What Is Prayer? (plus 9 powerful tips on how to pray effectively)

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What is prayer? Have you ever thought about that? Like really thought about it. Or have you ever wondered how to pray to God more effectively? 

On the surface those might seem like simple questions. Prayer is a common practice in most cultures. But when you actually sit down and try to nail down what exactly is prayer it can be difficult to land on concrete answers. When we think about how to pray effectively we are often just left with cliche answers that don’t amount to much. 

So that’s what I want to do in the post. I want to look at what is prayer in terms that we can all understand. Then we will look at how to pray in practical ways that will help grow your faith. 

Let’s start by looking at what is prayer, really. And then we will look at how to pray effectively. 

You might also like: 7 Lessons We Can Learn From The Lord’s Prayer

What Is Prayer… Really.

Before we dive into what is prayer I want to add a caveat. 

There’s a corporate element of prayer that is important and talked about at length in the Bible. We can and should pray for and with others. However in this post I am focusing more on the personal aspect of prayer. That is how to pray to connect with God. That’s not saying it’s more important, I just only have so much space and want to remain focused. 

So, with that in mind let’s look at what prayer is. We will look at 4 of the primary attributes of prayer. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it cover the basics of what is prayer. And then we will look at how to pray. 

Prayer Is A Conversation

We often try to overcomplicate prayer. We often see it as formal and formulaic. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Prayer is simply an opportunity to connect with God. It’s a conversation. 

That’s what Jesus is getting at in Matthew 6:7-8. You don’t need to babble, say the right words, or drone on until God caves and gives you want you want. 

You don’t need to overthink it, say the right words, or posture yourself just right. Just talk with God. Talk with him as you would a close friend. 

A helpful practice is to picture him in the chair beside you as you pray. Prayer is sharing a cup of coffee and a good conversation with a friend. That image can help you remind yourself that you are engaging in a conversation. No need to overthink it or search for words. Just be yourself. 

What is prayer? Prayer is a conversation with a God that loves us. 

Prayer Meets Our Needs

Prayer is about getting what we need from God. We should present our needs to God (Philippians 4:6). Whether it be a physical need, a need of wisdom, strength, patience, or even a longing in our life we should present them to God. He’s a good God that provides for the needs of his children. 

Now, God is not Santa. Prayer isn’t a time to get anything we want. Sometimes what we think we need is not what we actually need. And sometimes God, in his graciousness, doesn’t give us what we ask because he can see the bigger picture. Which we will cover more in the next point. 

But prayer is a time for us to present our needs to God. He’s a good father that wants to care for and bless his children. He cares about you and what you are going through. So tell him what you need. 

What is prayer? Prayer is an opportunity to present our requests to God. 

Prayer Transforms Us

We don’t pray to change God’s mind. We pray so that God can change our hearts. 

Prayer is about the transformation of OUR heart. Prayer is not about twisting God’s arm into doing what we want him to do. Rather, prayer is about aligning our heart with his. 

That’s important because many of us (myself included) often approach prayer as a time to get God to do our bidding. But we should approach prayer to turn our will towards his. Prayer is about our own transformation. 

If you were to read the prayers of David in the Psalms you would see that he often ends his prayers with something like, you’re a good God so do your will.  Jesus even echos this is Matthew 26:39 as he presents his requests to God but ends with not my will, but yours be done. That simple sentence is a reminder of the purpose of prayer.

That’s a good practice of us today. It reminds us that God is the one transforming our hearts.

What is prayer? It’s the transformation of our hearts to His. 

Prayer Is Worship

To worship simply means to give something worth in your life. That’s exactly what prayer is, it’s giving worth to God with our words. Prayer is worship. 

Here’s a few practices I like that will help you see prayer as worship. 

A simple practice to view prayer as worship is to just list the things you are thankful for. Take a few minutes a day and just tell God what you are thankful for that day. Maybe a good cup of coffee, conversation with a friend, laughter of your child, car to drive, anything… Doing this will help you see all that God has done and is doing for you. All the little ways he blesses you. It’s a way we can worship God for his provision big and small. 

Another way to worship God during our prayer time is to reflect on his goodness and glory. I find this easiest to do when I am praying in nature. Pausing and reflecting on the complexity and the beauty that exists all around us can help us see how incredibly majestic God is. 

What is prayer? Prayer is a time for us to reflect on God’s goodness and glory, to worship him.

How To Pray Effectively (9 Simply Tips)

Now that we’ve looked at what is prayer it’s time to shift gears. Now I want to look at how to pray to God effectively. 

As with the previous section, below isn’t an exhaustive list or the only way you should pray. But these 9 tips can help you connect with God effectively. 

Be Honest

One of the things I love about the Bible is how honest it is. It doesn’t hide the wide array of human emotions that we experience. Just look at how David records his prayers in the Psalms. He prays exactly what is on his heart. He holds no punches. He tells God exactly how he’s feeling.

God doesn’t want our well thought out prayers, he wants our hearts. Even the messy, dirty, screwed up parts. 

Learning how to pray starts with honesty. You cannot heal from what you won’t acknowledge. So tell God what’s on your heart. Be honest. Show God the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

Pray Simply

You don’t need to use fancy words or try to say all the right things. Just talk. God isn’t some magic genie that is going to get angry if you don’t say the right things. He doesn’t want a perfect scripted prayer, he wants your heart.

When you pray just talk as you would to a close friend. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in Matthew 6:5-6, pray to connect with God, not to try and impress anyone. God doesn’t want your fancy words, he just wants to connect with you. How to pray effectively means that we pray simply. 

Be Vulnerable 

This goes along with the first point, but vulnerability takes it a step further. We are broken people. All of us. Often we choose to hide in our brokenness. We hide it from others, ourselves, and even God. But we should be vulnerable in our prayers. 

God knows you. He knows what you’ve done. He knows about that thought you had. He knows everything about you. And he still choose to go to the cross for you. He knows your mistakes and still wants you. 

It’s okay to show your brokenness to God. You should bring your sin to God. You should pray about your struggles and pain in your life. In fact, being vulnerable is the only way to find healing. When we hide our mistakes it feasts and continues to destroy us. But when we are vulnerable with God we can actually find healing. 

Learning how to pray effectively means being vulnerable with God. 

Be Active

We often have this picture of prayer as sitting still with our eyes closed in a quiet room. And that is a great place to pray, but it’s not the only place. Sometimes being active while you pray will help you focus better. 

Be active while you pray. Go for a walk. Sit in nature. Find a spot in the park. Open your eyes and thank God for what you see. Get active and be creative. For some being active as they pray is the only way they can fully engage. 

Pray For Yourself AND Others

It’s not selfish to pray for our own needs. Jesus teaches us to do so in the Lord’s Prayer. But our prayers should not only be about us. 

For more about what the Lord’s prayer means check out: 7 Lessons We Can Learn From The Lord’s Prayer

It’s easy to get trapped into only praying for our needs. But we should fight against that tendency and spend time praying for others. 

An easy way to help remember to pray for others is to write the name of 5 people down and place it somewhere you will see it everyday. Use that visual as a reminder to say a prayer for each person. You can also do it digitally on your phone and set a reminder to go off at a certain time. 

Whatever you do, spend time praying for those in your life. Learning how to pray effectively means spending time praying for others. 

Pray For God’s Will 

When we pray we need to remember what prayer is, it’s about our own transformation. Prayer isn’t bending God to our will, it’s transforming our heart to his. It’s so easy to approach prayer as trying to twist God’s arm into doing what we want. 

That’s not to say we shouldn’t ask for what we think we need or even what we want. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsememe asked God for another way besides the cross. He knew there was no other way. But he asked anyway. Why? Because that’s what was on his heart, he was being vulnerable. But he ended his prayer with “yet not my will, but yours be done.

That’s a good way to follow up a request we make to God. It reminds us that prayer is not getting what we think is best, rather it’s bending our will to God’s will. How to pray effectively means we pray in God’s will.

Pray Consistently 

Learning how to pray effectively means that we actually have to pray. And not just once, but regularly. 

If you aren’t in the habitat of praying start small. Aim for 5 minutes a day or something easily achievable. If you miss it, don’t sweat it, just strive for it the next day. Build the habit into your daily life. It won’t happen over night, but it will happen over time with the right discipline. 

So, pray consistently. Keep growing your prayer life whether you have never prayed or always pray. Keep going. 

Record Your Prayers

I think this is a good practice to end on. Record your prayers. I have found a great benefit in writing some of my prayers out. First it makes me more intentional about my prayers. But also it stands as an account of what I’ve prayed for. I can go back and see how God has answered my prayers for things years ago. Which can be a great faith builder. 

You don’t have to record all your prayers. I maybe record 1-2 a week. But I’ve been doing that for years so I have 100’s of prayers that I can look back on. It can be a great encouragement to see how God has provided for me. 

Learning how to pray effectively means recording your prayers so you can see how God has answered them and changed you. Grab a journal (like this one) or create a new note section in your phone and write out some prayers. 

Closing Thoughts On How To Pray

Let me end with a quote from an article on The Gospel Coalition by David Platt: “Jesus promises that there is a reward awaiting you in time spent alone with the Father in heaven. Here’s the map: set aside a time, go to a specific place, and just be alone with God. In his teaching about prayer, Jesus was saying, The Father has so much for you! If you want to experience all he has for you, then this is how you pray.”

You might also like: Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers?

Let’s hear from you! How would you answer the question, what is prayer? What would you say to someone wanting to know how to pray? 

Don’t forget to leave a comment! Which of these 9 tips on how to pray were most helpful? What is prayer to you?

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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