And it came to pass, as he was praying in a certain place, that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him,
“Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples.”
And he said unto them, “When ye pray, say,
Father, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
And bring us not into temptation”(Luke 11:1-4).
God seeks for His people to communicate with Him (1 Peter 5:7). He does this not because He does not know what we need or what we desire; He does so because we benefit from making our petitions to Him (Matthew 6:8). Nevertheless, many perhaps have difficulties knowing how to pray and for what they should be praying.
Let us begin by understanding how God does not want us to pray. Jesus indicates in Matthew 6:5-8 that God has no interest in prayers prayed in order to appear holy before men; such people “have their reward,” since people will think of them as “holy” or “religious,” and yet the prayer will have no value before God. Likewise, God has no interest in meaningless prayer: if lips are saying words and there is no meaning behind them, they are simply “empty phrases,” of no value before God.
Therefore, when we pray to God, we should do so with the attempt to meaningfully talk with our Heavenly Father. Even though He is lofty and holy, and we are but dust (Isaiah 55:8-9, Genesis 3:19), He desires to have association with us (1 John 1:1-4). Through Christ we are able to be adopted as God’s children and can thus call out to Him, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:14-16). Through His blood we can approach the holy places with boldness (Hebrews 10:18-23). Therefore, even though we must always be quite respectful of the God of Heaven, we also can know that we can go to God in prayer and communicate with Him as a child with his or her father.
Our prayers represent our opportunity to talk with God. Jesus provides an idea in the model prayer of Matthew 6:9-13/Luke 11:2-4. It is lamentable that the “Lord’s Prayer” has become for too many a rote ritual in church services, spoken by many without meaning. By considering the different parts of the prayer, we can get an idea of the things which we should seek from God.
Jesus begins by a declaration of God’s holiness: “hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9). We must always remember how holy and awesome God is. He then continues with a petition for God’s own purposes: “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (v. 10). As God’s servants, we should seek to make our purposes His purposes (Galatians 2:20), and it is right for us to seek for God’s purposes to be accomplished and furthered in our world. He then turns to the basic necessities of humans: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). It is proper for us to ask for the basic needs of life (cf. Matthew 6:25-34); we are to ask not in carnal ways, to spend on our passions, but with full confidence that if we put His Kingdom and righteousness first, God will provide (James 4:3, Matthew 6:33). “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12) is a plea for our continued forgiveness (1 John 1:9), keeping in mind that forgiveness will only come if we forgive others (cf. Matthew 18:21-35). “And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13) is not an indication that God actually tempts us, but represents our plea to God to help guide our paths so that we may not stumble into sin (James 1:13-15).
This is not an exhaustive list of things for which we can pray, but we can see that our prayers represent opportunities to talk with God about life. Prayer does not have to be extremely drawn-out and complex in order to fulfill its purpose: Jesus’ model prayer is quite simple and involves the regular functions of life and living. The prayer also indicates that our concerns are not to be for ourselves alone, but also for the advancement of God’s purposes on the earth.
While some may get hung up on the “hows” of praying, we can see that God’s greater concern is that His children put the effort into making their petitions to Him. God always ought to command our respect, and our prayers should not be frivolous, vain, or worldly-minded. On the whole, however, the structure of our prayer is of less importance than the purpose and meaning that we place within our prayer, and our devotion to our prayer life. God enjoins us to “pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and to “continue steadfastly in prayer” in Romans 12:12. We can pray as nicely and as effectively as possible, but if we are not continually communicating with God in prayer, its value will always be diminished. Let us devote ourselves to God in prayer, and maintain close association with Him!