Lord, Teach Us (Again) How To Pray

This week I had the joy and privilege of speaking to our Seniors’ ministry regarding the gift of prayer.

And for some reason, as I was preparing my talk, it got me thinking about the axiom, every great relationship requires feedback.  At first, I thought, what does feedback have to do with prayer?

But, as we continue to consider what it means for us to live as authentic Christians, how could we not recognize the importance of being in regular conversation – with opportunities for real back and forth feedback – with the one who made us, loves us and desires a relationship with us?

How amazing and wonderful it is that we serve and worship a God and Heavenly Father who wants to be in regular communication with His children – much the way many of us who are blessed to be parents like to stay in touch with our kids.  Our Bible is rich with characters and how they used prayer as a means for continuing connection.

It’s been said that prayer is simply a way to talk with God and, if we do it correctly, a way for us to hear from Him. So today, I’d like to provide a refresher on prayer, ask you to consider your prayer life and what, if anything might be done to improve it.

Most of us, if we’re honest when asked how we might improve our faith walk, will nearly immediately go to two areas:

  1. “I’d like to get better at more regularly reading and understanding my Bible.”
  2. “I wish I could improve and increase my communication with God through prayer.”

In fact, those who follow Jesus, repeatedly confess that the spiritual discipline they struggle with most frequently is prayer.

If you happen to find yourself in this group, take heart!  You’re not alone!  And it’s not some new phenomenon brought on by a culture that, in ways, may seem to be moving more and more away from God.  The very apostles of Jesus himself struggled with prayer.

Luke records it in his Gospel in this way: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  (Luke 11:1 NIV)

What follows is familiar to most of us – especially those who grew up in church.

Jesus responds to His disciple’s request with what we have come to know and refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer”—a deeply beautiful and simple model of how to engage in conversation with God, the Father.

The Apostle Matthew wrote it down as Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray: Jesus said,

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

Most of us have memorized this prayer (or a version of it).  It’s repeated every Sunday in churches around the world. Books have been written about it. Sermons preached on it. It appears two times in scripture; once in the book of Matthew and the other in Luke.  Countless other references, encouragements and exhortations exist within Scripture that we should pray; regularly.

And yet, this prayer was in response to a request: “Lord, teach us to pray . . .” Even those disciples who walked closely with Jesus in the days of His earthly ministry sought help in their prayer lives. Prayer wasn’t something that came naturally to them. They had to learn it.  And we can, too.

The disciples didn’t ask for instructions on sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom.

They didn’t request to be taught how to heal.

They didn’t ask Jesus to teach them how to study the Scriptures.

They asked Him to teach them to pray. They knew it was important. The Scriptures, after all, are full of counsel that encourages us to pray. And yet, we struggle.

How many of you grew up in church and, as a young person, were exposed to something called the catechism?  For those who maybe aren’t as familiar with it, a catechism is defined as a summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.

And those of us who were taught in this way broke down and, in essence summarized, the way Jesus modeled for and taught his disciples to pray.

There was the introduction, “Our Father who art in heaven,” followed by what were called the 7 petitions and then, a conclusion.

You can research and study more about the catechism taught by the various denominations of our Christian faith but the points I’d like for us to focus on here are, again, it is a great model for prayer as to the things we should include in our communication with our Heavenly Father.

It’s a model likely very few of us routinely follow in our prayers.  But we could.  And what might our prayers sound like and how much more effective might they be, if we did?

So, there’s great value in our having been taught the Lord’s prayer and in our teaching it to others. A potential problem, or at least a concern, however, is when prayer customs turn into meaningless ritual.

My study Bible commentators put it this way;

“Spiritual disciplines yield valuable benefits for both this life and eternity.  It makes sense to repeat them on a regular basis. But sheer repetition can render a custom ineffective and insignificant.”

We intuitively understand this based upon our own interpersonal communications with friends and family, don’t we?

Imagine if each time you engaged in conversation with someone you care about, they simply repeated the same thing over and over again.  Even if they used amazingly loving words, conveyed with a decent level of emotion and proper inflection and attribution of respect; in time, they’d likely grow less and less meaningful to you, right?  Now imagine how God must feel if we pray only ritualistically, or with only our list of demands; never acknowledging His almighty power and all that He does for us, or allowing Him to respond or get a word in edgewise.

As my study Bible’s commentators go on to say, “We can go through all the right motions and say all the right words without ever engaging either our heads or our hearts.  As a result, any prayer custom can, over time, erode into a meaningless ritual.”

Matthew also records for us that Jesus condemned the religious leaders of His day by quoting Isaiah the prophet: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. (Matthew 15: 8-9)

Jesus warned against allowing the holy to become commonplace.  To make certain that we pray from our heart, not just by heart.

Still a little unsure…?

Let’s take a look at a few really practical resources.  They can be utilized in concert with setting up your prayers in the way Jesus taught us and they’ll help add context to your conversations with God.

When Larry, Chris or Christopher talk about referencing your Bible using your digital device, how many of you happen to utilize The Bible App from YouVersion?

Are you familiar with this?

Well, this week, in their blog section, they featured an article called, “Conversation Starters With God.”  It’s a really easy read with some pretty simple principles. But I liked the practicality of it; so I thought I’d share it and some of what I learned from it with you here.

It starts by acknowledging that “talking to God doesn’t always feel easy, but if we want to know God more, then we need to know how to talk humbly and honestly with Him.”

Here are three things that may encourage you as you draw near to God through prayer.

  1. Keep it simple.

God isn’t concerned about how many words you use or how eloquent your words sound—He just wants to spend time with you; His child that He created. He wants to check in with and hear from you – on a regular basis.   In scripture, Paul refers to this as praying without ceasing.  This doesn’t have to mean some constant Gregorian-like chant, taking place only in your prayer closet, hands folded, eyes closed and on your knees.  While there’s nothing wrong with that type of prayer, some of the best conversations with God happen when you simply share what’s on your mind and then give Him the space to respond.  In fact, right now, as you’re sitting there, let’s try practicing this.  In your mind,

Try asking one of these questions where you fill in the blank:

God, what should I do about … ?

God, what do You think about … ?

God, would You … ?

God, why did this … ?

  1. Keep it real.

God isn’t going to get mad at you for being honest, so be authentic when you pray. Remember, nothing can separate you from God’s love. So, if you’re not sure what to say, tell God that. If you’re frustrated about a situation, say so. He wants you to approach Him with confidence and boldness.

Let’s try it again. Talk to God about a concern you have right now. Fill in the blank following one of these sentences:

Try saying:  Lord,

I’m struggling with…

I need help with…

I don’t understand why…

I’m frustrated because…

  1. Keep showing up.

Praying might feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. This week, continue to make prayer a habit by having at least a 5-minute conversation with God every day.

Here are some conversation starters:

I’m hoping for…

I’m thankful for…

I’m excited because…

Today, I noticed…

What’s also cool is that, if you’re an app person, within the YouVersion app, a link is provided to another resource called, “Guided Prayer; When You Want to Pray but Don’t Know What to Say.”

Let’s take a look at one more resource.

How many of you are familiar with a Christian ministry organization called the Navigators?  Its home base is in Colorado Springs; it was founded in 1933 and since then has upheld its mission “To know Christ, make Him known, and help others do the same®.

They put out some really helpful and useful tools.  One, specifically to guide us on how to pray, again, based upon the teaching of scripture, is called the prayer hand.  Have you heard of this before?

Essentially, this tool can be used as a great reminder, while you’re chatting with God in prayer, of 5 areas to try and include every time you do.  Whether your hands are together or not while you’re praying imagine each of these elements through one of your fingers:

  1. Petition – Asking God for my needs (as outlined in 1 Samuel 1:27)
  2. Intercession – Praying for others (as directed in Ephesians 6:18-19)
  3. Thanksgiving – Thanking God for what he’s provided, protected and done for me (Ephesians 5:20)
  4. Confession – Agreeing with God about my sin (as talked about in 1 John 1:9)
  5. Praise – Voicing my wonder about who God is (as exemplified in Psalm 146:1-2)

Five things in this model; 3 encouraging conversation starters from the previous one (Keep it Simple; Keep it Real; and Keep Showing Up) and 7 “Petitions” our Lord Jesus taught his disciples (including each of us) to pray.

Unfortunately, however, none of which will mean much of anything if we keep our conversations one-sided.

What do I mean?

How many of you like to engage in a monologue with the ones you love; you know, where just one of you does all the talking?  Yeah, me neither.

It makes it kind of hard to think of it as a very meaningful conversation, doesn’t it?

If you’re solely on the receiving end, it kind of leaves you wondering, “don’t they even care what I think or may have to say,” right?

So, even though we know He knows all things, imagine (from our human mindset) what it must be like for our Heavenly Father when we do all the talking and never invite Him or even listen for Him to provide a response.

Our God is a patient God (He has all kinds of time…!) Scripture teaches that “He stands at the door and knocks…”

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20)

Take time…. allow time…after each thing you share with or ask of Him, invite Him in and allow for His Holy Spirit to provide you with an answer, an idea, a solution, a correction, a new perspective…a response before just walking away or checking out.

And remember; God always answers prayers; in His time.  Sometimes He says no; sometimes He says wait or not yet, and sometimes He says go!

If you’re not already doing these things, why not try to begin doing them with your very next prayer.  It might seem a bit arduous or hard to remember at first but keep trying, and see how your prayer life; your conversations with the one who created you and loves hearing from you and talking with you more than you know, begins to improve.

Let’s pray together…

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

For yours is the Kingdom, the Power and The Glory,

Now and Forever, Amen.

Now you continue, using the above model as your guide.  As our Senior Pastor would say, it’s descriptive, not prescriptive.  We’re not endeavoring here to teach you new prayer techniques or even to “master” the discipline of prayer – but just to open a regular dialogue with feedback to and from God.  Ongoing conversation with The One you love.  As the Navigators so aptly put it, “Becoming a person of prayer isn’t about learning to do it right – it’s about learning to engage God in conversation and about getting to know Him more intimately.  It (likely) doesn’t come naturally to us. I didn’t come naturally to the early disciples, either.  But as we continue to practice, we can ask – as they did – ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’”

Right here with you,