What I Didn’t Know About Prayer

A journey towards the practice of prayer.

One year ago, I stood before the members of my congregation and made my profession of faith. In the months leading up to that moment, I learned a lot about the Christian Reformed Church and spent time reflecting on my own journey as a Christian. Two things stood out to me: one, I should probably reflect on my faith more than I do, and two, praying is not my forte. 

Most of my prayers are haphazard “God help me’s” or the scripted prayers of my childhood. You know: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray dear Lord my soul to keep. . . .” They were void of emotion. They were merely words. They were not a conversation with my God.


In the Bible, we are instructed to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) and to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6-7).

In crisis situations, I am pretty good at praying nonstop. I know what I need, and I know how to ask for it. But in the everyday? I don’t know what to say. I craved more, but I didn’t know how to go deeper. I’d stare at my Bible and wonder, “if prayer is so important to Christianity, why does Jesus only give us one example?”


So I did what any good millennial would do and turned to the internet. Surely I could not be the only Christian in the world with questions about prayer. I found more scripted prayers. Unfortunately, praying an adult version of a static prayer did not go to the heart of the problem. There was still no life in my prayer. I kept looking.

Then I encountered prayer journaling. It’s when you write down your prayer for the day. The woman whose website I stumbled upon had different topics every day of the week with a scripted prayer for those subjects. She also wrote down specific prayer requests for her family members each month.

I decided to try it out. I picked my topics: kids, husband, marriage, the government (local, provincial and federal), the church, other people and myself. Now all I had to do was figure out what to say. I started by jotting down my monthly prayer requests, then turned to the internet once more. I had better luck finding specific prayers than when I was simply searching “how to pray.” I copied the prayers and picked a time to pray.


Since I first put my pen in that book I have learned so much about prayer. First of all, prayers don’t have to be original to be heartfelt. You can use the same prayer over and over without it losing its depth or meaning. People have been doing just that for millennia with the Psalms and other Bible passages. Some of my favourite passages to pray over people are Isaiah 32:15-18, Philippians 4:19 and Proverbs 3:5-6.

Secondly, prayer gets easier with practice. It can be simple to assume that because we are Christians we should have an innate understanding of how to pray, but that’s not the case. Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). It’s a practice we need to do over and over again to become better at it. 

Thirdly, prayer can be – and at times should be – communal. Praying in front of the women in my Bible Study and, more recently, in front of the members of my congregation was a huge struggle for me. Every time I did it, I’d remember Jesus admonishing the hypocrite for praying on the street corner. It wasn’t until I read the book of Zephaniah that I realized it was alright to pray as a group. The prophet encouraged the people to “gather yourselves together” (2:1) to repent of their sins. And God promised to “purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve Him shoulder to shoulder” (3:9).

Finally, prayer is about actively waiting for God’s answer. In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet is having a two-way conversation with God. Habakkuk asks a question. God answers the question. Reading these passages makes it seem instantaneous, however, Habakkuk 2:1 suggests that might not be the case: “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give this complaint.” Habakkuk is actively waiting for God’s answer. He is looking for it. He is anticipating it. He is thinking about what he needs to change within himself to receive it.

Using a prayer journal might not be for everyone. And that’s fine, because the most beautiful thing I have learned since I began to delve deeper into prayer is that God doesn’t need you to speak to Him in lofty terms, glorified phrases or specific formats. He just wants to talk to you.   


  • Christina Van Starkenburg

    Christina is an award-winning freelance writer based in Victoria, B.C. In her free time, she enjoys reading, dancing, and exploring the world with her husband and two boys.

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