The Archbishop of Canterbury reveals how Christians should pray - and who to pray for

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at a service with the Communty of St Anselm, the praying community he has founded at Lambeth Palace.Lambeth Palace

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby took to Twitter today to join his 95,000 followers and many more in advising how to pray for the world, for individuals, for those in sickness - and for yourself

Welby set up the #askJustinWelby lunchtime Twitter prayer session with a Tweet of his own:

Hundreds of people immediately asked for prayers for jobless teenagers, for guidance on how to "pray like the Psalmist" and even expressing concern that "God's inbox" might be getting too full.

Some people invoked essays on the efficacy of intercessory prayer. A new convert to Christianity did not ask the Archbishop to pray for anything in particular, but just wanted advice on what he should pray for.

People also wanted to know whether collective prayer was stronger than individual prayer, and whether prayer is more about talking, or listening.

Welby responded to the prayer requests by 30-second Twitter videos.

He told Naomi Bolton, who asked how to pray for God's will to be done after her mum died, that he sympathised and felt for her.

He added: "It's not always your job to pray. It is very often other people's job to pray for you when you're going through a rough time as you have been at the moment. Be with others, and ask for their help."

Colin Cameron asked how long the Archbishop prayed each day.

Welby said it could be for a couple of hours or more in total, a mix of prayers with the community three times a day, contemplation with the Bible and intercessionary prayer.

Beckly Walker asked why it was so hard to pray.

He said: "Great question." For him, the reasons were laziness, distractions and a "desire not to meet with God" because when that happens, things change. "All those things stop me. Once I've started, it's wonderful."

Lucy Smith asked if he always got answers to his prayers. He said he did, but not always the answer he wanted. "How I know there's an answer is that something happens or it doesn't, but also that sense of the presence of God by his spirit."

He responded to the blogger Archbishop Cranmer: "Your Grace, your questions will always be terrifying."  

Welby said God answers prayers "surprisingly" and very often through others. "Often God just turns up and does the most extraordinary things in our lives."

The purpose of prayer is "to bring ourselves into the presence of God" and to be transformed by "being in the presence of God."

To the new Christian, he said: "I would start by praying for the gift of the spirit, to help you pray better. Secondly, make sure you are reading the Bible each day and as you read, pray for God to speak to you through the Bible and then pray about what he says to you."

Asked if it was alright to be angry with God, Welby said it was alright to be "honest with God in prayer." Anger can be part of it, but the key thing is honesty.

Churches Alive Online @aliveandonline asked for tips on praying during a lunch hour. Welby said if possible, pray with someone else. And give ten minutes for prayer about how you are, ten minutes with the Bible, ten minutes of further prayer "and make sure you eat your sandwiches."

The God he prays to is "the God I'm learning to know through Jesus Christ, progressively as time goes on, more and more and more." The most helpful thing to aid prayer life was having "someone older, wiser and more experienced" to talk and listen to.

The most important thing when struggling with prayer is to pray with others. "Being a Christian is being together with God, with others."

He said it was ok for a person to pray for themselves, although he always prays for himself last. "We pray for ourselves because we are worried about things. We are absolutely honest with God. We never hide things from God. And that means we are going to pray for ourselves a bit. But not dominantly."

He ended with a simple prayer: "Come Holy Spirit of God, and fill our hearts with the fire of your love. Amen."