Sometimes when I stand to pray I don’t know what to say, or I say a few words and come to a halt. How should I pray, and what should I say?
There are many elements to prayer which, if you are aware of them, can help you to lengthen your time in God’s presence.
Many people just content themselves with the element of asking, so that they confuse prayer with requesting, with the result that if they have nothing to ask for they do not pray!
Even on the level of asking, though, prayer can be broadened, so that we ‘ask’ on behalf of others. You can make requests to God for the Church, and for the society in which you live, for all those whom you know who are in need, for each one according to his needs, whether he is sick or in a difficult situation, or travelling or studying.
There is also the element of thanksgiving in prayer. Thank God for all His goodness to you, and to those you know and love, do it in detail. The Church has set down for us the Prayer of Thanksgiving, at the beginning of each section of the prayers of the hours.
There is also in prayer, the element of confession, in which you confess to God your sins and shortcomings, and ask His pardon and forgiveness, just as you ask Him for strength or healing… but do all of this with humility and surrender.
In prayer there is also the elements of praise, glorification and contemplation on the beautiful qualities of God. Take for example the phrase, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory’, this does not spring from penitence, but from contemplating the attributes of God.
There is some advice I can give you if you feel that you don’t know how to pray, which is:
You already have prayers that have been written down, and which you have perhaps learned by heart. The Lord gave us an example of this in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our Father…’. There are also the Psalms and the Agpeya (The name given to the book of prayer settings for the various hours of the day, which is used in the Coptic Orthodox Church), the hymns of praise and the Psalmody.
You can pray from them however you like, they are a teacher to teach you to pray, and to instruct you in the best manner in which to address God, and what to say, how to say it, and how to open your heart to meditate in prayer.