The Basics of Christian Prayer

This post is based on a talk I gave at my local college ministry group.

What does the word ‘prayer’ mean?

The word “Prayer” means “request.” Technically, it doesn’t even have to mean asking God something.  For example, in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Act III Scene 1, Benvolio prays to his friend: “I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire.”

But of course, when Christians talk about prayer, we mean something a little different. Christian prayer is not just about making requests, it’s about communication, and when we speak of prayer we normally mean communication between God and his creation.

What is God?

God is a mystery, impossible to understand completely. Christians recognize God, according the Bible, to be simultaneously one being and three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You may have heard before the Bible verses that say “God is love.” This is because love is given and received between the Father, Son, and Spirit. This communication of love is sometimes called a perichoresis – a divine dance – and the beauty of Christianity is that God is inviting us into that dance, to share his love as if we were part of God himself!

How does this prayer thing even work?

God is infinite, we are finite; he is the Creator, we are the created; he is perfect and good, we are sinful and broken. Another key teaching of Christianity brings us the answer to how we can be connected to God to receive and share his love: one of the three persons of the Trinity, God the Son, became a human being named Jesus. By becoming man, God literally made a link between the human race and God. When people talked to Jesus, they were talking to God! Everything people did to Jesus, they did to God.

How does this help us pray, now that Jesus isn’t even around?

After Jesus died on the cross and rose again, and spent a few more weeks on earth, he ascended into heaven to be with God the Father again. But two things have changed as a result of that:

#1 God the Son is praying for us!

“[Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” – Hebrews 7:25

#2 God the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within us!

“You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons.” – Romans 8:15

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” – 1 Corinthians 2:12

So how do I fit in with all this?

Faith & Baptism link us to God’s communication of love,
and empower us to pray.

#1 – We become children of God.

In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. – Galatians 3:26-27

#2 – We are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. – Romans 6:3-6

#3 – We are united with Jesus in his ascension.

God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -by grace you have been saved –  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-6

#4 – We receive the gift of God the Holy Spirit living within us.

Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. – Acts 2:38

So how does Jesus help me to pray?

Jesus is already praying for us, we are spiritually united with him, so we can join in with those prayers.  For example:

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” – Matthew 6:9-13

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” – Luke 23:46 (quoting Psalm 22)

How does the Holy Spirit help me to pray?

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” – Romans 8:26

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” – John 16:13-15

What are the benefits of prayer?

Besides joining in the loving embrace of God? Like we need more reasons? Okay…

It’s a weapon (alongside the Bible) against sin:

Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. – Ephesians 6:17-18

It strengthens us as a community:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God… – Jude 20-21a

How can I learn to pray better?

1. Remember that God first loved you; you don’t have to muster up “love” to win his attention.

2. Learn the prayer that Jesus taught when his disciples asked him how to pray.

3. Try praying prayers that Jesus used when he was on earth.

4. Explore other prayers in the Bible.

5. Get to know how your church prays and worships, and learn how to participate (“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” – Acts 2:42).

6. Look into what common devotional materials your church might offer so you can try new things.

7. Meditation: picture Jesus during some point in his earthly life, and think about how he reveals his love there.

8. Meditation: picture yourself kneeling alongside Jesus in heaven, and ask Him what He’s praying about.

9. Picture Jesus chilling next to you, and talk to him about what’s going on.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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