In general, I find that we Christians are 1) quick to recognize that we are weak in prayer and 2) glad to learn more about prayer.
We know quite well that prayer is incredibly important for our personal lives, but just how exactly do we go about conversation with the God of the universe?
On the one hand, we feel the challenge of 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “pray without ceasing.” On the other hand, we receive the comfort offered by Romans 8:26: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
As with all other things, we progress in prayer little by little by simply doing it. It is by praying that we become men and women of prayer.
Over the course of my Christian walk I have learned a few little tips. Here, I will share just one of them. My inspiration for this article comes from a little book by R. C. Sproul for kids The Barber Who Wanted to Pray (Crossway, 2011) and from the discipleship material The Journey (Life on Life Ministries, 2018).
Praying from the Lord’s Prayer
Perhaps, like me, you learned the Lord’s Prayer during childhood. At school we started the day reciting the Lord’s Prayer and singing O Canada. I would not say that this practice yielded no fruit (at least I learned the words of the prayer by heart), but neither would I say that I grew overmuch in the practice of prayer by that semi-mechanic activity.
In any case, it is well to note that it is the Lord Jesus Himself who gave us this simple prayer:
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 do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
(Matthew 6:9-13 ; see also Luke 11:2-4)
So, how can we use this prayer to inspire our own prayers? Notice that there is a difference between praying the words of the prayer and praying from the words of the prayer.
In the story The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, Peter the barber asks the reformer Martin Luther how to pray. Luther then explains a simple manner of prayer based on the Lord’s Prayer. Peter does not quite understand:
“Do you mean that it is enough for me to pray the Lord’s Prayer every night?”
“No,” Luther responded, “That is not what I’m trying to say. It is well and good to pray the Lord’s Prayer. However, when I say to pray from the Lord’s Prayer, this is what I mean. To begin, think about the first words of this prayer: “Our Father who is in Heaven, hallowed be Your name.” As you are contemplating these words, let your spirit and your heart stop over the meaning of these words, and let them add depth to your prayer. Recite the first words of the Lord’s Prayer and pray in this way:
O God, I have difficulty believing that you really desire to be my heavenly Father. In my familly, I have a father whom I love very much. Yet You are the Father of all those who believe in Jesus. Since Jesus is Your Son and since, through Him, You have adopted us into Your family, we are able to speak with you as with our Father. We know well that You do not dwell in our village, but that You dwell in heaven. You are not our earthly father. You are our heavenly Father. You are the One to whom the whole world belongs. It is extraordinary: everything belongs to you and yet, I can address you in my prayers just as I would talk to my father.”…
Professor Luther said to Peter:
“So? Do you understand what I mean by praying from the Lord’s Prayer? You can pray from the words of the Lord’s Prayer every day without ever saying the same thing twice. Think about a single sentence of this prayer, concentrate on it, and you will start to pray with more enthusiasm and joy.”1
By this example, we see that the Lord’s Prayer does not merely contain words to recite, but rather a model for prayer. It contains the important themes that should inspire a large portion of our prayers.
Five themes in the Lord’s Prayer
It would no doubt be possible to identify a large variety of pertinent points in the Lord’s Prayer, and I encourage you to explore the possibilities on your own during your own prayer times.
Here, I will follow the material from The Journey,2 which focuses on five themes:
1. God’s Glory
“Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”
It is well to start the prayer off by thinking about God Himself, by acknowledging Him as Father, and by being blown away by His surpassing holiness. This prayer directs us toward God from the beginning and it demands that we put our Father’s glory ahead of our own. We can be struck by the miracle that this holy and powerful God has so loved us that He has desired to be our Father.
2. God’s Kingdom
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
An important part of the disciple’s journey is to understand that God is Master of all things and that our priorities must be transformed so as to align with the priorities of the great King. We are a part of His story, and not He of ours.
Are we obedient to His will for us as individuals, families, and churches? Do we have our eyes wide open to better see what God is doing in us and in our communities? How can we participate in the great work to which God is inviting us?
3. God’s Provision
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
Do we trust God? Our Father has promised to take care of us (Matt 6:25-34). We can express our trust in God and also ask God to provide everything that we need. We can also express our thanks for the numerous times in which He has already taken care of us, which is yet another way of glorifying our God (Ps 50:23).
4. God’s Forgiveness
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Our relationship with God is based on forgiveness. Jesus died for us and, thanks to His sacrifice, we are forgiven. This is yet another opportunity to demonstrate our gratefulness. Moreover, every day is a new opportunity to draw near to God, to recognize that we are sinners, and to receive His remarkable forgiveness, which we could never have merited on our own.
Notice also how our relationship with God is linked to our relationship with those who are around us: “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt 6:15). This is an opportunity to think of others, of the wrongs that they have committed, and to forgive them.
5. God’s Power
“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
It is God alone who protects us, God alone who is able to perfect the work that He has begun in us (Phil 1:6). If God allows us to be tempted, He does not test us beyond our capacities, but also provides a way out (1 Cor 10:13).
We can recognize that we are in His hands and also ask Him to transform our desires more and more so that they may be according to His will for us (see Rom 12:1-2; Eph 4:23). We can also ask Him to give us His peace (Phil 4:7), His joy (John 16:24; Gal 5.22), and His wisdom (James 1:5).
The Lord’s Prayer is a model for our own prayers. It shows us how to turn our prayers away from our small, self-centered thoughts so that we may contemplate the glory of our heavenly Father and the love of our neighbour. The more that we read the Bible, the more this prayer is opened up to us with a richer vocabulary and a vaster inventory of themes.
So go for it, start by learning the Lord’s Prayer and then learn to pray from the Lord’s Prayer. It is the Lord Jesus Himself who gave us this model.
This article is a translation from French. The original article first appeared on the SOLA – Coalition pour l’Évangile website.