I do not ask this question to be facetious or flippant. Praying is an essential part of our Christian life. But I know, for a fact, that there are people who are uncomfortable praying in public because they think they might be doing it wrong. My first thought is, "according to whose standards"? Prayer, at its simplest level, is merely communicating [or talking] to God. If you make a habit of doing that in sincerity, then I'm pretty sure that our Father is pleased with your efforts.
But I ask this question because it came up in a discussion I recently had with my sister. We were raised in a non-church family, with a Believing mother, and a father who did not profess faith or encourage church attendance. I hesitate to say he did not believe in Jesus because during the last days of his life, while in a nursing home and beginning to suffer from dementia, I tried one last time to approach him about Jesus, who had become my Savior. I knew a complicated theological discussion was not possible, so I simply told him I wanted him to ask Jesus to come into his heart. He patted his heart and mumbled, "I do have Him in my heart"! That's as close as I got to any indication that my father might have opened the door to Jesus's knock.
My mother, on the other hand, grew up in church, and encouraged us kids to go to Vacation Bible School and Sunday School, and as we got older she began taking us to church. When she became ill during the last years of her life, I flew home to see her in the hospital. As a new Christian, I sensed her spiritual suffering and asked her if she wanted me to pray for her. When she said, yes, I suddenly felt inadequate. As I told my sister, "I didn't even know how to pray"! How was I supposed to talk to God? What were the right words to say? [Determined to develop a prayer life, I no longer struggle with "the right way", and now come to the Lord easily and securely]. But my sister confessed she still feels that she doesn't know how to pray. So, I thought maybe we should take a look at all the aspects of prayer, and seek the Father's heart on the matter.
To begin with, Jesus taught in Mark 11 that we are to have faith in God, which is supported by the faith of God. When He says, "Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him", He is telling us that words filled with faith act like "bulldozers" to get things done in the spirit realms. If you struggle with thinking your words sound "faithful", just declare verses of Scripture out loud! When you believe what you are declaring, those words will be received by the Father as a prayer by faith!
Here's another aspect of how to think of your prayer life ... Jesus not only rose from the dead, but He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, far above "all rule and authority and power and dominion", where He continually intercedes for us. So from that position of authority, He prays for us. But here's the good part .... He invites us to be seated with Him there, in the heavenly places. So, when we pray, our spirits can pray with Jesus, [interceding for others], and with spiritual authority, [being seated with Him in His authority].
Then here's an aspect of prayer that is always comforting to me: when we don't know what to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us "with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26). I have come to rely on the Holy Spirit to search my heart and express to the Father all that I am incapable of putting into a comprehensible petition. Praying by the Spirit can be some of the most spiritually satisfying times of communion with the Lord. When I am feeling the weight of spiritual oppression, I am sometimes unable to have clear thoughts of what to pray for, but I know I can rely on the Holy Spirit to present my heart-prayer better than I can.
I will admit that I am moved by forceful and energetic prayer. I know we are capable of praying as forcefully as Elijah, who stopped the rain, or the community of believers in Acts who prayed so hard for Peter to be released from jail that God sent an angel to rescue him from prison. We have the power to do the same kind of things with our bold prayers that seek the Father's will, and not just our own will and what we want. Those kinds of prayers will change the world!
And of course, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He instructed them to pray for the Father's will to be done, but also for His Kingdom to come. So, I have been trying to become more intentional in my prayer life to incorporate God's plan for instituting His Kingdom here on earth with my personal prayers. Furthermore, I want to be involved with the establishment of His Kingdom by praying for business, cultural, and educational leaders, as well as the leaders in the Body of Christ. This is all part of joining Christ in intercessory prayer until the Kingdom Plan has been completed at the end of the Age.
And I believe that one of the most powerful ways to pray is in agreement with others. When prayers of faith are prayed with others whose hearts are in agreement, the power of that prayer can multiply ten-fold, a hundred-fold, and beyond! I have seen this move the heart of God and a child be cured of cancer. I have seen a young mother recover from a devastating diagnosis after a car accident and be restored to perfect health. And I believe we can change the course of our nation when we pray in agreement with God's will. One of the most important prayer partnerships is that of husband and wife. Their prayer time together can affect generations to come.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention how powerful it is to pray in tongues. Your particular religious tradition may not incorporate this aspect of prayer, but it can be an amazingly effective tool in our spiritual arsenal. Praying in our own prayer language allows for intercessory prayer beyond our limited understanding and our ability to express words. We can join with Jesus in interceding for others as the Holy Spirit empowers our prayer language to new heights of effectiveness. When I can't seem to find the right words that express the urgency of my heart, I know I can pray in my own personal prayer language and the Holy Spirit will interpret the longings of my heart with more power and meaning.
Finally, it is important to understand that prayer is an important aspect of our spiritual warfare. And since the Enemy seeks to divide and conquer God's people. we should always seek to be united in prayer and love. Jesus showed us a picture of that "oneness in prayer" through His relationship with the Father. We need to be praying for unity in the Body of Christ! Sadly, I see too much division, and if we aren't praying for unity, then maybe we're unwittingly partnering with the Enemy to weaken the Body. It's time that we pray to come into alignment with each other and with Jesus, our Lord and Savior; the Messiah of the world. When we pray in His Holy Name, we are not just adding a religious formula at the end of our prayer ("in the Name of Jesus). Instead, we are declaring to the spiritual realms and the powers and authorities of the dark side that we stand as His personal representatives on the earth, and as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God!
As you can see, prayer is vitally important to our relationship with God and Jesus. And it is an essential part of our relationship with the Holy Spirit. It may seem daunting and overwhelming. You might be thinking how can I do all that? How do I even start? I'm going to tell you that the key is to just begin.... just begin having conversations with the Father and Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you know what to pray and how to pray. Study Scripture and discern which verses make your heart leap with longing for an intimate relationship with God, and then say them to Him out loud. That's praying! And He will respond! Then begin discerning which verses speak of your power and authority and declare those in prayers when you need to fight back against spiritual darkness. And don't forget to talk to Him about the joy and thankfulness you feel over what He is doing in your life. There are wonderful Bible verses for that, too.
Just begin.... and before you know it, the words of the Bible will bring energy and depth to your prayer life, and you will be able to comfortably and intimately converse with God about everything. I honestly think that no one is born knowing how to pray. It is a learned behavior that comes from a heart that is seeking God. If you are conscious that your prayer life is lacking, then start by being thankful that the Holy Spirit has brought it to your attention --- then do something about it! We all have to start somewhere, and there is no better time than now and no better place to start than in the Word.