Recently, I’ve been trying to make prayer a bigger focus in my spiritual life. I know I should do it, and most of the time I genuinely want to do it, but it’s just one of those things that when I don’t prioritize it, it doesn’t become something that happens continually in my life. But beyond that, sometimes it is just difficult to find the words to say. A lot of times (for me, at least), I find myself wanting to say something to God, but not knowing what that is. I mean, a lot of the time I feel like God knows about it all anyway; what does it matter what I say?
And so, in moments like this (and quite frankly, this season has been one of them for me), I really have benefitted from using a model for prayer for myself, and it’s something that is based upon what Jesus taught when his disciples asked him how they should pray.
You actually already know this model. It’s called “The Lord’s Prayer:”
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our dialy bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one'” (Matthew 6:9-13).
I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with actually saying this prayer. Many of you probably grew up praying it, and maybe even still say it today. But in it’s original form, I think Jesus didn’t mean we had to pray this exact prayer, just that it’s a good model for us to pray by. I think we can draw three really basic principles from this prayer that will really help our prayer lives.
I need to begin my prayers by recognizing who I am praying to. The whole first verse of the prayer is Jesus doing that. He calls God “Father” (and, by the way, not just his Father but our Father… big difference there; that invites us to call God “Father” too) and then continues on by saying God’s name should be “hallowed” (a word that no one really knows exactly what it means, but it does have this connotation of holiness or God being set apart from us).
So, too, when we pray, Jesus invites us to address God as “Father” and then to take some time at the beginning of our prayer to remember some of God’s qualities. Maybe you had a day where you feel like things were messy and out of control. Maybe this is a day where you need to open prayer by remembering God has everything in his hands. When I open prayer by recognizing that I am praying to our great and perfect God, it puts me in a mindset more than anything else that I remember that my prayers will make a difference not because of me, but because of the great God that I am praying to.
Before I get to asking God for what I want, I need to ask that God would get what HE wants. That seems so counter-intuitive. Maybe unnatural for many of us. But that’s the next step of prayer, according to Jesus. He prays for God’s kingdom and will to be done in our world just like it is in heaven. The closer we grow with God, the more and more we discover that what God wants for us and for our world is so much better than what we might want, even when those two options differ. So before I spend time asking God for a bunch of different things, it’s probably wise to start by asking that God would make what he wants to happen come to fruition. And let’s be honest – we discover way more freedom and joy in our lives when they are surrendered to God’s will and wishes than when we cling tightly to our wants, our wishes, and our desires. This part of prayer is a valuable opportunity where I can stop and remind myself to be surrendered to God. Somedays, that will only take a few minutes. Other days, I might find that I’m stuck at this section of prayer for a while because I have a lot of stuff in my world that needs to be handed over to him.
I can ask. And I can do a lot of asking. Finally, Jesus gets to our favorite part… the part where we ask God for stuff. And note that this is also the longest part of the prayer. We aren’t promised God will just give us whatever we want, but the Bible also tells us that sometimes we don’t have what we want simply because we haven’t asked God. There’s nothing spiritual about you not asking. And there’s nothing unspiritual about you asking for material things (yep, even money stuff). I mean, Jesus asks for “daily bread,” or basically, the stuff needed to make it through the day – doesn’t get much more “earthy” or “material” than that. In fact, in a few of the parables of Jesus, we are asked to keep coming before God and asking. In fact, in a weird way, it’s sort of honoring because it is a demonstration that we actually believe God can provide it.
Nothing very fancy here. And you could definitely dive way deeper into this prayer. But these are just a few reflections off the top. I hope those are helpful as you get started with cultivating your relationship with Jesus through prayer!