“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” -Luke 11:1 (NIV)
Generally, prayer is a special act of communication through which requests are made by one, of another. So, for example, in a courtroom lawyers “pray” judges to grant some requests. Such requests or petitions are usually offered in different settings to one who is perceived to be able to meet those needs. These special requests can be presented directly by the one in need, or on his behalf by another person. Depending on the setting where prayers are offered—courtroom, parliament, church, etc.—prayer can be offered for different reasons.
In every religion prayer—this special act of communication—forms a core part of worship. The requirements for the petitions to be granted vary, depending on the type of religion and the deity prayed to. But every genuine worshipper wants to get it right, and ensure that when praying to his god, he is doing so in an acceptable manner. Sometimes, priests and diviners in different religions function as intermediaries for this purpose, and communicate guidelines from the deities to their worshippers on how best to pray to the gods.
In Christianity, prayer is a not merely an integral part of worship, but is actually a relationship with God the Creator. Prayer reveals the bond between the believer and his God and may even convey the terms of that relationship. This is why Jesus taught Christians how to pray. In Matthew 6:5-13, Christ established best practices, and used specific examples to emphasise His points. This prayer is today known as the “Model Prayer” or the “Lord’s Prayer.”
The Model Prayer
There is much controversy in Christianity over how to pray. For instance, some think that you need to be positioned a certain way before prayers can be acceptable. But we know that there is no one correct posture for prayer, for the Bible gives us a snapshot of people who prayed on their knees – 1 Kings 8:54, bowing – Exodus 4:31, on their faces before God – 2 Chronicles 20:18; Matthew 26:39, and standing – 1 Kings 8:22. It is even possible to pray with eyes opened or closed, quietly or loudly—what matters is a posture that facilitates maximum concentration and the least distraction.
There are also other controversies ranging from the right name of God to use to pray, what special words to use, how frequently to use them, which intermediary or intercessor, the loudness or volume of one’s voice in prayer, etc. But Jesus’ Model Prayer debunks all esoteric molds that are wont to shroud the subject of Christian prayer, and teach guidelines that address all controversies so that Christians can enjoy prayer.
What makes this Model Prayer most fascinating is that it was Jesus Himself who taught it. He gave the promise: “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” – John 14:14. How beautiful then that the One to ask for things through prayer is also the One who has taught us how to do the asking! This is far superior to what any intermediary, however good or well-meaning, can teach.
There are many reasons why Christians need to pray earnestly to God. Let us briefly look at a few of these:
1. Prayer is a tool that is needed by the one praying, and not the One we pray to. For this reason, Jesus commands us in Matthew 7:7 to “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
As D.L. Moody describes: “Prayer does not mean that I am to bring God down to my thoughts and my purposes, and bend his government according to my foolish, silly, and sometimes sinful notions. Prayer means that I am to be raised up into feeling, into union and design with Him; that I am to enter into His counsel and carry out His purpose fully.”
2. Jesus explained that we need prayer as a shield against the devil’s snares: “Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!“ – Matthew 26:41.
3. Prayer strengthens our persistence which in turn strengthens our faith in God. Hence, Jesus told His disciples that they “ought always to pray and not lose heart.” –Luke 18:1.
4. Prayer strengthens the bond between us and God. The act of praying to God, and in His name is one that deepens the bonds between us. Jesus asked: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11. This process of asking, responding, and accepting the response, though we might not understand or appreciate at the time, helps to strengthen the relationship in ways that singing, Bible study, and other disciplines of Christianity cannot accomplish.
5. Prayer strengthens the bond between us and other believers. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” – Ephesians 6:18. James added: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” – James 5:16. This is why Charles Spurgeon said that “a prayerless church member is a hindrance. He is in the body like a rotting bone or a decayed tooth. Before long, since he does not contribute to the benefit of his brethren, he will become a danger and a sorrow to them. Neglect of private prayer is the locust which devours the strength of the church.”
What to Pray?
The content of prayer is one that has many Christians in a bind. Jesus warned us not to make ‘much ado about nothing.’ He said: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” – Matthew 6:7-8.
The use of “empty phrases” and “many words” is emphasized here. Neither of the two guarantees answers to prayers, otherwise stammerers, those without eloquence and oratorical skills, and many of those without formal schooling in certain languages will have no hope. If Jesus died for all men, and has placed no restriction on whosoever believes in Him, why would He then restrict the prayers of those who pray to Him because of their inability to use words in a certain way? That is not at all the case, hence Jesus’ emphatic warning, “Do not be like them,” that is, those who rely on “empty phrases” and “many words.”
Solomon also lends his voice to the same caution: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” – Ecclesiastes 5:2
But Christ did not end at just the use of “empty phrases” and “many words.” He reminds us that God, the Father, knows what we need even before we ask Him in our prayers, so there’s no need for words or phrases calculated to flatter, cajole, or confuse Him into granting what we need. After all, we are not presenting something unknown to Him. He not only knows our needs, but He knows when they should be provided and in what quantity.
Sometimes, people serve food on their plates based on how hungry they think they are. Then midway they get full and cannot finish what is still heaped on their plates. There is no room for that with God. He knows what, when, and how much we need. He will therefore not be stampeded into action by us. This is why the apostle Paul counselled later that we should be calm and not fuss about our requests: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6.
When to Pray?
There is no good or bad time to pray; anytime—morning, noon, evening, night is fine.
Apostle Paul said: “Pray without ceasing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17. David said: “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” – Psalm 5:3. He added: “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and He hears my voice.” – Psalm 55:17. Daniel: “got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” – Daniel 6:10. And it is said of Jesus, that “he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” – Luke 6:12.
Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. – Proverbs 4:14-17