What kind of language should I use when I am praying? Is it ok to talk to God like a friend?
Our relationship with God is complex. Perhaps it can best be described as a blend of love and respect. Love often implies intimacy and closeness. Respect can imply formality and distance. We should strive to find the balance of these two attitudes in tension in our relationship with God. Yes, we enjoy the greatest love from God, but we also give Him our highest respect.
If you have a good relationship with your earthly father this can be a model for how you might talk to your Heavenly Father. Using personal familiar language is certainly ok. The key is to always be respectful.
The Bible sometimes calls us “friends of God”:
John 15:14-15 – (Jesus speaking) You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
But it also commands us to fear God (be in awe of Him). Here is an example of how people reacted when they saw God:
Deuteronomy 18:16-17 – For this is what you yourselves requested of the Lord your God when you were assembled at Mount Sinai. You said, ‘Don’t let us hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore or see this blazing fire, for we will die.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘What they have said is right.’
There is a large variety of how different people balance feelings of love and respect in their communication, and it can help to read through different styles and language that people used in their prayers in the Bible: Abraham (Gen 18:23-32), Moses (Exo 33:12-17), Hannah (1 Sam 1:11), Daniel (Dan 9:4-19), Jonah (Jon 2:2-9), Jesus (Joh 17:1-5), etc. It’s also important to note that our language in talking to God will vary with our mood and circumstances. This can be seen in David’s prayers in the psalms. In Psa 22:1-3 David passionately questions why God has abandoned him. In Psa 139:1-13 he speaks tenderly of the close communion with God that deeply nourishes his soul.
It’s helpful to remember that God is more interested in the sincerity of your heart towards Him than the form of your prayer. The only time people are rebuked for their style of prayers is when they are putting on a show. For example, Jesus gives a strong rebuke in the sermon on the Mount before giving an example prayer of the “Our Father”:
Matthew 6:5-8 – When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!
Additional Bible verses
We are called friends of God, Jam 2:23.
We are to be in awe of God, Isa 6:5.