in your heart.
Be confident that you will be heard. The Bible says that we should have confidence when we talk to God (1 John 5:14-15). That is, when we make requests, our expectation should be that He will listen and respond. (Because He will!)
Now, that doesn't mean He'll always answer the way we want Him to; God is not a vending machine. But He WILL answer, even if that answer is "no" or "not now." (See: How can I know if I'm hearing God's voice?)
Desire God's glory in all things. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, we're told that "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." That means that the stuff we request from God should line up with things that bring glory to Him.
But if we ask for something "in Jesus' name" (John 14:13-14), doesn't that help solidify the request? Nope. No magic words here. Saying "in Jesus' name" at the end of a prayer means we are asking for something that we think Jesus would want too.
So let's say you're praying for a new Xbox in Jesus' name. Will God grant it to you? Well, maybe—God can use anything for His glory. But unless you're sincerely planning on using that Xbox for His glory, I wouldn't suggest holding your breath. ☺ Saying "in Jesus' name" is not going to magically seal the deal. God's glory should always be our primary motivation for desiring certain things to happen in our lives and the lives of others.
Pray with gratitude. Philippians 4:6-7 says that we should pray with thankfulness, knowing that God will take care of us and carry our burdens for us. If we talk to Him with a grateful heart, then He will give us the gift of peace and ease those worries.
Hold nothing back. God already knows what's on your mind anyway, so you might as well tell Him everything. He knows all about you, from your darkest, most shameful secrets to the greatest joys to the bitter, petty concerns that gnaw at you every day.
Have you ever tried to pray but you found that you had no words? Have you ever just cried, screaming in your mind, "Why?" Does God count those times as prayer? Absolutely yes! Romans 8:26 (NLT) says that the Holy Spirit "helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words."
The important thing is that we communicate with our Creator honestly. He wants to hear from you, and He is more interested in what you have to say than how you say it or what position your body happens to be in.
There are no special words or gestures that we have to perform in order to get God's attention. He is always paying attention to you.
Let me repeat that: God is always paying attention to you.
The closest thing the Bible gives to a "formula" for prayer is when Jesus' disciples asked Him, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1), and He gave them what has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer. That's the one that starts out with, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name..." (Luke 11:2-4; Matthew 6:9-13).
The thing to be clear about The Lord's Prayer is that is it not something we have to memorize and recite in order to pray the "right" way. We see Jesus praying many times in the Gospels after telling them this prayer, yet He doesn't use that exact verbiage again.
So The Lord's Prayer should be used as an example of how we should pray. What can we learn from this example then? Jesus' prayer includes five things: worship of God, trust in God, requests we want to make, confession of sin, and submission to God's will.
Those are all things that you could include in your prayers, but you don't have to include all of them to make your prayer "complete". Remember, there's no special formula or words or checklist when it comes to prayer.
It makes no difference if you're kneeling at your bedside or praying on the bus. It doesn't matter if you're standing in line for lunch or sitting in church. If you're riding your bike and your eyes are open, you can still pray. If you're lying in bed, trying to sleep, you can pray. Even if you don't have words to express your pain, laying your life before the Lord and weeping at His feet is prayer.
Let nothing stand in the way of you connecting with your Creator. Prayer is easy. It's about you and God, spending time together and talking about what matters to you both.
Prayer is really just the act of talking to God. So He doesn't care where or when you pray or what position your body is in or what words you use (Matthew 6:7-8). He's still going to hear you and know what's in your heart—even if all you're doing is being a sobbing mess at His feet. Know that He will hear you when you pray that He will answer, but also be prepared that He may not always answer the way you want Him to. Desire God's glory in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31). What you request from God should line up with things that bring glory to Him. God is always paying attention to you, and your concerns, no matter how big or small, DO matter to Him.
Cat is the webmaster and editor of 412teens.org and regularly teaches local young writers at her workshops. She also contributes at GotQuestions.org, Blogos.org, and GQkidz.org. When Catiana is not writing or hanging out with teens, she loves spending time with her two kids, four socially awkward cats, and one curly-tailed dog.