Prayer is the most direct means for fellowship with God this side of living in heaven with Him. Prayer is generally to be offered to God the Father, but can also be offered to Christ or the Holy Spirit (or to God in Trinity). It should, however, never be offered to God through idols, pictures, figurines etc.
It is only through the reconciliation that comes by Christ's death that we can pray, as He acts as the mediator between God and man; and this is why believers pray "in Christ's name". The Spirit intercedes in our prayers, making our godly desires known to God better than we know how.
The location of prayer makes no difference, but the Bible encourages us to pray both in private and as a community of believers. With regard to the time of prayer, it shouldn't be relegated merely to a certain time of day, but should be a response to all situations, "continuously" praying.
Prayers should be offered with faith, with a spirit of obedience shown by a life of obedience, with humility and with meaning; and our expectance of God's answer should drive us to wait on His response. In prayer, we should give glory and thanks to God, ask God to provide for needs (both our own and others'), confess of known and unknown sin, seek guidance and deliverance from evil and we must also ourselves forgive others. Continually and faithfully coming back to a topic of heartfelt need is encouraged and praying according to God's will is both expected and an important aspect of effective prayer.
God promises to hear the prayers of those who know Him, which are offered in faith and according to his will. More effective prayer is a result of humility, faithfulness and obedience towards God, as well as truly meaning what we pray. There is nowhere that God promises to respond to the prayers of those who do not come to Him through Christ, although He may choose to do so anyway in His mercy.
The subject of prayer is much less a doctrine of belief than a real, living part of the Christian life. Prayer, at its core, is the most direct means for fellowship with God. I believe it is for this reason that, without planning it so, the content of the following study has a great deal more discussion and suggestions for application than other studies. I hope and pray that the Biblically proven content below can be mixed with the suggestions for application and discussion, as well as a meditation on God's reason for prayer in order to encourage you and build you up in your relationship with Him.
Whilst writing this study, I was made constantly aware of my own failings in prayer, but also understood even better the power of "theologizing" (as J.I. Packer calls it) to help us grow closer to God; that is, studying prayer gave me great insight into where I was failing and enabled me to pray better, more lovingly, faithfully and truthfully. I hope and pray it does the same for you.
A look at the prayers of the Bible clearly shows that most are offered to God (the Father). Although merely counting the occurrences of types of prayers will be misleading since the triune nature of God was less clearly understood in OT times, and because a great deal of the prayers offered in the NT are offered by Jesus (and therefore not to himself), it is still safe to say that in general, prayers are to be offered to God the Father (as in Matt.6:9).
There are clearly examples of prayer to Jesus in the NT, and even direction to 'call on His name' for salvation:
Note, however, that these three represent the clearest examples of prayer to Christ offered in the Bible (apart from "Come, O Lord!" in 1 Cor. 16:22 and "Come Lord Jesus" in Rev 22:20), indicating that while prayer to Christ is acceptable, it is not the norm.
Similarly, there doesn't appear to be any reason why prayer can't also be offered to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is, after all, God (see trinity), with whom we live in a relationship. Further, the fact that He excercises personal discretion when outlaying the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 (1 Cor. 12:11) indicates that prayer to the Spirit when concerning this area is acceptable.
Other commentators have suggested that prayers of a specific nature may be directed to Christ. Packer writes, "Christ may be called on for salvation and healing, as in the days of his flesh (Rom. 10:8-13, 2 Cor. 12:7-9) and the Holy Spirit for grace and peace (Rev. 1:4). It cannot be wrong...to request any spiritual blessings from any one of the three Persons, but there is wisdom in following the New Testament pattern [of praying largely to the Father]." (Concise Theology p.188.)
It seems best, simplest and most easily in-line with Biblical evidence to pray mainly to the Father (or to God in Trinity), praying only to the Son or the Holy Spirit explicitly, when it is clearly appropriate to do so.
It is nothing but demeaning to believe God to be, or to even imagine God to be, anything that is physically in front of us or even anything which we could imagine. Many believers fall into the trap of attempting to "focus their prayers" by praying to a crucifix (cross), to a painting or image of Jesus, to an image of Jesus in their minds, or similar (or worse). While this may be done with the best of intentions, it nevertheless demeans the glory of God and over time will condition that believer to associate that physical thing or image with God - which is not good and clearly a form of idolatry.
As sinners, we have no right to approach God, as He is perfect. But through faith in Christ, believers can approach God with confidence as Christ acts as the mediator between God and man:
This is why believers pray "in Christ's name" - Jesus promised "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." (John 14:13-14 cf. 15:16; 16:23-24). To come in Christ's name signifies coming in the authority of Christ - much like the apostles who invoked Christ's authority when driving out demons and healing people (e.g. Acts 3:6). Coming in Christ's name also signifies our desire to pray according to the will of Christ - we would not come with His authority if we were not aligned with His will - therefore, to pray in Christ's name is to pray in such a way that is in-line with the character of Christ, seeking His will, knowing that it is only through Him that we can come.
The Spirit intercedes in our prayers, making our godly desires known to God better than we know how:
I now have a page devoted to the approach to prayer - find it here - but the below is what can be gleaned from the Bible's instructions on prayer...
Praying is a defining activity of the believer: it is an immense privilege and honour to pray to our creator, and this privilege comes only through Christ's world-changing sufferings. As such, prayer shouldn't be relegated merely to a certain time of day, but should be a response to all situations, automatically sharing events and concerns in our day-to-day lives with the Lord:
Jesus semi-addressed this issue before giving The Lord's Prayer. He said: "when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matt. 6:5-6) As can be seen from the context given though, this is a warning against pride rather than explicit instruction to pray in "your room".
We see from the Bible as a whole that we are to pray both in private (as above), and together as a community of believers (e.g. Acts 1:14). And while there may be places set aside specifically for praying, that does not make prayers offered there any more potent or powerful. Our God is omniscient and omnipresent; the barriers of location and time make no difference - it is rather the state of our faith when praying which effects our prayers, therefore it is only through Christ that our prayers are guaranteed effectiveness (see above).
The Bible is clear that no matter where or when, we can pray to God (Eph. 6:18), however, it is obvious that some situations are better than others to pray. Finding an environment where a focus on the prayer is easily achievable must be desired. For example, Jesus often went to solitary places to pray (e.g. Mark 1:35). Some considerations to think about:-
Group prayers are also encouraged in the Bible for the building up of fellowship: coming together in the name of the Lord:
Notice also that the Lord's Prayer assumes that believers will pray it together (this inferred from the use of plurals):
(By this I mean the "spiritual mindset" of the believer before and during prayer.)
Pray with faith in God's assurance of provision (Is. 25:4, 1 Cor. 10:13), trusting His wisdom to discern what is good and right, and also trusting in the adequacy of Christ's mediating, and the Spirit's intercessory work, to allow the very prayer you are praying as well as the relationship to God which you are exercising.
Prayer and godly obedience must go together. From the following verses we see that, although God has promised to hear the prayers of all believers, the prayers of the righteous will be more effective.
All glory and honour must deservedly go to God. Therefore, when we, in pride, seek glory for ourselves, we are trying to take from God. Therefore humility, the knowledge and acceptance that God has provided all through grace, is of utmost importance:
God, knowing our hearts and minds (Lk. 16:15; 1 John 3:20), knows when we mean something we say to Him - we cannot fool God! Half-heartedly bringing something before God is neither an expression of faith or love, in fact it actually shows disinterest. Prayers must be heartfelt. This will also mean physically acting in such a way as to demonstrate your emotional intensity, such as meditating on God's word, allowing the Lord time to respond to your prayers, and seeking/expecting guidance through the Holy Spirit.
This kind of emotional intensity is often hard for a believer to gain and keep; but prayer concerning this issue and an increase in understanding of, and trust in, God and in His providence and work around us could only encourage a growth in this area.
Just as many Psalms reflect the author's patient waiting for the Lord, it is important for the believer to "wait" on the Lord when praying. This may involve a time of reflection, meditation or patient seeking of God's will during prayer, or the patient continuation in prayer over time on a particular topic of concern; and should be a natural expression of the fact that a reply from God is expected.
The areas to cover in prayer are generally covered in the suggested prayer of Christ (the Lord's Prayer), so I will quote it here first in its entirety then quote each line in its respective category:
[9b] Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
 your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
 Give us today our daily bread.
 Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. (Matt.6:9-13)
Areas to cover in prayer:
1. Give glory and thanks to God:
2. Ask God to provide for needs (both our own and others' needs):
3. Confess of known and unknown sin:
4. We must also forgive others:
5. Seek guidance and deliverance from evil:
Continually and faithfully coming back to a topic of heartfelt need, and waiting for the Lord's response is exemplified by many in the Bible, for example:
This should be seen as distinct, however, from the mindless repetition that must be steered away from:
To pray according to God's will means first understanding to the best of our ability what God's will is (from the Bible), and in the cases or circumstances where the Bible is unclear, demonstrate our faith in the Lord by bringing the situation to Him and indicating our trust in the fulfillment of His will.
Prayer does change the way God acts:
God promises to hear the prayers of those who know Him, that are offered in faith, according to His will:
We see that more effective prayer is a result of humility, faithfulness and obedience towards God, as well as truly meaning what is prayed (see above "Spiritual approach to prayer").
However, though we can be confident that God hears believers' prayers, this does not mean that He will answer them in the way that we expect, or even in a way that we desire. For example, a friend recently asked why, if we faithfully pray that God would make us totally perfect, He doesn't immediately do so. This is a great example of a prayer that has been answered in the Bible for all Christians but will only be fulfilled in the future - the Bible tells us that when Christ returns, we will be made perfect; we will be given perfect bodies and go to live in a perfect place with God (see glorification). In His wisdom, God will, in His own time, end this sinful world and make those who have known Him perfect. In this, both my friend's question and prayer are answered.
When our knowledge of God's will is unsure, we can only wait on His response and trust in His decision. Praying for sick loved ones, for example - though we know that if they are believers God will care for them spiritually, He may have planned a tough physical road ahead for them in order to bring about that spiritual blessing. We simply do not and cannot know God's will until it is revealed, so in this circumstance we must trust in God's decision whilst also praying for the health of those that we are concerned for.
There is nowhere that God promises to respond to the prayers of those who do not come to Him through Christ (John 14:6). This is not to say that in His mercy He would not ever do so, but simply says that He has not promised always to do so, as He has with believers.
It is an amazing act of grace on the part of God that we can fellowship with Him in the way of prayer. Too many Christians take this for granted. In prayer we are talking to our Creator, the all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful God who created and sustains all. Grasping this simple, but almost unbelievable truth more fully could only lead to more persistent, faithful, heartfelt, loving, thankful and effective prayer.