Have you ever struggled with knowing what to say when you pray? If so, you’re not alone. The disciples came to Jesus early in their time together and asked him straight-out, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). They no doubt had been observing Jesus’ prayer habits – watched when he prayed (Luke 4:42), where he prayed (Luke 5:16), how serious he took prayer (Luke 6:12) – and they wanted in on the secret of his intimacy with his Heavenly Father.
And so in response to their request, Jesus taught them what we call today the “Lord’s Prayer”. In teaching them this prayer, Jesus’ purpose was not to give them the exact words to pray but to give them a model of how they should talk to God.
The point in teaching them this prayer was not that they should recite only the words of the prayer (though there is certainly nothing wrong with doing so – it can be a wonderful aid to worship or a jumpstart into fuller prayer). Jesus’ point was that they should follow the pattern of the prayer. (The prayer is never prayed a single time in the remainder of the New Testament.)
So let’s break apart the Lord’s Prayer and see what we learn about praying.
Praise: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
A good habit to learn is to begin your praying by praising and thanking God. There is power in gratitude, which even the unbelieving culture around us recognizes. We should “Enter his gates with thanksgiving.” (Psalm 100:4).
Technically speaking, praise is honoring God for who he is, thanking is honoring God for what he has done. Even in the darkest moments of our lives, it is important for us to learn to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Petition: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Of course we have our own personal list of desires, needs, and wants to bring to God – and he is eager to listen (Philippians 4:6). But do you know that God has his own list of desires, needs, and wants? His will is to establish the rule of his kingdom in places where that’s not happening yet.
Another good prayer habit to learn is to first start with God’s list before your own. In petition or ‘intercession’, we learn to talk to God about those people and places where we want the reign of God to break in. There are lost souls that need to come home; nations torn apart by war; suffering that runs amok because of injustice or disease or tragedy; and churches and ministries we wish to see strengthened.
So pray for churches, missionaries, political leaders, suffering Christians, those working on the front lines of righteousness and justice issues, and for people and situations where God’s will is not being done yet.
Provision: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Pour out your heart to God about the things affecting your personal life. He cares! The beauty in having a God we call our Heavenly Father is that he longs to have us share with him all our hopes, dreams, longings, fears, and burdens.
“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him,” (Psalm 62:8). Picture a little child climbing up into his or her daddy’s lap and giving him a full run-down on everything that happened that day, and you’ll catch a glimpse of what prayer ought to be at its very heart for you and me.
Pardon: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Another vital and healthy prayer habit is to do a moral inventory each and every day, and come clean with God about areas where you know you have grieved his Spirit, or broken his laws and heart.
Confession is healing to your body and soul (Psalm 32:1-4). Some of those sins we don’t even see (Psalms 19:12-13). Ask God to reveal them to you. And then be willing to go to the people that are hurt by your sin, and make things right with them.
Protection and Power: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
There is an all-out war being waged against you and your loved ones (1 Peter 5:8-9). Ask God to help you grow strong as a disciple of Christ (Eph.1:17-19). Using Colossians 1:9-11 as a guide, pray for other believers to be strong in the Lord, and to grow in Christlikness fruitfulness, and knowledge. Ask God to make his church like a “proud horse in battle” (Zechariah 10:3).
Praise: “For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Forever and ever. Amen.”
Always bookend your prayer with worship. Remind yourself again and again that, “The Lord is your life” (Deuteronomy 30:20) and that we were made “by God and for God” (Colossians 1:16).
Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest – “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes – all available through Amazon.