I have spent a lot of time reflecting on these questions. This year, 2020, has not been kind to any of us. We have COVID which has caused all kinds of chaos in our basic, daily lives. COVID has been the cause of many tragedies and loss of life. Here, in the U.S., we have had much civil unrest over the excessive use of force by police, and systemic racism. Wild fires in parts of the American west are disrupting peoples lives as they lose their homes and businesses, and food supplies across the country have been interrupted. I have also learned of some life altering personal health issues that I must face, these could cause disruption to my future by way of family and work. It seems that there is a lot for me to pray about. So, how do pray? Many would say I should pray for physical healing, others might say to pray for mental strength to get me through my physical problems. But what about the problems that are facing the nation or other people? If I pray for peace and stability will God grant it? Are not all Christians and other "people of faith" praying for all of these situations, all the time? Why then do such things constantly happen? Is God not at work in the world today (this is another topic). Can I pray for one who does not believe in God for anything other than their salvation? What are the rules? Are there any rules?
There are many scriptures that address prayer. How do we apply them to our lives and the lives of those around us? How can we be "effective" in our prayers? We hear of some people being "prayer warriors"; what does that mean? Is a "prayer warrior" someone who prays so effectively that God hears them and acts on their requests more than others? The most famous prayer I can think of is the one Jesus suggests in Matthew 6 which asks that the Fathers will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus also tells the disciples and others that they can ask for whatever they need and it will be given to them. The apostle Paul tells Timothy to pray for leaders so that believers, who lived in a very tough political environment, could have peaceable lives and that all men would be saved. In the book of John, Jesus prays for his followers before his Passion. If you take into account the parallels of the gospels and the mention of prayer, Paul, in his writings, mentions prayer more often than does Jesus in the gospels. Paul gives various admonishments regarding prayer that range from women covering their heads while praying to praying for his strength during his journeys and while imprisoned. Paul frequently tells the churches that he prays in thanking God for them. In the Old Testament, using the NRSV, the word occurs close to 400 times with prayers to God for deliverance, healing, and the removal of sins and the guilt associated with those sins.
It is easy to see that prayer is very important to God and to Jesus Christ. It is one way that we can communicate with them. It becomes obvious that prayer should be a major part of our relationship with God and his son. Thankfully, I have come to realize that I should not worry about how or when I pray any longer. I do not believe it really matters how I address God, what questions I ask or what requests I make. I can just talk to God or Jesus anytime I want, about anything, just as if they were standing, sitting or working right next to me, because they are with me, all of the time. I used to think that football players were out of place if they pointed skywards after scoring a touchdown as they might be thanking our praying to God. I would think, "God does not care about your touchdown", or "God did not give you that touchdown, as if God likes your team better than the other". Now I think, "good for them and good for God!".
In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul says that we should pray for anything, and that God would give our minds and hearts peace in his son. I believe that the idea of prayer like this is to simply talk with God about what is bothering us, or what we are thankful for, no matter who, or what it is. It is to share our concerns with him, like we would with a friend. When we chose to share ourselves with someone, it can take some of the burden away and it might serve to ease or minds even when we know that the other person can not possibly change our situation. A friend, or even a counselor, is someone we lean on to ease pain, suffering, or anguish. The relief might be brief, but it is needed and very important to our health. God desires to be that friend who is there with us through anything. God wants to share in our pain, suffering, and anguish. God wants to share in our joy, happiness, and thankfulness. So, yes, God is happy with the football player's elation after he scores a touchdown. God is sorrowful with us after tragedy happens as well. God wants us to experience peace, not turmoil and chaos.
The apostle Paul gives the best explanation of prayer I can think of which applies to my life as one who believes that I have a meaningful relationship with both God, and Jesus Christ. In Romans 8, Paul writes,
"...the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." To me, this means that I can simply talk with God and that I do not need to worry how my prayer sounds, or what words I use, or what the topic is, or how long my prayer is, or when it is. I just can, like I am taking with a friend. God hears exactly what I need him to hear. My Lord Jesus Christ, who is my brother, hears exactly what I need him to hear. Just talk, scream, cry, whatever you need to, wherever you need to, as often as you need to.
Since coming to this understanding of prayer, I pray far more often, about far more things than ever before. I pray, or talk with God with no other expectation than that he hears, and that he is sharing in my conversation, and that I might have some peace in that moment. I have become much more thankful. Some might think this is a disrespectful way to approach God, but that does not bother me, to each their own, and maybe they are right, who knows. I now know it does not matter what opinions anyone has regarding prayer, because I now know that God makes sense of all my words.