Q: What is prayer?
Prayer is both one of the easiest things for new believers and one of the hardest. It’s easy because prayer is essentially talking to God. It can be hard because we humans sometimes worry too much about how we pray.
We worry we’re not “doing it right.” We worry we’re asking for the wrong things. We worry God isn’t listening. We worry we won’t hear his answer.
But the good news is we serve a God who loves to hear our prayers! He delights in them, desires us to pray, and longs for us to talk directly to him.
“When people begin to pray, they begin a trip into the great heart of God,” says Betsey Kodat, author of four books on prayer including Praying With the Scriptures: A Framework for Daily Prayer. “As with any journey, it begins with one small but beautiful step. Everyone has a unique prayer to offer to God, because God made everyone different with a special voice to express in prayer. Each praying person is part of God’s orchestra. God has as many different instruments as there are people in His world.”
The first step in praying is to address God as our “Father.” “If you say nothing else and are quiet, you will have prayed well,” Kodat says. “All our lives long, Christians learn more about God. Our prayers grow as our understanding of God grows.”
Then continue as if God is someone you can easily talk to. “You don’t need to impress Him or use a special vocabulary. What opens up God’s heart is your vulnerability, openness and honesty,” Kodat says. “The more you learn about yourself, the better you can pray, because in prayer, you are sharing yourself with God.”
Here are some other things to keep in mind as we pray, as well as 11 simple prayers each one of us can use in our daily communication with God.
Short and Sweet
Prayers don’t have to be lengthy or filled to the brim with our words and feelings. Kodat recently came across these six-word prayers that “inspired me about how to pray today.”
Simple Prayer #1
God, thank You for my food.
Simple Prayer #2
Father, thank you for this day.
Simple Prayer #3
Lord, be with me this night.
This traditional children’s prayer, first introduced in the early 1700s, can be prayed by adults too.
Simple Prayer #4
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my Soul to take.
Follow Christ’s Example
Did you know the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray? Jesus didn’t berate or belittle them—he provided a blueprint for prayer Christians have followed for centuries. It’s even called The Lord’s Prayer, and is one of the simplest prayers for new believers.
Simple Prayer #5
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.
From Luke 11:9-13 or Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV)
Basing your prayer on Scripture is also a good way to connect with God. “One of the easiest ways to begin praying as a new Christian (and to continue praying throughout life) is to use the Bible,” says author, Bible teacher, and gospel coach Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage, who publishes daily prayers online. “Choose a Psalm in a translation you can understand, and read it aloud. I like to change the third person pronoun to a second person pronoun.”
Simple Prayer #6
By the day, you command your steadfast love,
And at night, your song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
Based on Psalm 42:8
Simple Prayer #7
Lord, give me strength to face the challenges of the day.
Based on Philippians 4:13
Giving your prayers structure can keep you on the right track. Many Christians—both new and seasoned—employ the ACTS acronym for prayers. ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. “Because it is so easy to jump straight to prayer requests, or asking God for things, using this structure helps me to remember to begin by praising God for his goodness and his greatness (Adoration),” Turnage says. “Then I continue by confessing my sins and my weaknesses to him (Confession). After that, I thank him for his glorious grace in redeeming me through Jesus Christ and for specific ways he is working (Thanksgiving). By the time I get around to asking for things (Supplication), my head and heart are in the right place—remembering how holy and merciful God is, remembering how he has worked to redeem in the past, and trusting that he will do what is best in current circumstances.”
Simple Prayer #8
Adoration: Lord, you are the Creator of heaven and earth. You make all things good.
Confession: Lord, you know I am struggling to be patient with waiting for the answers to things I’m praying about (naming some specifically).
Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for how you have been working in my heart to change me, helping me to wait well on you in difficult circumstances. Thank you for the many good gifts you have given me, including X.
Supplication: Lord, please help me to be patient as I wait to hear the news about X. Lord, please provide X.
From Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage’s prayer journal.
Use Others’ Words
Besides the Bible, there are other books both on prayer and with prayers that can help us grow in our communion with God. Kodat recommends Powerful Prayers by Fern Nichols as “an excellent, short book which builds a prayer time around a Scripture verse.” Others in her prayer library include John Baillie’s Diary of Prayer; The Valley of Vision, a wonderful collection of Puritan prayers; and The Book of Common Prayer.
Simple Prayer #9
For joy in God’s creation: O heavenly Father, you have filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From The Book of Common Prayer
I’ve always enjoyed the short prayers by George MacDonald in The Diary of an Old Soul.
Simple Prayer #10
Lord, what I once had done with youthful might,
Had I been from the first true to the truth,
Grand me, now old, to do—with better sight,
And humbler heart, if not the brain of youth;
So wilt thou, in thy gentleness and ruth,
Lead back thy old soul, by the path of pain,
Round to his best—young eyes and heart and brain.
From The Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald
Pray in Circles
It’s good practice to pray in ever-widening circles, asking for God to meet both specific needs you know of and unspecified needs you don’t. Here’s what I mean:
Start with yourself
Add your immediate family
Expand to other relatives
Fold in friends, neighbors, and co-workers
Look beyond who you know to your general neighborhood, city/county, state, and country.
You don’t have to add all of those into every prayer, but it’s good to include them in your prayer life throughout the week.
Simple Prayer #11
Lord, please help my city government to seek the good of its residents, to uphold the laws and pass ones fair to all, to find ways to help those in need, and to be good stewards of both funds and agencies under its jurisdiction.
Above all, pray with a sincere heart seeking God, raising your voice to storm the gates of heaven with other Christians throughout the world. “Know that however you pray, your prayers join to the prayers of other faithful people around the world,” Kodat says. “You are not alone—you are praying with the church around the world.”