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How Should We Pray?

Jesus prayed. And he expects us to pray. The instructions he gave to his disciples on prayer begins with the phrase, “And when you pray” rather than “And if you pray”. Jesus taught about prayer in this way:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:5-13)

There are at least four practical ways in which we should pray as followers of Jesus.

We Should Pray Privately
Followers of Jesus don’t pray publicly to gain the attention and approval of others. We do so privately behind closed doors for the attention of God our Father. He alone is our audience. And He alone is our great reward. This doesn’t mean there aren’t appropriate times for public prayer.  But it does mean that we never pray for show.

We Should Pray Personally
The first two words of Jesus’ prescribed prayer, “Our Father”, are perhaps the most important.  Prayer is a conversation with our Father. He cares for us. Prayer is personal and warm.  

We Should Pray Purposefully
Jesus gives us a format for prayer rather than a formula. We don’t pray magically or ritualistically. He warns us against “empty phrases” and “many words”. But we should pray intentionally with these three goals in mind.

God’s Priority: His Glory in Everything
“Hallowed be your name” aligns us with God’s highest priority. We pray that His name would be honored everywhere by everyone in everything. Nothing is more important to God than His glory. So, through prayer, we begin by first synching up our desire with His. Then we move forward in our conversation.

God’s Plan: His Rule in Our World
God’s priority comes with a plan. He is advancing His Kingdom on earth. One theologian has defined God’s Kingdom as “God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule” (Graeme Goldsworthy). When we pray for God’s Kingdom to advance, we are praying that it does so broadly and deeply. In other words, we are praying that more people in more places (broadly) obey God more (deeply). We pray for christians to grow into people who think, feel, speak and act like Jesus. And we pray for those who aren’t yet christians to turn from sin and trust in Jesus.

God’s Provision: His Love in Our Lives
Our Father loves His children. And He loves to meet all of our needs. As His children, we have both physical and spiritual needs. We need food, drink and shelter to survive. We also need to be spiritually strengthened to thrive. So we ask Him expectantly for both food and forgiveness. And He gladly gives us what we need for our good and His glory.  

Start Simple
So what next? I think a simple start is best. Here are some practical guidelines.

  1. Pick a private place that is conducive for prayer.
  2. Choose a time to pray that you can keep consistently.
  3. Pray though the outline Jesus gives in Matthew 6 that is addressed above. Rather than setting a goal like, “I will pray for 30 minutes daily”, make it your objective to work through the pattern. Like any dynamic relationship, you will find your conversations growing longer the better you get to know your Heavenly Father.  
  4. Record your prayer requests in a journal. Then leave some space after each petition to capture how your prayer is answered. Allow God’s provision for you to return to Him in the form of praise.