Jesus taught his followers to talk to God in the same way that he did – like a child speaks to an adoring father. When they pray, Christians sense that they are in the presence of God. They are seeking to come close to the maker and shaper of the world’s destiny. Christians lay open to God their deepest hope, happiness and anxiety. And they open themselves to God directing and changing them.
Those who take prayer to heart do not see it simply as a series of requests that God will change the world in the way they personally want. Rather it is an active way of participating in the working out of God’s plan for the world. Prayer can involve words, silence, reading, responding to art, or listening. Christians look for answers to their prayers in a change to their own actions and attitudes, and are overjoyed when the result is something that they recognise to be a miraculous intervention by God.
But despite that, God undoubtedly registers and responds in some way to all kinds of prayer – even the desperate cry in an emergency of someone who has barely even thought about whether he exists.
A conversation with God of this kind takes many forms:
This involves a human being putting himself or herself in a place of appropriate humility in front of the God who is utterly holy, loving and just.
This is a way of recognising that everything that gives value or joy to life is the gift of a Creator, not merely good fortune.
Prayers of this kind can be personal (such as begging for healing for a sick relative) or immense in scale (such as longing for the end of a war).
This involves confession of something wrong (either personal or as part of a worldwide injustice) and a recognition that God has mercy on those who regret what they have done and seek to change.
Looking for guidance
Prayer frequently asks God for direction, or seeks understanding in the face of the mysteries involved in being alive.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one
Where to find it:
About these words:
Jesus’ words, taken from what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. The last part of it (adapted or translated in many different ways) is frequently recited by Christians and is known as the Lord’s Prayer.
And they said...
Jennifer Lawrence, actor:
It would be weird for me to go to sleep without praying. In the South it's very normal.
12-year-old Harry Gray, writing to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury:
I know how hard you are trying to reach out to young people like myself and I think it would be really helpful if there was a text number we could use to send our prayers to God. Although we find it hard to make time for prayers, we always seem to make time to text.
Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast footballer best known for eight seasons at Chelsea:
I pray a lot. [The Champions League] win was written a long time ago. God is wonderful.
Sister Wendy Beckett, art critic and nun:
I once said I thought you could define humanity as those who prayed. And I was met with rather cynical laughter. My friend said, 'What about those dreadful yobbos and murderers - they don't pray.' I said, 'How do you know? I bet there hasn't been a person who - perhaps in the night - had that sense of longing and incompleteness and shame at what they are. And that's prayer.' It's not explicit prayer, but it's real prayer. I think we're made to pray because God made us for himself.
'Dickie' Bird, cricket umpire:
My mother made me go to church every Sunday, morning and evening. I'm glad she did. I still go, and I say my prayers every night, though since I have a new knee I have to sit on the edge of the bed rather than kneel.
Alexandra Burke, singer:
I make sure I get up every morning and give thanks. And before I go to bed I say a prayer. I won't go on stage and perform unless we have prayed. It makes such a difference.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 1910-1997, founder of the Missionaries of Charity:
We need to find God and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence ... the more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life.
Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865, sixteenth president of the US:
I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day.
William Temple, 1881-1944, Archbishop of Canterbury:
When I stopped praying, coincidences stopped happening.
Rupert Sheldrake, scientist and fellow of Clare College, Cambridge:
I still say the Lord's Prayer every day. It covers a lot of ground in our relation to the world. 'Thy will be done' [gives us a sense] that we are part of a larger process that is unfolding and that we do not comprehend.
Maureen Lipman, actress and author:
I have a childlike need to occasionally talk to God.