Why Pray?

Are you in touch with your spiritual side?

People are often happy to describe themselves as ‘spiritual’, even if they wouldn’t ever dream of saying they were religious. Being ‘spiritual’ is seen as cool because it suggests you’re in touch with the ‘inner you’, whereas being ‘religious’ is thought of as old-fashioned, even a bit odd.

But prayer is actually just one form of spirituality, the one that comes most naturally to us all. You don’t need to buy anything special, you don’t need to go anywhere in particular, and you don’t have to do anything specific.

‘I pray every day. I meditate every day and I do yoga. I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.’ – Miranda Kerr, supermodel

Does anyone actually pray any more?

Yes! In a recent YouGov survey,* 42 per cent of British adults answered ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Do you ever pray?’ Of those who said they pray, 26 per cent pray once a day or more.

Prayer isn’t something that only a few, slightly odd people do. If you’re someone who has prayed, even if not very often, you are not alone. Even if people never talk about it, a good many of your friends and colleagues have probably prayed at some time. Certainly more people pray than just those who consider themselves religious or go to church.

*Figures are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,023 GB adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between the 2 and 3 July 2015.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Why do people pray?

People often pray when there’s an emergency. In desperation they say, ‘Oh God, don’t let my friend be hurt in that accident’, or ‘Please God, don’t let my boss find out that I’ve messed up those figures’.

Or they pray when they’re happy. In relief they say, ‘Thank God! My friend’s going to be OK,’ or ‘Thank God! I corrected those figures before my boss found out.’

Something deep within us calls us to talk to this ‘Other’, this ‘Something that is Bigger than Us’, or to someone that some people call ‘God’. It’s a basic instinct, and it’s one that’s shared by people from all cultures and throughout history.

Sometimes, we just know deep down that we need someone big on our side. It’s this reaching out beyond ourselves that is the first move in prayer.

‘The very fact that this world is so challenging is exactly why you sometimes must reach out of its jurisdiction for help, appealing to a higher authority in order to find your comfort.’ – Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

What is prayer?

Very simply, prayer is about taking this basic instinct and consciously communicating with this ‘Other’, with the person Christians would call ‘God’.

You don’t even have to talk, you could just try sitting in silence. But relationships work both ways. If you had a friend who only ever talked about herself, and never stopped to listen to a single thing you said, you’d soon find the conversation unfulfilling.

So as well as talking to God, you also need to listen. The trouble is, God’s voice doesn’t come clearly to us as if on the other end of a phone. Try paying attention and looking for the spiritual in the still, small places of your life. You may find that you suddenly become aware of the transcendent when you’re walking in the park, queuing at the supermarket or waiting at the station.

If you listen, you may find that there’s something deeper to discover.

Some things to remember about prayer are:

  • be relaxed and be yourself
  • don’t feel you have to use clever words or talk in a particular way
  • be honest

‘I think God speaks to everyone differently . . . Like any relationship, you are able to hear someone far more if you relate to them daily.’ – David Oyelowo, actor 

What does prayer do for us?

Praying is part of being human. But does it do any good? Research shows that there are lots of benefits that can result from getting in touch with your innate spirituality and praying regularly:

  • Praying helps to reduce stress; sharing your concerns with God may help you to worry about them less and reduce your anxiety levels, which in turn can lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system.
  • Praying gives you a moment of peace; it’s a chance to recharge your batteries so that you can go on with greater strength.
  • Praying about your own needs and dreams may help you to gain a better understanding of who you are and of your purpose and direction in life.
  • Praying increases self-awareness, which may enable you to react differently to the daily challenges of life.
  • Praying for other people helps you to put your own worries into perspective, and this in turn helps you to be less selfish.

‘If I can start my day out by saying my prayers and getting myself focused, then I know I’m doing the right thing. That ten minutes helps me in every way throughout the day.’ – Mark Wahlberg, actor and singer

What does prayer do for those we pray for?

When you pray, you aren’t trying to manipulate or bargain with God, but offering up your concerns for God to use for the good of others, and for you.

You don’t know how God will be able to use your prayers but no prayer is ever wasted. When you enter a conversation with God there is a subtle interaction of your desires and God’s goodness. Praying aligns your will closer to God’s will and then, with that resonance, surprising things often happen.

‘Prayer is like water – something you can’t imagine has the strength or power to do any good, and yet give it time and it can change the lay of the land.’ – From Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult, novelist

How can I begin to pray?

Praying is a bit like Facebook: wherever you are you can check in to share your status, you can show you ‘like’ something, and you can share information about causes close to your heart.

It might seem difficult to know how to start praying, but maybe it’s easier than you think. You could try praying ‘on the move’: when you see a homeless teenager on the street, or as you walk to meet a friend who’s just found out that his dad’s got cancer. In these prayers you’re responding to real situations in real time, and asking God to be a part of them.

Once you’ve done this for a while, or if this approach doesn’t work for you, you may want to try to carve out a moment or two each day when you can take a deep breath and think and reflect on what’s going on, deep inside, at the edge of your consciousness.

It doesn’t matter when this time is, but if it’s possible to make it roughly the same time each day, this will help you to get into a rhythm.

You may find it useful to reflect on:

  • What has the past 24 hours been like – good or bad?
  • Was there anything stressful or upsetting? Did you handle it well?
  • Is there anyone you’ve let down? Did you let yourself down?
  • Is there anyone who needs help, either people you know or people in the news?
  • Is there anything, however small, to be grateful for?

This moment of prayer in a busy day may be just what you need to calm your mind and refresh your spirit, and it may also help you to focus on something beyond your own immediate needs and worries.

You could download the free Prayers on the Move app, which includes one-minute audio files of the prayers in this booklet and allows you to set an alert to remind you to pray.

Some ideas on how to use them are:

  • Try using one each day at a moment of quiet, when you pause to think and reflect about what’s going on in your life.
  • Listen to one of the prayers in the morning and mull over it as you go about your day.
  • Try saying one of the prayers over and over again, like a mantra, for a few minutes.

If you’re reflecting regularly in this way, you may find yourself reassessing what’s important in your life, and may even find yourself moving in new and exciting directions.

Try praying for a minute a day and see what happens.

‘Help me to choose my friends wisely so I won’t be led astray. Give me discernment and strength to separate myself from anyone who is not a good influence.’ – Beyoncé, singer and songwriter, quoting Stormie Omartian

‘I never pray that I’m going to win. Obviously I want to win . . . but I never pray to win. I just pray, “Help me do my best, don’t let me fear other people, don’t let me fear the job at hand.”’ – Christine Ohuruogu, Olympic, World and Commonwealth 400m champion