How Might We Pray to God?
Have you ever wondered about what you should be praying to God?
Apparently concerned about this question, Jesus’s disciples requested of him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 1:11). Jesus obliged by giving them the Lord’s Prayer that is found in the Gospels of Luke (11:2-4) and Matthew (6:9-13). This prayer consists of six petitions related to God’s name, kingdom, and will; our daily needs being supplied; the forgiveness of sins; and the rescuing from temptation and evil. The Lord’s prayer also contains an element of praise and adoration for God with “Hallowed be your name.” We can repeat the words of this prayer when we pray as well as use it as a pattern when we pray in our own words.
Scripture contains many other prayers, including those of praise, confession, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who lived during the first half of the 20th century, considered the book of Psalms to be the “great school of prayer” (1).
ACTS, a model of unknown origin for prayer, captures the range of what we might pray. The model and its acronym have the following components: Adoration, Confession (or Contrition), Thanksgiving, and Supplication. These elements can be used together for an all-inclusive prayer or separately and in smaller combinations to fit needs and circumstances.
In our prayers of adoration, we express our reverence and appreciation for God his attributes, and his acts in our lives and the world around us. Some of the best models for praise are found in the Psalms, in prayers in the other books of Scripture, and in hymns. For example, the Psalmist in Psalm 145:1-2 declares, “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.” The adoration and praise of God are expressed in a prayerful way in the old and familiar hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” (2):
Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of love,
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
Opening to the sun of above.
Confession involves acknowledgment of and repentance for our misdeeds and shortcomings. Confession provides the avenue through which we can be restored to fellowship with God and a way for us to “clear the air” in our relationship with God (3).
God’s forgiveness of our sins when we confess them is assured in I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Adele Calhoun captures this beautiful grace from God in her discussion of confession: “Confession embraces Christ’s gift of forgiveness and restoration while setting us on the path of renewal and change” (4).
As we express thanksgiving in our prayers, we acknowledge with gratitude God’s goodness and gifts in our lives, such as the meeting of our daily needs and the gifts of our family and friends. The Apostle Paul encourages the Thessalonians in his letter “to give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
One of my favorite stories about giving thanks in every situation is that of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, two sisters in The Netherlands who were imprisoned during World War II by the German Nazis for gathering stolen ration cards to feed the Jews whom they were hiding in their home. During their imprisonment, they were moved to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany where the women’s barracks were infested with fleas. One day after the sisters read 1 Thessalonians 5:18 about giving thanks in all circumstances, Betsie began thanking God for their new barracks, including “for the fleas” (5). Corrie could not, however, bring herself at the time to be thankful for fleas. Later, they found out that the guards would not step through the door of their barracks because of its flea infestation. The lack of guards in their barracks gave the women a small haven of relative freedom, including making it possible for the ten Boom sisters to share their love of God and study the Bible with their fellow prisoners.
In our prayers of supplication, we present our petitions to God for ourselves, for others, and for the world. The prayer of petition is the prayer of asking. In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus encourages us to present our needs to God, “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds, And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened...how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”
Intercessory prayer is a prayer of petition for and on behalf of another person or group of people. There are many examples of intercessory prayer in the Bible. For example, Jesus prayed for his disciples and future believers shortly before his crucifixion with the following words: “I have made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth. I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you” (John 17:19-21a). The Apostle Paul included intercessory prayer in several of his letters to the churches. Dietrich Bonhoeffer considered intercessory prayer as bringing our fellow brothers and sisters “into the presence of God” and seeing them in need of grace and sharing in Christ’s mercy (7).
Through what Scripture says about prayer and the effects of prayer in the lives of people I know as well as in my own life, I am convinced that God hears our prayers and answers them. The late Dallas Willard, a pastor and professor of philosophy summed up the benefits of praying often in the following way: “The more we pray, the more we think to pray, and as we see the results of prayer – the responses of our Father to our requests – our confidence in God’s power spills over into other areas of our life” (8).
Have you exercised your privilege of conversing, through prayer, with your Heavenly Father today?
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: the Classic Exploration of Christian Community (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1954), 47.
2. Henry Van Dyke, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” in Worship and Rejoice (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Company, 2001), 59.
3. Lawrence Go. Richards, ed., The Revell Bible Dictionary (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1990), 241.
4. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 91.
5. Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Spire Books, 1971), 198-199.
6. Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place, 209.
7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 86.
8. Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1988), 185.