Christian Living

How to pray on knocking knees: A guide for the jittery, anxious or mildly petrified

I am writing this piece for those who may well feel jittery, nervous or even somewhat terrified to pray out loud in Bible study or certainly with a pre-written prayer from the front of a public church meeting.

You don’t need to be afraid! Here are my main points if you want to cut to the chase:

  1. God wants you to pray.
  2. He wants us to pray together as an activity of the body.
  3. My security in prayer is found in being obedient to God in prayer not in the praise of man.
  4. The Bible tells you what is good to pray about and for.

You can stop there, or you can read on to hear my own journey in this area of living as a Christian, which I hope may spark some comfort that confidence can come and lessen your fear (or insert some other more appropriate emotion).

I recall that as a primary schooler, I wasn’t able to concentrate at all on what others were praying in our Sunday school group, for fear that another child ahead of me would ‘take’ my prayer point. And then, if someone did take my point… calamity! My palms would sweat as I floundered, desperately searching for something else to pray about before it was my turn.

Food for prayer

Through much of high school, my prayers continued to be quite limited—which I can now see was fitting in that my theological understanding was still quite limited. It was in my later years of high school that I began to know my Bible better and this was absolutely the point at which my growth really began. Knowing your Bible is key to knowing what and how to pray! 

Books about the Bible (or prayer, specifically) can indeed be helpful too. There was one particular book—A Call to Spiritual Reformation by Don Carson—that helped me the most in this area. It pointed me straight back to the Bible and helped me to know God’s word better. Suddenly prayer opened up to me in a new and exciting way, and I discovered newfound confidence. 

The first time I prayed from the front at a church service was late in my university years. I don’t recall the writing process, but I do remember my blood pressure and sweaty palms as I wobbled up to the front, scrambled through the prayer and raced back to my seat. Was I worried about being judged for my theology, my eloquence, or something else? Was I fearful of making myself vulnerable before my church family? It was probably a bit of all of that—but I am fairly sure it wasn’t because I was coming before the living God to pray to him. Error.

Praying our theology

Another thing that was important in my growth as a pray-er were the words of a friend in Bible study some 15+ years ago. She said that “your prayers demonstrate your theology”. I did have some sense of this already but this succinct statement had quite an impact on me and has stuck with me ever since. I often remember her words when I write prayers for a corporate setting. 

How does what I pray about show my knowledge of God and his will? Are my priorities God’s priorities? Do the topics of my prayers reflect God’s concerns? Is what I want what God wants? Do I pray as much for a person and their character (or myself) as I do for their (or my) circumstance? What stance do I hold in my prayers? 

One way to answer at least a few of these questions is to become more and more familiar with Paul’s prayers. They are wonderful. It was the Carson book I mentioned earlier that helped me to see the depths and importance of these prayers and what wonderful models they provide! And of course, I cannot fail to mention the Lord’s prayer as a model, too. The Anglican prayer book (or The Book of Common Prayer) can also be great resources for our own prayer life and our instruction.

Approaching the Father on Behalf of His People

When you pray to our Father on behalf of your church, you are doing two things I think. Firstly you are praying real prayers—heartfelt prayers; the things that are on the mind of your church, and that you want to bring before the one who always listens to us. So you don’t need to give flouncy speeches where you bring out your Sunday best vocabulary and complex sentence structure (though some sentence structure never goes astray!)

The second thing you are doing, whether you know it or mean it, is modeling prayer to your church. You are showing them how (you think, at least) it is good and right to pray. 

So when I write a prayer for church I try to keep those two umbrella points in mind. Here are some of the ‘under the umbrella’ things I tend to consider.

I like to start with praise and adoration of our Father in heaven. Before we bring him our wants and desires, prayers and petitions, don’t we want to praise and adore him? Where do we even start?! Frequently I will include a verse or even a full psalm or other passage that gives rise to praise. Why reinvent the wheel, I say! The Bible is a pretty good place to find godly people giving wonderful praise to God, our Father. 

Again, often but not always, I will have a confession. Another friend used to speak of ‘short accounts’ in prayer. The idea that before I bring my long list of wants and desires, I should confess my sins and repent. Sounds right to me! 

I often will link the things I am praising God for with what I am praying for a little later in the prayer for our church. An example from a recent prayer I prayed at church was regarding God’s untiring strength and power and that he gives us strength when we are weary (from Isaiah 40). This then linked in with my prayer for our church which is in the middle of a topical series on our anchor in the storm. We had already heard sermons in previous weeks on anger, conflict and depression, and the sermon for that day was on grief, so I was praying for us all along these lines, that God would give us the strength we need in these storms of life and that we would have all the truths about his unchanging and loving character cemented in our hearts and minds prior to finding ourselves in a storm. 

Having praised God and prayed for our church, I often widen the prayer to our local community, Sydney or Australia depending on what I know is happening in those areas and, to be honest, what comes to mind. The next part of my recent prayer was for Muslim people this Ramadan—that their hearts would desire a gracious and loving Saviour, rather than being content with a works-based religion with no assurance of salvation. I prayed for them and for their Christian neighbours in Muslim areas of Sydney to show the love of Christ and take opportunities where possible to speak of him. I also thought of those Christian people who were once Muslim who suffer such persecution for their conversion to Christ and brought Isaiah 40 back in to the prayer, asking for God’s strength for these people. 

At the church I attend, our bulletin includes prayer points for a different nation each week, a la Operation World. Often I pray along those lines for that nation but if there has been a significant international event of some sort, I will often choose to pray for that situation instead. 

This is by no means a necessary or required structure but rather one example of how to write corporate prayers thoughtfully. Perhaps some of these ideas may help to give rise to some ideas of your own?

You can be confident, though, as you start or continue on this path of praying before and on behalf of others. Use the Bible as your guide and be praying to God privately for growth and wisdom in this area. 

To close, here is a part of one of Paul’s prayers. This one is from early in Ephesians.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph 1:15-19)