Last week, we talked about God inviting us into His presence and how He is more than willing and able to hear and answer our prayers.
Today, we going to look at how to pray, how to talk to God. You may think, we already know how to do that. But sometimes, especially if we haven’t done it for a while, we struggle with getting back into it or even if you do pray regularly, you may find yourself struggling from time to time with what to say. Now I’m not going to teach you fancy words to use or a ritual kind of prayer to recite. Instead, God wants our prayers to be genuine, authentic and personal. Remember last week, when I mentioned intimacy with God? It sounds great, right? But how do we get there?
One thing I can for sure tell you is that our spirits, like our bodies, have requirements for health and growth. They need exercise too. It’s not always easy developing good spiritual habits, but I can assure you, that those Christians who don’t develop strong spiritual habits, pay a much higher price in this life than they ever need to.
There unfortunately is no magic wand that I wave over you to give you a strong spiritual life. It’s going to take some work. You’ll need to focus and commit. If you want to experience God’s presence in your life, you’re going to have to form some habits that will invite Him to show up, but even more so help you to believe and have confidence that’s He’s already there, ready for you, just waiting for you to knock so He can open the door. (Matthew 7:7)
Today, I want to give you time tested tips and biblical information about how to pray in a way that is real intimacy between you and God, your Father. Because when we make a habit of prayer, what we’re actually doing is staying constantly tuned into God’s presence, and therefore open to His blessings and guidance.
So, how do we make prayer a habit? Jesus laid out a few principles, but before we get into that, I want to offer you two warnings:
- First, if you are one who loves lists me – you take notes during talks, you underline when you read and you already practice a rigorous spiritual regimen – before you lengthen your list of spiritual duties, pause for a moment. Do you really need more habits, or could it be that you simply need to practice greater effectiveness with the ones you already have?
I don’t want you to get stuck in a long list of requirements that serve only to squeeze the vitality, spontaneity (spon tuh nee uh tee), and adventure out of faith and life. List lovers like me, need to remember the advice Galatians 5:1 offers: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
- And secondly, this is for the people who do the opposite. Don’t let the decision to make a prayer habit be negotiable, and think, “I don’t need structure or rigorous habits to make my heart grow. I’ll just play it by ear, go with the flow, and to see what happens.”
Christ followers cannot grow without structure and intentional effort any more than people can lose weight and strengthen their muscles by sitting on the couch and eating potato chips.
If a goal is really important to you, you have to discipline yourself in order to achieve it. You have to make it a priority. You have to decide in advance that practicing to meet this goal is non-negotiable. Otherwise, you can count on the fact that you will bail out somewhere along the way.
Let’s think about exercising, and let’s be honest – how many days a week do I really want to do it? Not today, that’s for sure! It’s raining out. I have work to do. I’m tired. My couch is calling my name. My excuses are endless.
If we are not careful, prayer is the same way. When we get serious about wanting a solid prayer life, we have to make a decision and stick with it! Decide that you will learn the disciplines that are necessary and practice them. And when you fall, get back up and keep going. And I know that no discipline will, in and of itself, create an intimate relationship with God. But neither will doing it on the fly.
How Did Jesus Pray
To learn the heart-building habits of prayer – the practices that lead to a genuine relationship with God – we need to look at the world’s greatest expert in prayer, Jesus. No one has ever understood prayer better, no one has ever believed more strongly in the power of prayer, and no one has ever prayed with as much dedication and frequency as He did.
His disciples recognized His expertise. One day, they stumbled on Jesus praying privately and were so moved by His intensity that when He got up from His knees, one of them timidly asked, “Would you teach us to pray like that?”
It wasn’t because they heard Him use big fancy words and they wanted to learn how to use the pretty words too – or even learn the meaning of them – nor was it His dramatic gestures that looked so attractive.
It was because even from a distance, they could see this intimate fellowship happening between Jesus and His Father, so rich and so real that they couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t relate to the Father like that.
“Teach us” they said, “Jesus teach us.” Because they knew that compared to their Master, they were like first graders in the school of prayer. So hearing the disciple’s plea, Jesus seized a teachable moment. This is what he said….
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
No other passage in scripture reveals in such a straightforward way how to pray:
And the good news is that this advice on how to pray, that Jesus gave the disciples over 2,000 years ago, still applies to today. So let’s look a little closer at it.
- Pray regularly. “When” you pray Jesus said…not IF you pray. He’s expecting us to do it. Most may not want to say this out loud, but if we’re honest, a big reason we don’t pray regularly is because we think we just don’t have time for it. But it’s always fascinating to discover what we do make time for – sports, our yards, the TV, our hobbies.
My point is, when we’re serious about something, we always make room for it in our schedules. Why? Because we make it a priority. So if prayer is important to you, then you’ll make it a priority too and the time to do it.
And if establishing a regular prayer time is important, so is designating a regular prayer place.
- Jesus said, Pray privately. God is not impressed by public display of devotion.
Instead He wants us to create a quiet place, somewhere you can shut the door. A closet, laundry room, the front seat of your car, the barn – so long as the surroundings are quiet. No distractions.
Most people find distractions deadly when it comes to making a connection with God. Almost any kind of noise can make me lose my concentration during prayer – voices, music, a ringing phone, the TV, a bug flying around your head.
Jesus knows how are minds are put together and advises, “Don’t bother fighting distractions because you’ll lose. Just avoid as much of them as you can. Find a quiet place without interruptions.”
And the place you choose may be more important than you think. When you establish a time and a place, it becomes integrated into the rhythm of your life, a routine, part of your every day. And over time you will look forward to going there at that specific time.
Go there during the best part of your day – morning, noon or night. Whatever time you feel most alert. But once you identify such a place and use it regularly, a kind of aura surrounds it. Your prayer room, even if it’s a laundry room in your basement, becomes to you what the Garden of Geth-sem-a-ne became to Jesus – a holy place, the place where God meets with you.
- Pray sincerely. Not only did Jesus tell his disciples to pray regularly and privately, He also told them to pray sincerely. “Do not keep on babbling.” So in other words, don’t just say a bunch of stuff that doesn’t make any sense, not even to you. If we would stop and listen to our own prayers, we might be surprised at how much “babbling” we do.
God is not interested in formulas or clichés or meaningless repetition. Certain phrases sound so spiritual that many people don’t even know what they are saying. Nor does God want us to pile up impressive words or use words without thinking about their meaning.
He wants us to talk to Him as to a friend or father – authentically, personally, earnestly. He wants to hear what is in our hearts. Psalm 62:8 “Pour out your hearts to him.”
And may I just say, be careful of two phrases we can get suck on using. Something a lot us simply say, meaning well by it is:
a. “Please be with me….be with me on this job interview, at the doctor’s office, on this trip.” When you first hear it, the request sounds holy and okay. But unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense. Why are we asking God to do what He is already doing.
a.i. Matthew 28:20 – Jesus says, “Surely I am with you always”
a.ii. Hebrews 13:5 – Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
We don’t need to ask God to be with us if we are members of His family. He’s already here. Instead, what we could pray for is for us to be aware of His presence and that we have confidence because of it.
b. Also be careful of the word “just”. We use it as a filler word, but it can minimalize what God can do.
I think we sometimes use it because we just don’t know what to say. Tell Him what’s on your mind, “Lord, this is how I’m feeling today. I’ve been thinking about this recently. I’m worried about this. I’m depressed about that. I’m happy about this.” Talk to the Father as if He’s a real being, genuinely, sincerely. Which leads to the next one.
- Pray specifically. Jesus also counseled His disciple to pray specifically. He showed them what He meant by giving them a model prayer. We know it today as The Lord’s Prayer.
a. Our Father – Never forget that you are praying to a Father who couldn’t love you more than He already does.
b. Who art in heaven – Is a reminder that God is sovereign, majestic and all-powerful. He’s bigger than any problem you could bring to Him.
c. Hallowed be thy name – Don’t let your prayers turn into a wish list for Santa Claus. Worship God and praise Him when you come into prayer.
d. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Summit to God’s will putting it first in your life – in your marriage, family, career, ministry, money, body, relationships and church.
e. Give us this day our daily bread – This part is not just about food! Lay out all your concerns, whether big or small. If you need a miracle, ask for it with confidence.
f. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. – Be sure you’re not the obstacle. Confess your sins, receive forgiveness and live with a forgiving spirit towards others.
g. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. – Pray for protection from evil and victory over all temptations.
h. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. – End your prayer with more worship. Acknowledge that everything in heaven and on earth is God’s. Thank the Lord for caring about you and for making it possible for you to talk to Him through prayer.
i. Amen. – Let it be so.
The intent of the Lord’s Prayer was not to be something we just repeat every Sunday to make ourselves feel like we doing what’s right. In fact, Jesus warned us about that in verse 7.
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Instead He gave us this prayer as a pattern to suggest the elements that should be included in all of our prayers. Worship, remember, want God’s will, ask for our needs, ask for forgiveness and be thankful.
Too often we go through life without assessing what we’re doing and what it all means. If we approach prayer this way, we simple are not going to produce fruit in ourselves or beyond. We won’t grow.
So I encourage you to experiment with prayer. The key is to practice praying – and to practice regularly, privately, sincerely, and specifically.
Truly, if we are to live in God’s presence, we must shut out the world every once in a while so that we can clearly hear God’s voice, and God’s voice alone.