Much ado about prayer
I remember when I was in grade school, I was told by my Sunday School teacher that I shouldn’t end my prayer the way I was saying it. She gently told me that what I was saying wasn’t exactly theologically accurate…now while I don’t remember verbatim what my first grade mind came up with, I do remember thinking that I didn’t want to say what everyone else said at the end of a prayer. I wanted to say something different, my own way of signing off or saying “see you later” to God. She said that it would just be better for me to say “In Jesus’ name, Amen”.
Truthfully, she may have been correct that what I was saying was inaccurate…but to this day, I’ve often wondered what’s the “right way” for us to pray? Later in my childhood, I was told by another adult that prayer was simply “talking to God”, but that statement still leaves me feeling unsettled.
When my boys were young, they specifically asked me “Dad, what’s the right way to pray? How do I do it?” Not wanting to burden their young minds with the doubt and questions I had as a child, I reiterated what was told to me…Don’t worry about it, son. You’re just talking to God, that’s all. No formulas, no requirements. Just tell God what’s on your mind…your worries, your hopes, anything that’s going on. God can handle it.
However, as I’ve grown and matured…both in life and in my relationship with God…I still have the same lingering questions rattling around the back of my mind. Is there a “right way” to pray? Is it really “just talking to God”? Am I doing this right?
It’s a good exercise to face the questions within us. It’s also good to talk with other Christians about these things. But when we have questions about our relationship with God, it’s even better to see what God has to say about it.
A survey of the Scriptures shows that prayer is everywhere. Seems almost every person we encounter, from all walks of life, prays at some point. From Job to Paul, David to Peter, Moses to Jabez, and Jonah to John it seems that everyone is either praying or talking about praying. There are scores of example prayers to look at, and we could spend some time looking at the situations each of those prayers came from. There would be plenty of benefit to looking through other believers’ examples in the Bible; however, I’m going to narrow the focus a little more in the hopes of answering my own lingering questions.
C.S. Lewis said that God’s aim is that “Every Christian is to become a little Christ”, and the Apostle John had this to say when he wrote about the health of our relationship with Christ:
1 John 2:6 the one who says he remains in [relationship with] Him should walk just as He walked
If these accurately describe God’s purpose toward those who have accepted Christ as Savior, then when it comes to prayer…I want to know how Jesus prayed. Not only “how”, but also “when” and “why”. If becoming like Christ is the goal, then he should be the first one we look to as our example. Jesus’ own disciples also recognized this:
Luke 11:1 [Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”
The disciples wanted to be like their teacher, so they naturally wanted to pray like him too. We’re going to take a close look at what Jesus taught his disciples, as well as Jesus’ own prayer life – when did he pray and what did he pray?
As of this writing, I don’t know the answers to all of these questions…so we’re going to walk down this path and learn together. Perhaps our best starting point is to have the same request the first disciples had
Lord, teach us to pray.