I'm posting this as part of a "synchroblog" of the same title which I found out about at Lyn's blog. It's a great topic, one which I hope will bring up a million and one different ways of praying and I'm looking forward to reading them all!
So... my response... how DO I pray? (as far as I am aware, these are in no particular order!)
- with difficulty
I've got to admit, I do find prayer really difficult. So often I find myself feeling crippled by a sense of "nothing to say" which is such a ridiculous thing. I'm learning more and more to fight through that feeling and just to say something anyway. The obvious answer would be to pray in tongues but its not something I've ever been able to do (I do think I know why this is but that's not for this post). So I just make myself say something simple and it gets easier from there. It's a discipline I guess?
I grew up in a fairly traditional church where everyone prayed in a completely different language to their normal conversational style. I don't mean tongues or an actual language, just a more formal jargony Christian-ese. I think that's what makes it hard to know what to say sometimes - not only do I have to know what I'm praying for, I also have to think of suitable words. The thing is, I know that's pointless and it makes so much sense to talk to God normally. So I do try just to talk to God like I'd talk to anyone else. One of the girls in our house group is really really good at this and I'm inspired and challenged by hearing her pray. I want to learn to pray like me, not like a pretentious formalised version of me.
That said, I do think it's important to pray with an awareness of who God is and therefore who I am talking to. He's not like "just anyone" I'd talk to, he's quite a bit better so he does deserve a bit of respect!
Over the past 7 or so years I've been discovering that prayer doesn't have to involve words at all. They certainly help, especially when you are praying with other people, but they aren't essential. I'm a creative sort of person so it really works for me to use painting, drawing, making stuff or whatever comes to hand to pray. I also like to pray symbolically, using things to aid or facilitate prayer - this could be as simple as rolling out some paper on the floor to write on, or something more involved like bandaging up apples which had been cut up (yes, we did do this once and yes, it was relevant!). I really find that doing something creative helps me to focus and to express stuff to God that would just get tangled up if I tried to use words.
- on paper
I get so distracted when I'm praying on my own that if I'm going to stay focussed for any length of time (i.e. longer than 2 minutes) I have to write it down. Sometimes this is just like writing a letter, sometimes I just write what's in my head even if it doesn't make sense (hey, who's gonna read it anyway?) and sometimes it looks more like a spider diagram as I write things and people down and join them up. While we were at uni, Katie and I spider-diagram-prayed together loads.
- in faith
...because really, if I don't believe that God will answer my prayer and that he has the power to actually do stuff, there's no point praying at all is there?
The downside to this is that there are one or two things that I do struggle to pray for at all because I can't quite reconcile what I know with my reality. This is a whole other story, again, not for here, but I'm working on it. I know with absolute certainty that there is nothing that God can't do but my frustrations with my own current situation and apparent lack of change do get in the way sometimes. I know I'm wrong. I'm working on it.
- on the run
I think we all do it.... "God please help me" as we turn up at a difficult meeting or other similar quick-fire requests. I used to think that this was wrong but lately I've been trying to do it more - making my relationship with God much more of a minute-by-minute part of my daily life rather than waiting for those rare times when I have half an hour to stop. In isolation, it's not a great way to pray because it rarely leaves time for worship or really dwelling in God's presence but actually I think it's important to keep God at a high priority in life and these ongoing "here I am and I want you to be involved here" prayers really do help us keep focussed on God if nothing else.
There's probably loads more I could write and I'm sure I could better express what I have put. Prayer is great, I love it, even when it's hard. And thankfully there's grace which makes it all OK!
To read the other contributions to this synchroblog (well worth doing but make sure you have an hour or two and a box of tissues!), there's a list of participants at Cindy's blog