The Essence of Prayer

Prayer is one of those perennial topics that, while conceptually simple, can also be practically daunting…especially for new Christians. Because while prayer is really nothing more than talking with God, we dare not forget that we’re talking with God…

So how are we supposed to pray? What should we pray for? How do we know if God hears our prayers? Are there things we can’t pray about? Well, not surprisingly, Jesus actually had quite a bit to say about prayer:

How should we pray?
  • “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. And when you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” (Matthew 6:5-7)
  • “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” (Mark 11:25)
What should we pray about?
  • “Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:28)
  • “So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (Matthew 9:38)
  • “But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail.” (Luke 22:32)
  • “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” (Luke 22:40)
How do we know if God hears our prayers?
  • ““And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)
  • “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.” (Luke 18:1)

These are some of the same questions that even the disciples apparently struggled with, which is why they appealed to Jesus on one occasion: “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1) In response to their request, Jesus gave them the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” which encapsulates the essence of His teaching on prayer. It’s a simple prayer that serves as a template for us to emulate in our own prayers, incorporating elements of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (or “A.C.T.S.”):

“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.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

Perhaps the most important principle of all, though, is epitomized in our Savior’s prayer on the eve of His crucifixion. As He is pleading with His Father to spare Him from His imminent suffering, He nonetheless subordinates His desire to His Father’s will:

“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus’ appeal helps us resolve the final question from the list above: are there things we should not pray about. For although the short answer is clearly “yes” (e.g. praying for things that clearly contradict God’s revealed will and commandments) sometimes it is difficult to know if what we want is “crossing a line”…or not. But as we can see from Jesus’ prayer, as long as we are genuinely willing to accept His answer—even if it is “no”—we can always ask our Father for the desires of our heart…

This attitude should be the hallmark of every Christian, after all, for although we are able to approach God as a loving Father, and Jesus refers to the disciples as His friends, we need to remember that—above all else—we are still talking to The Lord. And if even Jesus had to subordinate His own desires to His Father’s will, then how much more do we need to follow His example!

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