When I was a child, I often recited The Lord’s Prayer without an afterthought as to what I was actually uttering.
If you’re anything like me, the art of prayer can be a difficult spiritual principle to grow in.
Some churches teach to pray out loud or inside your head, while others remark that you need to say, “Our Father,” or “Jesus,” for it to be blessed and valid. Friends of mine raise their hands while they pray, while for myself, I love to write it all out in a journal.
Yet no matter how you see, feel, hear, or experience it, prayer can be a challenging thing to partake in, especially when there are so many voices around you telling you what and how it should appear. When it all boils down to it, though, I believe that there are many ways to pray, with the guidance Jesus has given us for these variations.
In Matthew Chapter 6, beginning at verse 5, Jesus models 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 that 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 have forgiven 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)
The biggest problem with most people’s understanding of this Scripture, however, is that they begin to see the model prayer as the only way to pray, and that simply isn’t true.
Yes, Jesus gave us an example of how to pray, a model rooted in humility, purity of heart, and respect for God and others. But he did not say, “Here is a routine prayer you need to say again and again,” losing its sincerity with every routine, religious, and remote recitation.
Growing up in a Methodist church, I’ve been in churches before that recite that prayer until its lost all meaning for both them and myself. I’ve been in my home, crying on my knees because I couldn’t fathom why my mentor received such clarity and heard the voice of God, and he didn’t communicate that way to me. I’ve told people I would pray for them in years past, only to forget their request five minutes later and not remember until it was too late.
But if I’ve learned anything in my journey of prayer over the past few years, it has been that if Jesus chooses to speak to us in different ways, indeed, the God of all Creation uses prayer in the ways he sees fit for each of our lives.
According to Matthew Chapter 6, here are five tips that I believe will improve your prayer life:
Don’t Pray Like a Hypocrite
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:5-6 to pray in a humbling manner, and not so others will look upon you as a high and mighty soul.
If you are sincerely praying to God, it does not matter if you pray driving down the road, while at work, school, the mall, or even in your home.
What matters is the heart behind your words. Don’t pray so that others will say, “there is a great Christian.” Pray so that other Christians will know what it means to possess a heart of prayer. You don’t always have to pray on your knees, leaning over your bed, dripping in tears. But it is dire always to remember the Spirit and reason for your prayers.
Pray with a Purpose
Jesus also tells us in Matthew 6:7-8 that we need not pray empty phrases or fancy words to have him hear and answer us. In fact, God wants us to talk with him as we would our best friend because he is our best friend! As Hillsong Young and Free remind us, “All of my best friends are sick of pretending, we want the truth,” and so does Christ!
When you pray, don’t recite the same phrase again and again like “God, give me an ‘A’ on this test (that test you didn’t study for)” but believe that when you pray, he will provide you with what you need. Matthew 6:8 reminds us that God gives us what we need before we even ask him. Surely the one who created us knows how to provide.
In the same manner, praying with a purpose means praying bold and specific prayers and believing God will provide even when circumstances seem impossible.
As Redefined by Well-Watered Woman reminds us, we need to pray and trust God even when we’re dying of thirst, but the water is bitter.
Pray at All Times
Ephesians 6:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:17-27 tell us to pray at all times, and I honestly can’t emphasize how much this has helped me in my spiritual walk with the Lord.
When I choose to pray at all times, this means that my conversation with the Lord never stops. Yes, I begin my day by reading the Bible and praying specific prayers, but my discussion doesn’t stop there! It then becomes a heart-to-heart I engage with throughout the rest of the day.
It’s personal, it’s real; it’s as raw and authentic as “Lord, my face broke out or having IBS-C sucks.” But most importantly, it is choosing to be in fellowship with him all day long.
To pray at all times is to maintain a spirit of thankfulness while trusting God and believing he will provide for any and every need (Proverbs 3:5-6; Philippians 4:4-8).
God’s Model Prayer is not the Only Prayer
When Jesus gave us his model prayer, he did not mean for us to marry ourselves to the statement that those are the only words we can say.
Reciting the Lord’s Prayer without thought doesn’t make you any more of a Christian than those who pray using formulas, just wishing, hoping, and praying that if they say the magic words, their wish will be granted to them. Jesus is not a genie in a bottle, but he is our all-knowing Father who will always provide for our every need.
Using the Lord’s Prayer as a model means replicating his words into our own. For example, we need to have a humble and pure heart that is honest and pray with thankfulness. Following this method, we then know that we need to do the following:
Respect God (“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”).
Ask that his will be done on earth (“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”).
Ask him to provide for our daily, spiritual nourishment (“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”).
Help us to fight temptation, have a spirit of repentance, and forgive others (“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”).
Your prayer need not have all of these components every single time, but praying with these pointers in mind will help you to maintain a more focused prayer life.
Remember to Take Time to Listen
As much as I love to talk, I have learned that if I want to get answers from the Lord, I need to allow him to speak. If we spend the majority of our prayer time saying, “God, I need____,” but don’t pause in silence to listen, how will we ever hear him?
God chooses to speak through whatever means he sees fit. For some people, this is prophecy, tongues, or people, while for others, it is through writing, dance, singing, signing, and the gifts he’s given them. No matter the method of speaking, what matters most is listening to his response.
This week, I received some news that a writing company I wanted to work for was placing me on hold and would not be hiring me. As heart-broken as I was and still am, I have come to understand that in this answer, being open to the Lord’s leading in our prayers is so crucially important. Even as I move forward in this adventure of growing, teaching, directing, writing, and exploring, let us remember these five tips.
To pray with sincere hearts that have a great purpose. To pray in all times of need, as we thank God. And to respect his choices for us, believing that he will answer, even when we don’t see a clear-cut path in view.