Prayer is an essential part of the Christian life, but answering the question of “how do I talk to God” seems one that even many believers struggle to understand. Growing up in the church, I always knew the importance of prayer, but actually doing it still seemed a mystery.
For many years, I wondered if I was doing it the “right” way, like somehow I had missed the class in church where we learned how. I felt frustrated when the words seemed rote, my mind wandered, or, even worse, I fell asleep!
And that was just the private prayers. Add praying out loud, and it’s an entirely different ballgame! I mean that’s next level, right? Something reserved for the super-spiritual. Even as I grew more confident in my faith and developed in my understanding of prayer, the act of praying publicly remained far outside my comfort zone. Had I not found myself in positions where it was “necessary,” I can assure you it’s not something I would have signed myself up to do.
While praying aloud no longer causes the same level of panic, there are times when I still feel inadequate—lacking—in my ability to string together the beautifully spoken spiritual phrases I hear from others. And I know I’m not alone in this. Many (both women and men) who have spent their lives in the church still grapple with insecurities regarding prayer. Of course, therein lies the issue.
Because prayer is about presence, communion with our Heavenly Father, not performance (see Matthew 6:5–8). However, somewhere along the way, we’ve wrongly decided there is a “right” way to do it and assumed knowing how to pray involves more than just simple words spoken with a sincere heart.
I mean why do we do this? Why do we think the prayers with flowery language or those that use all the Christian lingo are somehow better than the ones simply spoken? Do you ever listen to someone pray in a group and then scoff at how they did it?
No, you don’t…at least I hope that’s your answer!
How do we communicate with God?
But of course, this isn’t a new question. It was one the disciples asked of Jesus—“Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1 ESV), and where we find the Lord’s Prayer given in response (Luke 11: 2–4; Matthew 6: 9–13).
The truth is prayer is not intended to be a mystery. God desires a relationship with each of us, and our commitment to prayer is a crucial component to building that intimacy.
“You will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”Jeremiah 29:12
So Jesus offers us the Lord’s Prayer not simply as words for rote repetition but as a pattern for understanding how to talk to God.
But are you still wondering what that all means? Are you still struggling with the question, “How do I talk to God?”
At its most basic layer, prayer is about conversation, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of interaction. The Lord’s Prayer is considered the model prayer because it provides believers with a pattern in which to pray, but within it, you find different types of prayers.
Starting your day this way, using the Lord’s Prayer as your guide, perfectly complements longer periods of uninterrupted time with God. Using acrostics is another tool people use to help them order their prayers, and they, too, can be an effective tool to help if you feel unsure about where to start.
Below are a few common examples:
If you’re interested in printing one or all of the above, here’s a link to download the image(s).
As the NIV Life Application Study Bible notes, “We should praise God, pray for his work in the world, pray for our daily needs, and pray for help in our daily struggles.”
But here’s the deal, don’t get so caught up in making sure you’re following some exact formula that you get frustrated and quit.
Is it okay just to talk to God?
Without hesitation, my answer is an unequivocal, “Yes!” It is 100% okay simply to talk to God. Whether you are praying privately or in a group, just speak to God naturally, honestly and sincerely. And while I know that praying aloud can feel scary, I would encourage you to push yourself and just do it. It’s one small step of courage, and who knows the family or friend you might be encouraging with your words.
But here’s something else to remember, not every prayer has to be long and complicated. The patterns and prayer acrostics are excellent tools to begin your day, but in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we’re reminded to “pray without ceasing.” And the best way to do that is to keep your conversation with God flowing throughout the day.
Let’s get practical: What does talking to God look like?
Well, it’s simple, uncomplicated petitions and prayers of thanks. Use words and phrases that are natural to you. Here are a few examples:
Lunch or dinner with friends:
Do I pray through every element of the Lord’s Prayer? No. Often, it’s a simple prayer of thanks for the meal that’s provided, the gift of friendship, and the blessing of spending time together.
Heading into a meeting or preparing for a call:
Ask God to direct your thoughts and guide your words. Pray for wisdom and discernment to make decisions that honor him.
When a friend or situation unexpectedly pops into your head:
Consider that a God-wink, and in that moment, just offer up a simple prayer for that person. That might mean asking God to meet that person in their need. It’s also an opportunity to send someone a text to check in and let them know you were thinking of them.
When you find yourself growing anxious:
Whatever the situation, when worry is overwhelming you, and your mind keeps replaying all “possible outcomes,” turn those worries and concerns over to God in prayer. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6)
Moments of good news and celebration:
Give thanks! All good things come from God, and it’s important to thank and acknowledge him for the blessings—both big and small— you enjoy.
Feelings of peace in the midst of a difficult situation:
Another reason to thank God! As Philippians 4:7 reminds us, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Is there a difference between praying and talking to God?
While I would say “prayer” and “talking to God” can be interchangeable expressions, both should include listening. If all you are doing is talking “to” God, then you need to allow some space for quiet. For me, that’s often the hardest part, and it’s also what prompted me to write about developing your quiet time. However, it can’t be overlooked because it’s a key element in growing your faith and discerning God’s will for your life.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”
Prayer provides us an essential connection with our creator; it’s an opportunity to come before him and remind us who we are (Timothy Ateek, Breakaway Ministries). Think of it like you do your important earthly relationships. Those relationships deepen over time because you spend time with each other, taking turns to talk and listen. That pattern of talking and listening is the same in your relationship with God.
If you remember one thing, though, let it be this: the Lord knows your heart, and he meets you where you are. As with all things, including spiritual discipline, it’s about progress, not perfection. It isn’t about your ability to pray with eloquence or perfection but rather your willingness to come to him in childlike faith with a desire to know him more.
Understanding how to talk to God: Resources to help you in your prayer life
I’ve referenced Breakaway Ministries before, and while I realize it is a ministry targeted to college-aged students (so some of the topics are unrelated to older adults), it offers great truth, spoken directly and simply, to people of all ages.
Below are three resources you might find helpful. The first two come from a video series presented by Breakaway Ministries, which is on the campus of Texas A&M University. The last resource link in the list comes from Cru, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ. It’s a pretty lengthy article but with tons of supplemental material.
The Lord’s Prayer
If you are interested in a series covering the Lord’s Prayer, you might enjoy this six-part video series by Ben Stuart.
Never Been Closer, Part 2 – Prioritizing Prayer with Timothy Ateek. If you enjoy podcasts, Breakaway loads each weekly message into their podcast, which you can find here (or I’m sure at whichever podcast platform you prefer).
A Beginner’s Guide to Prayer
How to Pray: the Beginner’s Guide goes into much more depth regarding the “what, why, where, when and how” of prayer.
So as the Nike slogan goes: Just do it!