“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.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Does your mind ever drift into space when you converse with God in prayer? Do you ever run out of words to say to Him? Do you ever wonder whether you have prayed long enough? Or do you ever wonder whether God even listens to you?

My recognition of these symptoms of a potentially-dry prayer life only began to surface when I recently attended a prayer meeting at my church to pray for the worldwide mission of sending more gospel workers to many of these unreached groups around the world.

As I stepped into the communion circle to discuss with my prayer partners which points on the prayer sheets we were each going to pray for, it was at the moment when we closed our eyes in prayer that my eyes were open to the fickle quality of my prayer life: the raw passion that permeated every word from their mouths, the jubilant tone of their eloquent sentences, and the single-minded devotion of mind and soul to God. These things seemed to be absent in the prayers in my own spiritual walk. The radiant prayers I heard that night exposed my lack of contemplation, concentration, and determination in my petitions and supplications to God. Though I walked out of that meeting with a refreshed and renewed grasp of God’s wider plan to gather His people from all the nations, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Did I really know how to pray the right way?”

Have you ever wondered how to pray the right way?

1. When you pray (verse 5-6)

It brings me comfort to know that even the disciples humbly admitted that they didn’t know how to pray properly, and asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). Jesus was merciful and gracious to teach His disciples the right pattern for prayer that is pleasing to God.

The first thing Jesus encourages His disciples to do before they pray is to know what to do when they pray, rather than to know what to say when they 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 others…But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (verses 5-6).
Is Jesus forbidding all public prayer in this passage? Are Christians banned from ever praying at cozy cafes and park benches? Judging from how the disciples later on prayed with each other in public, that is hardly the case (Matt 18:19-20; Acts 1:24; 3:1; 4:24-30). What Jesus is trying to emphasize here is that prayer must be done for God’s glory and never for self-glory. We should never make prayer a spectacle of piety in order to puff ourselves up in front of others. Instead, our hearts must be seasoned with humility when we come to God in prayer and we can display our attitude to God most fervently in the privacy of our bedrooms.

Prayer is the means by which we plead with God to give us more of Him, and He is all the more glorified when His people yearn for more satisfaction in Him. He gives Himself generously when we approach Him in humility and meekness, not seeking the approval of others (verse 6b).

2. How to say (verse 7-8)

The second thing Jesus teaches His disciples here is how to say their prayers, exhorting them to not “keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (verse 7).

In our materialistic culture we have bought into the cliche idea that bigger is always better, and it was no different for those living in ancient times who were misguided by the deception that their many words would increase their chance of being heard by a greater deity (verse 7). Sometimes we believe that if we either tenaciously articulate our prayers to God with fanciful words or if we nag Him long enough with excessive recitations, then maybe He will actually hear us! Don’t we often think like this when it comes to prayer? Our erroneous assumptions about how God feels about our prayers are the reasons we often feel ashamed when we cannot find the words we are looking for, when we run out of things to pray about or when we just feel we haven’t prayed long enough.

But God knows what our spiritual needs are. In fact He knows what our needs are before the words of pleading even leave the tip of our tongues (verse 8). God doesn’t require you to use long and extravagant words to make your prayers somehow more ‘pleasing’ to Him or to cycle your prayers on repeat. Now, this shouldn’t mean we should never be thoughtful or should never try emphasizing particular aspects in our prayers that we feel strongly convicted about, for even Jesus prayed numerous times in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, knowing that God knows the longings of our hearts before we even communicate them through our mouths relieves us of this self-imposed burden and gives us confidence that God will listen and be attentive to His children’s mumbles.

3. How to pray (verse 9-13)

Jesus lays the foundation of principles for how we should approach God and how we should say our prayer to God, and now He gives us a robust template for how to 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 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

1. Call God as your Heavenly Father (verse 9a)

In prayer, Jesus tells us to address God this way to display that He is personal and also rules with divine authority. When we come in prayer calling on the Father’s name, our prayers to Him can only be (a) heard on the basis of that intimacy that is shared between a loving father and his child, and (b) answered on the basis of His sovereign power to do all things that pleases Him (Ps 115:3).

2. Call upon God to proclaim His name as holy (verse 9b)

In prayer, we are to ask God that all imagebearers in the world treat His name without disdain, but as sacred and holy. We should seek to pursue God’s purpose to bring glory to Himself by invoking praise for God in others who see the way we conduct ourselves in godly living (Matt 5:16).

3. Call upon the will of God to be done on earth, by the arrival of the Kingdom (verse 10)

To pray that His kingdom will come is to pray that the kingdom will grow as more true worshippers come to bow the knee to Jesus, through our evangelistic witness, and that He will return to earth in glory to establish His supreme rule and authority. For this is the will of God – to make His name known through the universe: both on earth as it already is in the heaven.

4. Call upon God to sustain your physical wellbeing (verse 11)

Pray with a heart of reliance that God will preserve your life by giving you the necessities you need to carry on with your day. That isn’t to say that we are discouraged to make an earning ourselves, but it is trusting that God will continue to give all good things (James 1:17) – not only the food we are given but also our ability to work, and that we are to live upon the grace of God every single day.

5. Call upon God to sustain your spiritual wellbeing (verse 12)

Pray with a heart of penitence when we have grieved God and others by our sin so that God in His great mercy will forgive us of our sins (1 John 1:9). Our forgiveness of other people’s sin does not earn us any merit to be forgiven of our own sins, but rather the heart of true penitence is one that recognizes the heinousness of its offences against God, such that the afflictions that others have committed against them are by comparison trivial.

6. Call upon God for protection against the spiritual forces of this world (verse 13)

Lastly, we must pray, as Christians that live in constant war against the demonic forces of Satan, that we do not succumb to their spiritual attacks and sin, but instead be delivered by the hand of God. Trials and temptations are not inherently wrong in themselves; in fact they often do a good job at refining our faith. However, without the divine aid of God, we are too weak to fend off these attacks that steal our joy away from the intimacy we have with Him. Let’s draw upon the strength of God who is faithful to His children and will protect us by His power from the devil himself (2 Thess 3:3).

Jesus has given us spiritual resources for how we can pray the right way, more than we could ever ask for. Alongside this robust model for prayer, He has also sent the Spirit to us who intercedes for us by giving us the words to say when we feel stuck in our prayers (Rom 8:26).

So when we find ourselves lost for words for what we’d like to pray for, we can always point ourselves back to these timelessly precious basics for prayer and to plead with the Spirit that He empowers our prayers to be more God-centred, Spirit-driven and grace-dependent.

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