A family crowded around the dinner table at grandma and grandpa’s house, after church, on Sunday afternoon. The meal was ready. The plates were set. They couldn’t wait to dig in, but before anyone lifted a fork, the grandfather spoke in a soft voice: “Let say grace.” As he cleared his throat, everyone folded their hands and closed their eyes, and he offered thanks for the blessings that God has given. He praised God for the sunshine, and the food that they were about to share, as well as the hands that prepared it. He was grateful for their family, and the moments they were able to spend together.
While his grandfather prayed, young Billy (about ten years old) sat in the corner and listened. This was usually the part of the prayer he found his mind starting to wander. He loved his grandpa, and he loved the Lord, but he was easily distracted, thinking about all the activities they had planned for the afternoon. Sometimes he couldn’t resist peeking, just a little, at the desert table, scoping out the best piece of pie. Occasionally, Billy found himself dozing off, especially if he had stayed up too late the night before. But today he was focused. Today, he was paying attention as his grandfather spoke to the Lord. It was evident that these were the words of someone who spent much time in the presence of Jesus. The words were not rushed or repetitive, but heartfelt and sincere. Billy could tell that his grandpa really knew the Lord. He found himself thinking about this, even after his grandfather said “amen.” He told himself, “I’d like to have that kind of relationship with the Lord. “Do you think you could you teach me to pray?”
Maybe you have found yourself asking the same questions, crying out “Teach me to pray Lord.” It’s not supposed to be complicated. Prayer is about having a conversation with the Lord. So why does it sometimes feel like such a struggle? We find ourselves becoming distracted while we pray. We have good intentions, but no sooner do we bow our head, before the phone rings pulling us away from our time with God. Or life becomes so busy we allow days or even weeks to pass, without taking a moment to draw close to the Lord. At times our words might feel empty and repetitive. It becomes a ritual we rush to complete rather than a spiritual retreat with our Savior.
We long for a deeper prayer life. We want to experience the presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, like we see have seen in others. But where do we start?
The disciples were wondering the same thing, in Luke chapter 11. As they listened to Jesus pray, they observed a level of intimacy in his relationship with the Father they were missing. It’s not like they had never prayed before. Most of them had grown up in the synagogue repeating the daily prayers. But there was something deeper about the way Jesus drew near to the Father. His words were authentic. They sensed the presence of God. It was a powerful experience, and they wanted that in their own lives.
So one day, after they had finished a time of prayer, the disciples spoke up and said, “Teach us to pray.” I have a feeling the Lord smiled when he heard their request. He started with basics, and showed them how important prayer is to the believer’s life. He reminded them to be persistent, because it’s easy to lose heart, when our prayers are not immediately answered. He told them not to pray like the hypocrites, who so concerned about impressing others with fancy words they forget what prayer is really about. And he gave them a example, to guide them in their own prayer lives. We call it “The Lord’s Prayer,” although some have suggested a better name might be “The Disciple’s Prayer,” because it was given to teach them the basic elements of a conversation with God.
One commentator says, “The prayer was doubtless intended to be a sample or model for prayer: not [something] to be memorized and repeated word for word, over and over again.”[i]
There were many rituals prayers in Judaism that worshippers were expected to recite at different times and seasons. Jesus wasn’t adding another one to that list. He was showing the disciples what a balanced prayer might look like.
We can learn from this model as well. If prayer is essential to the Christian life, we should learn from the example of Jesus.
The Lord’s Prayer is found in both Matthew and Luke, although the wording is slightly different. If you memorized these lines, it was probably Matthew’s version that is more familiar, so we’re going to turn there, to Matthew 6:9-13, as we consider the various phrases. We’re going to briefly glance at each line, and explore how it might apply to our prayer lives.
Jesus teaches us to pray as God’s children.
Look at Matthew 6:9, “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Right away, in this opening line, the disciples noticed something unique about the way Jesus prayed. He addressed God as his Father. They didn’t hear that in the synagogue or in the temple courts. They didn’t hear it from the religious leaders of their day. It just wasn’t a phrase people used when they called out to God. They preferred to use more formal titles, addressing him as the Lord, or the Almighty, or the Everlasting. In fact, there are only 15 times in the entire OT where God is described as a Father, never in the context of prayer. So this was something new.
Of course, Jesus is the Son of God, and so it makes sense that he would address the Father in a more personal way. But it may have caught the disciples by surprise when he taught them to do the same. There were times when they heard him use the words, “Abba, Father,” a phrase that a child might have used when speaking to his dad. It expressed closeness and intimacy. And that is the kind of relationship that we are able to experience with God through Christ.
These words focus our attention on the one who hears our prayers. When we pray, we are not appealing to a stranger. We are not calling out to some unknown deity. We are approaching our Heavenly Father who loves us. You are precious to him. Whatever you’re going through, he cares. We are always welcome to come boldly into the throne room of heaven with our concerns, day or night, and we can be confident that God will hear us. Our petitions are not an inconvenience to him, but he is eager for us to draw close to him.
How do I know? The Bible tells us the moment we receive Christ as our Savior we are brought into God’s family and he now regards us as his sons and daughters. Romans 8:15-16 (ESV) says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
That gives us confidence when we pray. There may be times when we wonder if anyone is listening, but we can rest assured that when we cry out to the Lord he is always near. He is our Father, and will never abandon us. We don’t have to worry that he is too busy running the universe to concern himself with us. We are his children; he always has time for us.
It makes me think of a little girl who climbs into her father’s lap when he is sitting his chair, reading the newspaper. What does the father do? Does he shoo her away, and tell her not to bother him, he is too busy doing more important things? I hope not… not if he is a good father. He puts the newspaper down, hugs her with his arms, and asks “what’s on your mind?” He listens, because he cares. How much more is our heavenly Father listening to us, when we cry out to him?
Yet, we dare not take this relationship for granted, or forget who our Heavenly Father is. He is the Holy God, and we must treat him with the reverence he deserves. That’s what the rest of the verse is telling us when it says, “Hallowed be your name.” That’s not a word we use every day, but it means “to honor someone” or “to show respect towards someone.” That’s the attitude we must have as we approach him in prayer. We realize that this is a wonderful privilege, not to be taken lightly. We come not because of some right that we have earned for ourselves, but because Christ leads us into the presence of His Father. We’re not worthy to stand before God, but he makes us worthy. He opens the door to the Father and we come in Jesus’ name. So let us come boldly and confidently, but also humbly bowing our hearts before him in worship and praise.
Jesus teaches us to pray with an eye on God’s promises
He continues, in verse 10, saying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That phrase, “your kingdom come,” meant something specific to the people of Israel. Hundreds of years before Christ, the prophets looked to the future and spoke of a day when the Messiah would come to deliver his people and establish his kingdom of peace over all the earth. They longed for that day, but sometimes it felt like it was so far away. Generations came and went, and they were still waiting. During that time, the people went through so much. They were conquered and carried away from their homeland. They spent decades in captivity. Eventually, they were able to return and rebuild, but it wasn’t easy. All they could do was cling to God’s promises holding onto hope that one day these things would be fulfilled.
Jesus instilled that hope into the disciples when he taught them to pray for God’s kingdom. It was a reminder that no matter how dark things might seem, in this world, God is still on the throne. Today, the kingdoms of men are in rebellion against the kingdom of God. But one day, he will break through the heavens and set things right on this earth. The forces of evil will be overthrown, and the Lord will reclaim the universe that is rightfully his. When that day comes, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. I can hear the excitement in their voices as they prayed for that day to come.
Our context might be different from theirs, but there is still much we can learn from these verses. It’s not easy living in a fallen world, but not matter how crazy or chaotic things might seem, God is still in control, so don’t lose hope. When it feels like the world is falling apart, remember that the Messiah has come and he is coming again. He is an anchor for our soul that keeps us steady when the waters of life are rough.
Prayer has a way of refocusing our heart, and helping us to take a step back to see things from an eternal perspective. There are so many things we don’t understand, but that’s okay. We know that God understands. He has a plan to make all things new, and one day it will be brought to completion. In 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (NIV84) writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart… For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Jesus teaches us to pray for our needs
In Matthew 6:11 the prayer continues, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We may not spend a lot of time worrying about where our next meal will come from, but in the ancient world that was a very pressing concern. They couldn’t open freezer and pull out a frozen dinner. They couldn’t go to the cupboard and sort through a variety of canned goods. Most of the people lived from day to day. Those who worked in the field were always wondering, “What if we don’t get enough rain this season, and the crops don’t grow? How will I feed my family? What if we get too much rain this season, and the fields are flooded? How will I put on the table?” It was a constant concern.
That might not be our situation, but there are plenty of other things that weigh on our minds. What am I going to do if the factory closes, and I get laid off? What if the scan comes back positive and the doctor tells me I have cancer? How am I going to get through to my child who is having a hard time at school? How am I going to repair the transmission on the car? How can I fix my broken marriage? How am I going to pay this hospital bill? There are so many things that keep us awake at night.
Jesus shows us that it’s okay to bring our concerns to the Lord. He wants us to come to him when something is weighing on our hearts. It’s not for his benefit. He already knows what we’re going to ask before we open our mouth. It’s for our benefit, to reassure us that God is faithful. Somehow, someway he will provide. Instead of worrying about our needs, we can turn to the one who knows all of our needs. Philippians 4:6–7 (NIV84) says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Something happens when we pray. We enter God’s presence with heavy burdens that weigh us down. But as we share them with the Lord, he reminds us that we don’t have to carry it alone. He is faithful, and will take care of his children. Just talking to him lightens our load.
It’s like a child carrying their heavy backpack on the way home from school. They have lots of books, and schoolwork, and all kinds of things they are trying to lug on their shoulders, they can barely walk. But the father whispers, “You don’t have to carry it on your own. Ask me for help. I can take it for you.”
Our Father whispers the same thing to us. Stop trying to carry all of those concerns on your own. Call out to him for help, and he will answer. It may not in the way we expect, and we may not find the answer in the timeframe we would prefer. But somehow, in some way, he will meet our needs. God is faithful and he will take care of us.
Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness
Look at verse 12. “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” He is not referring to a financial deficit, but moral deficit: our sin and failures. “Forgive us our sin, as we forgive those who sin against us.” This wasn’t a prayer that Jesus needed to pray, because he lived a life of perfect obedience. But he understood that wouldn’t be the case for his disciples. We all stumble and fall, even after we become a Christian. In those moments, we might feel overwhelmed by guilt, but Jesus wants us to know that we can approach God in prayer and find forgiveness.
That might sound confusing. If I am a believer, aren’t I already forgiven; doesn’t the Bible say that we’ve been cleansed by the blood of Christ for all our sin? Yes. But this is talking about our fellowship with God. When I choose to act selfishly, and disobey God’s will for my life, I create distance between us. God hasn’t gone anywhere, but I have. I have drifted away from him, and allowed distance to grow between us. I need to return to him and be restored.
It’s like when my children disobey. I still love them, and they are still my child. Nothing they do is going to change that. But when they’re not listening, that creates tension between us, and that needs to be dealt with before we can enjoy the closeness that I want them to have with me. Imagine if one of the kids says something mean to the other. I tell them “Hey, that’s not how we taught you to act. What do you say?” They think about it for a couple of seconds and say, “I’m sorry.” “Ok, I forgive you. Hopefully your sister forgives you too.” Things are okay again in our family, and in our relationships with each other. But sometimes they don’t want to do that. They don’t want to say I’m sorry. They’re stubborn, and make excuses and try to justify they’re behavior. “I didn’t do anything. It wasn’t my fault. He did it.” That just makes things worse. “Buddy, I don’t want you to have to sit in the timeout chair, I want you to sit close to me, but if you don’t own up to what you did, I’m afraid there are going to be consequences.
We are like that child. We have to choose how we’re going to respond when we disobey our Father. We can either go to him a humble and repentant heart to be restored. Or, we can remain stubborn, making excuses to justify our behavior. But that’s only going to make things worse.
David writes about this in the OT. There was a period in his life when he tried to cover up his sin, thinking he could somehow hide it from God. But it made him miserable. The longer he ran from God, the more unbearable it became, until finally God brought conviction to his heart and turned to the Lord for forgiveness. In Psalm 32:3–5 (NLT) he writes,
3 When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. 4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Interlude 5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
So stop running and stop trying to hide. You’re only making things worse. God loves you and wants to draw you close to that place of fellowship you once enjoyed.
Jesus teaches us to pray for God’s protection
Look at verse 13. “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”Jesus was not exempt from the temptations of this world. We saw that a few weeks ago, when he was led into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. Scripture says that he was tempted in all things as we are, and yet he was without sin. He found strength to overcome every trial in prayer, and he taught the disciples to do the same.
There were times when he prayed for them, as they encountered trials of their own. On one occasion, he warned Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail…” (Luke 22:310-32) I’m sure that was intimidating for Peter to hear that the devil had set his sights on him. He wants to sift you; in other words, your faith is going to be shaken. But at the same time, it was an encouraging thing for Peter to learn that Jesus was lifting him before the Father in prayer. Jesus does the same for us, today. He intercedes for us in heaven.
And he encourages us to follow his example, praying for strength to stand firm in our trials. We don’t know what spiritual battles lay ahead of us each day, but we can be sure our faith will be tested, in one form or another. We feel the pressure of the world pulling us away from the Lord. The enemy sets traps before us, doing everything in his power to trip us up. On top of that, we have to deal with our own weaknesses and inadequacies. The best thing we can do is cry out to God for help. “Watch over me, Lord. Guard my heart Lord. Protect me from the enemy. I want to honor you today, in all that I do.”
So often we go about our day unprepared. We rush ahead without taking them time to seek the Lord, and when trials come, we don’t know what to do. Pray.
A soldier must prepare himself for battle. He doesn’t rush into the fight without first strapping on his armor, and taking up his helmet and his shield, girding himself for the fight. He know the arrows of the enemy will come, and so he takes the necessary time to get ready. And we must prepare for our spiritual battles by taking up the armor of God in prayer.
We pray for the strength to overcome our trials, and for wisdom to make godly decisions. We pray for the Lord to guide our steps away from the snares of this world. We pray for the Lord to go before us into the battle to give us the victory. The closer we draw to God, the less vulnerable we are to the schemes of our enemy. Ephesians 6:18 (NASB95) says, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…”
The prayer concludes with an outpouring of praise. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matt. 6:13)
Again, our focus is directed outward, away from ourselves, our needs, our struggles, towards our glorious God. That is so important. It’s easy for us to get caught up in our day to day concerns. We begin to treat God as if he were a genie in a lamp, whom we summon when we need something. But that isn’t prayer. Real prayer is encountering the living God, and spending time in his presence. When we approach him in this way we cannot help but give him the glory and the honor and the praise.
One author writes,
The fact of the matter is that when we study his life of prayer we find that prayer was not simply a part of his life; it was his life. Prayer was a habitual attitude of his mind and heart. Prayer was the atmosphere in which he lived, it was the air he breathed… If we would [serve him] with power… there must be in the background, unseen, our own conscious communion with God. How soon our puny resources are exhausted unless constantly replenished from the reservoirs of God. How mechanical is our work, how ineffectual is our witness, how powerless is our word, unless carried on in the atmosphere of prayer. The harder Jesus’ days the longer were his prayer times, the busier he was the greater his insistence on the practice of the presence of the Father. He recognized no substitute for the daily practice of the shut door, the bent knee, the secret communion.[ii]
How can we develop a deeper prayer life? Make
it a priority, set aside time each day to pray.
Maybe you mark it on your calendar or you block it off in your mind, but
that time is sacred. It is an
appointment with God that you are eager to keep. We should pay attention to what we’re
saying. Sometimes we catch ourselves
repeating the same phrases, without really engaging in conversation. Slow down.
Don’t let prayer become ritualistic, or reduce it to a formula Remember
that it is a conversation between you and God, don’t worry about trying to
sound spiritual, speak like you would speak to a friend. Don’t do all the talking, but listen. Allow for moments of silence, seeking the
[i] Charles Baker, “Understanding the Gospels,” p.89