I don’t believe that there is a set formula for how to pray, set words to pray, set ways to pray. But I also know that there are some who are unsure of how to pray, and specifically, what to pray. I have found the acrostic, P.R.A.Y., to be helpful as I try to keep my own prayers well balanced, and centered on God. It is a tool to help – definitely not inspired, nor the only tool you can use, but helpful. Let me briefly explain what the acrostic P.R.A.Y stands for.
PRAISE. Praise takes our thoughts and directs them vertically – towards God – praising him for who he is and what he has done. Jesus’ own model of prayer, given to his disciples when they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray”, is recorded in Matthew chapter six, he teaches us to begin vertically, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” You could translate “hallowed be your name”, with the phrase, “let your name be praised and adored above all other names!”
It is good to begin our prayers by praising God, adoring him for who he is and what he has done, by offering him our thanks. The “P” of praise reminds us that prayer is primarily a vertical, God-focused act.
REPENT. Periodically, someone will come to me and say, “I feel that God is not answering my prayers.” Initially I will do some probing about the nature of the prayer. I want to hear if their prayer is really in line with God’s will. For example, if they tell me that they’re praying that God will help them win the lottery, I think it’s pretty simple to understand why God’s not answering.
However, if it seems like a legitimate prayer, I will probe some more, usually asking, “Is there any unconfessed sin in your life?” I ask that because the Scripture informs me and experience reinforces the truth that one of the greatest hindrances to answered prayer is sin that is not dealt with.
That leads me to the second letter in my prayer acrostic, “R”…it reminds us that part of our prayer needs to be that we repent of any known sin.
What does repentance sound like? Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance after his sin of adultery has been exposed. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment… Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit…Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation…For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
ASK. As our hearts are God-oriented in praise and purified through repentance, then I think we’re ready to come and “Ask.” God does not discourage us from coming and asking in prayer. Jesus makes this wonderful promise in Matthew 7:7-11, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened…” James tells us bluntly, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”
But notice the model of Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer…before he teaches us to ask, “Give us this day our daily bread…” in verse eleven of Matthew six, he teaches us to set the right parameters, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The key to our asking is to ask according to God’s will. 1 John 5:14-15, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” The key in the passage is the phrase, “according to his will”.
YIELD. That humble willingness to ask “according to his will”, in faith that he can do it, leads to the final letter of the acrostic, “Y”, which stands for “Yield”.
We must be willing to yield our desires and our thoughts to God’s sovereign wisdom. Our model is Jesus. As he faced the Cross, he prayed this way in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” We must pray with that spirit of humble yielding of our will to his.
Read more about Mercy Hill’s Passion for Prayer.