Prayer. It's our hotline to heaven, our time with our Creator, and a one of the most vital parts of our lives as Christians. In the words of Martin Luther, "To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing." But what makes prayer so important? And how and when should we pray?
The Bible mentions prayer plenty of times and even gives instructions on how we should approach prayer.
"Don't worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done" (Philippians chapter 4, verse 6).
So even in the Bible, prayer is described as simply having a chat to God about what is on our mind or what we need or want. If that's the case, then prayer should be pretty straightforward. But what about the traditional prayers? How do they differ from a casual conversation with God, and what do those prayers actually mean?
Traditional prayers such as the Lord's prayer and the bedtime prayer (now I lay me down to sleep) have been known to Christians for generations. The Lord's prayer is even mentioned in Matthew as a guideline on how to pray.
"Our father in heaven hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one." (Matthew chapter 6, verses 9-14).
But does repeating these prayers add as much value to our relationship with God as our personal prayers do? What expectations does God have of us when we pray?
Dictator or dad?
God wants a relationship with us and for us to know and love Him like the heavenly father He is. But how do we approach Him like a father when we know how incredible He is and how much honour He deserves?
Christian author and speaker Joyce Meyers is quoted in saying "prayer is simply talking to God like a friend and should be the easiest thing that we do each day".
So with that in mind, we need to remember not to feel nervous about approaching God, because He loves us and is eager to hear anything that is on our mind. No matter how small or insignificant it may seem.
Contrary to some misconceptions, God is not sitting there with a big black stick, ready to punish us for our wrongdoings. He's always there ready to listen. No matter what we want to say to Him.
I have struggled with prayer during my time as a Christian and have always felt compelled to pray in a certain way and at certain times. I always felt like God had expectations of me when I prayed and that if I didn't meet those expectations, then it was an illegitimate prayer.
It was only recently that I remembered how to approach God like a loving father and I realized that He doesn't care where I was praying or what time of day. He was just happy to hear from me and it didn't matter if it was during my quiet time at night, or when I was out in the garden during the day.
Taking this approach has changed how I see God and I have started to speak to Him in the same relaxed manner as I do with my family and friends because now I understand that He is just as happy to communicate with me that way.
I leave you with some final words of encouragement. God is your heavenly father. He loves you and is happy to talk to you anywhere at anytime. He's not someone to be afraid of, because He loves us more than we can ever imagine and wants to share in every part of our lives.