Prayer is how we communicate with God and therefore the most essential exercise in the Christian Faith. Without it, our relationship with God will certainly fail. But while many of us realize this, we often wonder why our prayers seem to produce such poor results. And because of this, we tend to dread the act of praying and do very little of it. The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way. Prayer can actually be immensely satisfying and produce dynamic results—when done properly! So what's the proper way to pray and are there certain guidelines we can follow to optimize our prayer life? To best answer this question, let's explore the following guidelines that represent proper prayer.
1. Repentant Prayer
According to the Bible, God is holy and therefore He cannot tolerate sin. As a result, only repentant individuals may enter before Him in prayer. It is important to bear this in mind before commencing our prayers. Confessing our sin and forsaking it constitutes repentance (Prov. 28:13). Making light of sin is a serious mistake that will keep us separated from God. Because sin is such a serious detriment to our spiritual success, we will never be effective in prayer if we try to bypass this step. So it's best to be aware of what sins are obstructing our communication with God and to deal with them right away. Christ's death on the cross and God's grace empower us to overcome sin. All we must do is simply believe this and act upon it in faith.
Reference scriptures: Luk. 3:8; 2Co. 7:10; 1Jn. 1:9; 1Pet. 1:15-16
2. Focused Prayer
The most ineffective prayer is that which has no aim or focus. Focused prayer will accomplish far more than casual prayer. Therefore it's best to think of the most pressing need in your life and to focus your prayer on that need until you've gained a sense of peace and the assurance of answered prayer.
Reference scriptures: 2 Co. 10:4; 1 Co. 14:40
3. Itemized Prayer
No Christian should be without a prayer list. There are many important things to pray for such as our family members, friends, and coworkers. Then there are life's typical cares like our finances and relationships. Our lives are full of concerns and the best way to tackle them is by creating an itemized prayer list and then praying through it regularly. But our prayer points should be written up in such a way that we prioritize the things that are truly priorities, followed by the less important matters that God has already promised to look after. It is interesting that when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He was essentially drafting a blueprint for prayer. The Lord's Prayer is a good guideline to follow when creating our own prayer list:
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen (Mat 6:9 -13).
Notice the Lord's Prayer starts out by venerating God’s name. From this we learn that praising God is an essential way to start prayer. Next are the usual requests for provision and so on. After that Christ's prayer teaches us to acknowledge our wrongdoings and request God's forgiveness. So this is the way we should endeavour to structure our own prayers.
Reference scriptures: Mat. 6:9 -13; Mat. 6:33; 1 Co. 14:40
4. Regular Prayer
The Bible instructs us to pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17 ). This means that we should continually speak to God in our thoughts and throughout our usual activities. But while we should constantly communicate with God, it's important to also set aside special time intervals for regular prayer. These prayer breaks should separate us from our usual activity to focus exclusively on prayer. Of course, there's no rigid or scheduled way to do this because it's up to the Holy Spirit to indicate exactly when we should break for prayer and how often. The main point to remember is that if we fill our day with prayer, the easier and more satisfying it becomes.
Regular prayer can also be enjoyed with family members or friends. Families and individuals who establish prayer altars (places consecrated to regular prayer) will greatly advance their spiritual lives and God’s Kingdom. Christians committed to regular prayer will eagerly testify that such prayer is both physically and spiritually rewarding. Jesus promised to supply all of our physical needs if we seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Mat. 6:33). Most importantly, the more we spend time in prayer the more we will experience God's supernatural presence and our spirits will be edified and refreshed as a result.
Reference scriptures: 1 Th. 5:17; Psa. 55:17
5. Early Morning Prayer
The Bible indicates that God is especially pleased with those who seek Him early in the morning. In fact, early morning prayer is so important that God promises to meet with those who rise early to seek Him:
I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me (Prov. 8:17).
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up (Psalm 5:3).
O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee... (Psalm 63:1).
I arose before the dawning of the morning and cried... (Psalm 119:147).
I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offense, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early (Hos. 5:15).
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed (Mark 1:35).
6. Anointed Prayer
To be effective, prayer requires the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures reveal that a Believer doesn’t always know how to pray according to God's divine will. So the Spirit takes over the Believer by imparting spiritual unction and a particular burden which guides our prayer. We are also told that the Spirit uses us to make intercession with “groaning that cannot be uttered”. If you have felt the effects of travail in your prayer life than no doubt you understand the anguish that comes from the groaning heart of God, expressed by His Spirit dwelling in us. For this reason, we are encouraged to pray in the Spirit often. And rather than being intoxicated with wine, we should endeavor to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit (Ep. 5:18). Indeed, no intoxication is equal to the wonderful presence of the Holy Spirit.
NOTE: To learn more about the anointing of the Holy Spirit so you can experience it in prayer, please refer to my article, “Born Again & the Baptism in the Holy Spirit”.
Reference scriptures: Rom. 8:26-27; Eph. 5:18; 6:18; Jud. 1:20
7. Persistent Prayer
Christians must be willing to exercise persistence in prayer. Persistent prayer is how God gauges our resolve to persevere and exercise faith in His promises: And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not (Gal. 6:9). As long as we are faithfully maintaining our prayer life, God has promised to care for the rest. But if our prayers are not answered, it may not be God's will to do so or He desires us to wait upon His perfect timing.
Persistent prayer does not mean we should plead with God repetitiously for material things. Instead, we should exercise persistence in praying for the spiritual things that pertain to God's will and eternal life. Also, persistence is especially important when praying to be filled with God's Spirit just as Christ instructed. Sadly, many Christians fall short of the very best God has to offer because they give up too soon.
Reference scriptures: Mat. 6:7-8; Luk. 11:5-13; 18:1-7
8. Group Prayer
Hardly will I forget the story told me by a fellow Christian who spent some time serving as a missionary in Central America. While stationed with a local Body of Believers, he learned a vital practice that he never forgot. He learned about the power of group prayer. The Church had a habit of meeting throughout the week on a regular basis in order to intercede for a specific individual for which they were burdened. Together, they plead with God until they felt assurance that their petitions were answered. Sure enough, the next time they met for prayer, the same individual they had prayed for the previous week had already gotten converted and was present to join them in prayer for the next individual. And on like that their prayers continued. This story vividly illustrates the special power derived from group prayer. It demonstrates the fact that God honors the unified efforts of His people and their corporate prayer petition. The Bible promises that special power is released from heaven whenever two or more individuals agree together in prayer (Mat. 18:19-20). Together we have the power to storm the gates of hell and greatly damage satan's kingdom.
Reference scriptures: Mat 18:19-20
9. Reverent Prayer
All too often, Christians ignore their physical posture in prayer. Many of us have grown accustomed to praying in a comfortable or casual manner. But is this really proper and does God care about whether or not we use a reverent posture while praying? I've personally learned the importance of kneeling for prayer by observing the example of persecuted Christians. And persecuted Believers have learned the importance of reverence in prayer from close fellowship with God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As a result, reverent prayer is essential to them and they refuse to be casual when seeking an audience with Almighty God. From this, I discovered that sometimes a reverent posture goes a long way in our desire to please God. By reading God's Word, we find numerous examples of God's people choosing to kneel in prayer. In fact, this seems to be the only posture they took when communicating with God. Just notice these Scriptures:
And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed (Luk. 22:41).
But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up (Act 9:40).
And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all (Act 20:36).
And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed (Act 21:5).
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 3:14).
NOTE: I offer this advice carefully realizing that we must not become too rigid and severe with our bodies on account of prayer. We should not kneel when our physical condition is one that doesn’t permit us to take this posture without inflicting much pain or damage to our bodies. While God requires reverence, He is not demanding our pain or discomfort. Nevertheless, we should never miss an opportunity to pray in a reverent posture when the act does not hamper our physical well being.
May the Lord bless you as you ponder these points.