How / What Should We Pray?

I can count the number of times on one hand that a sermon or piece of Christian advice has actually been about what a prayer should contain or how to do it. Often it amounts to, you just need to pray, which is great, but what does this mean? Are there specific things we need […]

How / What Should We Pray?

I can count the number of times on one hand that a sermon or piece of Christian advice has actually been about what a prayer should contain or how to do it. Often it amounts to, you just need to pray, which is great, but what does this mean? Are there specific things we need to do, is there anything we shouldn’t do, should we pray in a certain way, should we pray certain things, or actually does it matter and can we literally do or pray anything and God will listen?

How did Jesus Pray?
Matthew 6:9-13

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”

The best place to start with looking at how to pray comes from Matthew 6. Here Jesus actually teaches his disciples how we should pray to God, what to say to God.

But how can this help us?

Well in the first case it provides us with a prayer to say, we can literally repeat this prayer to God and it covers everything we need to say in a general prayer to God. It might not cover the moments in life when we just need to cry out for help or if we need to pray for someone specifically, but overall it does provide a good base prayer we can repeat regularly.

However, can we get more from this if we break it down, could it, for example, provide us with a template for our other prayers?

First, it starts with a greeting “Our Father in heaven,” much in the same way a lot of people start their prayers with “Dear Lord” or even some people I know saying “Hello Father” or “Hello God” which does seem like a good place to start. We are after all talking with someone whom we have a relationship with and that is how we would start most communications with our friends or family.

The next line moves onto “hallowed be your name.” Hallowed meaning ” honour and holy” or “greatly revere and honour”. This line pretty clearly falls into praising God and celebrating both his glory and power. {raise is important in our prayer lives, it brings us closer to God by thanking him and praising him for what he does for us and other.

The next three lines I think need to be looked at together, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Here we are submitting both ourselves and the world to the Lord through prayer. By praying for his kingdom to come into both this world and our lives we are submitting them into Gods hands and asking that his will and plan to come to fruition in our lives. Then in the next line, we are saying not what we want, not what we think is best but what you want, what you know is best not just for us but for the entire world. This is powerful, we are told to submit to the Lord in the Bible and this is one of the ways to it, by praying for the Lord’s will to be done in our lives.

Next, we move onto “Give us today our daily bread.” When the Jewish people were coming out of Egypt under God’s guidance he provided Mana from heaven daily with which to make bread, this is where daily bread comes from. Here we are asking God to provide for us to satisfy our needs. I think this comes down to more than food, we are asking God to provide for us both in terms of fleshly needs, food, water, shelter, money, comfort, all that we need to survive. We are also asking for God to provide what we need spiritually in terms of spiritual sustenance, the Bible and the word of God is often termed food for our soul, for our spirit, Jesus even said that we were not meant to survive on bread alone but on the word of God, so I think we are asking for God to provide spiritual sustenance as well as physical sustenance here.

We then move onto “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This often confused me, but I find it makes more sense in other translations where debtors are replaced by trespasses. Trespass can be defined as to commit an offence or a sin, and in this context means we are asking God to forgive our sins and offences against him and saying that we have forgiven those who have committed sins or offences against ourselves.

Finally, we move onto “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” Here we are simply praying for Gods help. Many times, in our lives we will be tempted to do things that are either bad for us or against Gods will, here we pray for Gods help in leading us away from temptation. We are also praying for him to “deliver us from the evil one.” Deliver means many things and is used in many contexts but there are two in particular which are pertinent here. One is to transport something to its proper place, such as a package, by praying for God to “deliver us from” we are asking him to take us away from the devil and transport us to God. Second is to set free from captivity, peril or evil, in which case we are asking for God to set us free from the captivity of the devil, to free us from his temptations and sins and help us to live a life of freedom with God.

We can now see a set of themes coming out of this prayer, we have:

1. Greeting
2. Praise
3. God to be in our lives
4. God to satisfy our needs and provide for us
5. God to forgive us
6. God to save us

Looking at this prayer like this we can see that it has everything you need for an all-encompassing prayer to God, even if you change the wording and how you pray it and what you pray about if you maintain these 6 aspects you will cover everything you need to cover in a general prayer.

We can also just pray to specific themes within this prayer, or change them slightly, we might feel that God has already provided everything we need in terms of our needs and so instead of asking for it we just want to thank him. The point is that if we are ever stuck for something to pray about we can easily use the Lord’s prayer or themes within it to give us a great starting point for our prayer to God.

Luke 18:9-14

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Here Jesus is telling the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee as an example of how to pray and how not to pray. We see that both went to the temple to pray. A good start, but upon arriving the Pharisee prayed a very different prayer to the tax collector. The Pharisee started well be thanking God but after that, it was not how we should pray. The entire prayer is filled with the Pharisee bragging about how good and righteous he is compared with others and about what he does for God. By comparison, the tax collector prayed a very simple and humble pray asking God for forgiveness.

The lesson from this parable is that we should be humble in our prayers. We don’t need to exalt ourselves before God, he knows all that we have done, both good and bad, and we certainly don’t need to do it at the expense of other people. Instead, we should remember the tax collector and pray with humility and honesty before God.

Matthew 6:7

7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Here Jesus is guiding us in prayer. He is telling us to keep our prayers simple. God knows our hearts and our minds, he knows what we need we just have to ask him. But Jesus warns us here not to keep babbling, not to keep going on and on and not to keep chanting. There is a certain amount you need to say and you need to be specific but prayer should be like any other kind of conversation, just because we are talking to God it shouldn’t become some kind of big event. We should talk to God as we would talk to anyone else, whilst remembering his power and glory and how much we have to be grateful for.

At Gethsemane Jesus leaves his disciples three times to pray, he prays for God to take the cup from his hand, he prays for his disciples and for all those who believe in him. Gethsemane features in all the Gospels, albeit under different names and with different focuses. Jesus praying for himself, his disciples and Christians can be found in John 17, the other three Gospels focus more on Jesus withdrawing from his disciples to pray are found in Luke 22:39-46, Mark 14:32-42 and Matthew 26:36-46. I won’t put all the accounts in here but just pick out some choice bits that can help us in our prayer life.

Luke 22:41

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,

Mark 14:35

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.

Matthew 26:39

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

In Luke when Jesus prays he kneels. This clearly shows Jesus humbling himself before God and is something we can all learn from in terms of a routine to pray with. If we pray on our knees it puts us into the frame of mind of being humble and will help our prayers to be humbler.

We also see, in the other verses, that Jesus falls to the ground and quite possibly lies face down to the ground. This is when Jesus is praying most earnestly and most desperately to God, immediately before his arrest and while begging God to take the cup that has been given to him away. While I don’t necessarily think that this needs to be done every time, at moments of high emotion or desperation or even an extreme need for forgiveness it can be good to pray like this. It puts us in a place of crying out to God which sometimes we need to do, it also, from my experience, helps to release more emotion into your prayer and helps you pray more earnestly and honestly, which can be very therapeutic in times of great distress.

How did the Disciples pray?
Acts 1:13-15

13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Here in Acts 1, we see the disciples and followers of Jesus praying together. This is key, it is important that we pray with and for each other, there is a strength in fellowship and this comes through in prayer. We see the gathering in the verses above praying together, joined together in prayer and that is what we should do.

How / What should we pray?
1. Learn the Lord’s prayer and pray it
2. Pray on these themes:

a. Praise
b. God to be in our lives
c. God to satisfy our needs and provide for us
d. God to forgive us
e. God to save us

3. Pray with humility
4. Pray succinctly, do not keep babbling
5. Pray in your knees or prostrate if appropriate
6. Pray in fellowship with other Christians