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Teach Us to Pray

Updated: Feb 22, 2019

The disciples asked this of Jesus. He answered them very plainly, "Pray then like 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 this day 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 evil'" (Matthew 6:9-13)

In one sense then, praying is as easy as that. Jesus says do it like this, so do it like that! But for most Christians, our actual experience is that prayer is very difficult. It’s difficult to find the time, to find the words, to find the desire or the ability. And so, we often fall into two categories: First, some of us feel so sinful and unworthy, that we can’t muster up the gumption to approach Holy God Almighty with our prayers and petitions. Thankfully, the scriptures make it abundantly clear that our ability to stand before God in his throne room of grace is entirely out of our hands and rests in the nail marked hands of our Saviour. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). Unfortunately, though, our ability often results in flippancy. This is the second, opposite category error in most of our prayer lives.

Just because we can stand before the throne of the King of the universe doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still act like we’re standing before the King of the universe. Of course, God is pleased with even the most meager and simplistic prayer of the smallest of his children, but he is not satisfied with it. Just as we are expected to grow physically into adults, so too should we grow spiritually into adults, which includes, of course, praying like one. Mature prayer is not defined by its grandiose, flowing eloquence. You can pray like that and still not really say anything at all. Rather, it is defined by its content. If the extent of your praying is blessing the food at dinner time and praying for healing for your sick aunt, that’s fine in and of itself, but the bible defines for us what mature prayer looks like; starting with the Lord’s prayer, but not ending there. Mature prayer should include confession of sin, thanking God for his creation and his providence, thanking God for the person and work of Christ, praying for strength in the midst of temptation, praying that his kingdom would be protected from enemies and extended throughout the world and more. These are petitions which do not come “naturally” to us and thus, like the disciples, we need to be taught how to pray.[1]

It is a rather silly thought that goes almost unchallenged in much of the evangelical church today that we, by virtue of just being a Christian, “naturally” know how to pray. We all agree that Christians must be taught to love their spouse, raise their kids, be a good neighbor, study their bible and more, and yet when it comes to prayer we’re taught that if we string some word’s together such as, “Lord I just want to thank you… I just ask… I just want…” and then end it with an, “In Jesus name, amen” that we have mastered the art of prayer. But this is not the example of prayer we get in scripture. So, besides the Lord’s Prayer, how else can we grow up into maturity in our praying?

I would submit that the best way to learn how to pray, both corporately and privately, is to pray pre-written prayers. Not always of course. Our life needs to be characterized by so much prayer that we are to “pray without ceasing” which means many of our prayers will be "off the cuff". But, when time and opportunity allow, teach yourself to pray by either sitting down to collect your thoughts and prayers and composing them using scripture as your guide before going to God in prayer, or simply take one of the many prayers of the saints found in scripture or in the history of the Christian church and pray them word for word.

Some say that praying pre-composed prayers will lead to cold, dead ritualism, but none of us can avoid ritual. The question is, are our rituals biblical (see Lord’s Prayer et al) or are they not (“Lord, give them a hedge of protection” etc…).

Let yourself be soaked in the words and thoughts of those scriptures and prayers and let them disciple you and train you into maturity.

Remember, O my soul, It is thy duty and privilege to rejoice in God: He requires it of thee for all his favours of grace. Rejoice then in the Giver and his goodness, Be happy in him, O my heart, and in nothing but God, for whatever a man trusts in, from that he expects happiness. He who is the ground of thy faith should be the substance of thy joy. Whence then comes heaviness and dejection, when joy is sown in thee, promised by the Father, bestowed by the Son, inwrought by the Holy Spirit, thine by grace, thy birthright in believing? Art thou seeking to rejoice in thyself from an evil motive of pride and self-reputation? Thou hast nothing of thine own but sin, nothing to move God to be gracious or to continue his grace towards thee. If thou forget this thou wilt lose thy joy. Art thou grieving under a sense of indwelling sin? Let godly sorrow work repentance, as the true spirit which the Lord blesses, and which creates fullest joy; Sorrow for self opens rejoicing in God, Self-loathing draws down divine delights. Hast thou sought joys in some creature comfort? Look not below God for happiness; fall not asleep in Delilah’s lap. Let God be all in all to thee, and joy in the fountain that is always full. A Colloquy on Rejoicing Valley of Vision

[1] I would point you to chapter 8 of Jeffrey Meyers’ book “The Lord’s Service” for a fuller treatment of this topic as it relates to prayer in the worship service more specifically.

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