Prayer for beginners. 1 (And we’re all beginners…)
Prayer is a basic part of life as a Christian. We pray in church, at home, together,
on our own… We offer thanks to God, ask his forgiveness when we get things wrong,
pray for people we care about and much more. Often we pray ‘on the spur of the moment’,
responding to situations as we meet them. Choosing to pray in a disciplined way,
though, is a step further in life with God.
There are lots of patterns of prayer which we can use, and I’ll try to write a bit
about some of them over the coming months. Please do share any ideas that have helped
you to pray – we’re all in this together, and have a lot to learn from each other.
One thing is vital if you’re going to build a pattern of prayer – time. It doesn’t
need to be a lot, but you need to set aside at least a few minutes regularly, and
to make yourself do it – even if that means leaving some other things undone for
Get yourself comfortable, and don’t feel that you need to rush straight into praying.
Often it helps to spend a few moments being still and breathing deeply to let your
mind slow down a bit.
Then comes the praying part. If you’re trying to get started in this, why not use
the prayer Jesus taught us? It’s both a wonderful prayer in itself and a great pattern
for our own prayers.
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your Name.
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done on
earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive
those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
the Kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
From early on in the church, it’s been recommended that we stop to pray this prayer
at least three times a day – on rising, at mid-day and in the evening. Try praying
it slowly and thoughtfully this way for a few days.
Then take a bit longer, and perhaps once a day, stop after each line to think and
pray about the kind if things the prayer mentions. So after ‘Our Father in heaven’
just take a moment to think about God – what do you believe he is like? Ask him to
help you to know. After ‘Hallowed be your Name’, think of three things to praise
and thank God about. Think through what each line of the prayer means, and spend
a few moments praying about those things.
Try this for a week, and see how you feel about prayer then!
The Rev’d Nick Watson
Prayer for beginners 2 – Praying for the world
One of the sides of prayer that we’re often most comfortable thinking about is that
of prayer for other people. The traditional name for this is intercession and it’s
a vital part of our life as Christians. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray for the world
first, and only then for our own needs; this isn’t a bad pattern to keep to in all
of our prayers.
What happens when we pray?
The short answer is that we don’t really know! We know that prayer isn’t meant to
be some kind of magic we work on God to make him do what we want. At the same time,
Jesus told us several times that we should be persistent and disciplined in praying,
to keep going when prayers don’t seem to be answered.
Perhaps the best way that I’ve found to see it is that prayer is how God somehow
allows us to share in his work in the world. When we can’t affect a situation in
any other way, we can still share in what God is doing through others. When we have
the opportunity to help someone or to make a difference ourselves, then we seek God’s
help and strength to do so, trusting that his work through us will somehow lead to
more than we would achieve by our own efforts alone.
Often this has as much to do with allowing God to shape our thoughts as it does with
‘getting our prayers right’ in the first place. St Paul in his letter to the Romans
says that God the Holy Spirit actually prays to God the Father from within us. When
we don’t know what to pray (or even what to think) about a situation, God can take
over and include us in his conversation with himself! Prayer for others can be a
wonderful but challenging experience if we listen to ourselves and to God as we pray.
How can we pray?
It’s good to be specific in your prayer, and to stick at it. It might help to have
a list of people and situations that you’ll pray for, and refer to it regularly.
If there are many things on your prayer list, don’t try to rush through them all
every time. Part of this prayer is to concentrate on what you’re bringing to mind
and to God, and rushing through things tends to feel a bit like a shopping list!
It’s probably better to spread things over a few days or a week – though there may
be a few people or situations you’ll want to pray for every day.
There are other parts to prayer, but one way or another it’s good to let yourself
be still for a few minutes. First ask the Holy Spirit to help you to pray. You might
read a bit of the Bible or use the prayer for the week (usually printed on the weekly
readings sheet in church) to help yourself to come closer to God. Then just use your
list or whatever else is on your mind to ask God to do what’s right and best in each
situation – even if what’s best isn’t actually what you yourself would want.
You don’t need elegant words, or even any words at all – bringing together your focussed
concern for others and your trust in God (however weak that feels!) is what matters.
Ideas for prayer
Start with what matters most to you, whether people, parts of the world or any kind
of issue. The more it matters to you, the easier it’ll be to keep praying.
Then use the news! Whether you read a paper, watch TV news or listen to the radio,
take a note (at least mentally!) of anything you’d like to pray for. You could even
get into the habit, if it’s quiet when the news is on, of praying as you read, listen
or watch. It may affect the way you think about the world.
The weekly welcome sheet in church lists a few people who’ve asked for the church’s
public prayers. You could also look at the prayer board by the south door and take
a couple of notes for the week’s prayers.
Most Christian charities and mission agencies are happy to provide monthly or quarterly
prayer lists, to let you know about some of the areas in which they work, and to
help to focus your prayers. Contact any you already support by giving, and ask to
receive these if you don’t already.
A couple of warnings and an encouragement
First, don’t be surprised if the answers that come to your prayers aren’t always
the answers you would like. God does answer prayer, but not always with a straightforward
‘yes’. Sometimes his answer can the gift of strength to accept a different situation
from the one we would have chosen.
Second, look out. If you’re praying for a person or a situation, God may challenge
you to do something else about it. Be ready to find that you’re meant to be part
of the answer to your own prayer!
Lastly, do talk to (Church minister). We all keep learning, and advice from how someone
else has found they can pray may be very useful.
Rev’d Nick Watson
Prayer for beginners 3 – listening to God
We’ve talked in the last couple of articles about the side of prayer that’s to do
with our speaking to God. Prayer is meant to be a conversation, though, and it’s
good to spend time listening as well as talking. That’s not a bad thing to remember
for any relationship, with God or with the important people in your life…
Starting with the Bible
One of the most reliable ways to listen to God is through careful and prayerful reading
of the Bible. Christians believe that this is God’s word – not dictated by him, but
inspired by him and written by human authors over a period of more than a thousand
years. Another time I’ll write more on reading the Bible, but there are lots of resources
to help you if you’re interested.
For now I’m concerned with using the Bible as part of your prayers. One thing to
do first is to get a good translation to read. In church we use the New Revised Standard
Version. You might like this or the New International Version, but some others are
easier to read. If you don’t have a Bible you’re comfortable reading, do ask me for
advice or call in to a specialist Christian bookshop and ask them to explain the
differences between different translations. You’ll also find that you can buy Bibles
with all kinds of ‘extras’ (notes, maps, indexes etc.), but the most important thing
is that the text is accurate and readable.
Then you need to decide which bits to read. It’s better for this kind of reading
to concentrate on a short passage. You could use the readings we hear in Church on
Sunday – if you’re able to get to Church they’re printed on a sheet, or you can buy
a booklet called a Lectionary which will tell you what they are (again, ask at a
Christian bookshop, or ask me for a list of readings).
You could decide you’d like to read through a book of the Bible (I suggest starting
with one of the gospels). In this case, you might like to make sure that your Bible
has section headings added to the text, and read one of them at a time.
A good way to begin, though, is with one of the many series of Bible reading notes
which you can get (yes, Christian bookshop again!) Look through a few and decide
which one is going to suit you best. These notes will suggest a Bible passage, and
give you some background, a few thoughts on it and often a prayer or suggestion for
something you can do. One of Bishop Tom Wright’s books on ‘the Bible for everyone’
would give you the same sort of material.
However you choose a passage, set aside a few minutes to read and pray with it. First
sit comfortably and let yourself rest. Then pray that God will help you to hear what
he wants to say, and read the passage slowly and carefully. Try to be aware of your
thoughts and feelings as you read it. Take a moment just to let it sink in, and to
think about what it says.
If you’re using notes, now is the time to read them, and give yourself a bit more
time to absorb what they tell you or suggest to you. (You don’t have to agree with
them!) Try to decide what God wants you to do and to pray as a result of the passage,
and ask his help to do it.
Now turn to the part of your prayer which is about speaking (see the last couple
of weeks) and let what you’ve read shape what you pray.
Keep going with it, and before long you’ll be amazed at how much of the Bible you
come to understand, and at how God helps you to pray as a result.
Rev’d Nick Watson
Prayer for beginners 4 – ‘Helps’ to prayer
I wrote last time of a more reflective approach to prayer, and mentioned giving yourself
time to rest into stillness. Not everyone finds that easy! This time I’ve got a few
suggestions of things that might help.
If you can find the right place that will help. I do have the privilege of praying
regularly in church, where the atmosphere of shared prayer does make things easier!
You may need to find a more personal place. Many people find that (for the deliberate
time of prayer you set aside) it helps to have a regular place to pray in. It should
be somewhere as quiet as possible, and with a chair on which you can sit comfortably
but without danger of falling asleep! You can also buy prayer stools which some people
If your ‘prayer place’ can have somewhere to rest your Bible, and space for a candle
and perhaps a cross, an icon, flower or something else to look at, that would be
Disciplined prayer does need time set apart, and most people find it helpful (when
it’s possible) to have a regular time of day in which to pray. Find your own best
time – it may depend on your own rhythms (whether you’re most awake in the mornings
or the evenings) or your family or work circumstances. If there are others in the
house, agree with them when you can have a few minutes undisturbed. Don’t try to
set aside too long a time. You’ll find it harder to keep to, and probably a struggle
to use well if you do manage – to begin with, at least.
Looking at something, or perhaps listening to music, can be helpful especially as
we settle in to prayer.
I mentioned a candle, and other things to look at. Many people find that lighting
a candle helps to mark out a ‘special’ time, and that looking at its flame while
thinking of Christ, the light of the world, helps us to be still and at peace. An
icon is a particular kind of spiritual painting, representing Jesus, God or one of
the saints and symbolising their presence with us. A cross reminds us of God’s love
for us in Jesus; something natural is another good possibility to help us to think
Another thing which often helps is something to do. To use the beads of a rosary
can be a good way of concentrating, and you don’t need to use the traditional Roman
Catholic prayer, the ‘Hail Mary’ if you’re not comfortable with it. If you’d like
to explore prayer with a rosary, or other prayer beads, ask (church minister) for
a bit of advice.
You may or may not find it helpful to pray with someone else. You don’t need to talk
– you can pray side by side in silence if that’s more helpful. But it may well help
to have a friend to whom you can at least talk about prayer and about how God is
at work in your life. Why not make it an early part of your prayer to ask God to
bring you together with the right person to support one another in this?
I hope that something in this article helps you to develop your own prayer and your
friendship with God.
The Rev’d Nick Watson