How can God become more real to me? I feel as though I’m not really praying TO Him, that I’m just praying to a non living thing.
Your desire to have a more real sense of God and relationship with God is a good and necessary desire. All of us prayerfully need to seek to have a growing awareness of the realness of God and to live consistently with that reality.
It is important to begin by reminding ourselves of who God is. A key difference between the God of the Bible and other “gods” is that our God is a real personal being. This is repeatedly emphasized in the Bible as God is contrasted with the pagan idols. In Isaiah 44, God Himself is mocking people who take a tree, use some of the wood to make a fire and cook some food and take another part of the same tree, carve a statue out of it, and pray to it. In this same chapter God refers to Himself as: God, Rock, the King of Israel, his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts, and the Lord. It is especially this name “LORD” that reminds us of the personal covenantal relationship He has with His people.
Really praying to God begins with having a real relationship with Him. We are born as sinners who are dead in our sins and enemies of God. This can show itself in many ways including open rebellion against God (living in unrepentant sin), denying His existence (Atheists), acknowledging there is some God, but He is not really knowable (Agnostics), or even by acknowledging the God of the Bible as being the one and only real God yet not truly trusting in Him (nominal “Christians”). As we seek to have a real relationship with God, we must start by being reconciled with Him through His beloved Son Jesus.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He gave them the Lord’s Prayer, not for them to simply repeat this but as a model for them and us to learn from. In this prayer, Jesus instructs us to address God as “Our Father”. By addressing God as Father we get to the heart of who it is that we are praying to. This is summarized nicely in Q&A 120 of the Heidelberg Catechism which asks, “Why has Christ commanded us to address God thus: “Our Father”? Answer: That immediately, in the very beginning of our prayer, He might excite in us a childlike reverence for and confidence in God, which are the foundation of our prayer, namely, that God is become our Father in Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in true faith than our parents will refuse us earthly things.”
It is also important to remember that there are times when God seems distant from believers. See for example Psalm 13 where David is crying out to God and lamenting that God seems distant and how his prayers are going unanswered. Yet as we keep reading this Psalm, we see how David ends by praising God because he reminds himself of God’s mercy and salvation. This again is a mark of being a true believer, that we are grieved when God seems far from us, and we earnestly seek Him until we again enjoy communion with Him.
As you seek the Lord and desire to know and experience Him in a real and personal way remember the command, promise and encouragement Jesus Himself gave us in Luke 11:9-13 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”