According to the Pew Research center 55% of Americans say they pray every day. That seems high to me. Do people lie about praying or do they actually pray every single day? It begs the question what is “prayer”? Is this prayer formal recitation of the Lord’s Prayer? Is prayer a type of yoga meditation? Is prayer a quiet conversation between God and an individual? Do families say grace before dinner and does that count? Looking up a formal definition of prayer one might find something similar to this: “A petition made to anything that one might worship”. Maybe a portion of those who say they pray every day are praying a fox hole prayer asking God so save them from the deadly mess of life gone wrong.
7 “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. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8 ESV
When Jesus taught his disciples about prayer, he spent time on what prayer should look like. Jesus himself prayed and reading the gospel accounts of Jesus gives a window into his prayers and his methods. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus is shown praying at least 5 times.
In addition to the example that Jesus set with his own life we have the response Jesus gave the disciples when they asked him teach them how to pray. Jesus responded with the Lord’s Prayer and it is a template or a model to see if our prayers real and honest.
9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6:9-13 ESV
Prayer is not a chant. Prayer is not Shakespearean prose. And prayer is not a demand to God. Prayer is not mindless words spoken over and over again. When I start a small group of new Christians and I ask if anyone would like to pray and there is an uncomfortable silence that falls on the group because most likely none of them have ever prayed out loud and they are afraid that they are doing something wrong or will say the wrong thing. But anyone who has been a Christian for anytime already knows the Lord’s Prayer.
In addition to the Lord’s prayer we also have the prayers Jesus prayed right before being taken to the cross.
39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:3
Jesus prayed an honest heart felt real conversation with God. Much may be learned from this prayer of Jesus but I want to focus on an interesting fact… Jesus did not get what he wanted from God. I will say that again. Jesus asked for the pain, abuse, and death of the cross to pass by. Jesus was not looking forward to his death anymore than any other person. He prayed asking if there was another way to let this event pass him by. Jesus knew that there is was no other way. Jesus knew this is what God wanted for him. So, Jesus being honest with God asks for another plan, but then yield’s to God’s perfect plan. It is a profound example for me to think on. Not my will Father but yours.
Do your prayers have any of these attributes found in the Lord’s Prayer or this prayer that Jesus himself prayed to God? In the Lord’s prayer we find him giving glory to God, acknowledging God’s Kingship on earth and in heaven, asking for what is needed to get through today, that we should ask for forgiveness of our sins just as we have forgiven people who have sinned against us, and a request to be safe from temptation and sin. If your prayers are all God give me give me give me then yes that is wrong. Pray by telling God that you will yield to his will and his plans. Take a moment and tell God from your own lips that you know he is the Creator and that all good things come from him for his glory. Ask him to forgive you and in your heart forgive others. This is what real relational prayer with God looks like.