“This, then, is how you should pray…”
~ Matthew 6:9
The Lord’s Prayer is probably the most well-known prayer in the world. It’s found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus used it as an illustration of how to pray. It seemed fitting that it was the first prayer that we looked at during our study of Prayers from the New Testament.
Let’s go ahead and read it now. You may be tempted to skip over it, because you have it memorized, you know what it says, but I encourage you to read it and let the words wash over your heart.
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
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 lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
Many of us know that prayer by heart, we can recite it by memory, but is it the words that really matter?
The Lord’s Prayer is also recorded in the book of Luke, but his is a much simpler version:
“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” (11:2-4)
If it was the words that matter, I’m sure it would be the same in both recordings. I love the question posed in Zechariah 7:5. He said, “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?’”
When we say a prayer from memory, is it really for God we pray?
I’ve been reading through The Power of Praying Through the Bible by Stormie Omartian and in it, she wrote: “…you must actually worship God with a heart full of love for Him. It’s in your own personal worship times that you develop an intimate relationship with God.”
It doesn’t take a heart full of love for God to say a prayer from memory, but a prayer from memory can be said out of love for God. In other words, it’s not what we pray, but how we pray it.
Jesus used the Lord’s Prayer as an example to teach us how to pray—to give us an idea of what God wants to hear from us. Here are a few things I see when I meditate on the Lord’s Prayer:
- God alone is worthy of our prayers and praise (vs 9)
- We should pray for His will to be done (vs 10) – In Life Resources study on prayer, they wrote: “The kingdom of God grows on earth each time a person allows God to rule in his heart. When we pray for God’s will to be done on earth, we are not just praying for changes in the world but we are confessing that we want God to change our own lives, too.”
- We need to acknowledge our need for Him (vs 11) – What a relief that it isn’t all up to us!
- Our need to repent and forgive others (with His help) (vs 12)
- We should ask for His strength against sin and remember He has already defeated it (vs 13)
But all that being said, Jesus’ teaching on prayer really started back in verse 5.
“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.”
~ Matthew 6:5-8
Jesus instructs us to pray by ourselves, in secret, but I don’t think He means that we should never pray with others.
Psalm 34:3 says, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.”
And Jesus Himself said, “truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
If we were never suppose to pray with others, I don’t think Jesus would have said that. Moreover, Jesus didn’t always pray in secret…
Matthew 26:36-38: “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.'”
He did go a little further before He began to pour His heart out to God, but He wasn’t doing it in secret. I think the main point is that we should pray for God and God alone, not for those who listen.
Also, Pagan prayers were all about the external circumstances surrounding them—the words and actions were the most important parts. If you didn’t kneel the right way, weren’t in the right room, or didn’t say the right words, your prayer was useless.
Isaiah 29:13 says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”
Jesus didn’t want us to be like that.
True prayers are internal, not external.
They aren’t about getting it right, but coming before God with a heart full of love for Him.
To take it from Scripture, we should, “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] mind.” (Matthew 22:37) And our prayers should flow out of that love.
So what’s the big picture?
Jesus used the Lord’s Prayer to show us a glimpse of His heart – and when we pray, He wants to hear whats in our hearts. He doesn’t want us to recite something for the sake of reciting it. He doesn’t want us to use words that will impress those who hear us.
He wants to hear words spoken from our hearts.
It’s not about where we are, what we are doing, or even the words we say. It’s the heart of the matter that counts.
I want to close with a passage from the book of Hebrews:
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
~ Hebrews 10:22-23
- Do you ever pray for the benefit of those who hear, rather than just to talk to God?
- Do you have a prayer you say, or a specific time you pray where pray more out of habit or routine then out of a heart for God?
- Do you have any misconceptions or pre-conceived notions about how to pray, or requirements that you attach to prayer that God doesn’t?
Take it Deeper
- Look up the following Scriptures on praying with others: Psalm 34:3; Matthew 18:19-20; Matthew 26:36-38; James 5:16; Acts 12:12
- Download the PDF study guide
- Share your thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer, what Jesus was hoping to get across to us, or any misconceptions you have had about prayer in the comments below.
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