Prayer looks different for every person. It is personal time spent with God, praying to him. Whether you take a formal or casual approach to how you talk with God, sometimes it helps to have a guide to prayer.
Jesus shared his instruction for how to speak to God in what is known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” It shows us a path for prayer that we can emulate in our own lives. The six steps Jesus identifies in this example of prayer include:
- Addressing God as our Father
- Praising him
- Acknowledging God’s plan and control
- Asking God for what we need
- Confessing our sins and repenting
- Requesting God’s protection and support
Then there are acrostics like A-C-T-S that can help provide a shorthand for how to pray. This stands for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. It’s a way to structure your prayer time.
Another useful guide is P-R-A-Y. This acrostic stands for praise, repent, ask, and yield. Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps as a guide to prayer.
Praise God for who he is and what he has done
There are numerous examples of praise and thanksgiving throughout the Psalms. The psalmist writes in 150:2 (NIV) to “praise him for his acts of power” and “for his surpassing greatness.” We’re told to “come before him with thanksgiving” for “the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods” in Psalm 95:2-3 (NIV).
Psalm 100 provides a clear path and reason for praising God. In this passage, the psalmist declares:
“Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving … For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
In reading these scriptures, it’s obvious that when we enter into the presence of God in prayer, we’re entering the presence of the one who made us. There is no other way to come before his throne but to praise the one who is good because he is love, and he is faithful. Start your prayer by acknowledging who God is, what he has done, and what he will continue to do in your life.
Repent of the sin that is putting barriers between you and God
After acknowledging God’s awesomeness and power, we need to recognize that we are not perfect. Taking a posture of repentance in prayer acknowledges the sin we commit that required the sacrifice of Jesus in our place. 1 John 1:5-10 (NIV) points to the fact that, if we walk in darkness, we cannot walk in the light with Christ. Verses 8-10 lay plain the contradiction of living in denial of our sinful nature.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
We know that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We need to confess and renounce our sins to find mercy because concealing sins doesn’t allow anyone to prosper (Proverbs 28:13).
It’s easy to overlook or discount our sin by casting it off as not a big deal or already dealt with through Jesus’ death on the cross. However, ignoring our sin leads to it getting more ingrained in our lives, and God calls us to have a repentant heart.
Jesus preached, calling everyone to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:17 NIV).
Ask for what you need
Now that we’ve confessed and repented of our sins before God, we can offer our broken and contrite hearts to him (Psalm 51:17). Since our heart is not condemning us, we can have confidence in approaching the throne of God in prayer to ask him for what we need (1 John 3:21-22).
Bringing our requests to God is what most people think the entirety of prayer is. But in this guide, our requests come after we acknowledge God’s power and the sin in our life.
It’s important to remember that God is not a genie that grants wishes based on our prayers. He answers our prayers to bear fruit for the kingdom of God. Theologian John Piper describes it this way:
“If we want to have power and effect in praying, we must devote ourselves to getting our desires into alignment with the fruit that God means to produce through us — and that fruit always has to do with the hallowing of his name and the coming of his kingdom and the doing of his will the way the angels do it in heaven.”
Let this perspective on the requests you bring to God impact what you ask God for. To keep track of God’s response to your requests, consider keeping a journal of your requests to see God’s faithfulness in your life and the life of others.
Yield to God’s presence and will
The final step of prayer is to yield to God. This might be the most unnatural part of prayer for you because we often are only focused on our thoughts and requests during prayer. However, the step of yielding in prayer requires you to stop talking or thinking about your prayer, wait, listen, and seek to hear what God may be trying to tell you.
In this silence and waiting, see what God fills in this empty space. You might be asking, “How can I know that what I’m hearing or thinking is actually from God?”
One way to discern God’s voice is by comparing it to God’s word. Is what you’re hearing consistent with what God says he wants from you in scripture? Consider the commands that Jesus gives to his followers. If what you’re hearing aligns with those commands and the things you find to be true in the Word, then you can have confidence that it’s something God is trying to tell you.
Putting together your own prayer time
The P-R-A-Y acrostic is not the only way to pray. It is simply a helpful structure that you can use to build your own prayer time with God. As noted, using a journal or keeping notes of your prayers can help you to track how God responds to your prayers. Look back at these notes to see God’s faithfulness in your life and in the lives of those you pray for.
Be sure to watch our website for details about upcoming Christian Prayer Lunch events that you can join!