I don’t know if you’ve been learning any new skills during the lockdown. Maybe like a lot of people you’ve been looking at guides and tips on how to bake sourdough bread. Or maybe you’ve been asking for gardening advice from you green fingered neighbour. Perhaps you’ve had to google how to long division in a moment of desperation as you try to help your children with their school work.
With our church buildings being closed we are not able to pray together in the ways that we are used to. So I’ve been doing series to help us grow in our home prayer life by exploring the essential questions on prayer. So far in this series we’ve seen that prayer is talking with God, and that prayer connects us with God’s transformational power. The questions we’re looking at in this post is ‘how to pray.’ It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a follower of Jesus for, none of us have prayer all figured out, and all of us have more to learn. Just like with anything else that you are try to learn or improve, you want to be guided by an expert. So today we are going to look at the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6, and let the master show us how we should pray.
The verses we are part a longer collection of teachings that is commonly called ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. Jesus starts this section on prayer by first giving us two things to avoid; praying like hypocrites, and praying like a pagans. “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.” (Matthew 6:5 NIV)
The word ‘hypocrite’ was another word for an actor, for someone who would wear masks and pretend to be someone else. So Jesus is telling us not to be fake. Other people might be impressed by who you pretend to be, but God sees right through it. He knows the real you, so be honest and genuine as you talk to him. God sees what is done in secret, so it doesn’t matter if you pray out loud, or silently within your heart. You can write down prayers, or even sing them if you want. Just be honest about who you are and how you feel.
Secondly Jesus says, “do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7 NIV) The good news is that our prayers can be short and our prayers can be simple. We don’t need to use any special words. God loves us and wants to give us good things. The purpose of prayer is not to try and manipulate God, or force him to do what we ask by following a formula of words or by endless repetition. The power of prayer is not in the amount of our words but in the goodness of God’s character.
Jesus then gives us an example or a pattern of prayer for us to follow. We call it the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, and we repeat it together every week in Church. But Jesus doesn’t just want us to say it, I believe that he want us to learn from it. Use it as a guide of how to pray, and what to pray for.
Jesus shows us there are six things we should ask for when we pray. The first three are all centred on God. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10 NIV)
So often our prayers are focused on ourselves and our problems. But Jesus says to start our prayers by bringing our focus up to heaven, to praise God for who he is and be thankful for what he has done in the past and promises to do in the future.
Praying this way, for God’s glory to grow, his kingdom to come, and his will be done, changes our perspective on our troubles and our worries. Remember who we are talking to! Yes our problems are big, but our God is so much bigger.
Next Jesus teaches us to ask God to; “give us today our daily bread. And 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 6:11-13 NIV) Simply this means to pray for what we need each day, to pray for our relationship with God and others, and to pray for protection from sin and evil.
And that is Jesus’ master class on prayer! Keep it real, keep it simple, keep it focus on God, and ask him for what you need. Like with most things in life, we learn how to pray not by studying the theory but by putting it into practice.
At the end of each of these posts I try to give a suggestion of a simple and practical way you can apply what we are learning about prayer. This week I want to encourage you to use the Lord’s Prayer as a template for your own prayers. One of the problems with using the Lord’s Prayer is our over familiarity with it. We say the words, but don’t think about what we are saying. So each day focus on just one part of the prayer. Think about why Jesus wants us to pray about it. Then rewrite it in your own words as a prayer for that day. Click here for a sheet to help you to do this.
“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 daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.