So how do we pray?
Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6. His instruction came in the middle of a sermon, called the ‘sermon on the mount’ (hardly surprising as Jesus often withdrew to a mountain to pray). His concern is that the disciples conducted themselves in a way that was pleasing to the Lord as opposed to pleasing before people (6:1, 18) and he offers three areas of concern: Giving (6:2-4), Prayer (6:5-15) and Fasting (6:16-18).
This is what he says about prayer:
5 “And 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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:5-15)
The contrast in the passage is between the hypocrite/pagan (who stands in high places to be seen, who babbles and uses many words) and the righteous one (who prays privately, not for esteem, and presumable not babbling or using words to prop up the prayer).
Christians should pray like the righteous one! So, when you pray, don’t pray like a hypocrite – looking for credit from people. Instead pray like a child – asking of his/her father. Like any good father, he knows what you need and if it is best will give it to you.
What Jesus offers his disciples is a prayer which we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer. Note, this prayer is not a formula: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication (although I think that is a helpful pattern for organising your prayer). If I was to call my wife on the phone and give her two minutes of adoration, then two minutes of confession then two minutes of thanksgiving before asking her for things for two minutes – I can tell you our relationship would be a bit strained.
- Our Father in heaven. He calls on God as provider and as the one over all. Be less concerned with the mechanics of your prayer and recognise that when you are praying you are simply talking to God, your Father.
- Hallowed be your name. God has the name before all names. He is set apart for honour in a way that no other deserves and so give him the esteem and credit which is due.
- Your kingdom come. You don’t have a kingdom unless you are a King and this recognises God in his rightful place as the majestic ruler and owner of all.
- Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. How terrific it is to have all authority. This recognises God as the one whose will does matter most, be it on earth or in the heavens – he is over all. In prayer – pray to God, not to one another, not to ourselves – pray to the one who can answer even our audacious and seemingly impossible prayers.
- Give us today our daily bread. Ask for what is necessary and know that it is God who provides. The picture of ‘daily bread’ is a reminder of Israel’s reliance upon God as they travelled through the desert – totally dependent upon God to provide them with food to eat (quail and manna) and water to drink (from the rock).
- Forgive us our debts or sins. To what debt do we owe? Regardless, it is God who can cancel that debt. To pray this shows a humility and willingness to declare our unrighteousness, yet acknowledgement that God forgives.
- As we also have forgiven our debtors. This presumes that the pray-er has indeed forgiven those who have sinned against them. This call for forgiveness is elaborated on in verses 14-15. Forgiveness is the driving reality of prayer. Because Christians can be forgiven, and by the one who knows all, then the one who is in him should also be forgiving others. In this sense, prayer mirrors the gospel. In the gospel, the Father takes us as we are because Jesus gives his gift of salvation. In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because Jesus has given us the gift of his help.
- And lead us not into temptation. Temptation is not sin, but its risk is that it will lead to sin, so ask God to lead us away from that danger.
- But deliver us from the evil one. There is evil in the world that every person will come before, and this prayer particularly acknowledges the greatest evil to the one who is righteous – the evil one, the devil.
What a blessing to be taught how to pray. To be given a direct line to our Father in heaven. To know that we can ask, talk, plea, cry out, praise him, confess to him – and no matter what he will hear. And what a comfort it is to know that from the best of circumstances to the very worse situations, prayer is something that a Christian can do. You don’t have to be able to speak, hear, see or feel – and yet you can still pray.
We may look at the inadequacy of our praying and feel the temptation to give up. But God looks at the adequacy of his son and delights in our sloppy meandering prayers, as we come to him as Father.
For other articles in this series:
Faithful in Prayer
Talking to God
Prayer in the Bible
Prayer in Western Society
Praying the Lord’s Way
Tips for Prayer