Prayer: How do Christians pray?

Prayer is one of the key factors in many religions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Prayer is the central pillar of one's faith.

In Islam, prayer is of 2 kinds: Salat and Du’a. Salat is obligatory prayer done 5 times per day, performed at exact times and recited in Arabic, with set words and chapters of the Qur’an as well as set movements that coincide with the set words. Du’a is prayer that can be said at any time and place.

From the Bible we learn that Jesus did not give any instruction to perform obligatory set ‘Salat’. However, Jesus taught a lot about prayer that may be termed as ‘Du’a’ or ibada - worship.

Jesus said that if we pray so that people may see how religious and pious we are, then that is hypocrisy. God is not interested in such prayers. Jesus said, "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men..." (Matthew 6:5-6)

His instructions were that worship of God should be in spirit and truth (John 4:24). If our mind and heart are not right, all our prayers are useless. He said that we should not repeat things over and over again while praying (Matthew 6:7). The Jews had many set prayers that they would simply repeat at high speed. Jesus taught that such prayers are of no benefit. He said, "Learn from me" (Matthew 11:29). God does not hear us just because we use many words, or repeat the same words many times in our prayers.

Christians are called to devout prayer (Col. 4:2) and to pray continually (1 Thess. 5:17). Jesus teaches us that we should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1).

Matthew 6:9-13 is an example that Jesus gives us concerning how to pray to our Father in Heaven.

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored.  May your kingdom come. May what you want to happen be done on earth as it is done in Heaven.  Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, just as we also have forgiven those who sin against us. Keep us from falling into sin when we are tempted. Save us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen

Although some Christians do repeat this prayer in their daily prayer and devotion time, we find that Jesus did not intend His disciples to repeat this prayer verbatim. Rather He was giving them an idea of what true prayer should be like. When praying, we recognize that God is our Father in Heaven and the utmost authority in the universe. We praise Him for who He is.  We recognize that we are to do His will on earth and that His will is the best. We ask for our physical and spiritual needs to be met. We appeal for forgiveness and remember to forgive those who hurt us.  We acknowledge His full sovereignty.

Jesus through example also taught us to give thanks to our Father in Heaven (Matthew 15:36; Luke 24:30; John 11:41-44), which Paul echoed in his advice to always give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Jesus did not instruct us to pray facing Jerusalem or in any other direction, nor did He give instructions about the movements of our bodies during our prayers. According to Jesus, God is more interested in the motives of our hearts.

One may ask, 'How much do I need to be in prayer?' Jesus spent long periods of time in prayer, both before important events and as a regular practice. The apostles did the same and advised other Christians to do so.

There is a multitude of different kinds of prayers that we can pray, and generally speaking three kinds of answers that we can receive. In simplest form the answers God gives are Yes, No and Wait. We have to pray in the Spirit, because with our carnal minds, we can often pray dangerous prayers. We tend to forget that the power of life and death is in the tongue, and pray selfish prayers because we do not have spiritual vision to see God’s perfect plan ... We may desire certain things or happenings done in our lives but it may not be the will of God. We should ask God if it is His will. The example of Jesus submitting to the Father’s will is paramount for us in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39-44).

We also should not doubt, but trust in God’s perfect will as we ask Him for wisdom (James 1:5-8).

Certainly prayer changes things. Prayer must not be regarded as a laborsaving device. God will not do for us the things that he has given us the ability to do for ourselves. He will listen to our prayers, and will help us in our difficulties. He will accept our prayers for the things that are best for us.

When Christians pray to God, they do so in the name of Jesus, because this is what Jesus has commanded them to do. Jesus said, "My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete" (John 16:23-24).