As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches the people how to pray. Being aware of how some of the religious leaders of the day used prayer, Jesus cautions His listeners (and us) to not follow those examples:
- Prayer is not to be used to call attention to yourself. Instead of seeking opportunities to pray in public so people can see you, choose to speak to God privately, even in your closet (Matthew 6:5-6).
- Prayer is not to be used to impress other people. A short, sincere prayer is always preferable to a long, drawn-out prayer in which you say the same things multiple times (vain repetitions) to make the prayer longer and seemingly more impressive (Matthew 6:7).
- Prayer (and fasting) is not to be used to show others how holy you are. When fasting and praying, keep it between you and God rather than changing your appearance or doing anything to intentionally let others know that you are fasting (Matthew 6:16-18).
Jesus then gives His own example of how to pray by relating a sample prayer that has come to be known as “The Lord’s Prayer” (see Matthew 6:9-13; a shorter version appears in Luke 11:2-4). Although some people believe that this prayer is meant to be memorized and spoken word for word, it is really only intended to be an example, as Jesus indicates when He begins by saying, “After this manner therefore pray” (Matthew 6:9).
As we read through this sample prayer, we can identify at least four elements which can be part of any of our prayers, as we speak to “Our Father which art in heaven.”
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9)
The first words spoken to God in The Lord’s Prayer recognize His greatness. “Hallowed be thy name” is an expression of reverence to God. Praising God is a great way to start any prayer (before getting into what we may want from Him). We should praise and thank God regularly for all good things, ranging from the gift of salvation all the way down to the least little things in our lives.
Repent of Our Shortcomings
“Forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4)
We all fall short from time to time, so we should not hesitate to acknowledge our shortcomings and seek forgiveness from God (“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” 1 John 1:9) but we should also express sincere repentance, meaning it is our intention to not repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
Ask for What Is Needed
“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11)
We tend to spend most of our prayer time asking God for things we want. It’s OK to ask God for anything, but the more we ask for what we actually need, the more we will see our prayers answered. (If we ask Him for bread, He won’t give us a stone. See Matthew 7:7-11.) On the other hand, if we ask him for things that are clearly “wants” and not needs, especially things that may be outside of His will for us (see next section), then don’t be surprised if those things don’t materialize.
Also, let’s be careful to not treat God as some type of online order site, where we place our orders and they get delivered to our front door. Pay attention to the other categories of this article — speak to God reverently, be repentant as needed, and be willing to yield to the will of God in all things. Also, be aware that in some cases, the answers to our prayers may involve us taking some action as directed by God.
Yield to the Will of God
“Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven…For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:10,13)
As much as we may think we know what we need, God knows better. It is best to acknowledge that we are actually seeking the will of God in whatever we are praying about. If we insist on a specific outcome during prayer, and that outcome is not the will of God, the result will be either disappointment (if the prayer is not answered the way we want) or a potential disaster (if it is answered the way we want).
“If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.” (1 John 5:14)
Want an easy way to remember the basic categories of a prayer as you speak to your heavenly father? Combine the first letter of each of the four categories above to spell the word P-R-A-Y, pray. Which will help you to easily remember the four elements of the model prayer taught by Jesus — the prayer suitably named, “The Lord’s Prayer.”
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.