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Learning to Pray
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Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.

Psalm 4:1

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How do we pray to God? Prayer is basically putting one's requests, concerns, and issues before the Lord, and trusting Him to answer them. Matthew 18:3 says we should pray with the heart of little children--simple, reverent, specific and trusting. If we do not know how to pray, the Bible says the Holy Spirit will help us pray (Romans 8:26-27).

Jesus shares some tremendous insight regarding how to pray to God in Matthew 6:5-13:

"And now about prayer. When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly. Then your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.

"When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think prayers are answered only by repeating words over and over again. Don't be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Give us our food for today, and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."

In the above verses, Jesus shares how not to pray.

  • Verse 5: We are to pray in secret, not out loud publicly, primarily to just be seen and heard.
  • Verse 6: Jesus teaches that our Heavenly Father already knows what we are going to pray about.
  • Verses 7 and 8: Jesus tells us not to ramble on and on or be repetitious with words. God wishes us to be specific about our prayer.

Next, Jesus, teaches us how to pray.

  • Verse 9: Jesus says we should give honor to God and His name.
  • Verse 10: We are to pray for His Kingdom to come, and for His will to be done, that there would be a heavenly or godly presence here on earth.
  • Verse 11: We are to pray for daily provision.
  • Verse 12: We are to pray and ask for forgiveness for our sins, and for others who have wronged us.
  • Verse 13: We are to pray and ask God to keep us from being tempted, and to deliver us from Satan and his power.

Other New Testament writers describe other ways to pray. Paul says that we should pray for everything with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). Paul often began and ended his letters in prayer. Specifically, Paul prays for God’s grace, peace, love, and faith among believers.

Peter tells us to cast all our care upon God, because He cares about us (1 Peter 5:7).

James 1:5 says we can pray and ask God for wisdom, but this should be done in faith. James 4:1-4 says that when we pray, we often pray or ask out of our own selfish ambition. James 4:15 tells us that we need to pray for God’s will to be done in our lives.

How often are we to pray? The Bible instructs us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Certainly our prayer should be at least daily, and as we begin to understand prayer we can adopt a mindset of continuous prayer throughout the day.

In the Old Testament, Moses prayed to God almost constantly on behalf of the Israelites for God’s mercy and graciousness in dealing with their sins. Abraham prayed persistently for his relative Lot, who lived in Sodom, that God would spare Him.

What should we pray for? The primary focus of prayer is the intent. Does the prayer honor God and exalt His name? What is the purpose behind the prayer? Is it personal gain or ambition? Do you pray for others to be blessed and encouraged? Are your prayers done in secret and in humility? Are your prayers focused on obtaining godly wisdom, counsel, and direction? God is pleased with these prayers and answers them.

There are endless resources offering techniques, rituals, and even objects illustrating the ways to pray. These are largely counterproductive--perhaps the best practice in prayer is simply to reverently and honestly talk to God. This may be akward at first, but as your relationship with God grows, so will your level of conversation with Him through prayer.

The Bible has many examples of prayer. 2 Chronicles 14:11 says Asa cried out to the Lord. The prophet Jeremiah prayed for God’s guidance and correction of the Israelites (Jeremiah 10:23-24). David prayed for the peace of Jerusalem in Psalm 122:6. The greatest example of prayer in the New Testament is considered by most to be the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).

"Lord, teach us to pray..." (Luke 11:1). In our relationship with the Creator, we long to keep our communication with the Lord personal and true. The Lord’s Prayer provides Jesus’ response as the way to achieve that communication with the Father. Since individuals are most familiar with the King James Version, or its musical counterpart, let’s consider each verse of Jesus’ prayer:

"Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name." When we praise God with our words, a prayer of worship is offered. God receives our highest esteem (1 Chronicles 16:29; Isaiah 6:3). As an adoring child, we should focus our attention on God's holiness and magnificence.

"Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, in earth, as it is in heaven." Our attitude in prayer should reflect Who we are speaking to. A prayer of submission acknolwedges God's authority. This way of praying is crucial if we desire answered prayer (1 John 5:14). Submission to God’s authority requires that we humble ourselves, knowing that His answer to prayer may differ from our personal desires (2 Chronicles 7:14-15). We must choose to be obedient to His will (Luke 22:41-42). The greatest prayer of submission was modeled through Jesus Christ.

"Give us this day, our daily bread." Of all the ways of praying, the prayer of supplication (earnest request), is the most utilized. Critical illness, financial distress, or any dire circumstance requires assurance that God is able to rescue us (1 John 3:21-22). The prayer of supplication may be agonizing as we attempt to convey our suffering (Luke 22:44). There will also be times when we desire God’s protection, wisdom, and peace, assured that we rest securely in His care (1 Peter 5:7).

"And forgive us our sins, as we forgive our debtors." There are two universal needs characteristic to man--to be forgiven and to improve oneself, becoming a better person in the process. In response to our awareness of our sinful nature, we offer a prayer of repentance to our Heavenly Father (Romans 3:23-26). As we receive God’s acceptance through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, we recognize the necessity of forgiveness and repentance (Matthew 18:21-35).

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." God never tempts us, nor does He isolate us from facing decisions (1 Corinthians 10:13, James 1:12-15). A prayer of deliverance not only requires attitude, but demands action. Jesus faced temptation on several occasions (Matthew 4:1-11, 16:23, 27:38-44), and with a submissive attitude, acted in obedience to God. In a prayer of deliverance, we are affirming that God truly is our Deliverer from all forms of evil (Romans 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:18).

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