We know that we must pray. And we know that prayer makes a difference. But how should we pray?
Since God commanded us to pray it’s not surprising that He also gave us instructions for how to pray. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus directly answered this question. (Matthew 6:9-13)
Pray like this: (verse 9a)
Note that He did not say, “Pray this,” but rather “Pray like this.” There is nothing wrong with praying the words Christ spoke as He instructed us in prayer, but we do not need to recite it. The purpose is not to tell us what to pray. The purpose is to show us how to pray.
So let’s dig in.
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy. (verse 9b)
The first thing Jesus does is to acknowledge God the Father. This first statement forms the framework for the rest of the prayer. It states three things about God: He is our Father, He is in Heaven, and He is holy.
There are those who pray as if God is some kind of cosmic Santa Claus. They ask for what they want or what they think they need, but when they don’t receive the answer they’re looking for they question God’s goodness and often turn away from Him completely. Those prayers are not framed with a right understanding of who God is.
Knowing God is our Father helps us understand that while He may not always give us what we want, He will always give us what we need. A loving father wants the best for his children, and God is a perfect loving father.
Knowing God is in heaven reminds us that He is ruler over all things. No prayer is too hard for God. If your prayer isn’t answered the way you wanted, it’s not because God couldn’t. It’s because there was something better than what you asked for.
Knowing God is holy reminds us that His answer to our prayer, whatever it may be, is best. He knows all things and loves us perfectly. It also reminds us that we are not holy, and so we need to approach God with respect, like a servant approaches the king.
When our prayer is based on this right knowledge of who God is, we come humbly to God, praising Him for who He is, telling Him the things that are on our heart, and accepting His will as best.
You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased. Revelation 4:11
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. (verse 10)
There is no question that there is evil in our world. All of our troubles and concerns are because of evil. Wouldn’t it be amazing if God would just remove all the evil in the world? We know that He will one day, and so we pray that that day would come soon, the day when God’s will is done on earth always, the way it is in heaven. When that day comes we will no longer have difficulties and worries to bring to God! Won’t that be a wonderful day!
This part of the prayer helps us focus on the big picture and reminds us that the troubles we face are temporary. One day God will abolish evil and pain. Look forward to that day, even as you reach out to God for help in the meantime.
Give us today the food we need. (verse 11)
Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:19 that …this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
When we ask God for our daily needs we are acknowledging that all we have comes from Him. It also reminds us that while we may want to ask for things like an A on a test, a visit from a far away friend, or even healing from sickness, what truly matters is that we have all we need because God does provide. Go ahead and ask for those things, but whether He grants those requests or not, remember to thank God for providing for your daily needs.
and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. (verse 12)
This is a hard one. God forgives our sins as we forgive others. First, we need forgiveness. Every one of us has done things we shouldn’t have done and need God’s forgiveness for those sins. Knowing this should make it easier to forgive those who have hurt us, yet this can still be hard to do.
Take a minute to read the parable found in Matthew 18:21-35. If we want to be forgiven by God, we need to forgive others.
As you pray, ask God if there is any unforgiveness in your heart. Then ask Him to help you forgive where you’ve had a hard time forgiving. Then you can ask Him to forgive you for the wrong you’ve done – including your unforgiveness.
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. (verse 13)
As we ask for forgiveness we will be reminded of the things that tempt us. The next step is to ask God to help you to not do those things again. Repentance isn’t just saying you’re sorry. It’s turning away from those things in order to live completely for Jesus.
Ask God for ways to avoid those things that tempt you regularly, and those that take you by surprise. Remember nothing takes God by surprise so He can prepare you for those situations.
And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. 1 Corinthians 10:13b
The King James Version includes this phrase at the end of the prayer:
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (verse 13b)
This reminds us that all we’ve prayed about is subject to what God deems best. It’s like Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. He was facing unbearable torture and so He asked the Father to remove it from Him, if there was any other way. But even as He made His request, He also affirmed that He would do whatever God’s will was for Him to do.
“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened Him. Luke 22:42-43
Look closely at what happened here.
Jesus made His request. “Please take this cup from me.”
He acknowledged that He would accept however God chose to answer that request. “Yet I want Your will to be done, not mine.”
And God answered. “An angel from heaven appeared and strengthened Him.”
This is perhaps the best example of how we should pray. There is nothing too big or too small, nothing too hard or too silly, to bring before God in prayer. He cares deeply about every concern of your heart. But as you bring those things to God, acknowledge that His will is paramount, and affirm that whatever He decides to do, you will submit to His will and trust Him by accepting His answer. And He will strengthen you!
One of my favourite verses concisely sums up how we should pray:
Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
Pray humbly before our holy God, seek to follow Him in all you do, and He will hear your prayer and answer in ways that are far better than you could have imagined.