Over the course of my walk as a Christian man, one of the things I’ve struggled with the most is praying in public. I can wander through the corridors of my mind with God nearly endlessly if I’m passionate enough about something to want to talk to Him about it, but when it comes time for that evening meal or to offer up some little thing to say in some other group setting, I find myself reaching for the words to say to make my prayer meaningful.
Fortunately, one of the greatest gifts of the Bible is the format that Jesus gave us to follow in Matthew 6:9-14. Traditionally known as “The Lord’s Prayer”, it on the surface appears to be a simple little recitation that we can repeat when we want to offer an honest, genuine prayer to God to remind ourselves of who He is and what He wants from us. If you learn to pray in no other way, you can be sure that at the very least if you say these words with honest conviction, you are saying things that are pleasing to God.
Of course, most of us would have a hard time saying these same words over and over, day after day, and still hold onto the real meaning of the words and the serious conviction that the prayer is meant to draw out of us. We human beings become bored quite easily, and it is necessary for us to have something that is fresh and new to grab our attention. Eventually, we stray away from this format because it starts to sound hollow when we don’t feel the same way we once did about it.
The point of the Lord’s Prayer is not to be a single prayer that we repeat every day, however, and it is important that we understand its true purpose as a template for our prayers rather than something we rely on to give us words to say. While I don’t have the access to my copy of the book right now, most of what I’m about to lay out comes from “Becoming a Man of Prayer” by Bob Beltz. I highly encourage you to seek the book out for a more detailed look at this effective way of getting your prayer life together.
I do still struggle with my prayers, but only when I get lost in my own way and forget this amazing tool that the Holy Spirit has given us to offer up prayers that are pleasing to the Lord. The Lord’s Prayer provides a format that forces us to approach God in a way that is appropriate to the kind of relationship we are supposed to have with Him, and organizes what we want to say to God into several easily compartmentalized sections. We’ll go through each of them now.
‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.’
This first part is critical for reminding us just exactly who it is we’re talking to. Many times, in our emotional distress, we completely forget that it isn’t our dad’s room we’re barging into looking for comfort. God is the ultimate being, and to approach Him with anything less than the utmost respect that we’re capable of automatically starts us off on the wrong foot in our prayer. Though you may want to have a more comfortable conversation with Jesus because we typically see Him as more approachable, you should always remember that Jesus is also God, and is worthy of the same respect that all the members of the trinity require.
As you begin your prayer, whether in private or aloud in a group, start out by reciting this part in your head and then using this sentiment to come up with your own version of it. It can be something as simple as “Father, you are such an amazing God and we are blessed that you chose to create us and take care of us. There is nothing that is beyond you and we are in such awe of your unlimited power”. Words such as these capture the essence of “hallowed by thy name”. Feel free to make up your own way of saying it.
‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’
The next portion shifts from how awesome God is into submitting ourselves to the fact that it is God who is in control of everything, not us. If we are not approaching Him with a sincere desire to not only find out what it is He wants, but also to be willing to do whatever it is He tells us we should be doing, then our prayer doesn’t really mean much. God isn’t here to to be a miracle dispenser whenever we feel lost or sad or in pain. He has something He wants us to do, and this is where we tell Him that we want to know what it is and that we’re willing to do it. The everyday version of this just needs to be a simple statement reaffirming that you understand that Jesus is Lord and you submit yourself to whatever it is that He wants you to do.
‘Give us this day our daily bread’
We all know and look forward to this one, mostly because this is the part where we get to ask God to provide us with whatever it is that we think that we need. Unfortunately, it isn’t so simple. The reality is that we must always keep the prior parts of the prayer in mind when we get to this section of our communion with God. Jumping forward with some kind of checklist of things you’ve decided you need isn’t submitting yourself to God, and it is treating Him like the miracle dispenser we talked about just a few sentences ago.
In order to appropriately ask God to provide for us, we must shift our perspective from what we want over to what God wants for us. While it is absolutely appropriate to ask for things you know God wants to give you, like food and shelter and other basic necessities, some other items might not be so clear. A promotion at your job? A companion for your life? That awesome vacation you’ve been waiting your whole life for? These probably aren’t the things that God has on His mind when it comes to your life.
We have to carefully pull out of those selfish kinds of requests and painfully ask God the question: what is it You want me to do? What are you doing around me that I’m supposed to be participating in? What blessings do You want to give me? It is only when we shift our requests from the things we want to asking God to give us what He wants that we have any chance of really seeing any kind of miracle in our life.
‘and forgive us our trespasses’
This is probably the hardest part of any prayer. While I’m not a Catholic, I understand the logic behind having some form of regular confession of sin before God. This part of the prayer is specifically included so that we have an opportunity to recognize in ourselves the sins that we have allowed ourselves to fall victim to and to ask God to help us repent of them. John 9:31 states that “God does not hear the prayers of sinners”, and while some interpret this to mean unbelievers, you should take it for certain that if you are willingly refusing to acknowledge your sin before God, He will not be taking your prayers seriously. He demands repentance.
Now this will obviously be handled differently for different situations. If you are in a public setting, itemizing your list of sins in front of a group of people probably isn’t appropriate in most settings. If you’re praying with your family for a meal, simply asking God to forgive any sins your family members might have committed is probably enough. In private, however, it’s important to seriously search your own soul and individually address each of your sins and ask God to forgive you for them, and to help you not repeat them.
‘as we forgive those who trespass against us’
Another sin we tend not to recognize is the fact the hypocrisy of unforgiveness in our own hearts. The reason that this part is included in the prayer is to remind us that God places the highest priority on relationships, not only with Him but also with our fellow man. The primary sin of pride is what causes us to harbor unforgiveness in our hearts, and an inability to let go of our anger toward someone is far more dangerous to us than we tend to think. In your private prayers, it’s important to ensure that you are not holding on to grudges against people.
‘and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’
The world is full of temptation, and every single drop of it comes from one source: Satan. Many versions of the prayer omits “evil one”, but it’s important to remember that Satan is a real person who is on an obsessive mission to turn you away from God. We close our prayer time asking the Father to provide us the protection we need to go back out into the world and face all of the obstacles that are placed in front of us by an enemy we just aren’t strong enough to face on our own. It is critically important to not trivialize this part as evil in general, but as an active and intelligent force who is waiting every moment of our lives for us to trip and fall.
Obviously, your version of the Lord’s Prayer is going to look different from anything I might say for myself or my family. Your situation is unique, and your words will be yours. The point of this post is to share the idea that we have been given a standard template that we can use to organize our prayers in a way that is pleasing to God and makes it so that we are able to communicate with him in the proper way. If you follow the format, you’re much more likely to have a real experience because you’re much more likely to be saying the things that God wants you to say.
Try it out in your personal time and see how much better your prayers become.
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