Every human being was created in order to have a relationship with God. People of all faiths seek this relationship – and prayer is one of its most important aspects from the human point of view.
In prayer, we can:
- open our hearts and lives to God;
- thank God for the blessings we receive each day, including the relationship God gives us with himself;
- confess the wrong things we have done and, knowing God’s forgiveness, reject evil and turn back to him;
- wait upon God, seeking to know and do his will;
- share our worries, hopes and fears with God, asking him to help us.
Christians believe that Jesus, God’s own Son, came to earth in human form and showed us what God is like. Many Christian people therefore find it helpful to concentrate their minds on Jesus as they pray, and to speak to God in prayer just as they would to another human being. Christians also believe that God gives us his Holy Spirit to help us pray.
How do we pray?
There is no exam to pass in order to be able to pray – anyone can do it. It’s important to remember, though, that different individuals pray in different ways, and that any one person is likely to pray in different ways in varying circumstances and at different stages of life. For Christians, the one acid test of prayer is that it should affect for good the sort of people we are and the sort of things we do and say.
Christians believe that God never leaves us or ignores us. We can therefore pray in the confidence that God really does want us to be in a conscious relationship with him.
Some Christians find it helpful when they pray to imagine that they are taking part in episodes described in the Gospels. The technical name for this way of praying is meditation. This type of prayer may lead on in time to a more direct experience of God, for which the technical name is contemplation. Others find that they are drawn simply to be silent in God’s presence, which is actually a form of contemplation.
Want to start praying?
There are many ways to pray, and no one way is correct for all. The two golden rules are:
- to pray as you can and not as you can’t, and
- to pray every day
When praying about life’s problems and challenges, some people will simply say what is on their mind (God’s love is so great that our angers and fears can be heard as well as our praise, thanks and requests) and ask for God’s presence and guidance. Others prefer to use prayers that have been written by others and used by the Church through the ages. Yet others find themselves drawn to more meditative or contemplative ways of prayer.
In the Gospels, Jesus’ followers ask him to teach them how to pray. In reply, he gives them the prayer we now know as the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Our Father in Heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven,
Give us today
our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us
Save us from
the time of Trial
and deliver us from evil
Because Jesus himself has given it to us, Christians regard this prayer as especially important. We use it every day in our private prayers and at most church services.
Another well loved, short and therefore easily remembered prayer is the Jesus Prayer. In its best-known form this consists of just a few words:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Some people find it helpful to breathe in slowly and deeply while repeating silently the first two phrases and to breathe out while repeating the last two. Others break it down into the four sections created by the commas, and concentrate on each section in turn. Yet others prefer to shorten it (for instance, ‘Jesus, have mercy’ – a very simple, effective, way of praying for one’s own needs and those of other people) or even to use the Name of Jesus on its own as a prayer. Part of the beauty of the Jesus Prayer is that it is so very flexible in use. The same person may well use it in different ways on different days, or at different times on the same day, according to their own needs and the needs of those around them.
The Prayer of St Richard of Chichester is one that many Christian people use in connection with the tasks and responsibilities of daily life:
O holy Jesus, most merciful Redeemer,
may I know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day. Amen.