One of my favorite sayings is, “Why worry when you can pray.” I know that the Bible says, “Don’t worry,” more times than it says, “Don’t steal,” and we all know what stealing is.
Prayer is how we talk with God. Notice I said talk “with” not talk “to.” We come to God in prayer bringing our praise, our thanksgiving, and our needs. And it should also be a time when we listen. It’s supposed to be a two way conversation. And since God knows everything and we don’t perhaps listening should be a bigger part of the process than most of us make it?
How then shall we pray?
This is a question Christians have been asking since Jesus walked among us. And God’s Word doesn’t leave us to stand around scratching our head. It gives us some clear-cut straight forward teaching. Matthew (in The Message) puts it like this, “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply.” In The New King James we’re told, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”
In other words there is no magic formula. There is no surefire incantation we’re supposed to memorize and repeat like a mantra. Instead we’re supposed to talk with God on a one-to-one personal basis and everyone’s personality and circumstances are unique. Which brings us right back to the age-old question; How then shall we pray?
After telling us what prayer should not be Jesus told us what it should be. The Message puts it this way, “With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:” and the New King James once again references the way heathens pray telling us, “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:”
Notice one version tells us “Like this:” and another says, “In this manner, therefore, pray:”
Neither one tells us, “Repeat these words.” One says “Like this,” or in this way. And the other says, “In this manner.” The clear meaning of this when interpreted through the admonition found in the immediately preceding passage whether the “Don’t fall for that nonsense” of The Message or the “do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do” of The New King James is that turning what follows next into a formula or a mantra is the exact opposite of what Jesus was trying to teach us about prayer.
What follows these warnings about praying repetitiously like a religious robot or a magician’s apprentice is Jesus’ teaching about how to pray not necessarily about what to pray or as it has come down to us through religious tradition, the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
This is a model that we can analyze. Using this analysis we can try to understand its components. We can accept these as necessary components of prayer.
Some say that the so-called Lord’s Prayer is the meaning of the 23rd Psalm embodied within a prayer.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the till waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
There are many ways to break down the Lord’s Prayer into its essential components. Here’s one way:
- A personal relationship with God— “Our Father”
- Faith— “in heaven”
- Worship— “hallowed be Your name”
- Expectation— “Your kingdom come”
- Submission— “Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”
- Petition— “give us this day our daily bread”
- Confession— “and forgive us our debts”
- Compassion— “as we forgive our debtors”
- Dependence— “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”
- Acknowledgment— “for Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever
Seeing this as a model Jesus gave us when teaching us how to pray it makes sense to see complete prayers as having these components. However, taking the message of His teaching in the same passage of scripture to heart tells us that the idea of memorizing or repeating endlessly the same words like a mantra is the opposite of what He intended.
So, How then shall we pray?
We should pray from the heart with pure intentions seeking intimacy with Him not merely fulfilling an obligation or checking a box on some spiritual scorecard. If we seek Him we’ll find Him. If we draw near to Him He’ll draw near to us. The most important aspect of our prayer is not what we want it’s who we want. If we seek Him and His kingdom He assures us that all we’ll ever need is there when we need it. He’s an on-time God.
So when we pray let’s not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think they’ll be heard for their many words instead let’s just talk with Daddy openly, intimately, and often. And let’s give Him the space to speak to us. We’ll do well to apply the wisdom of God not only to our conversations with others but also to our conversations with Him, let’s be swift to hear and slow to speak.