In Matthew 6, Jesus' friends made a simple request, “Lord, teach us to pray!” They had been around Jesus long enough to know that he was a praying man. The scriptures frequently tell us that Jesus would get up early in the morning and retreat to places of solitude to pray. Jesus was always praying for people and with people.
Jesus’ friends had also seen the Pharisees (religious leaders) pray, but Jesus’ prayers were different. When the Pharisees prayed, it was ritualistic and routine, but more than that - nothing happened. This was in stark contrast to Jesus! When he prayed, heaven and earth seemed to move: demons fled, the lame walked, people were changed.
Their request, then, is not surprising. Clearly, although they had grown up watching Pharisees pray, they still didn’t feel like they knew how to pray. Do you feel the same way? The question, “How do I pray,” is both common and poignant for our lives. So, what did Jesus tell them?
Jesus responded, “You should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:9-13 CSB).”
So there you go. Just pray that and you’re good? Well, not quite. There is nothing wrong with praying the Lord’s Prayer, and indeed it is an excellent thing to have memorized, but Jesus said to pray “like” this, not to simply repeat another religious ritual. Remember, Jesus’ prayers were different from the ritual of the Pharisees! Jesus didn’t come to bring a new religion, he came to restore a relationship between Creator God and his creation.
Prayer is all about relationship - it is how we talk to God - but it also how our will bends towards his. As we pray, our hearts line up with God’s heart.
Think about what Jesus said in his example prayer. Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy. Jesus acknowledged God as the one true God in heaven. By simply praying this, he is proclaiming so much depth. God is holy. God is powerful. God is worthy to be praised and honored. Can you simply say these words? Absolutely, but to pray them (as Jesus did) is different entirely. It means Jesus is aligning his being with this truth.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus acknowledges how we should respond to a God who is in heaven, holy and worthy of honor. How should we respond? By submitting to his reign (kingdom), his rule, his authority, and desiring what he wants instead of what we want. This is a massive step of submission before an all-powerful God.
Jesus then prays for personal and horizontal needs. He prays for what is needed for today (daily bread), for interpersonal relationships (forgiveness), and for moral margin to do what is right (lead us away from temptation).
To summarize, Jesus prays (1) to the one true God, (2) in light of who God truly is, (3) for what God truly wants, (4) and for what we truly need.
How did Jesus know who God is? Because he knew the scriptures. How did Jesus know what God’s will was and that God was worthy of honor and trust? Because of the scriptures. How did Jesus know that man needs far more than simply bread, that daily bread will suffice, but that there are greater needs? Because of the scriptures.
Jesus’ prayer is a prayer of worship, a prayer of submission, a prayer of asking for needs, and a prayer of empowerment for a God-honoring life, but all of it is rooted in scripture.
If you want to learn to pray, grab a Bible and open up to the Psalms (in the center of the book). Read a Psalm, ask these questions, and respond by simply talking to God. (1) Who is God? Worship him as such. In other words, tell him how great he is. (2) Who am I in light of who God is? Confess to God your need and desire to submit yourself to him. (3) What should I ask for in light of this scripture? Ask for it. (4) What does God want me to do in light of this scripture? Pray for the power to follow it through.
At a most basic level, this is how we learn how to pray. When we pray with this framework, our prayers are fed by the scripture and led by God’s Spirit because we are praying in light of what he has revealed through his Word.