What should I say?
Prayer is talking to God. It doesn't have to be filled with fancy words like Thee or Thou. It doesn't have to be long and drawn out or even out loud. But it should be honest and heart felt. You don't have to kneel or fold your hands or do anything religious looking.
Tell God what is on your mind. It doesn't do any good to lie to God. You can't fool Him anyway. He cares deeply about your thoughts and feelings. So talk to him about what bothers you. Then thank him for the good things in your life: your friends and the opportunity to get an education. If you need anything, ask him for it. Then think of the kind of things He needs for His kingdom here on earth. He is very interested in building this. The more you get to know Him, the better you'll understand what He wants.
Why are some prayers not answered?
There are multiple reasons why prayers are not answered. There are 4 basic answers to prayer: 'yes', 'no', 'wait', and "yes but nobody is obeying". If you get a "no" to something you think you really need, it may be that it is in somehow a selfish prayer. If you are puzzled, simply pray for wisdom.
You ask and fail to get because you ask with
the wrong motives. James 4:3
Think of it this way, imagine yourself as a new employee whose job it is to think up new projects. Your boss says "Get your work done and let me know if you need anything." So you ask him for a million dollars. What is he going to do? He'll ask you what are you going to do with my money? If you say "I'm going to buy a yacht for myself", then your plan is not to build your employers business at all. He'll think you're crazy to waste his money like that. Not only will you not get the million dollars, you'll get fired because you didn't have your bosses best interest in mind.
But let's say you are a wise employee who understand what his boss wants to achieve. You ask for a million dollars for an advertising campaign for one of his new condo buildings. You project the return on your investment to be 125%. You get the million dollars and a raise!
So then, when you ask God for something, ask for the things that are needed to build God's kingdom on earth. Why? Be interested in what God wants to do. It is really pretty simple in concept. But it is not so simple to rearrange our hearts to want what God wants. We need God's help with that. So ask for help with your heart first.
If you are asking for the right things, and your prayers are still not answered, it could be that you need to wait for God's timing. Or it is possible that someone else is disobeying God and holding things up. I heard a sad country song recently that concluded that God must be busy since He wasn't answering his prayer. Well it is much more likely that other people are too busy to listen to what God wants them to do. Or other people may be unwilling to do what God is asking them to do. Don't blame God for that. God respects a persons right to make their own decisions. Decisions have consequences and when we make a decision, we choose the consequences, even if we do not properly anticipate the consequences!
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If God knows everything, then why do we have to pray?
Well do you know everything? No? Then maybe you should talk to someone who does. Prayer is not about being religious. It's about having a relationship with God and communicating with Him.
Is anyone really listening?
YES!! God is very interested in what you have to say. He has great plans for your life. He wants you to be happy. He wants you to know more about Him.
I get distracted or fall asleep when I pray. How do I stay focused?
It helps to open your Bible and read a chapter to get your mind on God's will. It takes practice. It helps if you are really concerned about the need of the person for which you are praying. It is harder to pray for a list of people you do not know and are not connected to. If you can't stay awake, then walk around when you pray. Don't lie in bed and pray if you tend to just fall asleep.
Sometimes God will give you a burden to pray for someone specifically. This is not easy at first because it weighs down your heart, hence the name burden. So you pray until the burden goes away. You'll know you are done praying when the burden lifts.
I am afraid to pray out loud.
That is OK. God will hear your silent prayer just the same. It took me a long time to feel I could pray out loud in a group of people. I was afraid I would say something stupid. Just remember, you are not talking to the other people in the room.
Hate prayer cliches?
Be careful to not be critical about how other people pray. If prayer cliches annoy you, fine - don't use them. Don't let your critical attitude hurt other people. It's not your job to police how other people pray.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The Serenity Prayer