You might feel drawn to prayer because you’ve reached a point in your life where you feel like you need extra help. Maybe you’re having a spiritual awakening. Or perhaps you simply just want to connect with a higher power. Whatever the reason, now is as good a time as ever to start praying. Learning to pray might feel daunting at first. But never fear—this article gives you everything you need to start.
The Definition of Prayer
Prayer is the act of communicating with God. You talk to God, and God also talks to you. Prayer can take many forms. Some people kneel to pray, some clasp their hands, some raise their arms above their heads. People have prayed to various gods for thousands of years. There may be different reasons for or different methods of praying among different times, religions, and cultures, but the general idea is the same everywhere: People pray to commune with the divine, and they keep praying because it makes their lives better.
Essentially, prayer is an act of meditation. It’s introspective, quiet, personal, and calming. When you make a habit of prayer, you’re also making a habit of meditation. Some people pray at specific times of the day, or before they have a meal. One practice that is particularly helpful for lots of people is nightly prayer. This, like a nightly meditation, clears the mind and helps you relax before sleep. So perhaps you can think about adding prayer to your bedtime routine.
Prayer can help you feel more grounded, remember the divine in your everyday life, be more grateful, and have more hope. It also has a way of bringing people together during times of crisis. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out worldwide in early 2020, people of all faiths designated days of prayer for a cure. People all over the world have prayed for Ukraine for the last six months since Russia’s invasion. Families pray when their loved ones are having surgery or other medical complications. Prayer gives people hope.
How to Pray
So you want to start praying, but how do you actually do it? Well, it’s as simple as talking to a higher power the same way you talk to your friend. You might feel strange at first, talking to something that you can’t see, especially if the idea of God is new to you. But that’s where faith comes in. You have to believe (or at least try to believe) that a higher power is really listening to you.
There is no prescribed way to pray. You don’t need to speak out loud if you don’t want to. It might be easier for you to write your prayers down instead of saying them, or you can just pray in your mind. There aren’t certain words you need to say or things you need to do. And if you’re trying to know what to pray about, nothing’s really off-limits. Some examples are:
● Express gratitude.
● Ask for peace and comfort.
● Share your thoughts and feelings.
● Seek answers to spiritual questions.
● Ask for help and guidance.
● Pray for others.
The most important thing is to pray in a way that you feel comfortable. Your personal prayer time is between you and God.
Two Prayer Templates
Even though there are no “prayer rules,” it’s still helpful to have a place to start when you’ve never prayed before. Having a reference can help immensely, especially if you’re nervous. One option is to say a prayer that’s already been written by someone else. Although the words aren’t technically your own, you can make them yours if you say them from your heart. Here’s a simple prayer that you can say:
To my higher power, thank you for giving me life. Thank you for keeping me safe, and please continue to watch over me. Thank you for giving me people who love and support me. I ask that you help me find my purpose and live it. Help me notice who needs my help.
You can also look at this prayer index for the common prayers of major religions.
Another option is to follow a more loose prayer template, filling in your own words along the way. In the following template, we used some of the suggestions from the previous section on what to pray about:
- Begin the prayer. For example, you can say, “Dear God,” or a simple “Hello” if you prefer a nameless divine power.
- Tell God how you’re feeling. You don’t have to get deep if you don’t want to, but this can make your prayer feel more realistic and heartfelt. For example: “Today was a long day, but I got a promotion at work and I’m happy about it.”
- Express gratitude. Just choose one thing. For example, you can say, “Thank you for the great friends I have in my life.”
- Ask for help. This could be a spiritual question, a desire to feel calm, help with something you’re doing the next day, anything. For example, you can ask, “Can you help me wake up on time tomorrow?”
- Be still and listen. Prayer isn’t a one-sided conversation. Take at least a minute to sit with your thoughts and let your higher power talk to you. For help recognizing what God’s saying to you, see the last section in this article.
- End the prayer. Ending your prayer can help you transition to the next part of your day. For example, you can say, “Thanks for listening. I’m going to bed,” or “amen,” which is a traditional way to end a prayer meaning “so be it.”
Three Guided Prayers
If prayer still feels daunting to you, you might like using the Skylight app. It’s designed to make prayer natural and easy for you, but still just as meaningful. Most Skylight exercises involve prayer in some form or another, but some provide a specific framework for prayer. We’ve outlined three of them for you.
A Prayer of Gratitude with Kelly Boys (4 minutes). In this video, you’ll be guided to say a simple prayer of gratitude. Kelly Boys shares her experience and gives you an example of a prayer of gratitude. She says, “As you say this prayer of gratitude, can you also consider what it would be like to live your life in this way? Where you're noticing moment to moment, the bird song, the trees, the beautiful connections that are in your life. Even if it's a small moment with a cashier at a store. What would it be like to consider living this prayer? You might have an image of yourself living a prayer of gratitude for the rest of the day, for the rest of the week. Feel free to carry this meditation practice with you into your life. And let it change you.”
Contemplative Prayer with Thomas McConkie (11 minutes). In this video, Thomas McConkie will guide you in a traditional contemplative prayer, which involves using a “sacred word,” such as peace or love, that brings you back to stillness and back to God. He says, “When awareness contracts on an object, a thought, a sound, a sensation, which it will inevitably, no need to fret whatsoever. A distraction, in this practice, is just another opportunity to return to God. Gently hold the intention to consent to the presence and action of God. The mind naturally forms thoughts, forms images, interpreting experience moment to moment. If you become aware of a thought, an image, sound, bring up the sacred word, consenting again to this divine presence, which is too subtle for any human faculty to perceive.”
Full Circle Prayer (6 minutes). This is an audio exercise that combines meditation and breathwork with prayer. You’ll be guided through a simple prayer where you express gratitude, ask God to help someone you know, and ask God to help you with something in your life. There will also be some time to listen: “Bring yourself back to your breath and take some extra time to be still. Open your spirit to any thoughts, images, or feelings that come to you. Be patient enough to observe these ideas. Imagine yourself writing down any idea or impression you had. Take one more deep breath and release with gratitude for your own spirit, for others, and for God.”
How to Listen to God
Your higher power wants to talk to you, but most of the time, they don’t actually speak audibly. It requires almost a sixth sense: God often talks through thoughts, feelings, or images in your mind. In our article about how to improve spiritual communication, it says:
“If you are seeking direction from a higher power, you’ll need to dedicate time to receive that guidance. Tune in and listen. Active listening will show that you are really interested in open spiritual communication. Ask questions. Then pause and pay attention to how you feel. Maybe you’ll have a thought pop into your head or your heart will feel like it has new life. Maybe you can’t control the smile spread across your face or you feel uneasy and heavy. Active listening in spiritual communication is a great exercise for understanding your inner voice. Realize that tuning in to your intuition and receiving guidance from God is no easy process. It may take months, even years, to understand how a higher power speaks to you. But getting there is rewarding as well. Being engaged and having an open spirit are a great start.”
Because everyone is different, everyone hears God differently. But your higher power knows the perfect way to talk to you. You just need to listen to find it. Here are two stories from people describing how God once spoke to them:
“One time I was feeling really down and sad. I didn’t have anyone near me to help me out—but I knew I could pray. I remember kneeling down on my bed, talking to God, and telling him exactly how I was feeling. I remember feeling so much love, and I was reminded how many people love me and that I could make it through that challenging time. I believe this moment was so memorable because I really poured out my heart and took the time to ponder and feel God’s love.” -Leah, Rexburg, USA
“After four failed pregnancies and doing everything my husband and I could do to bear a child, I received a surprising vision of two little boys in my bathtub, bathing; one smaller blonde and about a year older dark-haired boy. A feeling of reassurance and love filled me. Three years later, I saw that vision in reality! I thanked almighty God for his care, reassurance, and love.” -C.A.O., McKinleyville, USA
For Leah, it was a feeling of love. For C.A.O., it was an image in her mind. What will it be for you? You’ll have to pray to find out!