Learning How To Pray

By: Dr. James Van Dyke; ©2000
How many of us have said, “I just don’t know how to pray”? Dr. James Van Dyke explains why that should not stop us from praying. The article will give you practical advice to get from “wishing” to, as the Nike ad says “JUST DOing IT!”


Learning How to Pray

A concerned Christian mother was urging her son, who had drifted away from the Lord and the church, to get back to the Lord. He replied, “I really have been thinking a lot about this lately; but I just don’t know how to pray.”

He was expressing the feeling of so many people. It seems that this is the number one reason why many people don’t pray: they don’t know how to pray—or feel they don’t. They may have been falsely led to believe that there is an officially approved way to pray and unless we can measure up to it we are not praying properly.

NOT SO! The only “prescription” for prayer is that we DO pray. Even the Lord’s prayer is merely a model for our prayers, and not a prescribed form to be slavishly followed. Even devout Christians come to points in their lives where they feel frustrating inadequacy and ineffectiveness in prayer. The Apostle Paul clearly understood this, and so writes in Romans 8:26, “And in the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should….”

Paul assures us here that God understands us and knows our every need—even in the area of prayer. Our not knowing how to pray as we should refers strictly to our coming to those times when we don’t know what to ask; how to express what we are feeling. Many people are paralyzed in prayer at this point and may tend to neglect prayer, because our prayer thoughts are either not coming out in words or seem beyond the ability of words to express the deep feelings we want to convey to God—whether of joy, sorrow, doubt, faith, supplication, intercession, praise, thanksgiving, or whatever.

This seems to be what Hannah was experiencing that day in the Tabernacle at Shiloh, as we are told in the first chapter of I Samuel. She prayed in words the thoughts in her heart as far as she could. But, apparently, her prayer was not complete even though words would not come. We are told that she kept on praying to the Lord; that her lips were mov­ing, but her voice was not heard. The Scripture says, “…she was praying IN HER HEART.” And when old Eli, the Priest, saw her and misjudged that she was drunk, she set him straight by saying, “I was pouring out my heart to the Lord…I was praying here out of my anguish and grief.”

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt that, though you were striving earnestly to pray, all you could do was groan inwardly and sigh outwardly? If so, take heart! Ro­mans 8:26 continues: “…but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words….” So you are not alone in your praying. You have a “prayer partner” the Holy Spirit, who is the greatest possible prayer resource we could ever have. Where we falter in our prayer efforts, He takes over and helps us in our “weakness.” He becomes our helper, just as Jesus promised in John 14:16 He would be. He “intercedes” for us, Paul says. So, the Christian has two intercessors: Jesus is our intercessor in heaven, and the Holy Spirit is our intercessor here on earth.

Since this is true, even though our praying is nothing more than groans without words, we are not to despair and give up on praying. The Holy Spirits translates what William Barclay calls, “Our agonized longings which never find words” to God. We ARE praying, even when all we do is quietly think about God, meditating on spiritual things, trying to hear what God may be speaking to us, or just worshipping and adoring Him—feeling the presence of God.

But does it work? Paul says, “And He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:27) This assures us that God hears prayers that are “sighed rather than said, as Dr. John Stott puts it. God searches our hearts and can read our minds. We know that He will accept and answer such prayer because it is in accord with His will.

If this is the only way we can pray to begin with, it will not be long before we are becom­ing articulate in prayer. The thing is JUST PRAY! There’s really no excuse for us not to pray. As one person has put it, “When you cannot pray as you would, pray as you can.” With the Holy Spirit on our side, the “groaned prayer” may be the greatest prayer. We may be like the little boy, who, when asked if he prayed, said, “Sometimes I pray; but sometimes I just say my prayers.”


  1. Edwin on October 12, 2016 at 8:25 am

    How we should be always faithful

  2. Loly on November 10, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Praying and trusting God is imperative in our christian growth.

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