Apparently, the people living within the Arctic Circle use many dozens of words to describe snow … because it’s such a major part of their lives. By contrast, we use a mere handful of words. In the same way, most of us use the single word ‘prayer’ to describe all our interactions with God; but people who make prayer their way of life (such as monks and nuns) use a wide variety of terms to describe different types of prayer.
At its most basic level, prayer is simply speaking with God. Like any other conversation, it has two aspects, speaking and listening. Many Christians spend more time speaking and less time listening, particularly when they are young Christians. As they grow in maturity, they realise the importance of learning how to listen to God.
How do I talk to God?
Praying might sound difficult, but it isn’t. At heart, prayer is talking with God. It is perfectly OK to talk aloud to God, but (except in church services) most people talk to Him silently. You could call it ‘talking in your head’; the Bible sometimes calls it ‘the thoughts of our hearts.’
Should I pray?
Definitely, yes! Prayer is an encounter with God. Just as we get hot when we stand in front of a hot fire, so we acquire something of God’s holiness when we pray.
Jesus prayed often. He sometimes prayed all night (Mark 1:35–37). Prayer was obviously so important to him that his disciples implored him to teach them how to pray, as another holy man, John the Baptist, had been teaching his own disciples. We give the name Lord’s Prayer to the words Jesus taught his disciples in response, though some Christians call it ‘the Our Father’ or ‘the Pater noster’ (which comes from the Latin for ‘our Father’).
The Bible gives us two versions of the prayer: Luke 11:2–4 and Matthew 6:9–13. We recite the longer version from Matthew during each service. The version from Luke is shorter, and contains much less detail: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’
Why do people talk about a ‘prayer life’?
We get to know people as our relationship with them develops. That process of ‘getting to know’ involves learning about the other person: what they like, dislike, and so on. It may even explain why we want the relationship. In the same way, God wants all Christians to enter a relationship with Him and get to know Him.
This ‘getting to know God’ involves more than knowing about Him. Like all relationships, it requires a level of commitment. In other words, learning what it feels like to be in God’s presence, coming into His presence more and more often, and for increasing lengths of time.