“Lord, teach us how to pray.”
What a striking request from the disciples! After being a part of Jesus’ ministry for some time now, they have seen many miraculous works done by Jesus - feeding 5000, walking on water, raising someone form the dead, calming the storm, healing the sick, casting out demons, and much more. And yet, their request is to be taught how to pray.
In the Sermon on The Mount we have one of the richest instructions on how to pray that the Lord ever taught (Matthew 6:5-13). Before Jesus gives instructions on how to pray He starts with two instructions on how not to pray:
Don’t pray like the hypocrites. These were the actors, the ones who wore masks and pretended to be someone they weren’t. Jesus said that they stand on the street corner and in the synagogues so that they might be seen by others. They are seeking recognition from man, wanting to appear holy and righteous, and yet their hearts are far from God.
Don’t pray like the gentiles. Don’t heap up empty words because it makes you sound religious, don’t recite empty phrases you’ve heard before, and don’t babble without sense. God is not impressed with our elegant speech or our fancy religious talk. He doesn’t care how much we know; He cares about the heart. The first principle that Jesus is addressing about prayer is your posture. How do you come to God in prayer? Do you come entitled? Do you come like a hypocrite? Do you come like a Pharisee? Or do you come poor in spirit, with a broken and contrite heart, seeking to commune with your Father who is in heaven?
Often we can rush into the presence of God, offer up a 30 sec prayer and continue on in our day. But something that I think Jesus is highlighting here is that we have an incredible privilege and opportunity to come before the Creator of the universe and pour out our heart -- He bends His ear to us. I don’t know what is more astounding -- that we can pray to the Creator of the universe or that He listens.
Psalm 17:6 – “I call upon You, for You will answer me, O God; incline Your ear to me; hear my words.”
There is a fundamental truth that we must come to understand and believe about prayer. We are communing with God! We are not talking to a wall or an empty room. We are not just getting things off our chest. We are communing with almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, giver and sustainer of life, sovereign over all things, and the one who knows the hairs on our heads and the concerns of our hearts. He is intimately involved in your life, from forming you in your mothers womb to leading and guiding you in the path of righteousness. He is with you, and He has sent His Spirit to indwell you. My hope and my prayer is that your prayer life is more than a religious task, but that it would be a time where you are communing and fellowshipping with your heavenly Father.
Jesus then says, “Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day 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 evil.” (ESV)