Actually Praying

By Kenneth Berding Feb. 4, 2011 9:00 p.m. Spiritual Formation

One of the temptations that we as Christian leaders regularly face is to not pray when we pray.  We say prayers before meals, with our children before bed, before we teach Sunday school classes, and when we stand during worship services.  And if your life is anything like mine, you are the designated pray-er for family functions.  But there is a significant risk when we bow for prayer but don’t actually pray.

The Apostle Paul writes:  “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph 6:18).  Paul would agree that when we pray, we need to actually pray. 

I’m convinced that every time we take a posture of prayer and don’t actually talk to the Lord, our hearts harden just a little to prayer; whereas every time we actually talk to God during a time of prayer, our hearts are just a bit softer the next time around.  This is why in our household there has always been one rule—and only one rule—when we pray together.  We don’t care whether you stand, sit, kneel, close your eyes, or lift your hands.  The rule is this:  When you pray, actually talk to the Lord.

Admittedly, it can sometimes be difficult to actually pray each and every time you pray.  Sometimes we feel forced into prayer postures.  One of my daughters during her middle school years expressed it this way:  “But if I don’t pray when everyone else is praying, what will people think?”

In any prayer situation in which your heart is not turned upward, my recommendation is that you pause, perhaps open your eyes for a moment, recalibrate, remind yourself Who it is you are talking to, and then offer a short prayer to the Lord.  The result of such patterning will be an ever increasing openness to the Lord and a softness toward prayer.


  • Gary Manning Feb. 10, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    Hey Ken,

    Great post - I'm thinking of instituting that principle at our family times of prayer. You are right - it is so easy to slip into "institutional" prayers that are not actually communication at all.

  • Robert Kunda Feb. 10, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    Thank you for this.

  • Lori Way Feb. 12, 2011 at 9:18 PM

    A really great reminder!

  • Wally Nelson Feb. 14, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    You are so right, but I think more could be said. I look at prayer as if I am talking to the person next to me at the time. For the most part for me it is casual and spontaneous and relates to what I am obseving or thinking at the time. Obviously this is especially true when I am meditating on the Word. I regard the Lord as a person who is very concerned and interested in me indiviudally, and desires to know what I am expereincing at any given time. He wants to hear from me. He appreicates how much I appreciate Him in all the different ways I have come to know Him. I coninually look to Him for wisdom and enablement to do what I believe He has call me to say and do throughout the day.

  • Charles Abernathy Feb. 14, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    I too have placed in the position of designated pray-er. By both my family to pray before meals and, as an elder, by my church to manage the prayer chain or as I call it "prayer network."
    However, I have come to the realization that we are to treat every word which comes out of our mouth as a form of prayer. The artificiality of saying "let's pray" prior to a meal, a Sunday school class, or a weekly Bible study smacks of treating those around us as neophytes to prayer. I believe this encourages
    "compartmentalizing" both our prayers and our life. We pray turning our focus to the Lord our God and follow it with "coarse speech" or "contentious speech" during the meal or other subsequent activities. In the Ephesians 6:18 passage, Paul uses the word "all". Christ also spoke of "every word" proceeds out of the heart.
    If you want to know more about this then do your own study of the mouth sins. Follow it up by reading and studying the various prayers in both the Old and New Testaments. Talking to God as we would a friend by our side allows for us to do the half-hour and one-hour prayer vigils as part of a "24-hour prayer by the congregation" based upon a sign-up list. It also allows us to partially regain the relationship which was broken between Adam and God within the Garden of Eden.
    Charles graduated from Talbot in December 1981 while he was in the hospital learning to live with a C-3, complete, 24/7 ventilator dependent, spinal cord injury which he incurred while serving as a youth pastor on June 24, 1981.

  • eric oldenburg Feb. 15, 2011 at 11:21 PM

    Dr. Berding,
    Thanks for the reminder. I will sing our family's prayer song a little differently tonight, as a result.

    I'd just add that during those times when it is difficult to "actually" pray, for whatever reason, it is then that one could use a prayer from a prayer book or some other collection of pre-written prayers. When we have trouble focusing, reading a prayer by Thomas a Kempis or from the Book of Common Prayer can bring us back to the place where we can actually pray. The liturgical should ultimately lead to the intimate and personal.

  • Henry Slavens Feb. 16, 2011 at 12:52 AM

    Thanks for writing. This post really interests me. I think that as Christians (especially ones at universities like Biola), there is a significant focus on praying a lot and not as much on the preparation of one's heart. Makes me think of the whole "zeal without knowledge" deal. Your post also asks the question: If we aren't praying to God, what are we actually doing? Personally, it seems like Godless prayer is selfish prayer in that we are praying either to a god we have made in our own image (often just the idea of "God") or are just plain consumed with our own emotions and thoughts. It's no mistake that we are told to "gird up the loins of our mind," etc. While God does know our hearts when we try to push through rather disconnected prayer times, it doesn't mean our God-less prayers won't have consequences (namely the hardening of our hearts, like you mentioned). Ultimately, unbelief is the root of all sin and it plays a part, too, in these sorts of situations. A lot of the time we're not aware of our unbelief, which is much of the problem. God calls us to remind ourselves of His past faithfulness (both on the cross and in our own lives), so that we may be revitalized and reminded of who He is.

  • jt vickers Mar. 2, 2011 at 6:04 AM

    printed this out and will talk about it at my family dinner bible study... GOoD GOoD stuff. i have had this issue my self. i use to say to people," i will pray that up for you", and in my heart i use to think, GOD knows this prayer already. but now as i have hurting people before me or thoughts of hurting people, i actually stop, and pray out loud, talk n to my HEAVENLY FATHER, then shot that person a txt, letting them know i have prayed ... i will no longer just casually talk to my LORD.... after all HE did make this place, and me!!!!

    we really need to know that when we talk to the KING of KINGs and LORD of LORDs, HE is HOLY, and should be treated as such!!!!!! not just a google search engine!!!!!!!!

  • Brett Woods (Pavo) Mar. 15, 2011 at 3:58 AM

    Ken, Great post! I heard recently that prayer is really about bending our will towards God.
    I feel that the shorter our prayers and the longer our silence the more God has room to speak.
    After all, He was there first!
    Blessings to you,.

  • Tammy Apr. 20, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    Thank you for this post!!

  • Mike Sanborn Apr. 25, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    Great article. This is the point that I have been trying to teach my 7 year old and 4 year old when they pray, but now I have some more wisdom and encouragement in my efforts. Thank you!

  • Roger Aug. 25, 2011 at 5:41 PM

    Probing title, Dr. Berding if your intention is as strong as your title would you mind delineating a definition of prayer? Also, would the common thread of "talking to God" negate times when we are quiet before the Lord?

  • Daticc77 Dec. 24, 2011 at 9:04 AM


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