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Practical Prayer

How to Pray
/ Part
January 23, 2022
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Prayer can move God, but its primary operation is to move us.

As a child I would wake up early to see my father padding quietly through the hallway of our small home.  He often complained of cold, so he would wear a scarf or a scrap of clothing (sometimes even a clean pair of underwear) to cover his bald head. He wore a bathrobe and slippers. He always had a mug of very strong Folgers’s coffee in one hand, and a tattered leather-bound Bible in the other. While he paced, he would pray and sip – sip and pray. He was never hurried or rushed. He was up at 5:00 am each morning without needing an alarm to sip and pray – pray and sip. It was like breathing to him.

He’d pray for the small congregation he pastored. He’d pray for his wife and children. He’d pray for lost relatives. He’d pray for missionaries, the lost and the president. He would wander through his mind in prayer and let God lead him. Sometimes he would simply worship God or speak in tongues. Sometimes he would read a verse quietly to himself under his breath.  

My father, now in his 80s, is still a man of prayer. I know if I were to stop by the small apartment where he and my mother live – still serving God in ministry – he would be there, sipping his coffee and speaking to Jesus at 5:00 am.

I have not always been a man a prayer. To me Dad’s routine seemed a mysterious ritual, but when I tried to emulate him I always failed after a few short days. I didn’t understand what a life of prayer really meant. Dad would say he was “spending time with God”. I think I was just trying to be a better Christian. It wasn’t until I was very alone in my late 20s that I latched on to God as being with me – a shepherd guiding and leading me. I stopped trying to beat down a door, I stopped making my needs and wants the center of my prayer life and I began to listen and hear what he was saying to me. It was only then that I began to see myself as His precious child.

Prayer must be based on more than stumbling into quicksand and needing rescue. It can’t be about striving to be a better christian. It can’t be about showing the world we are pious. We need a life of prayer that is focused on spending time with Jesus. We need to walk and sip – sip and walk – and enjoy His presence as we commune with Him.

The Plan

When you decide to live a life of prayer your journey begins with a plan. A lack of a plan is what keeps most of us from praying consistently. Should we pray in the morning before our day begins? Should we pray while running? While driving? Should we end the day in prayer? Should we take 15 minutes at lunch?

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:6

The truth is that arguing (even with ourselves) about the right way to live a life of prayer is often what keeps us from making a start. Here’s the secret – it is more important to have a plan than what the plan actually is. Jesus gives us some instruction and some examples that help us. In Matthew 6 He mentions a prayer closet, but the rest of His guidance is about the posture of our heart. Jesus prayed often by withdrawing from others to commune with the Father, but we also find Him praying in almost every situation. He was our example of praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). So having a plan is about meeting God intentionally. It’s about giving Him our full attention each day – even as we talk with Him continually throughout the day.

There are 3 important features of a plan.

A Location – Whether it is a shady tree, a treadmill, a chair in a corner, a porch swing or a food truck with a quiet spot, choose a place to meet God. This prayer spot will become your “Thin place” – a place where God is ready to meet you. Indeed, you will find Him there already, eagerly anticipating your arrival.

A Time – Pick a time and commit to it. If you fail, pick up and start again. This time will soon become a daily anchor for your walk with Jesus.

A Routine – Listen to a song (or sing one!), light a candle, read through the psalms etc. Don’t just pepper God with your prayer list, wait on Him. Find some steps that help you center your thoughts on Him.

Finally, keep it simple. Unless you are a spiritual iron-man triathlete you need to set goals that you can meet. If you are just starting, praying an hour a day may be an impractical goal. Start with 10 or 15 minutes and grow into it. Reading through the Bible every month or memorizing the book of psalms is great but let’s begin by reading and meditating on one psalm or scripture each day, and see where the Holy Spirit leads us.

Authentic Prayer

Jesus instructs us that He desires sincere prayer. In Luke 18 He speaks of a Pharisee who is so in love with his own righteousness he brags about it in prayer. Jesus contrasts this ugly attitude with that of a tax collector whose prayer was simply “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” In Matthew 6 He condemns hypocrites who pray on the street corner in order to be seen by others.

How do we pray honestly? It may seem like an easy question, but the truth is we spend a lot of effort “sounding good” in prayer. We have nothing to hide from God – indeed there is nothing we can hide from Him. Yet we try to sound informed and spiritual when we pray. We make excuses and we soften the blow. We play the victim. We pretend we have it all together. Yet God wants us to quiet the inner voice that constantly defends us to ourselves.

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Luke 18:11-13

We say “prayer changes things” but prayer’s chief action is to change us. We must be willing to begin our life of prayer with the brutal, unvarnished truth. Our posture must be authentic. We can’t afford to spout off about our piety. Got honors honest and genuine prayers like that of the tax collector - “God have mercy on me a sinner.” We must appear without pretense – warts and all. But there is good news. God likes us! He is not standing by waiting for us to say the right words. He’s not looking for us to impress Him. He is for us. It is easy to be honest with God if you trust his unconditional love. He is not going to turn His back on you. He invites you to walk with Him and do life with Him. When we start with prayer as friendship with God it becomes easier to be completely honest with Him.


Finally, to begin a life of prayer we just be determined to persevere. Having a plan is great. A commitment to be honest is crucial. But none of it will matter if we don’t follow through. What keeps us from praying? Sometimes it is fear of what God will do in us! We know instinctively that within a true life of prayer we will begin to shift and change as He works in us. When we are too comfortable with the status quo, we resist deepening our relationship with God. But God has good things in store of us. We can trust Him! Don’t let fear keep you from beginning.

Once begun, we must not grow weary in our effort (Gal. 6:9). We know the result of leaning into prayer is a deeper relationship with Him! So, when you fail, the most important thing to learn is that God is eager for you to try again. Get up, make a new start and keep at it until it becomes a lifelong habit.

Discussion Questions

1. A journey begins with a single step. Are you hesitant to begin a life of prayer? If so, what is keeping you? Talk about what it will take to make a new start. If you have a life of prayer, encourage those around you and give them your support.

2. How authentic is your prayer life? Do you tell God what is really going on with you? Are you “aren’t praying correctly”? Talk about how our idea of prayer sometimes gets in the way of talking to God – or even crying out to Him.


1. Write out your prayer plan. Include a regular location, time and routine. Share it with your group. It can be something you already do, or entirely new. Remember it’s more important to have a plan than what the plan is.

2. Without thinking too hard, write out a prayer to God seeking a deeper relationship with Him. Then read it slowly. Ask yourself, is this honestly what I am thinking? Am I trying to impress God? Am I lying to myself? If not, what would an honest prayer look like?

Practical Prayer