Learning The Spiritual Discipline of Prayer
In this part of the Sermon on the Mount we look at one of the most well-known prayers in the Bible. Many call it the Lord’s Prayer but some have pointed out it could more accurately be called the Disciples’ Prayer. Jesus gives it as a model to His followers to show us why and how we should pray.
“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 men. I tell you the truth they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your closet, 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, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’
A prayer is not an opportunity to preach to someone else. Even when you are praying with a group or with another person, remember Jesus’ instructions from this passage and be sure you are talking to God. Your only reward for having smart or strong sounding prayers is what people think of you. It doesn’t impress God. Jesus tells us that our normal practice of prayer should be to pray in a place where we can shut the door and be alone, where there is no one to impress but God. Our Father wants to reward you for your heart to meet with Him and talk with Him.
Jesus then teaches us that we don’t need to get God’s attention with “many words.” You don’t need to keep repeating the perfect prayer until God is finally ready to hear you. You don’t need to pray quickly, saying, “God,” or “Lord,” at every pause to have a powerful prayer. God cares about you and already knows how He can help you. He’s just waiting for you to ask and trust Him.
Notice that Jesus said this is “how” you should pray, not “what” you should pray. Many Christian traditions encourage the use of this prayer in private and in worship services, and there can be great value in it. In this portion of scripture where Jesus is establishing the disciplines every disciple should practice, Jesus is using it here to teach His disciples about how to approach God and what things they should pray about.
At the start, Jesus teaches us to enter directly into the presence of God and address God as “Our Father!” That was a radical concept to these early disciples. They had been taught all their lives that God was awesome and lofty, only to be approached through a priest. Jesus presents a personal God who cares about the details of our lives. Some in the Old Testament understood this, like David who declared that “The Lord is my Shepherd” in Psalm 23.
When you read the wonderful passage of Galatians 4:4-7, you find that in Christ Jesus, we are no longer slaves to the Law or to sin. We are in the family of God, and now call out to God as our dear Father. This is exactly how Jesus models prayer for us. Ephesians 2:18 gives us a clear picture of the Trinity, the three persons of God, while explaining the process of prayer: “For through him [Jesus] we both [Jew and Gentile believers] have access in one Spirit to the Father.” We address our prayers to God the Father, in Jesus' Name, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not instructed to pray to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit. We are told to address God intimately as our perfect, loving heavenly Father.
However, the Bible records the phrase “Maranatha,” which translates to “Lord, come!” in reference to Jesus. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are persons. Let your normal, regular praying be done directly to the Father, but to ask the Holy Spirit to come or to thank Jesus for dying for your sins while you thank the Father for sending Him seems entirely consistent with the Bible.
Next, we will look at the seven requests we find in the Disciple’s Prayer and find out how we can model our own prayers after them.
How do you start and end your prayers to God? Do you come to God as a Father?
Take a moment to pray, starting with praising and worshiping Father God. Ask Him to fill your prayer life with intimacy and trust.
This post is adapted from a lesson of the Mini Bible College, an online study of the whole Bible. We highly recommend their audio resources and written materials, available in many languages, to anyone who wants a stronger understanding of the Bible.