Learning To Pray
“And it came about that while He was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught His disciples.’ And He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation”’” (Luke 11:1-14).
It is clear that prayer was very important to Jesus. When His disciples asked for guidance in the matter, there was no hesitation. The very fact that prayer is something that must be “taught” shows that it is not just something that comes naturally, but must be honed, practiced, and perfected. Even in His personal life, Jesus would never have allowed a day to go by (perhaps not even a moment) without prayer.
He considered it essential to accomplishing God’s will (Matthew 6:10).;
He prayed before selecting His apostles (Luke 4:42-5:11);
He often prayed before performing a miracle (John 6:11);
He praised God in prayer for success (Matthew 11:25);
He prayed for His disciples during times of trouble (Luke 22:32);
His prayers were often very intense (Luke 22:44);
He was known to pray all night over important decisions (Luke 6:12).
So what are some of the lessons that we should apply to our prayers? How can we be taught to pray better?
He Already Knows
“Therefore do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). It is tempting to read this verse and conclude that prayer must not be very important at all, if God already knows what we need before we ask Him. Yet Jesus did not view this as a hindrance to prayer, but an incentive. Perhaps if we ask the right question we will realize that the answer is poignant. After all, what can I say to God if He knows everything? Some might conclude that it is nothing, but Jesus says, “Everything!” The apostle elaborates when He writes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Consider:
Because He already is an expert on our needs, God is never surprised or unprepared. He is already well-stocked. “In our Lord we have someone with whom we can share our anger, joy, fear, frustration, delight, endless struggles with sin, hurt, loneliness – our real selves. This is the powerful liberating honesty which should result from understanding God’s omniscience. With God, we can be somebody: our self; we don’t have to be somebody else” (The God Who Hears, W. Bingham Hunter, p. 43).
Taking It Personally
“Pray then in this way: Our Father who art in Heaven…” (Matthew 6:9). Remember that God is a personal being and not just some impersonal force. He may be a spirit (John 4:24), but He is a personal spirit. Therefore:
God doesn’t want prayer to be used just to impress others (Matthew 6:1-5). Remember the Pharisee in Luke 18:11-12.
Praying for things that have nothing to do with God’s ultimate purpose will also be rejected (James 4:3), such as magical powers, the ability to fly, or a sports team winning. Become united in your purpose with God and you will have much to pray about (evangelism, salvation, mercy, blessings upon the righteous).
Praying to God and then immediately engaging in evil is another way for your words to be ignored (Proverbs 21:27, 15:8).
If we realize that God is a personal being, and communicates personally, then He is not interested in hearing the news from you, or gossip, or the weather. Actually talk to Him, as one individual communicates with another.
Keep It Tidy
One misconception about prayer in our culture seems to be that prayer is something that just happens and is spontaneous, or is a series of intangible feelings and thoughts. Consider, however:
“Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
“Devote yourself to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).
“Be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Peter 4:7).
Just like communication between people who actually care about each other, there should be thought and sobriety in our prayers. We should be prepared and have a purpose. It is interesting that these verses run contrary to the popular ideas found in eastern religions or mysticism, that communication with higher powers is best accomplished through meditation, humming, frenzies (whirling dervishes, holy rollers), or the use of intoxicants (hallucinogenic drugs, alcohol, etc.). The apostle writes, “I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also” (1 Corinthians 14:15).
Your Inner Room
“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6). This is not to say that public prayer is wrong or unnecessary, since Jesus often prayed out loud with others present (Luke 23:34, Matthew 26:26, John 11:41-42) and endorsed prayers away from the “closet” (Luke 18:13-14, 22:39-40). What Jesus is pointing out is that we must have a healthy personal prayer life, and our public prayers must match up with the attitude we display in private.