At least once per week, and quite frequently several times each week, I receive a request similar to this one:

"Please! Help me learn to pray. I don't seem to have the right words to pray. When I do pray, my words aren't very good — they feel empty and ineffective. I feel like I am launching my prayers upward, as if I was shooting bbs toward heaven, only to have them hit a metal ceiling and fall at my feet, mocking me with their ineffectiveness! So, I've become discouraged and lost all interest in prayer. Yet, something inside me knows that I need to pray and must learn how to pray better. Please help me!"

So, let's address this request with some teaching from Jesus and the Scriptures. Then, we will provide some practical strategies for you to use as you seek to grow in your prayer life and then provide some links to an extended study on Jesus' model prayer.

Before looking at the teaching of Jesus on prayer, I want to thank you for having a heart that wants to honor God in prayer. God is looking for hearts that are seeking him, especially to speak with him through prayer. God is our Father who longs to be near his children. Wanting to deepen your prayer life brings joy to your Father in heaven!

The image of a tender Father who longs for us to speak with him is essential for us as we pray. As we pray, we can visualize that we are praying to a loving and tender Father who has given us everything to know that we are his children.

God is our Abba, so we can speak with God and share what is on our hearts as we pray to our God, who is our tender, loving, and welcoming Father.

Jesus addressed God as "Abba Father" (Mark 14:36) — the word "Abba" was a young child's word for Father — like "papa" or "dada" in English, today (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7). The use of "Abba" suggests a relationship that is tender, dependent, respectful, and familiar. That is how Jesus prayed and taught us to pray — "Our Father," our "Abba"! God is our tender Father waiting to hear from his beloved children!

Special Note:
During the time of social distancing with COVID, one week's worship was focused on the meaning of the word "Abba" when we pray. The next week worship focused on the intercession of the Holy Spirit when we pray. This post was a complementary message to both of these important virtual worship opportunities, but is also a stand alone message.

Now, let's focus on some specific teaching that Jesus gave us about how to pray and his beautifully simple model for prayer (Matthew 6:5-15).

Jesus emphasized that genuine prayer is not about using the right words or religious phrases to be heard. Pious-sounding language does not make our prayers more powerful. Instead, prayer is about coming humbly as children, with open and honest hearts, knowing God will hear us because he is our "Abba," our loving Father who already knows what we most need (Matthew 6:5-8).

The Lord demonstrated the kind of prayer God wants from us. His model prayer demonstrates several principles for us to follow when we pray (Matthew 6:9):

  • We approach Almighty God as our Father — "Our Father in heaven..."
  • We recognize God's holiness and majesty — "...hallowed be your name."
  • We long for God to reign in our world and our hearts, so we offer ourselves to him and his work in our world — "Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
  • We recognize our dependence upon God for our most basic needs — "Give us this day our daily bread..."

  • We recognize our dependence upon God for our spiritual needs, especially our need for forgiveness — "...and forgive us our debts..."
  • We recognize our need to forgive others as we have been forgiven by God — " we also have forgiven our debtors.
  • We recognize our dependence upon God for our spiritual protection — "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).

As we search the Bible for teaching on prayer, we find some additional insights on prayer. Paul repeatedly reminded early followers of Jesus that they always needed to be thankful when they prayed (Colossians 4:2; Philippians 4:6-7). Too often, I fear, many of our modern prayers are more a "go do" list for God that we want him to provide for us or do for us. God is not the magic religious genie that we ask to serve us. Our prayers must always be full of praise and thanksgiving because God is worthy of our praise.

The early disciples of Jesus emphasized the importance of prayer and the mission Jesus left them to accomplish, reach the world with the good news of salvation (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). When authorities threatened early disciples with persecution, they prayed for boldness to speak the message of Jesus (Acts 4:23-31). Paul also often asked other believers to pray for his mission our reach and his courage to proclaim the message of Christ (Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:2-4).

The Scriptures also challenge us to be genuine and honest with God in prayer. We should bring to him whatever is in our hearts and speak honestly about where we are in our lives. We have the Bible collection of one-hundred-fifty prayers and songs — we know as the Psalms — to help us have the words to use in our prayer times. The Psalms give us language to speak to God about the challenges and complexities of our lives.

The Bible's collection of psalms enables us to speak freely and frankly about where we are in our lives and do so with deep, honest, and emotional language. I encourage you to read the Psalms to see prayer in action. Find a psalm or a verse or two in a psalm that speaks to you. Look for words and phrases that convey your emotions honestly to God. Write those words down in a prayer journal to use in your prayer times.

Anyone who has given her or his life to Christ received the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). The Spirit gave us new birth into God's family (John 3:3-7; Titus 3:3-7). Because of the Spirit's intercession when we pray, we can be confident that our prayers acceptable to God (Romans 8:26-27).

So, once again, I encourage you to imagine that you are praying to a loving and tender Father who has given everything so you could be his child. Share what is on your heart with him. Why? Because God is your waiting "Abba" Father, longing to hear from you in prayer!

One Final Practical Strategy:

At different times in my life, I have used the following plan to focus my prayers on a specific area of my life. This strategy helps me find a better balance in my prayer life. This plan is simple and easy to remember. I have a specific focus for my prayers each day of the week.

Sunday — Salvation:
Pray for those who need to come to Jesus and those who are trying to lead them to Jesus.

Monday — Missionaries and Ministers:
Those who are in leadership in our groups — don't think of clergy, but anyone who leads a ministry or is involved in missions, church planting, elder-care, poverty relief, foster care, and para-church organizations.

Tuesday — Troubled:
Those facing difficulties like illnesses, mental and emotional problems, those who are persecuted and oppressed, those who have been wounded by life, or who are sick and bereaved.

Wednesday — Witness:
Pray for your own life to be a witness to those God has placed in your circle of influence and pray for each of these people.

Thursday — Thanksgiving:
Do not ask for anything this day but spend time in the Psalms finding words of thanksgiving and praise for God and offer them to God with your own words of thanksgiving and praise.

Friday — Friends & Family:
This is pretty self-explanatory, but anything your friends and family needs or anything that brings you joy and thanksgiving.

The image of a tender Father who longs for us to speak with him is essential for us as we pray.
Saturday — Self:
Pray for your own walk with God and whatever needs you may have, especially for your need for spiritual renewal and rest.

The way to become more comfortable with prayer is to pray. Pray regularly. Have discipline times of prayer as well as being spontaneous with your prayers. I am hopeful that prayer can become the conversation lifeline between your heart and your Father in heaven!

Here are some additional resources on prayer to help you pray.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray Series: