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College Ministry Blog

The ‘What’ of Prayer

By Ryan Modisette

“Okay, prayer is important. I got that. But how do you do prayer? I mean, how am I supposed to pray?” Unfortunately, we, as Christians, usually fail to address these kinds of questions. Having gotten lost somewhere in the cookie-cutter Christian subculture, we assume people ‘get’ prayer without ever explaining to them what prayer is.

This dawned on me as I was working with some middle-school and high-school students over the summer; while leading a small-group, one boy with autism, a visitor no less, pointedly asked me, “What were you doing when everyone else was singing?”

“I was praying,” I eagerly responded, hoping to clear away any confusion.

“Praying? What’s that?” he retorted.

Then it hit me; all along, I had been using Christian lingo to speak with these kids thinking that they intuitively understood what I meant when I used words like ‘prayer,’ ‘sin,’ ‘grace,’ ‘glory,’ or even ‘God.’

Outside of a Christian context, these words are used either sparingly or wrongly.

There is no God except the triune God who has revealed Himself in the Bible; glory (in the theological sense of the term) only makes sense as the glory streaming from the Trinity; sin is properly understood only when seen as cosmic treason against the infinitely holy God who exists eternally as Father, Son, and Spirit; the idea of grace is superfluous unless seen as an undeserved gift given by a merciful King to unworthy subjects; and prayer is pointless unless directed toward this God, the only God who has the power to intervene in our lives temporally and change our destinies eternally.

So what about prayer?

Since prayer is essentially a form a communication, there is no reason why we would be restricted from talking with God like we would a trusted friend or advisor.

Because God knows everything and is everywhere present, we can pray without using spoken words; we can pray using just our thoughts, we can write down prayers to God, or we can verbalize our prayers just like we would if He were sitting right beside us.

Yet, although prayer isn’t rigidly set in stone, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind.

Firstly, prayer isn’t primarily about us. Like most people, I have often been guilty of beginning my prayers with the eyes of my heart directed on my problems and not on my Lord. This is not only misguided; it is offensive. It is like saying, “Look God, sure you’re powerful and all, but look at what is happening in my life. Don’t you care? Aren’t you going to do something about this? Who are you to allow this anyway?” Such insolence is reminiscent of the Israelites’ groaning and complaining in the wilderness.[1]

Instead, like Jesus modeled for us in what is called ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ we are to begin our prayers by focusing on who God is and what He has done. We are to request that He sear His immeasurable significance into the minds of people across the planet, making His name famous, or “hallowed.” [2] Only when we see the bigness of our Father can we see the littleness of our worldly problems.

Secondly, we are to pray for His people to grow in conformity to His word so that His will is accomplished. [3] There is no greater aim in life than to accomplish God’s plans, for nobody fashions goals better than the Master Craftsman. Like David, we should exclaim, “I delight to do your will, O my God,” and like Jesus, we should say with satisfaction, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” [4]

Thirdly, we should recognize the Lord’s provision both physically and spiritually and ask for Him to provide our actual needs, whatever those may be. By doing so, we are displaying our total dependence on God’s abundant supply and declaring to the world that, in every dimension of life, “Salvation [as well as every other thing] belongs to the Lord!” [5]

Finally, aware of our many and grievous failings, we ought to plead with our Father to “lead [us] in paths of righteous for [Your] name’s sake,” steering us away from each temptation which might lure us in and lead us toward death as well as strengthening us to overcome trials triumphantly with the banner of Christ waving proudly overhead. [6]

So, please, don’t get lost in the maze of fancy words and phrases; pour out your heart openly and lovingly to a God who listens and responds. Don’t try to impress others with long-winded prayers or grandiose sentences; our God judges the heart, not the syntax. And most importantly, just pray!

[1] See Exodus 16 and 17 to get a glimpse of this

[2] Matthew 6:9 and elsewhere

[3] Matthew 10

[4] Psalm 40:8 and John 4:34

[5] Jonah 2:8

[6] Psalm 23:3; Matthew 6:13; James  1:14-15; Psalm 60:4


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