On September 24, I preached a sermon on how to pray. I am sharing my thoughts from that sermon in this article, but you can also listen to the sermon at HERE.
If you look at the Lord’s prayer in the Bible, what you will find is that the typical ending that we give to the prayer is not there. You will also find that Jesus gives this prayer after his disciples ask him to teach them to pray.
I am convinced that the Lord’s Prayer, while a vital part of our worship service, is not primarily a prayer to be repeated. Rather, it is an outline that Jesus gives his disciples about how to pray. In other words, it is a guide for the topics and the order of prayer. When you understand it this way, it can be really helpful for your prayer life.
Let’s look at the order:
1. Praise- Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
The prayer begins with God, not us. Notice it is corporate (Our) which points to faith as a community thing. God is called a personal Father. Hallowed means to be made holy or shown to be holy. Your name was your essence. It was like your character and your reputation. We still have a sense of this, when we don’t want our family members to misbehave and “give us a bad name.” So the prayer starts with praising God for who he is, what he has done for you. This also includes gratitude—giving thanks to God for his blessings in your life.
2. Purpose- Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
The prayer then puts our purpose onto God’s purpose. We don’t live in a kingdom, but you could think of it as the rule, the governance, or the administration of God. It is saying, “God, rule more in this world because it is broken right now.” Thy will be done is perhaps the most dangerous part of the prayer, for it implies that we are surrendering our will. But that is key. We start with God’s larger purpose. If we start with our purposes, then get mad when God does not do what we want. But part of the purpose of prayer is to tune us in and increase in us our desire to have God’s will be done in our lives.
3. Provision- Give us this day our daily bread
The prayer then moves from God to us and our daily provision. In the ancient world, there was no refrigeration and there were no grocery stores. You lived day by day making the bread for that day and hoping to fish or hung. You lived hoping their will be food tomorrow and hoping the crops are not destroyed by war or famine. The prayer is, “Lord, give me what I need today.” Notice that it is not asking for daily cake, or daily banquet. The prayer if for what we truly need to survive. At the same time, you have permission to pray to God about the little things of life. In fact, you are encouraged to.
4. Personal Relationships- forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
The prayer then moves into our personal relationships with God and with others. There prayer uses different words sometimes in English. Debts refer to owing someone. Trespasses refer to a broken rule. Sins refer to missing the mark or falling short. Whatever the word, it gives a sense that we stand in need of forgiveness from God and that we need to forgive others. In fact, it is kind of scary to think that God forgives us as we forgive others. Perhaps we need to take more seriously the forgiveness of others.
5. Protection- lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
The prayer moves to protect for ourselves, but other prayers of Jesus imply that we should also pray for the protection of others, as he does for his disciples. God does not tempt us. Probably a better translation of this world is trial. Trials are part of life, and trials are part of faith. These are those difficult times when the world seems so heavy a burden that we can hardly bear it. Evil represents those who be after you to do you harm, or when life seems to be out to get you and destroy you.
Notice how the order of this prayer is important. We have already prayed thy will be done. I don’t always or even often understand what God is doing or why God is doing it. But the Lord taught us to pray with a child-like faith—Thy will be done. So we live, as Christians, praying protection for ourselves and those around us but also trusting that God’s will is more important than ours.
6. Praise- For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen.
The prayer again returns to Praise with the ending that the church has added to Jesus’ prayer. We move through our needs, our struggles, our questions in prayer, and return to praising God. Sometimes this is not easy, especially if we get bogged down in our anger or questions during prayer.
I think this is a pretty good outline for prayer. I suggest that you use it. Write the prayer out with the words I have given here in the margins, and take time to pray through the sections in your own words. Take some time. I promise it will get easier.
Let me also say that I think there is room in prayer for lots of different tones. The Bible seems to not just give permission, but actually encourage raw and deeply honest prayers. Plenty of Psalms are Psalms of Lament that pray, “Where are you God?” There is a whole book of Lamentations. Why? Because God is big enough to hear your questions, complaints, doubts, and anger. I have sworn at God in prayer. I want a raw prayer where I say exactly what is on my mind. So maybe you need to pray and tell God that you don’t want to praise him, and tell him why. God will meet you in your honesty.
Finally, prayer is also space for God to speak. Sometimes, just be quiet. Jesus modeled this as he escaped to gardens and mountains often. Get away. Talk to God, and listen.