How do you pray? Do you repeat memorized text by rote or do you read prayers out of a book? Do you use flowery language when you pray or do you pray the way you normally talk? Do you pray in Jesus’ name? Do you end with a hearty “Amen”? Do you only pray at church or do you pray over your meals or in your morning devotionals or at some other specified time?
Prayer is one of those things that Christians talk about a lot, but I’m not sure if that many people do it. And I’m not sure any of us really take it as seriously as God intended.
Today’s passage is Matthew 6:5-13.
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.
This passage comes out of one of Jesus’ most famous sermons, the Sermon on the Mount, which you can read for yourself in Matthew 5-7. The second part of this passage is more commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, and I’ve been in churches where everyone stands and recites the Lord’s Prayer, although usually that tradition takes place in churches that use a different translation.
It’s not that reciting the Lord’s Prayer is wrong. It’s a great tradition. But it was never meant to be a prayer repeated. The Lord’s Prayer is a guide, a template for what our prayer should look like. So if you’ve ever wondered how you’re supposed to pray, Jesus already explained it.
The Lord has been teaching me a lot this year, especially about how to let go of things. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m a control freak, and worrying and anxiety tend to follow control freaks around. It’s so easy to worry about things you can’t control, which is ironic because worrying doesn’t give you any more control over a situation. It just lets you feel like you’re doing something about it, even if that’s only turning your hair gray.
I caught myself a few months ago when I was worrying about something. I thought to myself: “The only thing I can do is pray.”
Why do we wait to get to that point? The only thing I can do is pray? Guess what, folks? The best thing you can do is pray. I don’t know about any of you, but I have this weird issue where I’ll pray about something but I still try to take care of everything on my own. And don’t get me wrong. Sometimes that’s good. If you have the ability to change a situation and what you feel led to do agrees with Scripture, you should do it. But what about those times when you can’t do anything? What about those times when you can’t fix it? Why do pace the floor and fret before pray about it? Why do pray about it and then go back to pacing the floor?
Has anyone else been there?
This month, I want to study what prayer is because I want to remember why it’s important for me. And I want to get to the place where I stop worrying and fretting and pulling my hair out and putting my stomach in knots, even though I’ve already “given to God.” And the first fact about prayer that everybody needs to know is that it’s not some mystical, ethereal, fuzzy, emotional experience of faith. Prayer is talking to God.
If you want to recite verses, go for it. If you want to read out of a book, that’s fine. But how many friends do you have who you communicate with that way? My friend in England would worry about my sanity if all she received from me was a bunch of cute little rhyming stanzas. My paramedic friend would probably try to put me in her ambulance if the only words she got from me were written by someone else 100 years ago. Is that how you communicate with your friends?
No. Not if you want your friendship to last. If you’re talking to your friend, you just talk. You tell them what’s going on in your life. You tell them how you’re hurting. You tell them what you’re worried about. You tell them how they can help you. You tell them that you love them. You tell them that they’ve made a difference to you. You tell them they’ve made you a better person. You’re real with them. You don’t use language that’s not normal for you. You don’t use someone else’s words; you use your words. Otherwise, it’s not you.
So if you want to know what prayer is, it’s having a conversation with God. And if you’ve never done that, I recommend it. If you’re a follower of Christ, you have a unique opportunity to go into the presence of God and just talk to Him. Do we get that? Do we grasp how awesome that is? I cry just thinking about it.
So don’t throw away your liturgy or your cute little prayers about food or sleeping or whatever. Those are fine. Those are great traditions. But don’t let your traditions become more important than your relationship with God. If all you say to Him was written by someone else or is muddled by confusing language that you don’t even understand, you’ve missed the point. God already knows what you’re going to say, but the beauty about a friendship is that when you open your heart to someone who loves you unconditionally, you grow.
God already knows what you need. You aren’t going to surprise Him or shock Him or frighten Him. Just talk to Him. Talk to Him like He’s standing right next to you, and even though you aren’t going to tell Him anything He doesn’t already know, the act of your saying it out loud will change you.