Whether you’d call yourself the praying type or not, I think we’ve all had our moments of half-heartedly throwing requests into the universe.
The desperate plea to find a parking spot when we’re late. Angrily asking God “why” when everything seems to suck. The relieved “Thank you, Jesus!” even if we mean it just as an expression (and not actual thanks to an actual Jesus at all).
I am the praying type, but I’ve had many seasons where it felt confusing, frustrating, elusive, and even pointless. I spent years praying because I was supposed to and not seeing results. I was half-heartedly throwing pleas up to the stars hoping if I did it “right,” maybe it would “work.” When it didn’t work, I played out all sorts of explanations why. Maybe I did it wrong. Maybe God didn’t care. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. Through all that, I’ve found breakthrough that has brought prayer to life. Here are four tips so you can have the same:
Pray for connection (not transactions).
If all my conversations with my husband are about today’s needs or tomorrow’s logistics, our relationship becomes transactional really fast. But when we first talk about how the day went and just hang out for a bit, we’re mysteriously more bound together. We get connected in a way that strengthens and prepares us for any other conversation we need to have. It’s the same with God. Matthew 6:33 says, Seek (read: chase, search for, pursue) Him first, and everything else will be added to you. Often I was using God (which is super rude.) Things started to change when I decided to just get to know Him.
It started to change when I believed God is not a vending machine, and he’s also not a tyrant. He’s good. If you’re not sure He’s good, that’s a great place to start. Talk to Him about it. It’s like that first date when you begrudgingly let your friend set you up. You sit skeptically across the table vetting them with questions to see if they live up to the qualities your friend swore they had. Most of the time, I was coming to God with my needs. That’s OK on one hand. He’ll let us. But talk about an awkward first date. You don’t launch a relationship by laying out your expectations for how many kids you want and by when. God can do and give amazing things. But it all comes through relationship: wanting God for who God is—not what he can give us. He’s up for our questions and skepticism though. So even if you’re not sure He’s there, try praying to just know him.
Be real and spill freely.
Don’t worry about what you “should” say. Don’t wonder if what you’re saying, thinking, or feeling is “right.” God already knows all your thoughts. I mean, He’s God. He knows you better than you know yourself, so just be real. Sometimes, when I don’t know what to pray, I’ll pray something that already exists, like the prayer Jesus taught us. But most of the time, God gets my totally unfiltered thoughts. Sometimes I journal in a Google Doc, and it’s a typo-filled mess. When I’m angry, there’s no censoring. Lately, my journal looks like heart brokenness over current events, shameless begging for my baby to sleep through the night, gushing gratefully about how heart-meltingly sweet our kids are, regrets about recent mistakes, confessions of insecurity, discouragement about how long it’s taking us to buy our house, and more. If I can handle my toddler’s tantrums, God can handle mine. Being real builds intimacy.
God is our safest place to be ourselves, so talk about anything and everything. The Bible shows us all different types of prayers. Some are laments, which means deep sorrow or grief. A king in the Bible named David models questioning God, expressing frustration at His silence, and even challenging him. The Bible also says we can cast all of our anxiety on God, because he cares for us. If you’re hurt, angry, confused, or stressed about anything in life, spill it. There’s nothing you can say or do that is too much for Him. Nothing. And bonus: it’s very therapeutic.
Expect to hear back.
For a long time, my prayer was just a one-way conversation until I finally realized that makes no sense. If God is about relationship, why would I expect he only wants to listen to me? Prayer became far more powerful when I expected Him to answer. The simplest way I’ve had breakthrough is writing out our conversation as if it’s a movie script like this.
Me : Whatever I want to say.
God: Whatever I think He’s saying.
Me: My response.
God: His response to my response.
You get it.
No filter. Even if I’m guessing or unsure. For this one, it doesn’t even matter if you get it wrong at first. You’ll grow in hearing over time. Just write what comes to mind. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me, and I will answer you. I’ll show you great and mighty things you do not know.” Try it back and forth, over and over, like a normal conversation. Trust it and keep going. Share with friends. See where it leads.
Believe it matters.
It blows my mind how often I pray and don’t expect anything to happen. What is the point of that? Lately I decided that if I ever noticed I was praying without hope anything will happen, I had to stop praying or change my mind about it. The Bible says that God wants to give his kids good gifts, that we share his authority, and it even has examples of people changing God’s mind. That means He’s actually listening and really cares. So just in the last few weeks, I’ve changed two of my most common, tentative, exhausted prayers from, “God, would you please help?” to something more bold. “God, I think this need lines up with your character. It’s something I’ve already heard You say or something I know about who you are, so I just claim it. I believe it’s coming.” After months of sleeplessness in our house from waking babies and two years of waiting on a house deal to close, both situations just resolved within a week. The girls went back to sleeping from 7pm-7am, and negotiations on a complicated real estate deal settled without an inch of effort from us. It wasn’t the very next day. But I kept it up, not losing confidence and choosing to believe until I heard back from God about it or saw it happen.
Faith is believing what we do not see, so cling to what you’ve prayed. Let go of your expectations on how it should happen (we aren’t giving God orders), but also let go of timidity and doubt. Cling to what you’ve heard and who God says He is. Believe He’s good and that your prayers matter.
Pretty words won’t change your life. This might:
Choose something from this article and actually do it.
Share this with a friend then ask for a follow-up convo.
Share this broadly and start a dialogue.
Grab a friend and take this article further by discussing:
What’s your experience with prayer like?
Where do you most wish God would show up for you?
Take two minutes and just try to pray for each other like this article models. Be real, be normal, be relational, be bold.