Talking with God: Beginning the Conversation
Prayer is simply talking with God.
Whether you’re new to prayer or have been practicing it for years, this basic concept can easily get lost under religious language and rituals. Some people like to pray while walking in the woods. Other people prefer to light a candle in an old church. Some pray best by journaling. Others like to use pre-written prayers or songs. But the essence of prayer is always the same: developing a relationship with God through conversation.
You can pray anywhere, anytime, and whether it’s out loud or in your own head, God hears you. You do not need to use special “God-language” or old English—prayer is best when it comes from the heart. However, like any relationship it can be hard to know where to start and what to talk about. Having a framework or pattern of prayer can be useful to find balance in what we talk with God about. In the Bible, both the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer demonstrate a variety of aspects of a healthy relationship with God, and have been used for centuries to shape a thriving prayer life.
The following are four characteristics of our relationship with God that can be developed through prayer, along with simple words or phrases that can help you get started.
- Dependence – As children we are dependent on parents and caregivers for everything we need. However, as we grow we become independent, and move toward providing for ourselves. In a relationship with God, however, it is necessary to become like a child and approach him in a posture of receptivity. Praying with the simple phrases “please” (presenting our requests) and “thank you” (receiving life as a gift) can help us to develop a simple dependence on God that leads to peace and joy in life. (Luke 11:1-13; Matthew 6:5-15; 18:1-5; Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
- Honesty – One of the keys to healthy relationships is learning to admit mistakes, and this holds true in our conversations with God. When we wander away, forget about him, or feel like we let him down, we need to get it out in the open and say “I’m sorry.” This is the essence of confession: naming our sins, expressing our sorrow, and receiving forgiveness. Not only do we need to be honest when we feel like we’ve let God down, but also when we feel like he lets us down. We need to be able to express frustration, anger, and the sense of betrayal we sometimes have when God does not seem to live up to our expectations. It’s okay to ask God “why?”: “Why do you let terrible things happen, why isn’t my life going the way I want it to?” We may not always get answers, but being able to approach God with unfiltered questioning helps to build an authentic relationship. (Psalm 10:1; Psalm 13; Psalm 32; Psalm 51; 1 John 1:9)
- Submission – It’s human nature to fall into the trap of thinking that “I” am at the centre of the universe. But in our approach to God, we need to check our egos at the door. To submit to God means to arrange our lives under his leadership. Though we are his dearly loved children, we need to position ourselves before him as learners, followers, and servants. In the same way that a labourer will ask the boss, “What now?” we need to be continually looking to God for guidance in what to do with the life he’s given us. (Psalm 25; Proverbs 3:5-8; Galatians 5:16-25; James 4:7)
- Affection – A thriving romantic relationship is characterized by affection, and so is a healthy relationship with God. Though this may seem strange, it’s really the heart of what it means to worship God: to express our appreciation not only for what he does but also for who he is. “You are an incredible artist; you are trustworthy, good, and loving.” Of course, in a healthy relationship, affection and appreciation are mutual. Learning to hear God’s voice of affirmation toward us can be challenging, but is an essential part of the relationship. Reminding ourselves of simple truths about how he sees us can help us stay rooted in our true identity: “I am a child of God. I am cherished. I am loved unconditionally. I am forgiven.” (Psalm 16; Psalm 32; Psalm 63; Isaiah 49:14-16; Zephaniah 3:17; Hebrews 13:15)
One way to work on cultivating these characteristics in your own relationship with God is to pray using the simple words and phrases outlined above as a starting point:
- Thank you
- I’m sorry
- What now?
- You are…
- I am…
If you like to pray out loud or in your head, try cycling through these phrases, allowing each to guide one sentence. If you prefer written prayers, try writing the phrases as headings and making lists or writing paragraphs for each one. The method doesn’t really matter—what matters is the heart behind it.
If you’d like to learn more about finding a balanced prayer life, join us Sunday mornings this spring for our teaching series on prayer. Or you can access the sermons on our Muskoka Community Church YouTube channel.
Jeremy McClung is pastor of Muskoka Community Church in Huntsville.
Since 2008, MCC has been serving the Huntsville community and beyond through their Sunday worship services, community involvement, poverty reduction efforts, and programs for children, youth, and adults.
In his free time, Jeremy enjoys spending time with his wife, April, and their three children, as well as music, art, the outdoors, golf, and curling. His passion is helping everyday people develop a relationship with God.