So you ask, "OK, but how do I pray?" The absolute "gold standard" of prayer can be found in Matthew 6:9-11.
It is more often known as the Lord's prayer. You should familiarize yourself with the Lord's prayer. Don't just recite it from rote memory. Really meditate on what it is saying. This is the most perfect model of how to pray. Look carefully: there are 6 requests; the first 3 concern God and His honor and the last 3 concern our own physical and spiritual needs.
Breaking it down, consider: Our Father in heaven. The creator of us, the angels, the heavens, and the universe. He is not just some distant God. He is our Father and we can approach Him as such. The beauty of this is that my sinfulness will never invalidate my claim of Him as my Father just like a child's disobedience does not invalidate his relationship to the parent.
Hallowed be your name. Hallowed simply means holy or to be set apart or revered. We should remind ourselves that it is a privilege that the breath of life He breathed into our bodies is allowed to call upon His sacred name. Don't bring God's name or character down to a common level.
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We are to pray that His kingdom will come quickly and that in all things His will (not ours) is our desire and we agree by willful submission through prayer that it ought to be done this way.
Give us today our daily bread. I think this would be a great title for a book that should be released around Christmastime. This verse is the part of the prayer where God invites us to pray for our needs. But since we just uttered that we want His will to be done, be willing for the Lord to reclassify your "needs" to the "wants" category if He sees fit. How much can you eat, literally and figuratively, in one day? We should not be acquiring more than is truly needed because it hinders not only our ability to trust Him fully as the provider, but too much "stuff" takes our focus off of Him.Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Do you realize what a debt you owe to God? We ask that He not count our sin against us and He does not! He has redeemed us by the blood of Jesus and no longer counts our sin as a debt against us. We too, must forgive. If we do not forgive others, the Father will not forgive us (v.14).
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. We must not rely on our own judgment, but rely on God's provision and Grace to keep us out of the plans of Satan.
For your is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen. Basically, it's all about God, all the time. Amen just means, "Let it be so."
This is the way I look at this prayer and not as some religious poem to be recited mindlessly. As far as the mechanics of prayer, there are some things I've learned that may be helpful to keep in mind.
- I fully believe that prayer originates from God. Yes, there are things we pray for that we believe originated from a particular need of ours, but I believe He initiates it and we respond. He desires to fulfill a need and puts the desire in our heart and is just waiting for us to respond in obedience so that when He meets the need, He gets all the credit and all the Glory. Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." This is not to be interpreted as, "I really love God and I really want a porsche so it says right here He'll give it to me." How about reading it as: when you seek first His kingdom and you desire to delight in Him, He will put into your heart the desires you should have.
- I also learned that a good litmus test of whether something I'm praying about originated from Him or from me is this: Do I have to keep "fanning the flame" to keep the prayer alive or does it stay aflame on its own? I'll give you an example. I prayed for something for over 20 years before it came to pass. I couldn't explain why I had such a deep desire for this particular thing to come to pass. There was no way that the answer could happen by normal physical means. The desire for what I prayed was so strong that at one point I begged the Lord to take it away if it wasn't from Him! I saw no way that it would be answered. In His perfect timing He brought it to pass in a way I never thought possible. But, I did not have to keep bringing it up. The desire forced itself to the forefront of my prayers with great frequency I never had to remind myself to pray for it.
- There are many decisions in our lives that need to be made that aren't clearly spelled out in the scriptures such as, should you take a new job in this state or that state? Follow the principles laid out in the Bible and keep in mind Proverbs 16:9, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Don't be paralyzed by indecision. If you have prayed and your decision does not violate principles in the Bible, then proceed with your decision and pray that the Lord will stop you if it's not His will.
There are many books available which may guide you in developing a deeper prayer life, but make sure they are Biblically sound. Kay Arthur writes some fabulous books like, "Lord, teach Me to Pray." She is just one of several respected Bible teachers.
This post became rather long, so I will post suggestions about how to keep track of what you are praying for in the next post.