“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked him.” 1 John 5:14-15
Prayer can be one of the simplest things that we do as Christians, it can be one of the most difficult things we do as Christians, and it can be the most frustrating things we do as Christians. And all of those can be true within the same day! What makes prayer so simple is the faith we have in knowing God hears us. What makes prayer difficult is that we don’t know how or what to pray for at times. What makes prayer frustrating is that the answers don’t always come quickly or even the way we want them. Learning how to pray truly is a life long spiritual discipline that we will continue to grow in until the day we die.
It is easy to say that we trust God and His sovereignty but often those words are not the belief of our heart. How we show our dependance upon God will truly show the belief of our heart. Again, in his book on Spiritual Disciplines Donald Whitney writes these words; “Often we do not pray because we doubt that anything will actually happen if we pray. Of course, we don’t admit this publicly. But if we felt certain of visible results within sixty seconds of every prayer, there would be holes in the knees of every pair of Christian-owned pants in the world.” I believe this description by Dr. Whitney is truly accurate of most Christians here in the United States. Most American Christians want a fast-food reply to their prayers. Thankfully that is not how God works and that His sovereignty is greater than our self-centered desires. If we got the answers we want, it would be very much like a diet of fast food which we all know is not healthy and is actually extremely dangerous for our health. God in His sovereignty knows what is best for us and that should bring us comfort, but more often than not it brings us anxiety because things are outside of our control. So, how do we change our mindset and our prayer life? The simple answer is head to scripture!
The disciples asked Jesus how to pray and in response, He gave them the model prayer, which we can find in several of the gospels. We will take a look at Matthews account of Jesus teaching them how to pray. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 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 forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:5-15)
Let’s unpack Jesus’ teaching about prayer. In the first couple of verses before we get to the prayer itself, Jesus instructs His disciples to pray not like the hypocrite or the gentile. In verses 5 and 6, Jesus tells His disciples to not pray as the hypocrite prays, which were long and self-glorifying. This type of attitude in prayer was modeled by the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the day. They would pray these extravagant prayers that brought attention to themselves and were truly not about seeking after God. They sought to pray in public and sought to pray in places of honor. Jesus though told His disciples to pray in private, and to have a focus on God. Jesus was teaching His disciples that prayer is about seeking after God, not recognition of how well someone who could communicate or how popular they were. Prayer is about seeking and understanding the will of God for our lives and for the lives of those we are praying for.
In verses 7 and 8, Jesus then instructs His disciples to not pray like the Gentiles. For the Gentiles believed that long prayers would get the attention of God or the gods in pagan culture. They believed that the gods ignored humanity and that they had to bug or annoy them until they would listen. God the Father though is not like that, but He cares for humanity and hears us when we pray. Our prayers are to be focused and to be honest with the God. God knows what we need, and He cares for us, and He hears us, unlike false gods that pagan’s worship. No matter how much false gods are bothered and begged they will not hear because they are not alive and real.
After Jesus instructs His disciples in how not to pray, He then gives them the model prayer, often called the Lord’s prayers. In the prayer, we find 5 areas of focus. First, Jesus teaches His disciples to honor and glorify God in worship. We are to honor God because He is the creator of all, and His name is to be reverenced. Secondly, Jesus teaches His disciples that the Kingdom is the priority both on earth and in heaven. The Kingdom is about God’s rule and reign upon His creation. The doorway to the Kingdom is the acceptance of the gospel. Thirdly, Jesus instructs His disciples to seek God for daily provisions. It is God who provides food, shelter, and much more to us. We are to trust in God to provide for us daily. As part of that trust in our provision, we are to be about the mission of God to provide for others as God uses us to help meet the needs of others. Fourthly, Jesus teaches His disciples about forgiveness. We are to seek the forgiveness of God and those who we have offended, and we are also to forgive. This is the center pieced of the gospel. As sinners we have offended and disobeyed God and because of that we are to seek His forgiveness. We also commit offenses against others and because of that we need to seek their forgiveness. We also are to be people who forgive because of our forgiveness. Lastly, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray for deliverance from temptation. God will never tempt but will always lead us away from temptation. With our own ability, we are not able to overcome temptation but through the power and work of the Holy Spirit, we can be delivered from temptation. Understanding the focus of each area will help us understand how to pray and why we pray.
As we close out today, this quote from Kay Arthur in her book “Lord Teach Me to Pray” speaks to the prayer life of most Christians. “Prayer is not easy. Prayer is a discipline, and discipline requires persistence.” Praying truly is a discipline and one that we must practice daily. It is vital to our worship and to our growth as followers of Christ. The reality is that some days prayer will be easy and other days it will be extremely difficult. Whether easy or difficult we must pray and depend upon God to guide us as we seek to be obedient to Him and His will.
 Whitney, Donald. Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991), 69.
 Arthur, Kay. Lord Teach me To Pray (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1995) 16.