How to Pray
Prayer, Sermon on the Mount, Lord's Prayer
I believe if you talk to most Christians about the area of their spiritual life where they struggle the most they would (if they are honest) tell you that they struggle with prayer. In the movie, “War Room” the question was, “Is your prayer life Hot or Cold?” The answer was “Lukewarm”. Most of us would nod our heads in agreement.
It’s not that we don’t pray. We do. In the times of crisis, when we see something beautiful, or in times of worship we do pray. Someone said, “this week more of us will pray than will exercise, go to work, or have sex.” The problem is not that we never pray . . . the problem is that we know this is an untapped resource. Prayer is given to us so we might draw close to God. That’s the kind of prayer we lack. All of us would like to draw closer to the Almighty.
The Bible has great promises attached to prayer. It tells us that prayer can heal the sick, change hearts, bind demons, meet needs, and even move mountains. If we are honest, we would say few of us see that kind of impact from our prayers.
People are confused about prayer: Why pray if God knows everything? That is like saying, “Why talk to your spouse when you already know what he/she is going to say?” It is part of the relationship. It is a chance to discuss things and make sure you are on the same page. As far as prayer is concerned, just because God knows what you need doesn’t mean that YOU do! We need to talk with Him, and like any marriage, we need to talk often.
It is interesting that we don’t hear the disciples asking Jesus to “teach us to heal” or “teach us to walk on water”. But they do ask Jesus to teach them to pray. I suspect a good deal of the reason for their request was the power of prayer that they saw in Jesus. They had watched him and listened to Him pray. They saw a communion with God that they coveted for their own lives. So, they asked Jesus to “let them in on the secret.” The answer Jesus gives them are the words we have here. We call this the Lord’s Prayer (or better titled, The Model for Prayer).
9 Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
10 May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today the food we need,
12 and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
13 And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.
14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Jesus did not intend to give the disciples something to simply recite. This is not a magic formula for perfect prayer. Jesus gave us a sample; an outline of what prayer might look like. We are going to look at this formula this week and next week. Our goal is simple: we want to learn how to pray more effectively; we want to draw closer to God.
Jesus begins the model prayer in a very interesting way. He calls God “Father”. The word here is Abba, it is a term of respect and intimacy. Calling someone Father is a special title. You don’t just call anyone “Dad”. This is a person you generally look up to. And when we pray “Our Father” we acknowledge a special relationship with the One to whom we speak.
When we come to the Lord He is not looking for flowery language. He wants His child to talk to Him.
Do you remember when your child was very little and just learning to talk? Sometimes your child didn’t make any sense. Sometimes they used the wrong word. But did it matter? No, you listened intently. You listened for the heart more than for the correct words. You enjoyed the conversation even if it didn’t make any sense, simply because you love your child.
Let that sink in a little bit. Most people don’t want to pray publicly (or privately) because they feel inadequate. This shows that they are really more concerned about the people who are listening than they are about God Himself. He DOESN’T CARE about the fluency with which you pray. He just wants to hear from you.
I would love to eavesdrop on one of Jesus’ private prayers. I bet we would hear an intimacy that would melt our heart.
Max Lucado has written,
Just as a child cannot mis-hug, the sincere heart cannot mis-pray. Heaven knows, life has enough burdens without the burden of praying correctly. If prayer depends on how I pray, I’m sunk. But if the power of prayer depends on the One who hears the prayer, and if the One who hears the prayer is my Daddy, then I have hope. 
When we pray we need to realize that we are talking to our Father. In some respects when we sit down and talk to the Lord it is like a child sitting down to tell their parents about their day in school or the new girl that has caught their fancy. We are sharing our heart and life.
Note something else. Jesus did not say, “My Father” He said, “Our Father”. It is the reminder that we are part of a family of believers. We do not exist alone. We are part of a community of faith.
This simple phrase reminds us that we talk to the One who rules over all. We remind ourselves as we pray that we are privileged to talk to the One who has made all things.
When children come to their parents for help, they come trusting the parents’ wisdom and ability to do what needs to be done. It is the same when we pray. We come to our Father who sits in the seat of all power, all wisdom, and all compassion. We come to Him confident that He is able to meet our deepest needs and understand the most confusing of situations.
Max again writes,
God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are they even like ours. We aren’t even in the same neighborhood. We’re thinking, Preserve the body; he’s thinking, Save the soul. We dream of a pay raise. He dreams of raising the dead. We avoid pain and seek peace. God uses pain to bring peace. “I’m going to live before I die,” we resolve. “Die, so you can live,” he instructs. We love what rusts. He loves what endures. We rejoice at our successes. He rejoices at our confessions. We show our children the Nike star with the million-dollar smile and say, “Be like Mike.” God points to the crucified carpenter with bloody lips and a torn side and says, “Be like Christ.”
Jesus reminds us to pray with intimacy and with confidence that the One to whom we come is more than able to meet our deepest of needs. He says all that in this first line.
May Your Name Be Kept Holy
Perhaps you have been in a situation where you or a family member was defamed. The criticism was harsh and unfair. You knew that this person that you loved was being treated in a manner that was unworthy of their character. And it is likely that what you wanted more than anything was to “clear their name”.
Jesus says we should pray that God’s name (His character) is respected and honored. We want His name “to be cleared” by all (including us).
First, we want God to be honored in our own hearts and lives. When we come to Him and pray “May Your Name Be Kept Holy” (or Hallowed by thy name) we are really saying, “Lord I acknowledge you are God. I come to you respectfully and want to honor You as God in my life.”
We come to God in prayer and we remember
- He is God and we are not
- He is Creator and we are the Created
- He holds all things in His Hands, we are one of those things in His hand
- He is eternal we are momentary
- He possesses all wisdom and knowledge and even the most educated among us are pea-brained by comparison.
- He loves us in a way that staggers the imagination
- He gave His Son for our salvation
- We are His not because we chose Him but because He chose us
When we remember these things we take a different posture before the Lord. We don’t command, we discuss and listen carefully to what he tells us. We approach Him as Father but must always remember that He is also Lord.
Second, we pray that others might honor Him as Holy. It is a truth we convey to every couple to whom we speak, “Though you can talk about your parents anyway you want (because they are your parents and deep down you do love them), your mate must be very cautious how they speak about your parents.” You defend the honor of your parents . . . as you should.
As we pray for God to be honored as holy we are praying that the world might come to see and appreciate the greatness of God. We long for Him to be honored in the world. And when we want God to be honored in the world we know, by implication that this means that we must represent Him in a way that leads people to honor Him. When we pray for God’s name to be honored by all, it means we are first of all seeking to honor Him ourselves.
May Your Kingdom Come Soon
Jesus tells us that we should pray longing for the Lord to rule. Once again we remind ourselves that before God can rule in the world, we must allow Him to rule in our own lives. So in a sense we must start by saying, “Lord, may your Kingdom take root in me. May I learn to follow, trust, and obey you. I want you to become the most important influence in my life. I want honoring you and serving you to be the top priority of my life.
When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come we acknowledge that the Kingdom of this world is insufficient. We are confessing that the values that so often govern our lives are faulty. The things that we crave here are empty. The things we treasure are meaningless and border on idolatrous.
When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come we recognize that
- We cannot know love apart from Him
- We cannot accomplish anything of truly lasting significance apart from His leading in our lives
- We have no hope of forgiveness or new life without His provision
- We cannot be what He has created us to be unless we walk with Him
May Your Will Be Done On Earth As It Is in Heaven
This part of the prayer is a request for the heart of God to be reality in your life. Once again when we pray a prayer like this it must start with us. It is a passionate desire for God’s will to be done in our lives.
When you love someone deeply you want to please them. You want to help them reach their goals. You desire to see their heart become one with yours. It is the same when we pray as Jesus taught us to pray. We are asking God’s heart to take up residence in us. We are asking Him to rule in our lives.
Yes, we are also asking the Lord to rule in the world. But that prayer means little if we are not willing to let Him first rule in our own lives.
Practically this means
- We are willing to do what God wants us to do
- To serve where He wants us to serve
- To wait when He delays
- To act when He leads
- To put Him first above everything and everyone in our lives
When we pray for God’s will to be done on earth we are praying that He will be seen and honored as the ruler that He truly is. We are praying that everyone submits to His leadership. And when we ask God to do that with everyone we are therefore asking Him to help us submit to Him and follow Him as we should.
This is only the first part of the Lord’s prayer, but it is the part of the pattern for prayer that we often overlook.
When we pray we to go immediately to our requests, our desires, and even our demands. Children often approach their father in the same.
However, if this is the only conversation between a child and their dad the relationship is going to be very shallow. Dad is going to feel used. Jesus shows us that our attitude is the key to intimacy with God. If we want to have a powerful and transforming prayer life it starts by remembering who it is that we are talking to. We are talking to the Lord of Life; the Creator of All Things; The Beginning and the End; the Ever-living One.
Yes, we come to Him confidently and simply because He is our Father and He loves us. But at the same time we come to Him recognizing His awesome greatness. If we overlook this we have missed the real beauty of the Lord. It is hard to be intimate with one whom you don’t appreciate.
This God . . . our Father . . . is the One who by an act of extraordinary grace made it possible for us to be part of His family. He paid the debt that we owed Him. He paid for the sin we committed. He took our place. He endured our penalty. He paid our fine. He has proved His love.
Maybe that is the key to effective praying: trusting God. This is why Jesus’ pattern for prayer begins by reminding us of who God is. It helps us to trust Him and when we trust Him it changes the way we pray. We trust God to get it right. We trust Him to correct us when we are wrong; to guide us when we are lost; to show us the best way to the life we were created for. We trust that He knows and understands better than we do. And even when we are left confused and dazed by the things that happen in life we hang on. We do this because we trust Him as our Father . . . the One who is in Heaven . . . the One who is Honored above all else . . . the one who reigns and whose will is perfect.
The point is that the Lord’s Prayer is not a magic formula for us to recite (In King James English). It is a pattern. If we remember who we are talking to I think we will be much less likely to doze off, to utter meaningless prayers, and struggle with prayer. Instead, we will crave those times when we can be alone with the One who told us to call Him “Father”
 Max Lucado, Before Amen (Thomas Nelson 2014) p. 19
 Max Lucado, The Great House of God: A Home for Your Heart (Dallas: Word Pub., 1997), 39.