Truthfully, I have struggled with prayer. When I was a young, both in age and in my Christian faith, I yearned to be close to God. Dumbstruck, I was in awe of friends who talked about hearing God’s voice and walking with Him. But when it came to prayer, I just felt awkward and did not know what to say.
I’m so grateful to those who encouraged me to pray and stick at it. I began to realise that prayer was awkward because God was a stranger to me: I heard about Him; I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. But. I hadn’t truly developed a relationship.
In my journey of faith, I have met many like me. Wanting to develop a relationship with God, but struggling with the aspect of prayer. An illustration I heard was to think of your early prayers as a sort of “blind date”. Naturally, you’re going to feel awkward—you don’t know God yet. Not deeply and personally.
But if you take the time to push through the initial awkwardness and continue meeting for regular “dates” (e.g. prayer time) then you’ll develop a relationship. A deep, abiding relationship that sustains you through life’s storms. One that comforts you in your darkest moments and reminds you that you always have a Friend who will never leave.
Getting to this point takes time and intentional effort. But there are things you can do to develop and even strengthen your prayer life…
Understand What Prayer Is
Th idea that prayer is a conversation sounds so simple on the surface. But when you first start praying, it can feel more like a monologue. After all, you’re talking but you’re not hearing anything. Or are you?
It’s easy to miss God’s voice because He doesn’t always respond right away or in the exact manner we’d hoped. Recently I prayed about some money worries. Nothing happened. A few days later, I received notification of a bonus payment in my pension. I had completely forgotten about my prayer!
Understanding what prayer is means starting your conversations with God by asking Him to open your eyes to the way He’s working in your life and the lives of those around you. This includes asking the Holy Spirit to remind you and make you aware of all the answered prayers that are happening.
Every Prayer Is Answered
Some Christians assume that if God did not give them what they asked for, the prayer is unanswered. Yet God always answers His children. Every single time. Every single prayer. In all of history, there has never been nor will there ever be a prayer that is unanswered.
Every prayer is answered. However, not every prayer is answered in the way we’d hoped or in the timeline that we’d hoped. This is where the difficulty of prayer happens. It’s easy at this point to let doubts distract you. You might even be tempted to ask, “If I don’t get what I want, what’s the purpose of prayer?”
God Is Not a Vending Machine
Sadly, there are those who see praying to God as a type of vending machine. Say the right words at the right time then poof, God will grant your wish!
The problem with this approach is that prayer is about developing a relationship. A relationship with the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The one who knit every one of your cells together, who knows you more deeply than you know yourself (Psalm 139:13-14).
In a healthy relationship, you have freedom to say “yes” or “no” to someone else’s request. You can say “yes” if you want to cook dinner this evening. You can say “no” if you’d rather go out for dinner instead.
You have the beautiful gift of free choice. Yet many Christians don’t feel this same freedom should be applied to their relationship with God. They feel as if God’s every answer to their prayers should automatically be “yes”.
When you’re always expecting God to do what you want when you want and how you want, you’re not seeking a relationship with Him. You’re seeking a transaction. This is dangerous ground and creates space for disappointment and disillusionment.
God’s Will Prevails
This is a hard truth to accept, especially when you’re praying for what seems to be in line with His will. You’re not approaching the request like a vending machine. You know that God has the free choice to say “no”. You understand this truth. Yet years or even decades may pass with God continually saying, “no” to your request. There are many reasons that God denies us what we truly want.
Sometimes, it’s to grow your faith such as He did with Joseph. At the end of over a decade of hardship, Joseph was able to confidently proclaim, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
At other times, God has already granted your request, but it is an issue of timing. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, longed for a child of her own. But it wasn’t until she was late in life that she was granted this.
The reason had nothing to do with Elizabeth and everything to do with the timing of her request. God planned to use John the Baptist to go before the Messiah (Luke 1:17).
However, regardless of how God answers your prayer, you can rest confident in one thing. God will always do what’s best for you as evidenced in Romans 8:28.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Why Should I Bother Praying?
At this point, you might be wondering why you should bother praying. After all, God will do what He knows is best and He’ll work everything out for your good. There’s no real point in the conversation.
But there’s an interesting moment recorded between God and King Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:1-8. In it, the king has become very ill and the word of the Lord reaches him, telling him that it’s time to get his affairs in order.
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (Isaiah 38:2-3)
Soon after this, another word from the Lord arrives. In this one, Hezekiah is told that God has heard his weeping and he will be granted another fifteen years of life as well as having his health restored.
It’s a fascinating event because it shows that God can be swayed by the prayers of His people. God may be planning a certain course of action but because of your prayers, He may choose a different one.
No one can know the mind of God. It’s simply too vast to contemplate. But again and again, Scripture shows that God can and does adjust His plan based on the requests of His beloved children (that means you!).
Conversations Start with Sharing
In many ways, we can look at conversations simply as “sharing”. If prayer is a conversation, then start with sharing. Tell God about your day. Let Him know what happened—whether good or bad. Ask Him for what you need. Maybe that’s wisdom to know how to navigate a tricky project at work or perhaps you need strength to continue caregiving for an ill family member.
At first, it may not feel as if God is listening to you. You may hear only silence and in the silence, it’s tempting to believe that God is ignoring you or has forgotten you. But consider this: when you’re truly listening to someone else, aren’t you silent? Don’t you give the other person space to speak?
You’re not ignoring the other party. You haven’t forgotten them. You’re simply respecting their right to speak.
It’s the same concept with God. What you interpret as a silent dismissal is God patiently bending close to hear your words. He delights in hearing from you and He loves to listen when you speak.
God Is Never a Passive Listener
As you develop an active prayer life, you’ll begin to see the ways that God responds to your requests. David recorded an interesting moment in Psalm 18.
“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” (Psalm 18:6)
David talks about God hearing his prayers but then he goes on to make another beautiful point in the next verse. He talks about how smoke poured from God’s nostrils, how God was furious on his behalf.
It’s tempting to believe that God is a passive listener. You may think of Him as this kindly grandfather who listens to your prayers before patting your head and sending you on your way without actually doing anything.
Yet Psalm 18 is a powerful reminder that God is never passive. He is always active. He is always working on your behalf. This means you can rest assured that when you pray, God is not ignoring you. He is listening to your words and they are spurring Him to act.
What About When I Can’t Pray?
The topic of prayer is well and good. A conversation is a wonderful thing to have with God…but what about the days when your heart is too full to pray? When life has once again knocked you down and it feels as if you’ll never rise again? What do you do on those days?
In these moments, it can be helpful to remember Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
The Holy Spirit that lives within you as a child of God is interceding on your behalf. On the days when you can’t find the words, when the pain is too deep, and the waves of anguish continue to batter your heart, know this: the Holy Spirit is praying for you.
In this very moment, the Holy Spirit is communing with the Father, sharing your deepest longings and your sharpest hurt. He is pleading for exactly what you need even when you are silent.
Some Christians find it comforting to just begin calling out the name of God in these moments. Like a child crying for their Father, repeat His name again and again. You might use a comforting term of endearment like “Daddy” or “Abba” or “Papa”.
Cry out like the beggars on the side of the road who yelled out the name of Jesus. It’s recorded in Scripture that each time the destitute and weak called out, Jesus stopped. He paused whatever He was in the middle of to listen to those who needed Him the most. He was never too busy to hear and to heal.
Approach God Boldly
When you talk to God, pray boldly. Come to His throne in full confidence. Not as a beggar hoping for scraps of affection. Arrive instead knowing that you are a beloved child of God. You come not as a beggar but as an heir.
In Hebrews 4:16, Paul instructed the children of God to…
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Not only should your approach be bold but so should your prayers. Phillip Brooks said, “Pray the largest prayers. You cannot think a prayer so large that God, in answering it, will not wish you had made it larger. Pray not for crutches but for wings.”
Prayer is a conversation. It’s a wonderful, deep conversation that has the power to change you, change your situation, and even change the world. But more than all of that—more than any results or changes you see—it’s the beautiful beginning of a deep and abiding relationship with the One who created you. That’s worth everything.