Prayer is a curious topic to discuss. Even more so, it is a mysterious process to take part in. Prayer, at its core, is conversation with God. Not just speaking, but also listening. Prayer is a distinguishing mark of a Christian; he prays because he believes that God exists, that God listens, and that God cares.
For as long as there have been church pews and bedsides, pastors and parents have been teaching people how to pray. Stand up. Sit down. Kneel. Bow. Close your eyes. Fold your hands. Sit still. Pray when you get up in the morning. Pray before you go to bed. Always start your prayers with "Our Father." Always end your prayers with "In Jesus' name, amen." At first glance this seems to be a prescriptive summary of how to pray, meaning that we should do these things. Yet, as God's grace abounds, this list is permissive, meaning that it is how we can pray. There is no one correct body position or time of day or specific words required in prayer. Our ability to pray to God is founded upon His grace received by faith in Jesus. Jesus gives us access to God through prayer (Hebrews 4:14–16; 10:19–23); prayer is not a magical formula, but an outworking of our relationship with God.
Jesus tells us that prayer is to be part of our normal lives, and He guides us on how to go about it. He says "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" (Matthew 6:5–8).
We learn from Jesus that we are expected to pray, that we should be honest and not have a hidden agenda, and that we should pray to God and not pray to impress people. He teaches that it is best to pray with humility and often in private, with God alone. We can use plain, simple, and honest language with God, kind of like a small child speaking to his father. No big words, no pride. In Matthew 6:8, we receive great comfort and encouragement, that God already knows what we are thinking, and still He wants us to talk to Him about it.
Again, prayer is not a magic formula or perfect script that helps us get what we want. We don't have to kneel before God to keep Him from getting angry. We don't have to recite the right words with the right tone to get Him to pay attention. We get to talk to God with confidence that He hears us (1 John 5:14–15), and confidence that He speaks to us through Jesus (Hebrews 1:1–2). Philippians 4:6–7 tells us to pray without being anxious, to pray about everything, and to pray with thankful hearts. Rather than worry about prayer being hard or intimidating, we can simply respond to Jesus' invitation, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). We can come to God just as we are, without pretending but instead with honesty. He delights in our coming to Him more than our words.
Jesus' most popular teaching on the topic of prayer is in Matthew 6:9–13 and is referred to as the Lord's Prayer. This is often recited in churches as part of corporate worship, though it does not need to be. The Lord's Prayer is a beautiful summary of how we can pray, and it conveys truth about who God is. It is primarily a guide, an invitation, an expression of the relationship that God wants to have with us. The Lord's Prayer shows us that God is close and loving like a father, that He is sovereign and in control of all things, that He is the one who gives us everything we need, that He is the one who ultimately forgives, and that He alone protects us. If you are unsure of who God is, this list is a list you can believe in!
God has invited us to talk with Him and we can go gladly, "My heart has heard you say, 'Come and talk with me.' And my heart responds, 'LORD I am coming'" (Psalm 27:8, NLT).
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