For whatever reason, we have a tendency to complicate spiritually simple matters. One such simple matter is prayer. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he didn't write them a book or hold a seminar. Nor did he launch into a really long sermon. He simply said, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'”
Jesus is a genius, because in these scant 37 words he gives us everything we need to pray really well.
How Not to Pray Like Jesus
Maybe you already pray well, but I sure find in myself a tendency to pray poorly. Two errors usually come up in my heart which I must resist. See if they sound familiar.
- Praying Like a Pagan We pray like pagans when we think that the words we use or don't use some how manipulate God into giving us what He otherwise wants to withhold. This often sounds like saying, "In Jesus' name," after asking for something we can all be reasonably sure Jesus has no interest in giving you. It also sounds like repeating all of the names of God you can think of, over and over again and being wordy.God doesn't listen to our prayers because they're wordy, creative, or special. This prayer, not an incantation. And, He certainly isn't manipulated to cough up a blessing like a cheap date begrudgingly paying for the bill.
- Praying Like an Atheist This is simply prayerlessness. Sure, we may lob up the odd, "Hey God, I really need..." but not much more. Some pray little because they have an unbiblical view of the sovereignty of God. "Well, if God knows the future," they say, "why pray?"Look, Jesus prayed. If the Son of God felt it necessary to pray, you need to pray. Further, the Bible commands you to pray. Stop trying to sound smarter than God. "Well Lord, I know you're really so sovereign that your desires will certainly be accomplished. So ... um ... I'll just be very spiritually watching Netflix." Stop it.
How to Pray Like Jesus
If we want to pray well, we simply must learn to pray like Jesus. Here are a few observations we can make from the Lord's prayer:
- Pray as a son, like Jesus Jesus said we should call God, "Father." If you belong to Jesus, you come to God as a great dad, not as a cranky boss, angry slave driver, or uninterested acquaintance. Repeat and remember often.
- Pray for God to be honored, like Jesus "Hallowed be your name," sounded to me like a weird formality in prayer, a bit like "God save the Queen," in the presence of Her Majesty. These words are actually incredibly missional, not formal. We're asking God to make his name honored where it currently is not. That's huge.
- Pray for the mission, like Jesus Like the phrase that precedes it, we pray for God's Kingdom to come down from Heaven and back from the future. We're asking God to extend His presence and power in places that are currently enemy-held territories, both in our lives and in the world.
- Pray for provision, like Jesus "Give us our daily bread," isn't just about you. The phrase is "give us," not "give me." Of course God cares about our personal provision, but He also wants us to own, in prayer, the cost of the mission.
- Pray for forgiveness, like Jesus On the cross, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Jesus came to forgive us of sin. When sin remains unconfessed in our lives our prayer and participation with God is hindered. Bring your sins before God often and ask Him to remove their stain.
- Pray for reconciliation, like Jesus "We ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us," is a weighty prayer. This prayer, if prayed, will heal our social fabric. It will restore our broken relationships. If Jesus forgives me, I can't not forgive you. Praying this prayer will transform the church into a family, healed of hurt and free from offense.
- Pray for transformed affections, like Jesus James K. A. Smith likes to say that we are what we love. In this prayer, we're asking God to lead our loves — to change our palette, as it were, from enjoying the taste of sin to savoring the sweetness of God. Only when God is more fulfilling than sin will we resist sin well.
- Pray persistently, like Jesus Apparently Jesus' prayer life was so frequent and so admirable that his disciples wanted to model it. Then, he went and told a parable about persistence in prayer. If we're going to pray like Jesus, we're going to have to keep praying like Jesus. It's not a one-and-done.
- Pray in faith, like Jesus That parable which follows the above verses asks, "How much more will your Heavenly Father give...?" Jesus understood that faith isn't about bluster, but belief — belief that God really is trustworthy, good, and able to do all He has promised to do. When we pray, we pray in faith like Jesus.
I dare you to renew your prayer life in this fashion. I know I will be. After complicating and paganizing prayer unnecessarily, I think I'll try to follow the simple formula the master left us. Seems to me he knew something about the matter, and didn't much feel the need to complicate for us.