“A question that I have is: what do I pray for? I know it sounds silly but all I can think of is to pray for guidance and to humble myself but other than that I don’t know what to pray for. Do I just pray every hour? I really have no clue of what to do… Thank you."
What to pray for? At BibleStudyClass.org we let the Scriptures answer.
As a Bible reader yourself, you’ve found many prayers in its pages. Author Jon L. Dybdahl says in the book Hunger that in the Bible are “no fewer than 650 definite prayers, of which no less than 450 have recorded answers” (quoting from All the Prayers of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer). He adds to the challenging figures the entire book of Psalms – where the reader discovers a real book on prayers.
One can easily see, there is plenty of prayers in the Bible. Such an exceptional variety confirms that there is basically no formula (!) of prayer. It is not a magic set of words, be those mystical, or fanatically repeated (see Matthew 6:5-8 for more). Insted the prayer is a personal expression of feelings, thoughts, words, expectations, desires, needs, praises. And that’s when you (have to) say something. But what about just being quiet? Meditating. Waiting. For sure, we’ve got here a multidimensional element of faith.
Let us only take you to what looks like the beginning of prayer exercise. When the people started to multiply on earth, Cain’s offspring almost got a monopoly on every part of life of this world. They were the ones involved and pioneering into building and owning cities, ruling over and killing others, marrying the way they want, running all main businesses from the market of real estate, livestock, and agriculture, to industry, military, and even show-biz (yes, read it Genesis 4:17-24).
What then can we expect from the people of God? There is one dimension left untouched. The Scriptures say:
“At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26).
We can think of this as being “the prayer”. Of course, Abel knew it, Adam and Eve most probably went through this spiritual exercise also. Yet here is the first mention Moses makes of a kind of public and private, corporate and personal, scheduled and as needed “calling upon the name of the Lord”. (By the way, isn’t it the way we start our prayers, calling the name of our God?)
OK. Let’s introduce you to the Teacher.
Most probably you’ve heard of the prayer “Our Father”… While many take it as a formula – in various churches we’ve seen it being recited by all congregation together – we should not forget that it came as a response to the apostles’ plea “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). We do have it also in the Sermon on the Mount, but there it seems like part of the sermon… Maybe you don’t like sermons. We invite you to see it pictured on a richer background, dynamic context, as in Luke it is part of a dialogue, following a request.
“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him: Lord, teach us how to pray.”
Jesus is praying. Privately. There seems to be a place for it, a time for it. A subject, a manner, a personal style into it.
Looking to their Master, somehow the disciples perceive their need. Most probably they’ve seen it as a habit for our Lord, as a source for his power and inspiration. They wanted to know more (and we are following them also).
Their request, “Lord, teach us how to pray" is the best and the most important prayer. The place to start, in fact.
Jesus’ answer is basically our answer when asked about the teaching on prayer. See for yourself. (Once again, is not a formula, but more of a framework.)
1. Call the name of the Lord.
That is “Father” and “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come”. In two words it is expressing your desire that His everything will become your everything. We are not praying to sun, spirits, forces, gods. We are praying to our Father, as we bear His name. We want to live in His kingdom, even here. By this introduction we enter the spiritual dimension of connecting with God.
2. The need.
“Give us each day our daily bread”. It is like asking God to take care of you, to provide the things needed on a daily basis. Do you have to go to work? Blessing over the day. School? Exams? The same. Going to hospital? Facing a crisis? Maybe a trip… everything needed for a day, let it be known to God. Tell it as you would tell it to your father. Not that He is not aware of, but that you may know you’ve asked Him as your first priority. So when the challenge is there, you’ve already presented it to your greater Friend who has power over it all. He will answer according to His will, and His will is our best.
3. The spiritual need.
“Forgive us our sins”. Our real problem, our real need, is not that much the money, the food, the power… It is the state of our spiritual being. A man (woman) who is not right with God will suffer of many things. When one acknowledges his/her sins, then everything else is more easily solved. Because t is like going to the root of all problems. When one hides the sin, not much good is to be expected. The prayer follows also “lead us not into temptation”. This was repeated by the Lord on another occasion. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). We do sin when we give in to temptation… For many the temptation has sexual connotations (and limitations). However, it might be what you are being tempted to do, to say, to think. For example what you eat, what words come out of your mouth, what things you indulge yourself into etc. And please, do not forget, sin is not (only) what we do, but it is a state in which we are – “sold under sin" (Romans 7:14). What other request more important than to be free indeed?
4. The source of all sources.
After teaching them how to pray, and supplementing it with an illustration, the Lord ended: “If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). A-ha! Probably here is all that we have to know. As in other place is mentioned by Paul, “the Spirit helps is in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for”. Hey, Paul read your mind! Probably it was his concern also.
By now you know what to pray for.
(1) Call the name of the Lord upon you,
(2) bring to him your material needs,
(3) and also don’t forget the spiritual needs,
(4) ask Him for guidance through His Holy Spirit in everything that you do.
In closing, whenever you feel like living in Cain’s world, where all the others have power, influence, authority, monopoly on so many things, there is this one thing no one can take it from you – the prayer!
P.S. Of course, the subject has many facets. Touching one more here, that you’ve asked about: “how often should I pray?" As you say: every hour?
We would say: Whenever you need God (and that is all the time, of course). Just a few examples: Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10); our Lord Jesus Christ was known for this habit of prayer (Luke 22:39); Paul the apostle urges us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We do not think it means to pray 24/7. Instead it means to be ready to pray anytime during that 24/7 timeframe, should such a need arise.
More about Prayer
“Hotline to God" – Ekkehardt Mueller (article from Biblical Research Institute)
The Privilege of Prayer (a chapter from Steps to Christ, by Ellen G. White).
A new way to pray – Dwight K. Nelson (video)
Teach Us to Pray (I) – Doug Batchelor – Audio (mp3)
Teach Us to Pray (II) – Doug Batchelor – Audio (mp3)