If we want to pray effectively, there’s no better way than to learn how to pray according to the Bible. The Scriptures serve as our textbook through the examples of the people described, the prayers recorded, and the principles taught therein.
A few months ago I arrived at the venue for a youth rally where I was to serve as on-site intercessor. An overwhelming sense of inadequacy threatened to sideline me. Sitting in my car, I poured out my heart before our heavenly Father. “I’ve got nothing, Lord; I’m tired and frazzled and I don’t feel like praying. The last place I want to be is here. It’s impossible for me to intercede tonight. Nevertheless…”
There was an awful lot of “I” in that prayer, wasn’t there? Does that sound like the prayer of a “prayer professional”? Probably not, but that prayer was as real as it gets because prayer is, simply put, a conversation with God. From the moment it was prayed, God began to answer.
The Importance of Nevertheless Prayers
It wouldn’t be much of a prayer if I stopped with whining. Instead, I continued with a word I don’t always like to pray. Nevertheless. This one word turns whining into prayer and opens the way for great surrender and even greater victory.
It’s the kind of prayer Mary, the mother of Jesus, prayed when the angel told her about her upcoming pregnancy. All her hopes and desires for the life she expected gave way to the life God chose for her. (Luke 1:30-38) Jesus’ nevertheless prayer of surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane was one more step on His path to the empty tomb. (Luke 22:42) It turned “I don’t want this” into “I will do it because it must be done.”
The rest of my prayer went something like this…“I don’t feel it, Lord, but we walk by faith and not feelings or sight. I’ve got nothing but You have everything. You’ve called me to this so I’m counting on You to pray through me and give me Your words.” When I stepped out of the car and headed inside, it was an act of pure obedience.
Serious intercession began with my surrender and nevertheless.
Two young men greeted me as I walked in the door. “Can we pray with you?”
My first thought was how ill-prepared I felt. Shame and pride threatened to overwhelm me. I wanted to hide my inadequacies. Instead, I welcomed my young friends, took a place on the floor, and opened my Bible to Ephesians. “Let’s pray Scripture,” I suggested. That is just one of the many beautiful ways to pray according to the Bible. We started with the first verse and prayed our way through.
Why? Our only offensive weapon in the spiritual armor mentioned in Ephesians 6 is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
When we don’t know what to pray, we need look no further than our Bibles. It is amazing how much we can learn when we learn how to pray according to the Bible. It’s full of stories of real people with hearts just like ours. They struggled with pride, fear, confusion, rebellion, and all the other sins in which we are so easily entangled. We can learn much from their successes and their failures. We’ll look first at basic concepts concerning prayer gleaned from the examples of real people in Scripture.
How to Pray According to the Bible
Start with Relationship
The story of Adam and Eve reveals an important principle for prayer, that of confession and repentance. “Where are you? Who told you that?” (Genesis 3:8-13) Both questions forced hard answers from the still-reeling-from-the-results-of-rebellion man and his wife. Confession of our sin and requests for forgiveness are a perfect place to start our prayers.
If we turn a few pages in our Bibles we find another important principle, that of relationship and communion with God. Genesis 5:22-24 tells us Enoch walked with God. To be sure we understand, it’s repeated. Enoch walked with God. They had a regular, ongoing relationship. When they walked, they certainly talked and we should, too. Sometimes Enoch talked but many times he probably listened. That’s how it works in walk-it-out relationships and in prayer. We must listen to God as much as (or more than) we talk. Most often, we hear God speak through the words of the Bible. If you want to know how to pray according to the Bible, begin here.
Obedience is not optional
Flip another page and a critical aspect of prayer is found in the story of Noah. Genesis 6 tells of God’s instructions to Noah concerning how to build the ark. Noah’s response can be summed up in three words. Thus Noah did. (Genesis 6:22) Instead of words, Noah replied with action. When God gives us instructions, the only appropriate response is obedience. Words are optional.
We see that same obedience with Elijah when He confronted King Ahab. God directed the prophet to speak a hard message of impending drought. (1 King 17:1) Elijah spoke the words God gave him then stepped out of the way until he received another assignment. He was in hiding for more than three years as he waited for God to do what He’d said He would do. Elijah literally risked his life to obey and suffered some hard years as a result but, when the victory came and the nation turned back to God, it was worth it. (1 Kings 19)
Embrace Humility and Surrender
Samson’s final prayer demonstrates another important principle. At this point, his years as powerful warrior and judge of Israel were over, a casualty of his lifestyle of careless debauchery and pride. Blind, imprisoned, and broken, a child led him to the pillars of the Philistine temple and Samson prayed a prayer that literally brought the house down. More Philistines were killed in that moment than all those he killed in his life prior. The surrender and humility with which Samson prayed are key elements of prayer. (Judges 16:28-31)
The story of Hezekiah gives us another example of how to pray. When enemies at the gate threatened the city of Jerusalem, Hezekiah chose prayer over panic. He summed up the situation in concise words. (2 Chronicles 20:12) “We are powerless…nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” Hezekiah recognized his own inadequacy and expressed his faith in God’s miracle-working sufficiency. He took his eyes off himself and put them squarely on God. We’d do well to do the same.
The Bible includes many recorded prayers with examples as varied as the Psalms of David to the prayers of Paul in his epistles. When we aren’t sure what to pray, we can pray the words of those who’ve gone before us. We can also use specific Scriptures as a jump-start for our prayers. Here are two examples to help you get started:
- “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) We might use those words to pray, “Lord, I don’t know what I should do. Please reveal the next step on my path as I study Your word…”
- “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” Ephesians 1:7 In response to this verse, we might pray, “Lord, please draw my family member to you and convict them of their sin so that they can have redemption through Your blood, forgiveness through Your sin, and enjoy the riches of Your grace.”
How to Pray According to the Bible—12 Simple Tips:
1. Begin with self-examination and repentance
If we think we do not sin, we are deceiving ourselves. (1 John 1:8,9) The pull of unconfessed sin can drag us further and further away from our Lord. Begin with repentance and be blessed by the season of refreshment that follows. (Acts 3:19)
2. Be still and listen.
Prayer is not a shopping list of needs. Pray is a two-way conversation with the Creator of the heavens and earth. He’s the most important part of our conversation and He gets to go first. Be intentional about a quiet place and time to be still. When Elijah heard the voice of God, it wasn’t in the windstorm, the earthquake, or the fire. It was in the gentle whisper. Be still enough to hear the Divine Whisper. (Psalm 46:10)
3. His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path
(Psalm 119:105) Read the Bible until something in it speaks to you. God speaks through His Word. Keep reading and meditating until He does.
When Noah and Elijah received direct instructions from God, their response was not further talk on their part, argument, or questions. Their response was obedience. They simply did what He said. We demonstrate our love for God by our willingness to obey, so be prepared to respond to God’s part of your prayer time with obedience. (2 John 1:6)
5. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.
There will be time to ask for things later but we start by saying thank you to the One who has already given us so much more than we deserve. (Psalm 100:4)
6. Make your requests known to God.
God is not a heavenly vending machine into which we can insert our prayer with the expectation of a quick answer in the vend slot. Instead, He is our Heavenly Father who loves us and wants to spend time with us in relationship. It wouldn’t be much of a relationship if every conversation (prayer) centered around our shopping list of needs but there is a place for asking, even in the most holy of relationships. Feel free to tell God your problems and describe your needs. (Philippians 4:6)
7. God’s will and not my own.
When we ask, our tendency is to assume what we want is what is best. Our vision is limited to past and present. God sees the everything, including the future. We can trust Him to do what’s best for today and tomorrow. When we ask Him to accomplish His will on earth in the same way it’s done in heaven, we ask for the best solution to every problem and we surrender our will to His. (Matthew 6:10)
8. Be willing to wait.
God works on an eternal timetable. He is never in a hurry nor is he late. Not every prayer will be answered immediately. Don’t immediately assume a delay means no. Some answers take time. I’ve waited two decades for answers to prayer. It wasn’t always easy to wait but the delay made the answer, when it arrived, even sweeter. (2 Peter 3:8, 9)
9. Some things only come out by prayer and fasting.
When we intentionally deny ourselves something we want in order to focus on spiritual things, we call the denial a fast. Fasting is a spiritual discipline designed to help us focus our hearts and minds on things above and not on our stomaches or our desires. A time of fasting can help us clarify and direct our prayers and, in some ways, can help us to pray with greater power. (Mark 9:29)
10. Pray without ceasing.
We are to live in a constant state of connection to our Lord. It’s a bit like leaving the phone line open when you finish a call. The connection doesn’t end and is always available. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) As we go about our day, we might whisper a quick thank you, offer a short burst of praise, or a quick request for some part of our day. These quick prayers may be no more than a few words but they “keep the line open” and keep our hearts in a state of unceasing prayer.
11. Cultivate prayer partners.
(Matthew 18:1-20) We were never intended to do life or our walk of faith alone. Jesus sent out the disciples out in pairs for a variety of reasons, including the ability of one to encourage the other. They were to work together and pray together. When two or three gather together, He is with us and He also promises more power in prayer. With a consistent prayer partner, we gain accountability and a safe place for vulnerability, as well.
12. Pray BIG
Ephesian 3:20 tells us God can do immeasurably more than we can ask or think. I look forward with anticipation to seeing how God does more than I can imagine. In tough situations, I’ll often hear me ask, “What’s the biggest thing we can pray?” We serve a wonder-working God and we can pray in anticipation of Him doing big things.
How to Pray According to Scripture: Prayer in Action
Two young men and I sat on the carpeted floor for hours. We confessed our sins, asked for forgiveness, and thanked God for what He’d already done. We praised Him and then we prayed through the book of Ephesians. Most of the words we used were straight from the Apostle Paul. Our own words weren’t particularly eloquent or innovative. Instead, we prayed simple prayers from surrendered hearts. More than one thousand people filled the room that night. God’s Spirit came and moved. Hearts were changed. Lives were transformed. The results of that evening are still being seen in teenagers across our area, not because we were great prayer warriors but because the One who wrote the words we prayed to Him heard and responded.
If we want to be part of changing a dark and fallen world for Christ we can do no better than learn how to pray according to the Bible. When we pray the Word of God, we wield a weapon sharper than a two-edged sword and powerful enough to demolish strongholds and set sin-hardened prisoners free. (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Leanna is a prolific writer and passionate intercessor. She has taught and led in the area of prayer and in-depth Bible studies for more than two decades. She has served Global Outreach International as the Director of Intercessory Prayer and Outreach since 2016.
Her ministry priorities include:
SHARING the gospel primarily with high-risk teens
SERVING through providing personal hygiene supplies and water to the homeless community and a feeding program for food-insecure students
EQUIPPING believers to go deeper in the disciple life through retreats, Bible studies, and one-on-one disciplining
SUPPORTING missionaries through prayer and encouragement and connecting senior adults in long-term care facilities with missionaries in the field as prayer partners.