How to Pray (Getting Practical...)

Yesterday I said you’ll know how to pray when you know God. And that was true. But also not true. Because I know plenty of God-knowing people who still need some help getting started.

Today we’re going totally practical. I’m talking bullet points and examples, alliteration and almost no flowery language. I promise.

So, how do you pray?

When I first got serious about prayer, I looked to The Lord’s Prayer. It’s simply the most obvious first step. Jesus says, “This then is how you should pray.” And if Jesus takes the time to tell us how to pray, I think His game plan is worth a look.

Here’s what He prays:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

There are several ways to use this prayer as a springboard for your own conversations with God, but I don’t want to miss the obvious encouragement from Jesus here to pray this exact prayer. If you’re having a hard time remembering to pray or figuring out what to say, my first piece of advice is to pray this prayer. Exactly as it is. Three times a day.

Think about the words as you pray. Be certain you know exactly what you’re asking for. We’re not talking vain repetition here.

When you pray The Lord’s Prayer you know every word out of your mouth is God-written and God-encouraged. You can have confidence that your prayer is working good things in you and in the world around you.

Supposing you’d like to say more in prayer, as most of us do and all of us should eventually, I’d suggest using The Lord’s Prayer as a skeleton. 

I do this in two ways:

  1.  I break it down into its parts and pray the parts.
  2.  I pray it word for word and elaborate as I go. 

Here’s what that looks like specifically:

1. Praying the Parts

If we want to go all preacher on this prayer, we can identify the main components and label them with helpful words. I’ve seen several variations on this, but I think this one is straightforward enough (and very preacher-y with all the Ps):

Praise (Tell God how great He is)

Purpose (Ask that God’s purpose would be ours and that it would be accomplished)

Provision (Ask for what you need)

Pardon (Seek forgiveness through confession—and be reminded of the forgiveness you need to offer)

Protection (Ask God to protect you from the forces of evil and deliver you when you’re overwhelmed)

Write these five words on an index card and pray through them, adding specific details as you go, using your own words.

2. Between the Lines

Perhaps it’s just easier to memorize The Lord’s Prayer and add to it as you go. This is my most common model for prayer.

I begin “Our Father Who is in Heaven, High and Holy be your name” and then I’ll add on more praise. Maybe I’ll say, “You made the sky and the sea and my beautiful children.” Or “You are truth and love, perfection.”

Then I’ll go back to the prayer “Your kingdom come, your will be done” and I’ll add in all the places I want to see the kingdom of God reign. I say “Your will be done in my marriage. In my church. At my kid’s school.” I say “Your kingdom come into the hearts of my family members who don’t yet know you.” Usually I spend a lot of time here, asking God to change my world into the world He wants.

Next, I ask for daily bread, enough money, food, joy, peace… to get through today. Just today. Usually I find this part of the prayer wandering into thanksgiving. Because every day I have bread, and that is a gift and a stewardship. 

Then I ask, “Forgive us our debts” and I confess my faults, my offenses, and my failures as specifically as I have time for. When I say, “As we also have forgiven out debtors” I find the words easier to pray on the heels of my laundry list, my confession of a once-soiled, now washed self.

I pray “Lead us not into temptation” and I list my own temptations, areas in which I feel weak. I pray God would help me avoid them and that He would offer extra protection against them. But I also pray for my friends and loved ones. I pray God would lead my kids not into temptation on the playground at school when another child is being bullied. I pray God would lead my husband not into temptation when he feels frustrated or overwhelmed. I pray protection over the young people at my church and over my parents and over my elders.

Finally, I end with “deliver us from the evil one” and I name friends who’ve fallen to his schemes, organizations and world powers in his clutches. I ask that we would all find freedom from the wages of sin and from sin itself. 

And that’s it. :)

Praying this way leads you into deep and meaningful conversation with God. You talk about things that matter—to you and to Him.

Try it and you’ll be hooked.