What is prayer? If someone were to pose that very question to you, what would you say? Talking to God? Sure, that would be a good place to start. Prayer is certainly talking with God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines prayer in the following way:
“Q.98. What is prayer? A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.”
But perhaps a more important question is whether or not one actually knows how to pray. But doesn’t everyone know how to pray? Yes and no. Yes, everyone can grasp the simple concept of talking to God. But what if I told you that the Bible says that we do not just naturally know how to pray? The right way to pray is neither instinctual nor intuitive. Romans 8:26 actually says, “we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (ESV). Not only that, but even the disciples themselves were not ashamed to ask the Lord Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
Now they certainly asked Jesus that question not just because they knew their own weakness and inability, but also because they were well acquainted with His example of prayer. They knew that Jesus prayed. In fact, they asked Him to teach them to pray right after He had just finished praying. Luke 11:1 says that “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (ESV).
Our “Special Rule of Direction” for Prayer
And what answer did Jesus give to them? How did He teach them to pray? He taught them what has come to be known as “the Lord’s Prayer.” If you really want to know how to pray, you would be hard-pressed to find a better place to start than with a serious consideration of the Lord’s Prayer. It is found in two (2) places in the Bible – Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. The Lord Jesus didn’t just give that prayer to instruct the twelve disciples alone; He gave it to teach us about prayer.
As the Shorter Catechism points out,
“The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught His disciples, commonly called the Lord’s Prayer” (Q.99).
So the Lord’s Prayer is basically a summary of everything we need to pray for. It includes some things that may come to mind rather easily, such as our daily needs (“give us this day our daily bread” – Matthew 6:11), and the forgiveness of sin (“forgive us our debts”- Matthew 6:12). But it also includes (and starts with!) things that might not jump to mind when you pray, such as praying that the Lord’s name would be hallowed or revered as holy (Matthew 6:9), that His kingdom would come (v.10), and that His will would be done here on this earth just like it is in heaven (v.10).
In the forthcoming posts of this series, I hope to briefly go through the Lord’s Prayer, one petition or request at a time. I hope that you will find these studies helpful. Most of all I hope that they will encourage you to go to the Lord in prayer.