Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:9-15, Proverbs 30:8, Luke 11:2-4, James 1:13-15, 1 Peter 1:3-9
If we stacked the books, commentaries, and sermons that have been written about the Lord’s Prayer together, we might be able to build a bridge long enough to get us to the hillside where Christ first taught us how to pray. Our fascination with this segment of the Sermon on the Mount seems surprisingly obvious:
We don’t know how to pray.
I’ve been a follower of Christ for more than two decades. By God’s grace, I’ve grown leaps and bounds in my understanding of His Word and my grasp of my role in the Body of Christ. But when it comes to prayer, I still get the feeling that I’m somehow doing it wrong. Turns out, I’m in good company.
It was after the Sermon on the Mount that the disciples begged, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Jesus patiently repeated the model He’d already given them. Even if we’ve read, meditated on, and listened to commentary about the Lord’s Prayer a zillion times, Jesus’ words remain worth considering. (Take a moment to look at them again now in Matthew 6:9-13.) When my own prayers feel clunky or inefficient, these words of Jesus’ jog my memory about a few things.
First, prayer is not solely about me and my desires. It is first and foremost about God and His glory. If we rewind the Sermon on the Mount tapes just a smidge, we see that before Jesus taught us how to pray, He taught us how not to. He warned us not to pray fancy words in the hopes of being applauded by an audience of onlookers (Matthew 6:1-6). Prayer is not a tool we can use to bend the spotlight toward ourselves. Instead, Jesus’ model prayer opens with a list of “yours” that focus on the Father:
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done.
My prayers get off course because too often my heart is postured to think about my reputation, my little kingdom, and how I can convince God that my will needs to be done. But those things don’t get kicked to the curb entirely. The second half of the Lord’s prayer pivots to “us” beautifully.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts.
Lead us not into temptation.
Deliver us from evil.
Of the seven petitions given in the Lord’s Prayer, three are about God and four are about us. It’s the order of importance that is worth noting. God first, us second. It’s a pattern we should imitate in how we live, love, and pray.
Going over the Lord’s Prayer with a fine-toothed comb also reminds me that it’s okay to pray God’s words right back to Him. Many of Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Prayer nod to Old Testament passages and concepts (see 2 Chronicles 20:6; Proverbs 30:8; Psalm 71:4). Surely if the Word became flesh and quoted Himself, we can quote Him too.
Since prayer is a conversation of the heart, the goal is not rote memorization. Isn’t it possible to say the same things over and over and still mean them deeply? I told my husband and children I loved them this morning at the breakfast table. It’s the same script I’ve been reading for years, and I mean it now more than ever. When we don’t know how to pray, we can pray God’s Word, confident it never loses an ounce of its power.
From listeners on a hillside, to His disciples, to us, God invites us to lay down pretenses and performance and boldly approach Him through prayer. Lord, teach us to pray? Friends, He already has.
Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.