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Dec 02 2009

Teach us to Pray

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I was browsing a Christian book store and came across prayer books. In these books are prayers we can recite. There are examples of prayers for all different types of situations. Many churches have prayer books that the congregants will pray out loud in unison. Prayer is a dialogue with God, a worshipful dialogue with God. A “repeat after me” is not a dialogue with God. Jesus had this to say about prayer: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6 (ESV) It is an intimate dialogue between the Christian and God. When we pray together corporately, again it is a worshipful dialogue between us and our Redeemer. Pulling out a book and reading what someone else wrote that we should say to God is reading from a script.

I have been in congregations where we have been instructed to open up to page __ in a prayer book and we all recite it out loud together. This is nothing more than reading back to God what someone else wrote that we should say to God.

Jesus’ disciples apparently had trouble as well for they asked Him to teach them to pray. Jesus then recited what is known as the “Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus did not give them this prayer as something to repeat but as a template on how to pray. It represents how they are to approach God for their needs and protection. I am sure most of us have the King James Version of the Lord’s Prayer memorized.

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Jesus did not offer this as something to repeat by rote. In fact, Jesus stated that we are not to babble repetitiously (Matthew 6:7). He instructs that we are to enter our “closet” (a private spot), close the door and pray to God.

The first part of the Lord’s Prayer is centered on God and God alone.

1. Call upon the God, “Our Father” is to call upon Him with reverence.

2. We acknowledge that while He is everywhere, He dwells in Heaven.

3. We acknowledge that His name is Hallowed (Holy).

4. We petition that the Kingdom comes is asking that God’s kingdom be increased, the hope for the full manifestation of God’s rule, that His will be done here as it is in Heaven.

5. Here we start petitioning for ourselves (Give us this day our daily bread). This is not meant to mean “bread” but our daily needs. It can be anything from the salvation of our loved ones to our daily needs.

6. We ask that God forgive us our trespasses. We do not repeat “forgive us our trespasses” and move on but we confess and ask for forgiveness. It is also a reminder that if we are asking God to forgive us our sins, we also should forgive those that sinned against us as we have against Him.

7. We ask not to be led into temptation. Many misunderstand the Greek word that we translate into temptation. It means to put to the test. When God is the agent, it is never for the purpose of causing us to fall but to teach or to prove. On the other hand, when Satan tempts, it is for the purpose soliciting someone to sin, to fall.

8. “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” This last part is not found in all manuscripts. In translation, some translations do not include it because the manuscript does not have it. (Differences in manuscripts are known as variances. We do not have the original and only have various manuscripts. No variance in any manuscript affects doctrine.)

Repeating a prayer that we read out of a prayer book is not speaking to God but repeating the words belonging to someone else. Even repeating the Lord’s prayer is not praying to God for Jesus gave this as a template in how we are to approach Our Father not something to repeat. We spend the first part of prayer acknowledging God, His holiness, worshipping Him. Then Jesus teaches that we approach Him for our personal petitions.

Jesus was not giving us words to repeat but teaching us how to pray. That was the request of His disciples and He taught them HOW they should pray, not words to repeat. Prayer is an act of faith and worship. A Christian’s prayer first praises God, seeks His will, our daily provisions and needs and mercy. This is not mere words but words that are coming from the Christian’s heart. Unless a Christian’s prayer comes from a sincere heart, the prayer is nothing more than meaningless babble.

What is in the Christian’s heart cannot be found in a book to be recited back to God.


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  1. Margaret


    What a good reminder….. What I think is especially sad is that many churches only use a “canned” prayer….. That habit may give many in the congregation the perception that only these “canned” prayers are good enough to pray….. So, if there is a personal situation in which prayer is needed, someone might sadly say, “But, I don’t know how to pray.”….. Kinda like the disciples’ problem….. They, too, might have only been taught rote prayers to the point of not knowing how to talk to God in praise, worship, and petition.

    Thank you for sharing this.


  2. Tishrei

    I like the terminology that you used “canned” prayers. It’s not personal. The Jewish people have prayer books and that is probably why they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. I think within the body, not knowing how to pray is probably a bit more prevalent than we think. I would love to see churches spend time giving sermons on what prayer is.

  3. Loren

    Excellent post, great points!

    It’s kind of funny because night before last I was in Wal-Mart doing some Christmas shopping and was looking over some of the books in the “Inspiration” section. I cannot remember the title of this certain book, but it had a picture of the Bread and Wine of the Lord’s Supper on the front cover. I picked it up, flipped it over, and started reading what was on the back cover:

    “Everyone KNOWS that the priest must get all of the words of the prayer completely correct during the Eucharist…”

    I confess that I read no farther. I thought, “Wow, is that REALLY what some believe is the crucial part: that the one who administers the Eucharist (Communion, Lord’s Supper) has to get the words of the prayer completely right?” Do they feel that if their clergy stutters or misspeaks a word, then the whole ceremony is ruined? Is God listening like an impatient schoolteacher, just waiting for the priest to make a blunder that He can chide him for? Talk about focusing on the wrong thing.

    I can only speak from my own experience, but the most effective prayers that I have ever had were the ones when I dropped my pretenses, abandoned any flowery language, and cried out in desperation as Simon Peter did, “Lord Jesus, save me!” (Matt. 14:30). I have learned that my own prayers seem to avail me very little until I get to a place of honesty and pray from my own heart.

    Great post, Tishrei, thanks!

    1. Margaret


      I can feel your horror when reading the back cover of that book….. It’s unbelievable how many believe just that sort of thing — not to mention a whole long list of unmentionables….. One can only pray real prayers for them.


  4. Tishrei

    That’s exactly it Loren — when we drop all pretenses, leave out the flowery language (as if that impresses Him, LOL), and come to Him as a little child, then our prayers are most effective. You nailed it!

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