“Does it matter how I pray?” If you’re a new Christian, maybe you’ve asked yourself that question. And if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, maybe it’s worth asking it again. Here are six key ways the Bible teaches us to come to God in prayer:
1. Pray sincerely.
Prayer isn’t about showmanship. It’s not about flexing your prayer muscles in public for admiration or applause. Jesus says in Matthew 6:5-6,
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
You don’t have to go into your room to pray, literally. The point here is that prayer isn’t stage performance. It’s a time to have a sincere conversation from the heart with God.
2. Pray purposefully.
Continuing in the same passage, Jesus says: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). Verbosity and eloquence are not prayer superpowers. Purpose over punctiliousness is preferred (no, don’t look up punctilious, that’s part of the point!).
The next time you pray, you might read through Jesus’ pattern for prayer known as The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Drawing on the topics Jesus outlines in this model prayer will help you to pray with purpose.
3. Pray constantly.
Can you only pray in church? Kneeling beside your bed? Does it matter where and when you pray? Paul says 1 Thessalonians 5:17 that we should “pray without ceasing.” He encouraged the Romans to be “constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
If you’re a believer, the Holy Spirit dwells within you, which means prayer isn’t tied to a place like the temple or a church building. Our hearts cry out, Abba Father! (Gal 4:6). Pray whenever and as often and with whomever you can. In your car. Over the phone. In a Zoom meeting. A spirit of constant payer will mark the growing Christian who has confidence to talk to God anytime, anywhere.
4. Pray persistently.
Older writings on prayer often talk about importunity in prayer. That’s persistence to the point of annoyance! According to Jesus, this is a virtue in prayer. Jesus told his disciples a parable about a widow who prevailed on a judge to bring justice in her case through tenacious inquiry (Luke 18:1-8). In other words, she bugged him until he gave in!
That sounds impertinent when applied to prayer, but that’s what Jesus did. Don’t be afraid to annoy God with your prayers about the same old things. Jesus welcomes this pestering persistence in prayer.
5. Pray patiently.
Where Paul says to be constant in prayer, the full verse reads: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12). The answers to prayer that seem longest in coming often will be answers to our most urgent prayers in pain and sorrow. This requires praying patiently.
When I was engaged to marry my wife Mariana, with over 2,000 miles separating us as we awaited the proper visas for us to be together at last, I often remembered that one writer called this “the school of delay.” This is where patience in prayer is formed. Delayed answers to prayer teach us patient trust in a sovereign God who wills the lasting good of his children.
6. Pray confidently.
The pastor was praying. Everyone had their heads bowed, their eyes closed. When he finished, he said, “In Jesus’ name.” And that was it. He moved on. I was only four or five years old and, apparently, a young prayer theologian. Mom and Dad tell me that I looked up, horrified. and shouted out: “HE FORGOT TO SAY AMEN!”
Well, maybe the pastor “forgot to say amen,” but when we’re afraid to approach God in prayer, we’re forgetting to pray “in Jesus’ name” (see John 14:14). Praying in Jesus’ name is more than an automated signature that attaches itself to a well-prayed prayer. I couldn’t put it any better than one of the explanations we use in my church:
“To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence of his promises, to ask mercy for his sake; not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation.”
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” What could give us that kind of confidence, sinners that we are, to approach God’s throne of grace? The answer, according to the author of Hebrews, is Jesus (Heb 4:14-15). We come confidently to the throne through him.
 Bounds,E.M. “The Necessity of Prayer,”The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer: Experience the Wonders of God through Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 16.
 Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 180