I have been preaching through the Lord’s Prayer at our church for the past few weeks. Jesus had a powerfully dynamic prayer life because in Luke 11:1–2 his disciples ask him a critical question: “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’” It’s interesting what they don’t ask Jesus. In the Gospels, we never see any of his disciples asking, “Jesus, teach us to do evangelism. Jesus, teach us to use our spiritual gifts. Jesus, teach us to perform miracles. Jesus, teach us to do more effective Bible study. Jesus, teach us how to do children’s ministry. Jesus, teach us how to run a youth group.” Now we don’t know if the disciples didn’t ask those questions, but the inspired Scripture records their specific request: Lord, teach us to pray!
Do you pray as often as you should? Do you genuinely know how to pray? Why is prayer such hard work? Here’s the reality: prayer does not come easy. It is not glamorous and exciting like attending a concert or hearing your favorite preacher. Prayer takes time, energy, and focus. Yet there is nothing more important than prayer. Martin Luther said that prayer “is the hardest work of all . . . labor above all labors since he who prays must wage a mighty warfare against the doubt and murmuring excited by the faintheartedness and unworthiness, we feel within us . . . There is no greater work than praying.” Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”
John Calvin defines prayer as “communication between God and us whereby we expound to him our desires, our joys, our sighs, in a word, all the thoughts of our hearts.” The LORD commands us throughout the Bible to pray as our Christian duty. Ephesians 6:18 tells us to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Philippians 4:6–7 also admonishes us “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” First Thessalonians 5:17 makes this obligation to pray very clear: “pray without ceasing.”
The Bible not only commands us to pray as our duty, but prayer is also an incredible privilege. Think about what prayer truly is. You have permission to enter the very throne room of Almighty God and worship him, ask him for things, and pour your heart out to him. The psalmists give us great insight into how desperate we should be for Christ as we cry out to him in prayer. Psalm 73:25–26: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 86:11–12: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones asserts, “Prayer is beyond any question the highest activity of the human soul. Man is at his greatest and highest when, upon his knees, he comes face-to-face with God.”
Let us consider two main observations about the Lord’s Prayer. First, the prayer’s brevity is surprising. The effectiveness of our praying is not in how long we pray, but in how earnestly and passionately we pray. We can use a lot of filler words that don’t mean anything. Think about how you may pray at times. Do you find yourself praying phrases like, “Lord, um, Father, bless so and so? Lord, um, just be with so and so. We thank you, Lord, um, just be with us.” We can use a lot of words that don’t mean much, and thereby, not pray effectively. We can often spout off Christian clichés and use theological jargon to impress others when we pray publicly.
Second, this is not a passionless prayer you recite mechanically. Jesus says, “Pray like this or in this manner.” He doesn’t say, “Pray this exact prayer by memory without any passion or meaning.” The Lord’s Prayer serves as a blueprint for how we should pray. We don’t merely recite this prayer in a rote manner where we say the words but don’t mean them. You can recite this prayer word-by-word and never really pray as if you can do it in a way that is mechanical and lifeless. Jesus gives us this model prayer so that we will pause before we pray and think about both how we are praying and for what we are praying so that we will consider that there is a certain attitude we must have when praying.
There is a specific order to our praying. There are requests we should be asking. We must not rush into prayer without thinking through why and how we are praying. This prayer is a template that helps guide our hearts and minds with purpose, direction, and strategy so that our praying is not mindless, ineffective, and empty. Thomas Brooks gives this encouragement: “God looks not at the elegancy of your prayers to see how neat they are; nor the geometry of your prayers to see how long they are . . . but at the sincerity of your prayers, how hearty they are . . . as God loves a broken and contrite heart.”
Lord, teach us to pray!!