Learning to Pray

Teaching section


There is a big difference between knowing about a person and knowing a person. A person who never prays can know a lot about God, but only a prayerful person can know God (Psalm 73:25-26; John 10:27-30). We are called to an ever-deepening life of knowing the Lord who loves us and wants us to share our whole lives with him (1 Thessalonians 5:10).

Any mature relationship involves “give” and “take.” Because of who God is, we receive far more than we can ever give, but he asks us to offer:

Praise — appreciating and enjoying him for what he is (Psalm 96:7-8).

Confession — getting rid of blotches on the page (Psalm 32:3-5; 51:1-2).

Thanks — for his gifts, his rescue, and his answers to prayer (Psalm 103:1-5).

Meditation — reflecting on his Scriptures (Joshua 1:8).

Ourselves — willingly, gladly for his service (Romans 12:1-2).

Prayer is not twisting the arm of God. Rather, it is cooperating with him in his purposes for the world. In prayer we discover his mind (Ephesians 5:10, 17) and join in his purpose (Matthew 9:38; 10:5). Praying and working go together (James 2:18-26).

Learning to pray

Though prayer is as natural as speech, like speech, it has to be learned.

  1. Learn by doing. Make regular times for prayer (Daniel 6:10). Pray alone (Mark 1:35) and with others (Matthew 18:20) because, as in a family, we do not learn to speak in isolation. Learn to pray brief “arrow” prayers as needs arise (Matthew 14:30; Nehemiah 2:4-5).
  2. Learn from Jesus, starting from his great “pattern” prayer (Luke 11:1-13) and going on to his meditation in John 17.
  3. Learn from books — e.g., Michel Quoist’s Prayers, and above all else, the Psalms. Hymn and song books can be an inspiration, too.
  4. Learn from the Holy Spirit, who is given to us to help us pray (Romans 8:15-16, 26-27).

Unanswered prayer

If your prayers aren’t getting answered: Do you actually pray (James 4:2)? Do you mean it (Matthew 7:7)? Are your goals selfish (James 4:3)? Is there unconfessed sin in the way (James 4:8)? Do you persevere in prayer (Luke 18:1-8)? Are you seeking God’s will (Mark 14:36)?

Remember that answers do not always come in the form we expect or at the time we demand; we may be meant to answer our own prayer (Matthew 14:15-16); the answer may be no; and sometimes, if he appears not to answer, maybe he wants us to start loving him for who he is, not for what we can get out of him!

Verse to learn

Learn John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”

Bible study section

The Bible passage for study is Colossians 1:3-14.

  1. What are the main things for which Paul thanks God in the lives of these people he had never seen?
  2. Why is thanksgiving such an important part of prayer?
  3. Paul is not slow to ask God for things in prayer — but what are the main things he asks for? How should we pray for our friends?
  4. Paul prays that they may know God’s power. What sort of things will that power do?
  5. What are the main marks of Christian discipleship in this passage?

Prayer time

Go back over some of the particular matters concerning prayer that struck you during the Bible study or the teaching section, and wrap your time of prayer around those things.


Brother Andrew, God’s Smuggler

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

O. Hallesby, Prayer

J.I. Packer, Knowing God

John White, People in Prayer

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