Most people do not instinctively know what to say in any given situation. They learn what to say through training and experience. They absorb from their family and culture ways of communicating, phrases to use and understanding of what is polite. Infants learn from their parents how to talk and also what to say. “Say thank you”, “What do you say” are phrases familiar to parents trying to teach their children the right way to speak. As we get older the situations become more complex. Most people pick up their cues about what to say from others actions and their own experiences. What to say is a learned skill.
Prayer is a learned skill. One of the most basic instructions on prayer is, “Tell God what is on your heart.” That is a good starting point, but prayer also needs to be pleasing to God. Prayer is not man’s idea. Prayer is God’s idea. God has always initiated the relationship with mankind. He created mankind and immediately entered into a relationship with the newly formed humans. When man first sinned, God came seeking Adam and Eve. He found them hiding in shame. They were reluctant to come to Him, but God sought them out. He initiated the conversation.
The Old Testament is full of examples of God calling men to Himself. He chose Abram. He chose Israel for Himself. Everytime God called men to Himself, He did so on His own terms. God gave Israel detailed instructions on how to approach Him. He refused to accept the offerings and worship of those who did not come in the way He had instructed. The lesson of Cain and Abel is that God does not accept any offering. He only accepts that which is in line with His commands.
God still invites men to Himself. Jesus opens the door to the throne of God, but, just like in the Old Testament, those who would come to God must approach Him in submission to His will. Prayer must be in agreement with character of God. Prayer must seek conformity to His will. Prayer must desire to further God’s plan.
The Bible is full of specific instruction, like the Lord’s prayer, that teaches us how to pray. These prayer lessons teach us what kind of things to ask for, how to ask, the necessary features of prayer and the proper motives for prayer. The prayers recorded in the Bible show us how to apply Biblical instruction about prayer to life. For example, the Psalms are a record of the prayers of Godly men in every kind of circumstance. From sleeplessness to terror, from joy to doubt, from defeat to victory, from good health to death’s door the prayers of the Psalms model how to pray in every situation of life. The Psalms give voice to the soul that cries out to God. Praying the Bible teaches the Christian how to speak to God in a way that pleases Him.
Children echo what they hear. They are little echo chambers of our own tendencies. The comfortable phrases, frustrated exclamations and angry retorts that come easily to our lips have a different quality about them when they come from the mouth of a toddler. Similarly, we echo what we hear in the prayers of others. Like the child, our learning is increased by diligent study. The Christian who gives his attention to the Word and to the prayers of the Word will learn the proper ways to speak to God. If you are intentional in filling your mind with Scripture, you will find the language of the Book increasingly becomes your native tongue.