How to Pray

Prayer – spending time with God – was a vital part of Jesus ministry.  There are several mentions of him taking time apart to be with his Father.

Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray
James Tissot

So not surprisingly his disciples ask him for a master-class.

Luke 11:1-13

Prayer

11 When Jesus had finished praying, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his followers to pray.”

So Jesus told them, “Pray in this way:

‘Father, help us
    to honor your name.
Come and set up
    your kingdom.
Give us each day
    the food we need.
Forgive our sins,
as we forgive everyone
    who has done wrong to us.
And keep us
    from being tempted.’”

Then Jesus went on to say:

Suppose one of you goes to a friend in the middle of the night and says, “Let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine has dropped in, and I don’t have a thing for him to eat.” And suppose your friend answers, “Don’t bother me! The door is bolted, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up to give you something.”

He may not get up and give you the bread, just because you are his friend. But he will get up and give you as much as you need, simply because you are not ashamed to keep on asking.

So I tell you to ask and you will receive, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. 10 Everyone who asks will receive, everyone who searches will find, and the door will be opened for everyone who knocks. 11 Which one of you fathers would give your hungry child a snake if the child asked for a fish? 12 Which one of you would give your child a scorpion if the child asked for an egg? 13 As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks.

Jesus gives them several pointers on what their prayer should include:

  • That we honour God’s name in all that we do
  • That he come and set up his kingdom – in our lives, our hearts, our communities
  • That he give us the food we need to survive
  • That he forgive us our sins – whilst also recognising that we need to forgive the sins of those who have upset us (see this prayer needs time and space)
  • That we have the strength to walk away from all that tempts us away from God’s ways

Personally, I do think there’s more to praying than chewing God’s ear.  I think listening to what he has to say to us is just as, if not more, important.  Prayer generally is just us chatting things over with God.  Nothing more scary, nothing more grand.

And if I can be controversial (remember “all opinions are my own”!), I really don’t think Jesus meant us to parrot these same words every time we pray.  Yes I hear the point about losing yourself in the familiar, or having a framework – but I don’t think we need to use the exact words every time.  So often that becomes a race to get to the end, something said without feeling or out of habit, it more often than not feels like anything but prayer.  It is a useful pointer to the kind of things we should pray for, but I wonder if Jesus shudders at what we have turned it into.

What matters is that we pray.  We take the time and space for God to talk to us and us hear him, as we also tell him the things that are on our heart.

Lord,
I bring to you
the concerns of my heart,
my life,
this world.

Thank you that you are someone to share them with.
May I never forget that

Thank you
that we can all come to you,
pour our hearts out to you
and know that you listen.

Thank you that you also have things to share with us,
help us to be as willing to listen
as we are to talk,
and having heard
make us willing to do

“What a Friend we have in Jesus” is the Perambulation family hymn – sung at our wedding and significant services since. Easy to sing – not always so easy to remember…

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12 thoughts on “How to Pray

  1. Amen!!
    Prayer is conversation – two-way. We speak, we wait, we listen… not necessarily in that order! and we can trust our heavenly father, Abba Daddy God, with anything and everything.
    Often, when we are blocked, overwhelmed, have reached an impasse, simply opening our hands and saying “God, I’m stuck. I know this is wrong (be it a need for healing, for repentance, whatever…) and I’ve tried everything I can think of and some. And I’m stuck. I offer You my… (insert need of the moment – pain, anger, hatred, fear, frustration, insecurity, desire to serve You in this particular way, sense of vocation – whatever…). You’d better sort it, because I can’t.” and then walking away and _leaving_ it with God and waiting… that waiting is in itself prayer, and our Abba Daddy God sighs in relief and says “at last! now yo’re going to let me help!” and He does – but not often in the way I expect or, frequently, would choose!
    _Thy_ kingdom come…
    _Thy_ will be done…
    Realising that losing my life, my self-determination, is the only way to live fully… that paradox can only ever be lived out in and through prayer.

  2. I have pondered what life would be like if we only said the Lord’s Prayer every year, or every quarter – making it a milestone, like your flippin’ covenant prayer. Because we slip easily past the ‘thy will be done’ bit very easily.

    1. Prayed properly it takes time. Prayed weekly (or daily) it seems to lose its power.
      Yet people still comment/complain if it’s missed out of a service…

  3. totally agree, Sara.
    The church I go to has Mass 4 times a week, plus Vespers – if I manage to get to all the services that’s 5 Lord’s Prayers a week… and just after Easter I suddenly found myself saying it thoughtfully one phrase at a time rather than just parroting it (which is what I’ve done for most of my (rathr long) life).
    And the phrases which has subtly changed for me have been those two. I now find myself slightly emphasising the “thy”… and then in my own prayer time, needing to spend an awful lot of time doing the “Oh ok then God, take this… and this… and this…” as one thing at a time God cashes in, as it were, the promissory note of all those subtly emphasised “why”s!
    It can be a bit “ouch” (OK, quite a lot “ouch” a lot of the time as I struggle with my desire to retain control) but all I can say, from personal experience over the past 4 months or so, is that gradually and gently but relentlessly my life is being transformed. And that includes interactions with others. And transformed in a very positive way.

  4. ah – I was typing my response to Sara as you were replying Pam – didn’t see your reply until after I’d posted mine.
    I’m interested that I appear to have said the opposite of you – but in fact both positions are true.
    For me at the moment the steady repetition has got through to me – but at other times the familiarity has dulled the words’ impact.

    1. But that is you praying it not rabbiting it! Making a choice to pray through the words. If we truly pray the Lord’s Prayer it is life transforming. But praying it does not have to included saying it word for word day/week in and out.
      I think there are seasons for all things. I know those who say that sometimes a formula that needs no thought helps – especially in difficult times.
      And remember I am a very non-liturgical Methodist who likes space and pictures rather than words – which is ironic given how many of them I produce!

  5. Totally agree.
    And as a fundamentally free-church-type currently in an anglo-catholic church (God really _does_ have an amazing sense of humour…) I’ve been very surprised to discover that the liturgical repetition has somehow crept under all my barriers rather than creating a new barrier.
    And actually our services also have lots of space and multisensory stuff. Our vicar pauses at various points in the service for signifcant times of silence, and the incense and ritual and bells and iconography around the church engage all the senses – sight, smell, hearing, touch…
    At first I found all of that a distraction and wondered why they tried to bury God under it all… and now I find it profoundly helps me to realise (as in make real) the presence of God.
    And finally the liturgy is now operating in me very, very deeply – on a level way beyond the intellectual.
    And days when I’m too tired/ill/distracted to focus on the words I simply offer up my inability to focus and _still_ God takes me at my unthinking word.
    Our God is truly indescribably awesome…

    PS on a lighter note, an ex spiritual director of mine, a Jesuit priest, once said to me that if I am in consolation (ie aware of God’s presence and not fighting it) then he could give me the telephone directory to read and God would speak to me through it! What matters more is what he tells me to read and pray when I’m in desolation (ie can’t sense the presence of God and probably fighting HIm over something!)

    PPS – you do produce words – but you also always include images and music. 🙂

  6. yep. They give God a chance to make us aware of His presence. They’re vital in life too – we are inundated nowadays with “noise” of every kind. Instant this, instant that… instant communication… and need to learn how to wait and listen.
    It’s a particular challenge for our time I suspect.

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