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How to Start a Prayer Life

As with all great things, the beginnings are simple and small.

Starting to pray
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You pray. Of course you do. Maybe you said bedtime prayers as a child. Or you might say “grace” before meals. And you’ve prayed in church—along with others.

But you crave more than that. You want a prayer life. How do you do that? How do you even start?

First, you can relax, knowing that you’re not alone. In fact, one day, Jesus’ first followers came to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1, NIV).

Those were grown men. More specifically, they were grown Jews. Men who had been praying all their lives, since they’d been knee-high to a menorah. But they wanted more. They wanted to pray the way they saw Jesus praying.

The next step is to do what those men did; they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jean-Nicholas Grou, the 18th-century author of the famous How to Pray, wrote:

There is no Christian who is not in the same case as the disciples. Every Christian ought to say as humbly as they: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Ah! If we were only convinced of our ignorance and of our need of a Teacher like Jesus Christ!

So, ask for the grace of a praying heart. Then, finally, start where you are.

Too often we think we have to start where someone else is. We think we should pray like Brother Matt. Or we read about someone who prays for an hour every morning, starting at 4 a.m. We think maybe that’s what “a prayer life” looks like.

Not for me, it doesn’t.

I don’t think Jesus prescribed a formula when His followers said, “Teach us to pray.” I think He demonstrated prayer. I think He lifted His face toward heaven and said, “Our Father…” and showed them how simple it can be. Conversational. Elemental. Even brief.

It might help to choose a quiet place and a regular time. But it doesn’t have to be 4 a.m. And you don’t have to pray for an hour. Just start. Keep it simple, as though you’re talking to a friend (because you are). Talk honestly about real things (like bread and forgiveness, as Jesus modeled). You can do it beside your bed, in the car, at your desk, while you’re doing dishes. As the 17th century writer and lay monk, Brother Lawrence, advised:

A little lifting up the heart suffices; a little remembrance of God, one act of inward worship … [these] are prayers which, however short, are nevertheless very acceptable to God.

You can start small. You can start now. And maybe start with the words, “Lord, teach me to pray.”

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