Prayer doesn’t have to be confusing or intimidating says Amy Boucher-Pye. And God is not distant or afraid of our pain. Here’s how to make prayer a part of your everyday life, whatever the circumstances

Are you there, God? I cried.

In my twenties, after I ended a relationship that I thought held my future, I felt bereft and lost. In my pain, I turned to God.

I can’t hear you.

More silence. More tears.

Over the next months I returned to God again and again. And as the weeks passed, something changed. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, I started to quieten my inner voices – those saying I was worthless and hopeless – as I asked God to meet me. I read the Bible, searching for God.

As he responded, at times I felt as if the words jumped off the page and into my heart. I started to copy down passages from the Bible, applying the promises to my life. Although I read without much reference to their original context, I felt God speaking through them to my hurting heart. For instance, I read Isaiah 43:1–2 and revelled in the words, adapting them as if God were whispering them to me: “Don’t be afraid, Amy, for I’ve saved you. The rivers won’t sweep over you, for I am the Lord your God.” When I reached verse 4, I wondered at the amazing promise of God: “You’re precious and honoured in my sight. And I love you.”

Lord, you love me? I asked. Do you really love me? Is this promise meant for me?

As I paused, I sensed a nudge in my spirit, with a resounding Yes.

I thought, Well, it’s right there, written in the Bible that God loves his people. He must really love me, too.

As I read from the scriptures and poured out my feelings to God, I started to understand in a new way that I was made in his image and worth loving. By hearing God through his word, I was changed forever.

Prayer can be this kind of an awakening journey or it can be as simple as the offhand word we utter, such as ‘Help!’ or ‘Thanks!’ Prayer can be the conversation we hold with God throughout the day as we share our thoughts and feelings with him. We’re always only a simple step away from a conversation with God.

Here are a few ways to approach prayer as you turn to God – and find him happy to hear from you.

1. Praying with the Bible

Putting our names into the words of scripture is an easy but profound practice, and one that I used regularly after that breakup. I needed a practice that wouldn’t overwhelm me but would penetrate the tender places within. I began writing out some of what Jesus said, adding my name: “Amy, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will open” (after Matthew 7:7) Or, “Amy, my peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (after John 14:27). Seeing my name in these familiar words helped me realise that God could intend them for me.

Some suggestions to try out:

  • Matthew 6:25-34 (Don’t worry)
  • Luke 6:20-26 (Blessings and woes)
  • John 14:15-21 (The promised Holy Spirit)
  • John 17:20-26 (Jesus’ prayer for us)

2. Practising the presence of God

God promises to be with his people. In fact, the last words Matthew records in his gospel are Jesus telling his disciples that he’ll be with them to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). From Genesis to Revelation, God assures us of his never-ending presence.

We may best recognise the phrase “practising the presence of God”’ from Brother Lawrence, a lay monk who lived in the 1600s. In his kitchen work, he sought to spend each moment in God’s presence – even with all of the activity that was needed to feed a group of people. God changed him over the years as he recalled that God was with him, right there among the pots and pans. The peace and joy he experienced shone from within.

His phrase “practise the presence” simply means calling to mind that Christ dwells within us. We remind ourselves of his presence, focusing our attention on God as we welcome him into the middle of our lives.

A few suggestions for how to do this:

  • Set an alarm on your phone at various intervals during the day to stop and pray.
  • Commit to practising the presence every time you engage in a repeated activity, such as washing your hands or making a cuppa.
  • Place your hand on your heart to affirm that Christ lives within you.

3. Lament

We all, sadly, have cause to lament – we’ve experienced horrible things like the death of loved ones and awful experiences such as a friend betraying us. When we encounter grief and bereavement, we may wonder where God is in the midst of it, since we know he’s a good and loving Father. During these times, our biggest leap of faith may be to cry out to God. When we do, sharing with him our pain and anguish, we come before him face-to-face, offering this act of love as a prayer.

By hearing God through his word, I was changed forever

Perhaps we think that lamenting shouldn’t be called prayer, for the word means “to complain, grumble, question and protest”. But the Bible is filled with lament. God’s people don’t shy away from complaining before him, as we see especially in the books of Job, Lamentations and the Psalms. God welcomes our cries and doesn’t tell us off for expressing our pain. We, in contrast, might have to give ourselves permission to let it out.

We can follow the four-fold pattern of many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 22.

1. Address: Speak to God, addressing him by name.

2. Complaint: Name the issue and your feelings. Don’t hold back; God can shoulder our cries of frustration.

3. Request: Don’t stay in the complaint, but as you can, present your request to God. Ask – or tell – him what you long for him to do.

4. Expression of trust: you may not feel like you trust God, but saying that you do can be a way of educating your emotions. You could list, for instance, what you believe about God’s qualities.

These four steps help our hearts and minds grapple with the pain we experience as we turn to, not away from, God.

A God that runs towards us

God loves us dearly. As we turn to him in prayer, God partners with us, meeting us where we’re at and helping us communicate with him. He takes our desire to encounter him and builds on it, even as a mustard seed grows into a mighty tree. Know that as you pray, you’re not doing this on your own.

Discover more ways of meeting God through these and other time-tested practices in 7 Ways to Pray. It’s a guide book with lots of hands-on exercises, which will lead you into the presence of our loving God. As we turn to him, he runs to meet us.

This article is adapted from 7 Ways to Pray and published with permission of Form, an imprint of SPCK.