How to Pray!

I have a shameful confession to make. Until a few years ago, I was awful at prayer. Pastors aren’t supposed to say things like this, but in my case, it’s true.

Prayer is vital, and I needed to do it, but I had a rough time with it. Things didn’t go so bad when I was praying with others or when I was in a prayer meeting at church. But things collapsed whenever I was interceding at home.

I recall some acquaintances saying they woke at 5:00 in the morning and prayed before work. One guy said, “It’s like clockwork for me, I drop to my knees every morning before the crack of dawn.” I admired his vigor, but I had a hard time with that.

Another friend carried a mangled Moleskine notebook, scribbling prayer requests. He’s the type of person who believes prayer is a discipline. For him, if something isn’t difficult, you aren’t doing it right. When I was around him, I felt like a failure. Although I bought my own prayer journal, I left most of the pages blank.

A gal that I went to college with informed me she wrote scriptures on colorful sticky notes and placed them in various parts of her apartment. Whenever she saw the verses, she’d break out into prayer. My handwriting was so bad that I couldn’t read any of the sticky notes I put up. Not long afterward, the ceiling fan blew most of them on the floor. This strategy didn’t work out so well either. 

It didn’t seem like I was ever going to find a way to pray. I felt stuck.

Don’t misunderstand me, I loved God and wanted to know him. I did try to intercede, but my efforts were hit-or-miss. If an emergency arose or I was overwhelmed with shame, it wasn’t hard to drop to my knees. Yet, when things were good, I struggled. 

Only Anguish and Travail?

My problem wasn’t because of my techniques. I was struggling because of my heart. I was blind to God’s goodness and grace. I thought effective prayer was rooted in anguish and travail. I couldn’t go to a deeper place without a disaster.

Anxieties arose. I viewed God as an angry judge, disgusted, and reluctant to speak. I imagined only a handful of people were positioned to talk to the Lord—the set-apart and the holy—but that wasn’t me.

Prayer was difficult and unpleasant for me. Every time I opened my mouth, it reminded me of my failures and inability to perform. Intercession always shifted into self-analysis.

When I tried to pray, my words centered on my need for forgiveness, healing, or financial provision. I knew there were other aspects of intercession, but I didn’t deviate from this pattern. Prayer revolved around addressing my sins and personal needs, and little else. 

My posture before God often took on a “transactional” tone. I was trying to get cleansed or receive stuff.  I’d utter a few words, hoping to receive a good outcome—I say this and then you do this. I knew that this was shortsighted, but it remained my default mode. One reason I struggled with prayer was my unwillingness to break out of the box.

I’ve learned, over the years, that I’m not the only mistaken one. Other believers told me about their struggles too. So, in the following, I’d like to share ideas about prayer that I discovered. I hope that it will help you find freedom and joy as you seek God.

What Is Prayer?

Many Americans define prayer as a request to God. They see it as an act of contrition and humility before the throne room. All of this is true, but these principles are incomplete in isolation. We’re only seeing part of the picture when prayer is a mere “petition,” or “confession.” 

Prayers could be supplication or tokens of humility, but they encompass other things as well. There’s more in it than appraisals of sin or begging for necessities. A brief survey of biblical passages shows that expressions of prayer are varied and multidimensional.

Intercession is not just people pleading with God. It’s also believers learning to listen and decree what he says. Throughout the Bible, disciples pray in many ways. Along with petitions, they bless, command, decree, and enact. There’s more going on than just utterances.

Considering examples from the Bible, it’s hard to tell whether early believers were praying, prophesying, praising, or preaching. One form of expression often overlapped with another. The lines of demarcation weren’t always clear.

In scripture, the disciple’s prayers were often addressed to God, but occasionally they weren’t. Sometimes their inspired utterances were directed against afflictions (Acts 3:6-8; 9:33-35; 14:10) or violent forces of darkness (Acts 16:16-18). 

Within certain instances, the aim of prayer is for counteracting sickness or demons. In other words, the decrees might be directed somewhere other than God.

While intercession depends on communicating with and relating to God, it doesn’t mean that we always direct our prayers toward him. Believers might pray with him, not to him. When this disruptive precept first occurred to me, it blew my mind.

We need to broaden our understanding of prayer.

Types of Prayer

Let’s talk about some different types of prayer in the Bible. There are around six hundred and fifty prayers referenced, and clearly, not all of them are the same. One might find:

  • Prayers of Adoration and Praise (Psalm 99:1-5; Luke 2:14; Revelation 4:8).
  • Prayers of Confession (Daniel 9:5; Isaiah 6:1-5; Nehemiah 1:5-11; Luke 18:13; 1John 1:9).
  • Prayers of Thanksgiving (Isaiah 25:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 5:20).
  • Prayers of Petition (1 Kings 8:35-40; Philippians 4:6; Mathew 6:33; James 1:5-8).
  • Prayers of Intercession (Genesis 18:23-33; Exodus 32:11; 1 Samuel 12:23; James 5:16).

There are some other forms of prayer that deserve consideration as well. Sometimes a few of these are left off the study lists.

  • Prayers of Faith (Mark 11:24; James 1:6; 5:15).
  • Prayers of Agreement (Matthew 18:19).
  • Prayers of Consecration (Luke 22:41-42).
  • Prayers of Binding and Loosing (Matthew 18:18-19).

Admittedly, this is not exhaustive. There are several prayer models I’m bypassing. But I hope that you can see, through these examples, that prayer is richer and more varied. 

When I first paid attention to the different models of prayer, I recognized that my worldview was too narrow. There’s much more at stake than my sins, health, or financial well-being. I was being guided into a more dynamic understanding of spiritual engagement.

Prayer is an Expression of Covenant

Amid my exploration of intercession, I realized my problem wasn’t really with forms or expressions. Yes, I was coming at it wrong, but the underlying issue was something inside of me.

Like many modern believers, I missed the relational and family components of prayer. Religion taught me structure and form, but it didn’t take me into the deeper realities of faith.

I realized that prayer, at its core, is fellowship between God and man as an expression of the covenant. When I shared this with a friend, she said, “What do you mean prayer is an expression of the covenant? I don’t understand?”

I told her covenant is creating a sense of family where there are no blood ties or kinship like God did with Abraham. It’s a sacred bond, based on shared identity and responsibility. A key part of existing in a family unit is communication and face-to-face engagement. Covenant opens the door to intimate interchange.

I told my friend that when the New Testament talks about covenant, it’s fixated on the revelation of the Heavenly Father. He’s not merely restoring family but bringing us back into “sonship.” Men and women are being summoned to fellowship and engagement with the one who first loved us.

In earlier eras, people didn’t refer to God as “Father” in their prayers. Throughout the Old Testament, there are only fifteen allusions to the Lord in this role. But the Fatherhood of God became pivotal in the New Testament teachings of Jesus.

When the Messiah stood before God, as he walked the earth, he declared:

“Abba! Father! All things are possible for You” (Mark 14:36a).

Throughout the gospels, Jesus addressed God, in prayer, as “Father”—with the single exception for the “cry of dereliction” on the cross (Matthew 27:46).

With Jesus’ usage of the word “Abba,” he introduced an invigorating way of addressing God. He spoke intimately, as a child speaks to their “daddy.” This gracious term showed Jesus’ heartfelt relationship with God.

Before returning to his heavenly glory, Jesus directed His disciples to pray similarly. He declared:

“Pray like this: Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9).

With this use of heartfelt language, Jesus was inviting his friends to share in the same relational engagement with God that he was experiencing.

What Jesus was declaring about prayer was revolutionary. He took intercession outside of the judicial realm and repositioned it with the realm of family. This action forever transformed the meaning of prayer.

With little surprise, the early disciples embraced the same teaching. Even the Apostle Paul, who was known for fierce rhetoric, presented prayer this way. He said:

“Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba!  Father’” (Galatians 4:6).

Prayer, at the deepest and most primal level, is learning to cry “Abba Father!” Dynamic, heart-felt interchanges are the foremost expression of the covenant. 

In most situations, people only commune with those they know and love. Why would anyone talk at length with someone they don’t share life with? Communication is the lifeblood of relationships. Prayer is the cries of affection between a father and his children—a connection point that rests at the heart of everything.


As I previously mentioned, I struggled with prayer for a long time. I didn’t know how to talk to God because I didn’t know him intimately. Every religious act that I made was “positional.” I approached the Heavenly Father as he was a vindictive judge.

During this period, I spent much of my time exploring the “internal terrains of my heart.” Disliking what I discovered; I was reluctant to stand before the Lord. Rather than experiencing his goodness, my own failings paralyzed me.

Fortunately, I moved beyond a harsh religion that constricted me and learned about the true nature of the Heavenly Father. I saw that God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is restoring people back into the family. Men and women, originally designed to be image-bearers (Genesis 1:26-28), are becoming this once more. The redeemed ones are becoming more and more like our dad.

At the heart of this ongoing restoration of creation is prayer. As sons and daughters of the Most-High God, we speak, and we share. We love and the Heavenly Father loves us.

I want to encourage you to approach prayer differently. Move away from moralism and performance. Understand that it’s about more than navigating forgiveness and personal requests.

Prayer is covenant and communion; a beautiful way of listening, speaking and reflecting the inexplicable wonder of our gracious Heavenly Father.   

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