Whether you’re searching for God or a longtime believer, there’s a good chance you have questions about prayer. How exactly are you supposed to pray? And why should you do it? Here are some guidelines from Billy Graham.
How do I talk to God?
Billy Graham: Prayer is simply talking to God—and the most important thing I can say about this is that God wants you to talk to Him! He loves us and He has promised to hear us when we pray. How can you learn to pray? First, understand why prayer is possible.
Prayer is possible because Jesus Christ has removed the barrier between us and God—a barrier caused by our sins. You see, sin separates us from God, and because of that we have no right to come before Him. But by His death on the cross, Christ paid the penalty for our sins and removed the barrier. God then gives us the privilege of coming into His presence when we commit our lives to Christ.
The Bible says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). If you have never done so, ask Christ to come into your life today.
Then understand that God now welcomes you into His presence and promises to hear you—and He cannot lie. The Bible says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). Trust His promises and learn to bring every concern to Him in prayer.
Does God only hear us when we pray out loud or does He hear silent prayers also? Please forgive me if this is a dumb question, but I didn’t grow up in a religious home and have just become a Christian.
Billy Graham: Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions when you don’t understand something about the Christian life; after all, God wants you to come to know Him more and more each day. Jesus’ disciples repeatedly asked for His help, and so should we. On one occasion they said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
Yes, God hears our prayers on all occasions, whether we’re praying out loud or praying silently in our hearts and minds. After all, He knows all about us and knows what is going on inside us—both good and bad. The Bible says that God “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Bible also says, “The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked, but those of the pure are pleasing to him” (Proverbs 15:26).
God even hears our prayers when we can’t even put them into words—times, for example, when our hearts are too burdened or confused even to speak. The Bible says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).
One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the privilege of prayer—a privilege that is possible because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Thank God for the privilege of prayer and learn daily to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Does God really answer prayers?
Billy Graham: Prayer is one of our greatest privileges as God’s children, and even if God doesn’t seem to answer your prayers at first, don’t stop praying. God loves you, and no prayer goes unanswered.
Jesus once told a story about a poor widow who repeatedly asked a corrupt judge to do what was right. (You can read it in Luke 18:1-8.) Repeatedly the judge refused—not because her request was wrong, but because he just didn’t care.
But because of her persistence, he eventually gave in and granted her what she deserved. In a far greater way, Jesus said, God (who is righteous and does care for us) hears the prayers of His people, and we must never give up.
But let me add two things. First, realize that sometimes God is actually answering our prayers when we don’t realize it—and the reason is because His answer may be “No” or “Wait.” Yes, we think we know what’s best for us—but God sees the whole picture, and sometimes He lovingly refuses to give us what we request, because He knows it isn’t according to His perfect plan.
Second, remember that we have the privilege of coming to God only because Jesus Christ died for our sins. Have you given your life to Him? If not, let your first prayer be one of confession and faith, asking Him to come into your life as your Lord and Savior.
How to Pray
- Say hello! When a friend enters a room, the first thing most people do is say hello or throw up a wave or nod. In many ways, this is the beginning of prayer: an acknowledgement of God's presence. When we walk into a Church, we genuflect in front of the tabernacle to humble ourselves while we acknowledge and reverence the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist inside. As you begin to pray, whether it's just walking somewhere during the day, in a chapel or in your room, take a moment to acknowledge whose presence you are in. 'Be still, and know that I am God' (Psalms 46:11).
- Be yourself. So many people think that holiness is unattainable, and that to pray we need to look like a statue of St. Francis with our hands folded piously. The reality is that we were created to be in communion with God, and He desires to be in a relationship with us. He doesn't want you to be a carbon copy of a past saint. He created you with your own gifts and passions, and wants to shine through you uniquely in them. Come to him as you are and let Him transform you into the saint He wants you to be!
- “Teach us to pray' (Luke 11:1). Jesus' apostles asked Him these words, and that conversation resulted in what we call the 'Our Father' prayer. If his own apostles asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, how much more should we ask him to teach us to pray! Ask God to help you and know that He listens. 'Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you' (Matthew 7:7).
- Hit the brakes! The world we live in today blasts us with media and noise from every direction all day, from texting to music to tv and internet. These aren't bad things, but too much can be distracting from our relationship and conversation with God. “Silence is so lacking in this world which is often too noisy, which is not favorable to recollection and listening to the voice of God” (Pope Benedict XVI). Take 10 minutes every day from the time you spend on facebook or tv, and use that time to pray. Put God back at the center of your heart and mind.
- Keep it alive. A prayer life that isn't kept up is like a pond with no water flowing in or out. It becomes stagnant. There's no oxygen coming in, and it becomes uninhabitable. All you’ll find is scum and mosquitos. Nobody likes mosquitos; don't be that person. Yet a person who cultivates their relationship with God in prayer finds a much different picture. There is fresh water flowing in and out of the pond. It is life giving! There are flowers and trees that grow along the sides. Your prayer life will affect the other areas of your life.
'Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked, Nor go the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the LORD is their joy; God’s law they study day and night. They are like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; Its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers' (Psalms 1:1-3).
- Let it transform you. Practice makes perfect. The entire Christian life, including prayer, is something that we have to work on to become better at it. God can do amazing things in us through our reaching out to him in prayer!
'Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven' (St. Ephraem of Syria).