You Asked for It Part 5
How Do I Pray?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 31, 2003


Main Passage: Matthew 6:5-13 (NLT)


This is our fifth and final week in our You Asked For It series of messages. And I think it’s been good. You’ve asked some important questions and I’m glad we’ve had the opportunity to address them. In fact, I plan to make this an annual series… every August. So you can start thinking now about what topics or issues or passages of Scripture you would like addressed on Sunday mornings next summer. And thank you to those who made requests this time around.

Today we’re going to look at the question, “How Do I Pray?” Prayer is one of the most important parts of the Christian life and a primary way to grow in your relationship with Jesus, so this is a critical question. And I know that it can be an intimidating idea to talk to God through prayer. Am I doing it right? Am I using the right words? If I mess up will God be offended?

Prayer can be such an awkward thing sometimes, and it can seem like such a mystery. I think we’re pretty good in the Church at saying we should pray, but I’m not sure we’re as strong at explaining how to pray.

So we’re going to spend the next 25 minutes or so talking about prayer. We’ll do a bit of background and finish up talking about practical ways to improve your prayer life. And you can use the notes provided for you in your Sunrise Update to follow along and fill in the blanks.


What Is Prayer?


Prayer is having a heart to heart with God

It’s a two way conversation about the things that are important to us and that are important to God. You don’t need to worry about using all kinds of poetic language, you don’t need to go through any sort of ritual… prayer is simply a heart to heart with God. It’s talking to a friend… your best friend. And sometimes in fact it goes beyond words. Have you ever been in the position where you’re trying to pray and you’re struggling and you just don’t know what to say? Check this out…

Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)
For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will.

When you have no idea what to say or how to express your thoughts and feelings, the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity, steps in and helps out by translating for us. And the Holy Spirit helps us express our hearts to God the Father. That’s what prayer is. Don’t confuse it with anything more complicated than that. Prayer is simply communicating with God. It’s having a heart to heart with Him.

No words make prayer. Only a heart reaching out to God is prayer.
~ Carroll Johnson Shewmake


Why Should I Pray?

First, a couple reasons not to pray.


A. Prayer should not be for selfish reasons

God is not Santa Claus, He’s not a genie in a bottle, and He’s not a vending machine. Don’t come to Him with a list of “I want, I want, I want.” You’re not placing an order over the phone. Prayer is a conversation. It’s having a heart to heart with God. And in that context, it’s okay to talk about your needs and wants, but don’t make that all prayer is to you.


B. Prayer should not be a religious ritual

In the passage Lynn read earlier…

Matthew 6:7 (NLT)
“When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again.”

Prayer is not about a religion, it’s about a relation.

Devoted prayer is not a religious duty or even a mere religious experience. It is profound, deep, and inexpressible. It is experiencing God in the ultimate sense.
~ Paul Cedar

It’s about getting to know God more and more, not about meeting all the requirements of a church or religion.

So why should I pray?


C. Prayer lets you understand and experience God better

Isn’t that basically how any relationship grows? You talk with each other, you communicate with each other, sometimes even when you don’t know the words to say? Here’s the thing: The Creator of everything, the CEO of the cosmos invites you to have a personal audience with Him. He wants to spend time with you in a completely unguarded way. He wants you to be honest with Him and He wants to be honest with you. He wants to let you know about the things that are important to Him and give you a glimpse of His character and His holiness. Prayer helps us understand and experience God. It’s about intimacy with God.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

God has designed prayer as a means of intimate and joyous fellowship between God and man.
~ O.H. Hallesby


D. Prayer lets you express yourself to Him

Open up your Bible to pretty much any of the Psalms, and you’ll see that’s exactly what the writers were doing. Most of the Psalms are written as prayers, and by reading through them you can see how the writers used those Psalms to express their anguish and their joy, their fear, their thankfulness… They expressed the deepest parts of themselves to God.

“Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order for us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.”
~ Ellen White


E. Prayer gives God permission to work and meet needs

God is a gentleman. He doesn’t force Himself in where He’s not wanted. He’s given us free will, and He’s not about to infringe on that. So even though He has the power and authority to do anything He wants, he waits for permission first.

Prayer moves the arm which moves the world, and brings salvation down.
~ James Montgomery

So that’s why we should pray. How about when?


When Should I Pray?


Well, let me ask you. When should you prayer? What are some good opportunities you have through the course of a day to pray?


(e.g. driving, walking, shower, before bed, in morning, gardening…)

Let me show you a couple passages. These verses are included in your notes and I want you to underline a few phrases:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)
Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere.


A. You can pray anytime, anyplace

You do not have to be in church and it doesn’t have to be on Sunday. In fact, it’d better not be limited to just that. You can pray anytime anyplace, and should.


B. You can schedule a regular time with God

You can put it on your calendar every day or so many times a week to have a date with God. Let me make some suggestions.

Choose a Time When…

  • You are alert
    and you’re not going to fall asleep on Him or discover you can’t focus.

  • There will be no competition
    and you don’t have a dozen other things demanding your attention all at the same time. In fact, you may want to keep a notebook handy so when that thing pops into your head that you don’t want to forget about, you can write it down and put it out of your head until you’re done praying.

  • You can be consistent
    so you can build a habit into you life of taking time regularly to be with God

What is the best time for me? _____________________________


How Do I Pray?


Let me share with you seven thoughts on how to pray.

1. There is no magic art to prayer

You can stand, you can kneel, you can close your eyes, you can keep your eyes open, you can clasp your hands, you can raise your arms, you can keep them at your side… There is no magic art to prayer. There’s no correct posture, no required ritual. How, then, do you pray?


2. Pray in a way that is consistent with who you are

Your voice doesn’t have to change, you don’t have to use words you don’t use in everyday life, you don’t need to speak in “Thee”s and “Thou”s. Just talk normally. Be honest, don’t put on any masks, and don’t conceal any faults. God knows everything about you anyway. So be yourself. You may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but stick with it and it will become more natural for you.


3. Believe that God hears and answers prayer

“The only time my prayers are never answered is on the golf course.”
~ Billy Graham

Read these verses from Psalm 116 aloud with me:

Psalm 116:1-2 (NLT)
I love the LORD because he hears and answers my prayers. Because he bends down and listens, I will pray as long as I have breath!

God hears the prayers of His people and He always answers them. He doesn’t always answer the way you expect Him to, but He always answers them. I came across a little thing that talks about the four ways God answers prayer:

How God Answers Prayer:

  • If the request is wrong, God will say, “No.”

  • If the timing is wrong, God will say, “Slow.”

  • If you are wrong, God will say, “Grow.”

  • When all is right, God will say, “Let’s go!”

He may not answer the way you expect or want, but you can trust that He does answer according to His wisdom which is far greater than yours or mine. Well, maybe yours… (Definitely mine.)


4. Pray to connect, not impress

Matthew 6:5 (NLT)
“And now about prayer. When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward they will ever get.”

The goal of prayer is not to impress whoever may hear you pray or to impress God Himself, it’s simply to connect with Him. God would rather you bumble around mixing up your words and having trouble expressing yourself than reciting a beautiful eloquent prayer that has no substance and simply isn’t real.


5. Pray with a clean heart

If you want to connect with God, there can’t be anything getting in the way. If you expect your prayers to be effective, you need to be living in obedience to His Word and His Will.

Proverbs 15:29 (NLT)
The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayers of the righteous.

James 5:16 (NLT)
The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.

Part of praying with a pure heart also means that you aren’t holding any grudges against anyone else:

Mark 11:25 (NLT)
“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”


6. Don’t Monopolize the Conversation

“A man prayed, and at first he thought prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening.”
~ Søren Kierkegaard

There’s a time to talk in prayer, and there’s a time to listen. Don’t just say whatever you want to say and get up and leave. That’s rude. Prayer is not a speech we make to God, it’s a conversation. And that means we need to allow God the opportunity to share with us, too.

And don’t be afraid of silence. Sometimes we need to experience some silence before we can hear His still soft voice.

Psalm 46:10-11 (NLT)
“Be silent, and know that I am God! I will be honoured by every nation. I will be honoured throughout the world.”
The LORD Almighty is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.

Sometimes we simply need to be silent before Him and allow Him to have the floor.

God can speak to you in a variety of ways…


God can speak to you…

  • Through His Word

    It’s a good idea to combine prayer with reading the Bible. Pray that God will speak to you through His Word, pray that you’ll be able to understand, pray that you’ll be able to apply His Word to your everyday life…

    Psalm 119:105 (NLT)
    Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.

  • Through the Holy Spirit

    The closer you get to know God, the more you can recognize His proddings. He can give you impressions, He can activate your conscience, He can remind you of His Word, and He can direct the course of your life.

    Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)
    Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.

  • Through His Church

    God can use our worship celebrations on Sunday mornings or the LIFE Groups through the week or the one-on-one relationships we develop with other believers to communicate His Truths to us.

  • Through signs and circumstances
    (Romans 1:20)

    If you look closely, you can see the handiwork of God all around you, intricately involved in the tapestry of your life. The book of Romans tells us that nature itself points us toward God.

  • Through spoken words

    I debated about putting this in here because there are a lot of kooks running around claiming that God told them to do this or to do that, and it’s obvious that God had no part in it. God gets blamed for a lot of things because people say they heard a voice telling them to do something.

    But you know, there are plenty of examples in Scripture and throughout history of people who I believe did hear from God in an audible way. I have no doubt that God can speak to people that way. I myself have never heard him speak to me that way, although there have been times that He has spoken to me in ways that it might as well have been audible. But God can speak to people like that and has in the past. There’s no real reason to claim that He doesn’t do that now.

    A couple things to remember: First of all, the instances recorded in the Bible of God speaking to people is stretched out over thousands of years. It’s not an everyday occurrence. And secondly, a message from God will never contradict His Written Word. If you receive a message from God telling you to do something that goes against what the Bible says, that message is not from God.


7. Try using the acronym ACTS

As I’ve already said, there is no magic art to prayer and it’s not based on any form of ritual. But if you’re having trouble getting going and you need a bit more structure, then this is a model of prayer which I have found very useful in my own life. And so that it’s easy to remember, it’s based on the letters A-C-T-S.

Adoration – Give praise to God for who He is and how very great He is.
Confession – Tell God “I’m sorry” when you have failed Him. Ask for forgiveness and help.
Thanksgiving – Tell Him “Thank You” for all the great things He has done for you. Reflect on how good God has been and how He has answered your prayers.
Supplication – Ask His help for your needs and the needs of others. (You can put the word "requests" in brackets.)
You may want to use a notebook to keep track of the things you’ve prayed for and record when and how God answers those prayers.


There’s a lot more about prayer we could talk about, but that will have to wait for another week. For now, let’s practice what we’ve been talking about. Let’s pray.




Copyright © 2003