Prayer For The Beginner

There are doubtless those among the readers who have had little practice in prayer and who do not know the proper way to approach God. Some still remember their childhood prayers and use them; but these prayers do not always fit present conditions.

The first time I became seriously interested in religion, I with others faced the problem of prayer. I had heard a minister mention that Christ prayed all night, and though he did not suggest that others should do so, I drew the conclusion that all-night praying would be pleasing to God and deserving a reward. I knew that I could not pray all night every night, but I might try it for one night. Therefore, I attempted to do this.

My idea of prayer was to ask God for the things I wanted, and I thought that if I prayed long enough and earnestly enough, I would get my desire. God was a kind father, who sat in heaven and watched us, and if we boys behaved and were good, we would get a reward. As I had been good for several weeks, I was sure that God would hear me and grant my request.

So one night I started praying, intending to continue all night. There were many things I wanted, - I thought I would be somewhat modest, at least to begin with, - and so my prayer was rather short, and I had soon said everything on my mind. What more was there to do? I could repeat what I had already said, but there seemed no special point to that. In addition, how could I keep that up all night? I knew that ministers repeated in their sermons, but they used slightly different words each time, and I did not have those extra words. All I needed was a few minutes for my prayer, and I was done.

It did not take me long to conclude that it was not for me to pray all night. How could I find the words to continue even one hour, much less all night? I decided that I needed a better education and a larger vocabulary if I were to pray for any length of time. I doubt that I spent as much as ten minutes in this first “night” of prayer. My prayer experience did not have a very promising beginning.

Wrong Conception of Prayer

The reader will immediately discern that I had a wrong conception of prayer. All-night prayer to me meant that I had to talk all night. Was not prayer talking to God, informing Him of conditions in general and of my own in particular? Was it not my duty to remind Him of what He should do, and make sure that He remembered what I had told Him before, but which He might have forgotten? Apparently, God did not forget things that I remembered. Had I not spoken to Him of many things and received no answer? I repeatedly asked Him to bless and protect my brother, and then my brother fell down and broke a leg!  Surely, God had forgotten what I asked Him to do.

I need not say that this was a disheartening experience and an unsatisfactory beginning for prayer. Every evening I would talk to God and get no response. Perhaps God had not heard me at all. Perhaps I was too insignificant for God to notice. Perhaps I did not count.

I thought God ought to hear me and make some kind of response; but He did not. What could I do to make God take notice of me? I remembered how in school unruly students received more attention than the good ones who behaved. Perhaps I had been too good, and that was why God let me alone. If I did something bad, God might see it and do something.

I tried this in a small way, but God still ignored me. What more could I do? As far as God was concerned, I simply did not exist. I was too unimportant, too small for God to bother with.

This state of things continued for some time. I finally decided that if God ignored me, in retaliation I would ignore Him. And I did. However, that did not remedy matters. I still tired to be some kind of Christian, but I felt that I was not getting any help or encouragement from God. He simply let me alone. Therefore, I prayed only when I was in dire need.

Then came the day of awakening – not in an abrupt way, not by an angel coming down from heaven, or by an arresting light at noonday, but simply by studying the Word of God, and by association with a man of God, one of my fellow believers. I watched him as he was preaching, and I felt instinctively that he had something I did not have. But as I had been disappointed in God, so I had also been in men; and I was certain that though a man might make a good appearance in the pulpit, he was “good” merely because I did not know him well enough. If I should live with him, I would soon discover that he was no better than others. All men I had known before had feet of clay.

In the providence of God, as I now believe, I had the opportunity of becoming well acquainted with him, of living with him. In addition, without going into detail, which would serve no purpose in this connection, I found him to be a true man of God, a man of prayer and of power. I saw prayers fulfilled before my eyes, undeniable cases of instant healing. This man lived in pain, and at times in outright agony, but never a murmuring word. I tested him; I tried him; and he stood the test. Through him my faith in God was restored; faith in a prayer-hearing God. It was not his words that convinced me; it was his life.

While I shall ever be grateful for the help I thus received, it was not any man who taught me to pray. This was a gradual process as I began studying the Bible. Little by little, light dawned on me, and I began to understand the meaning and purpose of prayer. God ceased to be the kind of Santa Claus God I had conceived Him to be, and instead became a Father and a Friend with whom I could commune and counsel. I still needed to pray and thank God for daily bread, but I found that I needed counsel and spiritual guidance even more, and that God was abundantly willing to supply this also. It is hoped that the reader will experience the blessing and comfort that there is in real prayer, which in essence is fellowship and companionship with the Almighty.

Beginning to Pray

How then, do we begin to pray? What do we say, what do we do? We know of no better or more simple, yet complete, prayer that that which Christ put in the mouth of the publican who stood alone and did not even dare to raise his face to heaven, but said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Luke 18:13. The prayer was effective, for Christ tells us “this man went down to his house justified.” Verse 14. We may therefore accept those seven words as ideal prayer for one who seeks God, perhaps for the first time.

There are two couplets in this prayer that make it full and complete: God, merciful-me, sinner. The publican asked for mercy, knowing himself a sinner. He did not ask for justice: that would bring him face to face with the law, and “by the deeds of the law these shall no flesh be justified in His sight.” Romans 3:20. This man did not parade his goodness or his wickedness; he simply asked for mercy. He made no excuse of any kind; he knew that god knew. Moreover, his plea for mercy, which came from an honest heart, was heard. No man who prays this Publican prayer with a sincere desire to do God’s will, need fear that he will be turned away. Like the publican, he will go to his house justified. God hears such prayers.

Let the beginner who has never prayer before, or who has been disappointed in prayer, repeat from the heart these seven words: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Let him in all humility and faith come before God, and God will hear. The beginner must have faith to believe the promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6. There is one “must” in this quotation, or rather two, for “must” belongs equally to both statements; the first, “that He is;” and the second, “that He is a rewarder.” Both of these statements are “musts.” One who prays must believe that God exists – for what use would it be to pray to a nonexistent God? He must also believe that God is a rewarder of them who seek Him; that is, that God takes notice of those who pray, and rewards them according to their faith. God is not morally indifferent. He knows what goes on in the world, and rewards, or does not reward, as He sees best.

We suggest that the beginner in Christ ponder the prayer of the publican. As he utters this prayer, he will search his heart and weigh his motives. He will come to the conclusion that there is hope for him only in the mercy of God, and he grasps by faith the promise that God will forgive if he confesses. Therefore, he confesses. He does not use a set form of words. He pours out his heart to God as to a father, and as by faith he accepts the promise of the Lord that He will forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness, he feels the burden roll off, and he claims the blessed promise to all who believe, that God will “abundantly pardon.” Verse 6,7.

This is the first step in coming to God, the first step in conversion. Let the inquiring soul take this step, and God will lead him on.

Memory Verse:

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Roman 3:23,24.


1.   Do you think that studying from God’s Word can help you develop a prayer life?


2.   Have you tried to develop faith in God recently? Explain your reason.



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