When we wonder how to pray, we seldom look to the Bible for guidance. The truth, however, is that the Bible is packed with praying people, and we can learn much from their examples.
Sometimes we have to dig through Scripture for models. We don’t always find an obvious tip-off, such as, "Lord, teach us to pray…" (Luke 11:1, NIV) Instead, we can look for strengths and situations. Many Bible figures showed courage and faith, but others found themselves in situations that brought out qualities they didn't know they had, just as your situation can do today.
How to Pray When Your Situation Is Desperate
What if you feel backed into a corner? Your job, finances, or marriage may be in trouble and you wonder how to pray when danger threatens. David, a man after God’s own heart, knew that feeling, as King Saul pursued him across the hills of Israel, trying to kill him. The slayer of the giant Goliath, David understood where his strength came from:
"I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2, NIV)
Desperation seems more the norm than the exception in the Bible. The night before his death, Jesus told his confused and anxious disciples how to pray at such times:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." (John 14:1, NIV)
When you feel desperate, trusting in God calls for an act of the will. You can pray to the Holy Spirit, who will help you overcome your emotions and put your trust in God instead. This is hard, but Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit as our Helper for times like these.
How to Pray When Your Heart Is Broken
Despite our heartfelt prayers, things don’t always go the way we want. A loved one dies. You lose your job. The outcome is just the opposite of what you asked for. What then?
What Jesus told Martha applies to you today:
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26, NIV)
Of course, we should not expect Jesus to raise our loved one from the dead, as he did Lazarus. But we should expect our believer to live eternally in heaven, as Jesus promised. God will mend all our broken hearts in heaven. I don’t know how he will do that, but I believe with all my being that he will.
Jesus promised in his Sermon on the Mount that God does hear the prayers of the brokenhearted:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." (Matthew 5:3-4, NIV)
We pray best when we offer God our pain in humble sincerity, and Scripture tells us how our loving Father responds:
"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." (Psalm 147:3, NIV)
How to Pray When You Are Ill
Clearly God wants us to come to him with our physical and emotional illnesses. The Gospels, especially, are filled with accounts of people coming boldly to Jesus for healing. Not only did he encourage such faith, he delighted in it.
When a group of men couldn't get their friend close enough to Jesus, they made a hole in the roof of the house where he was preaching and lowered the paralyzed man down to him. First Jesus forgave his sins, then he made him walk.
On another occasion, as Jesus was leaving Jericho, two blind men sitting by the roadside shouted at him. They didn't whisper. They didn't talk. They shouted!
"The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!'" (Matthew 20:31, NIV)
Was the co-creator of the universe offended? Did he ignore them and keep walking?
"Jesus stopped and called them. 'What do you want me to do for you?' he asked. 'Lord,' they answered, 'we want our sight.' Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him." (Matthew 20:32-34, NIV)
Have faith in God. Be bold. Be persistent. If, for his own mysterious reasons, God does not heal your illness, you can be sure he will answer your prayer for supernatural strength to endure it.
How to Pray When You Are Thankful
Life has miraculous moments. The Bible records dozens of situations where people express their gratitude to God. Many forms of thanks please him.
When God saved the fleeing Israelites by parting the Red Sea:
"Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing." (Exodus 15:20, NIV)
After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, his disciples:
"…worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God." (Luke 24:52-53, NIV)
God desires our praise. You can shout, sing, dance, laugh, and cry with tears of joy. Sometimes your finest prayers have no words at all, but God, in his infinite goodness and love, will understand perfectly.
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.