How to Pray (even if you're scared to)
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Sitting in a circle of folding chairs in my youth group's meeting room, I froze. The girl to my left had just squeezed my hand, letting me know it was now my turn to pray.
Despite having attended church my entire life, I had no idea how to pray.
So, in a moment of panic, I squeezed the next girl's hand and quickly passed the torch without ever uttering a word.
Too often, new believers are afraid to pray. We hear others praying and are overcome with awe at their comfort in talking to the God of the universe.
Or, like me, we are also so self-conscious that we will mumble, stutter, or trip over our words that we'd rather never pray aloud. This kind of attitude tells God that we care more about what those around us think than what He thinks. At the risk of sounding stupid, we say nothing.
But this exposes an even bigger problem. We are scared to pray aloud because we don't know how to pray. We go to church, learn about the Bible, and sing worship songs, but when it comes to prayer, we are at a loss. We often, somewhat guiltily, resort to short, repetitive prayers and hope they get the job done.
The truth is, God doesn't need fancy prayers. The Pharisees in the Bible—the religious leaders of the day—were good at fancy prayers. Jesus gets on to them for this. He warns that the hypocrites “love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (Matt. 6:5). Prayer is not about impressing other people. Prayer is to God, even when done aloud.
Praying together with other believers is a wonderful thing. Necessary, even, for a healthy church. But don’t let the prayers of veteran saints silence you! Pray! The Lord is pleased to hear all his children pray, not just the ones who have been praying longer or whose prayers sound good out loud.
This is why Jesus, God’s own Son, teaches us to pray. He knew we needed a better example than the hypocritical ones given by the religious leaders during His day.
He starts his simple (and very short) prayer guide, with these
words: Our Father.
If that doesn’t take prayer down from scary and intellectual to comfortable and personal, I don’t know what will.
But if you are not sure what to pray, I suggest that the best way to start praying is to pray the scriptures. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray Paul’s prayers. Pray the Psalms. Pray David’s prayers.
There are so many examples of prayer in the Bible itself. We don’t need to use the people around us as examples of how to pray the perfect prayer. We start with biblical examples of prayer, then build our own prayers on those examples.
Because when we pray the Bible, then our prayers will always be according to God’s will. If we pray the scriptures, we are praying God’s will. Paul instructs believers to “understand what the will of the Lord is” and to pray “at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 5:17, 6:18). We can’t pray in the Spirit if we’re not praying according to God’s will, because the Spirit can’t go against God’s will.
If we want to know that our prayers please God, we should repeat His own words back to Him.
This may be weird for you at first. But let’s do this together right now.
Pick up your Bible and turn to Ephesians. This is a great, theologically rich book that covers so much in terms of what Christianity really believes. But it is also full of great prayers. Let’s use Paul’s prayer at the end of chapter three as our model for how to pray.
Read aloud verses 14-21 of Ephesians 3. This is Paul voicing his prayer for the Ephesian church and, by extension, all believers.
How did that feel? You did not have to come up with a single word on your own. And you just prayed God’s own words back to Him. He couldn’t be more pleased with that!
He is the one, after all, who teaches us to pray. He’s given us excellent examples of prayer, and we’re supposed to use them! Try praying these verses in Ephesians every day for a week. You can read them word for word, or you can paraphrase them, like I’ve done in the free ebook on praying scripture that covers the entire book of Ephesians that you can get at the bottom of this page. In the book, I’ve written prayers that walk verse by verse through the entire letter to the Ephesian church.
If you're interested in learning more about the book of Ephesians, see this post.
Leave a comment and let me know, did you ever feel uncomfortable praying aloud? What helped you overcome this?