Scholars have published many excellent books and articles on the subject of prayer. The approach to the subject covers the whole range of concerns and methods that have been the focus of believers throughout time.
It is a discipline central to the life of any disciple.
The focus of this article will be on prayer as communication.
Many Christians see prayer as pleading before God. They see prayer as a formal petition before the Almighty for things, for help, and for guidance. Others see prayer as a public declaration of their faith in and reliance on the Heavenly Father and His Son. Still, others see prayer for invoking the Holy Spirit's special ministry in their lives. All these are valid reasons to pray. They also share a commonality in that they are essentially talking to God, as different from talking with God.
Are these forms of prayer then improper or any less of interest to God? Heaven forbid! as the Apostle Paul would say.
The Apostle Paul writes, "I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God's mercy upon them and give thanks. Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Saviour . . . So where ever you assemble, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy…" (1 Tim. 2: 1-3,8 NLT) Again in Ephesians Paul recommends, "Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere." (Eph. 6:18 NLT)
True communication, however, requires that both parties be involved in sharing their thoughts on the same subject. Try this experiment. Have your spouse or a friend begin telling you about their day or some significant event. As they are talking, begin to tell a story that is totally unrelated to what the other person is saying. It will not take long to become frustrated and to stop talking together. Not much real communication is taking place, is it?
In the same way, much of the prayer going on is totally unrelated to what God wants to talk about. Daily prayer should be a talk with God. The disciple needs to hear what the Lord is saying and to respond to Him. How do we know what God is saying? God speaks to us primarily through His Word, as the Holy Spirit leads. See: Psa. 25:4-5, Psa. 119:66, John 16:13-15.
As can be seen, God speaks through His Word to the disciple. The disciple responds back to God in prayer based on the Word. The disciple listens and responds in accord with the Spirit and the Word. Does this preclude the disciple from asking God for help? Certainly not! As I said before. Yet, one can legitimately ask the question, "If one lets God talk first, is it possible He will tell us what we need to know?" See John 16: 13-15; Mat. 6: 1-8
How then can one recognize the voice of God? Those who have recognized and understood God's voice are those who are familiar with it. The way one becomes familiar with anything is to be involved with it frequently. In this case the involvement is a daily intake of the Word of God, and its systematic study. Hearing, involves not only reading the words, but also exploring their meaning and how what the Spirit said to the saints of old applies to your life situation today. Praying in the Spirit is essential to the disciple of God (Eph. 6: 11-18).
Some will ask how should one pray. Just like any conversation, prayer finds its personal expression in a disciple's life. How to get started? Here is an acronym that may be helpful.
The A.C.T.S. acronym:
A stands for adoration — Worship God for who he is.
C stands for confession — Confess your sins in the light of His holiness.
T stands for thanksgiving — Thank Him for His provision and promises.
S stands for supplication — Pray for His supply of grace to meet.
your needs and the needs of others.
Do not be too rigid, at various times and facing different circumstances the order and inclusion of the various elements may vary. As in all things let the A. C. T. S. acronym be a help and not your master.