How Should We Pray?

image-child-first-pray - Dawn Hudson has released this “Child's First Prayer” image under Public Domain license.

How should we pray? Do we pray only when we have a request? The Psalms are a record of David’s prayers: laments over people who turned against him or over his own sin, despair or prayers of praise, or prayers which convey the things he struggled with and lessons he had learned. There are many good examples of prayer in the Psalms.

Daniel, the prophet, prayed 3 times a day, thanking God and making supplication. (Dan 6:11-12) We know about Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah; all women without children who prayed for a child and God heard their prayer. It took many years, but they conceived and bore children. Elijah prayed that it would not rain and for 3 years there was no rain. Then he prayed again and it rained. These are all examples of answered prayer.

Jesus, himself, would pray often, even all night. Was he always making requests to the Father? What did he pray and how did he pray? The apostles wanted to know too, so they came to him and asked.

And it happened as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And He said to them: When you pray, say, Our Father who is in Heaven, hallowed be Your name, let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done on earth as it also is in Heaven. Give us our needed bread day by day; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Luke 11:1-4 LITV).

And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the open streets so that they may be seen of men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your room and shutting your door, pray to your Father in secret. And your Father seeing in secret will repay you in the open. But when you pray, do not babble vain words, as the nations; for they think that they shall be heard in their much speaking. Then do not be like them, for your Father knows what things you have need of before you ask Him. So, then, you should pray this way: Our Father who is in Heaven, let be sanctified Your name. Let Your kingdom come; let Your will be done, as it is in Heaven, also on the earth. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil, for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory to the ages. Amen (Matt 6:5-13 LITV).

Let’s take a look at this example prayer piece by piece.

Table of Contents

We address our prayers to our Father in heaven

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.–Psalm 24:1-2

which in its own times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power eternal. —I Tim 6:15-16

It is right and reasonable that we pray to the Father; the earth is his, he is the sovereign, he is immortal and deserving of honor and power. In addition, he knows what we need even before we ask.

Let be sanctified your name or, as Luke puts it, hallowed be your name

Hallowed means respected or venerated. We could say, “Let your name be kept holy or let your name be treated with reverence.”

Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

It is rare in our society that YHWH is reverenced (feared), but individually, in our own lives, we must respect and venerate his name. Since we love YHWH with our whole being we respect him with our words, thoughts, and action. This is how we begin to understand the ways of God, our Father.

Let your kingdom come

I think about the scenes at the end of Revelation when the kingdom of God has finally come.

And I heard a great voice out of Heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God with men! And He will tabernacle with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.  4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death shall be no longer, nor mourning, nor outcry, nor pain will be any longer; for the first things passed away.  5 And the One sitting on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And He says to me, Write, because these words are faithful and true. —Rev 21:3-5

After New Jerusalem had descended to the earth, this is what John saw.

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, bright as crystal, coming forth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of its street and of the river, from here and from there, was a tree of life producing twelve fruits: according to one month each yielding its fruit. And the leaves of the tree were for healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever. —Rev 22:1-5  

What goodness to meditate on, what a wonderful purpose God has for his people. All is new, no death, or curse. There is healing for the nations with the throne of the Father and Jesus, his son, reigning forever and ever. The light and life are available for everyone who desires it. This is the kingdom of God fully implemented on the earth. Let it come!

Let your will be done as it is in heaven also on earth

Therefore, brothers, I call on you through the compassions of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to prove by you what is the good and pleasing and perfect will of God. —Rom 12:1-2

We renew our minds by spending time meditating on all of God’s word to understand the prophets and the teachings of the apostles. We also need to practice discerning of good and evil so we can choose good and reject evil. With wisdom we can properly apply those teachings. James gives us some advice on that.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. —James 1:5-8  

We can be single minded and stable when we develop the seven pillars of wisdom in our lives (Pro 9:1). Wisdom learns prudence, utters truth, accepts instruction, finds knowledge, has understanding and insight, walks in righteousness and does justice. (Pro 8:5-6, 12-14, 22-26). Wisdom helps us sort out all the knowledge available to us. With wisdom we have understanding. We will recognize truth. We will not act rashly, but we will walk in righteousness and will act with justice.

Decisions are a part of life and we want those decisions to be wise and according to God’s will. When we renew our mind to the things of God, his law and his righteousness, we make wise decisions according to his will. And we pray that in the future, life on earth will be according to God’s will.

Give us our needed bread or bread sufficient for today

And I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone asking receives, and the one seeking finds, and to the one knocking, it will be opened. And what father of you, if the son asks for bread, will he give him a stone? And if a fish, will he give him a snake instead of a fish?  And if he should ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion?  Then if you being evil know to give good gifts to your children, how much more the Father out of Heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those asking Him. —Luke 11:9-13 

Matthew 7:11 puts it this way:  “Therefore, if you, being evil, know to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those that ask Him?”

We can trust that when we ask the Father for the things we need he will give us good things, not just food to sustain our physical life, but he will provide us the bread which gives spiritual life. Jesus says he is the true bread of life given to us by the Father. He sustains us and we will never hunger or thirst again.

Then Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Moses has not given you the bread out of Heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread out of Heaven. For the bread of God is He coming down out of Heaven and giving life to the world. Then they said to Him, Lord, always give us this bread. Jesus said to them, I am the Bread of life; the one coming to Me will not at all hunger, and the one believing into Me will never ever thirst.  —John 6:32-26

And He has humbled you, and caused you to hunger, and caused you to eat the manna, which you had not known, and your fathers had not known, in order to cause you to know that man shall not live by bread alone, but man shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of Jehovah. —Deut 8:3

For He knoweth the way that I take; when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held fast to His steps, His way have I kept, and turned not aside. I have not gone back from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured up the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. —Job 23:10-12[JPS]

Job understood the spiritual bread of God’s word. He kept God’s way, valuing true life received through obedience. We should be like Job, receiving not just the physical bread that sustains our body, but also, the true bread of life, God’s word.

What does having our daily, physical bread require?

In Proverbs, Solomon advises several times, a method to ensure our needs are met. The habits of the ant provide the example.

Go to the ant, lazy man; consider her ways and be wise; who, having no guide, overseer or ruler, provides her bread in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O lazy man? When will you arise out of your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to lie down; So shall your poverty come as one walking, and your need like an armed man. —Pr 6:6-11

The sluggard burieth his hand in the dish, and will not so much as bring it back to his mouth. —Pr 19:24; Pr 26:15

There is a time to work and a time to rest. The Father has provided the seasons, the knowledge and understanding of seed time and harvest, of the earth and rains. We cooperate with what he has provided and he provides food for our needs. But we must ask him to do that.

Forgive us our sins (debts) for (as) we forgive those who are indebted to us

For if you forgive men their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you will not forgive men their offenses, neither will your Father forgive your offenses. —Matt 6:14-15

Everyone practicing sin also practices lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. —I John 3:4

Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord: looking carefully lest there be any man that falleth short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby the many be defiled; —Heb 12:14-15

 When someone is indebted to us it is because they owe us something. In this case, God is referring to more than money. Debts of respect, politeness, recognition are common in our human interactions. People will wrong us. We must be as willing to forgive others for their debts toward us as God has forgiven us. If we don’t forgive, but instead allow resentments and bitterness to grow, we become burdened and unable to properly relate to others and our relationship with the Father is harmed. On the other hand, we should not continue to associate with people who continually offend us. We can move on knowing we have forgiven them even as we have been forgiven. Remember what Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to flesh, but according to Spirit.” –Rom 8:1  

Do not insert us for a test (APB) – deliver us from evil

This is not talking about temptations by God. The Father does not tempt us. But YHWH, our Father, may allow a test so we can prove ourselves. During times of testing there are many avenues of rescue from the evil one.

Blessed is the man who endures temptation, because having been approved he will receive the crown of life which the Lord promised to the ones loving Him. Let no one being tempted say, I am tempted from God. For God is not tempted by evils, and He tempts no one. But each one is tempted by his own lusts, having been drawn out and having been seduced by them . Then being conceived, lust brings forth sin. And sin being fully formed brings forth death. —James 1:12-15

Jesus faced the same temptations as us, but he didn’t sin. Satan tempted him at the end of his 40 day fast. How did the Father rescue him from the evil one? Let’s learn how he faced temptation and escaped.

And having fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards He hungered.  The Tempter said, If You are the Son of God, speak that these stones may become loaves. But answering, He said, It has been written: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word going out of the mouth of God.” Then the Devil takes Him to the holy city, and he set Him on the wing of the temple. And he said to Him, If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it has been written: “He shall give His angels charge concerning You, and they shall bear You on their hands, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him, Again it has been written: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Again the Devil takes Him to a very high mountain, and he showed to Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him. I will give all these things to You if falling down, You will worship me. Then Jesus said to him, Go, Satan! For it has been written: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve Him only.” —Matt 4:2-10

There is a pattern here: a very real fleshly desire, then the word of God to overcome it. First is the lust of the flesh, hunger, but Jesus resists by reminding himself and Satan of his priorities, live by the Word of God. Next, Jesus is tempted by the pride of life to prove he really is the son of God. Again Jesus reminds Satan of the truth in God’s word, “You shall not tempt YHWH.” Finally Satan tempts Jesus with lust of the eyes, “See all the kingdoms and their glory. They are yours if you worship me.” Jesus answers again with a commandment from the Father, “Worship God alone.”

So when we pray we are asking the Father to help us deal with our passions that draw us away from him and to escape the evil one who exploits those fleshly weaknesses. By keeping our priorities right, knowing the word and obeying Yahweh’s commandments we can overcome temptation.

A time of testing will happen in our lives and Jesus says to pray that we are delivered from evil. This is the most challenging part of our walk in the spirit, so let’s look at more examples of ways to escape.

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams rises among you, and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder which he foretold to you occurs, saying, Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us serve them, you shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams. For Jehovah your God is testing you, to know if you love Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after Jehovah your God, and you shall fear Him. And you shall keep His commandments, and you shall hear His voice, and you shall serve Him, and you shall cleave to Him. —Deut 13:1-4

First, we are not to listen to others who tell us ideas that are not consistent with the word of God, no matter how legitimate they may seem. Love YHWH only, walk according to his ways, reverence him, know his commandments. In that way we can recognize his voice and not be fooled into carrying out the wishes of any other god whether it be Satan himself or disguised as a lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes or the pride of life. YHWH is the one to whom we have attached ourselves. We are in covenant with him. We can escape if we keep our focus right.

Peter acknowledged this. In his first letter. He warns the people to watch out for the adversary and offers this guidance.

Likewise, younger ones be subject to older ones; and all being subject to one another. Put on humility, because God sets Himself” against proud ones, but He gives grace to humble ones.” Then be humbled under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in time; “casting all your anxiety onto Him,” because it matters to Him concerning you. Be sensible, watch, because your adversary the Devil walks about as a roaring lion seeking someone he may devour; whom firmly resist in the faith, knowing the same sufferings are being completed in your brotherhood in the world. Now the God of all grace, the One calling you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, you having suffered a little, He Himself will perfect, confirm, strengthen, establish you . —1 Peter 5:5-10

So Peter says to submit to one another in humility. The arrogant one will not escape the devil’s ploys, neither will God help him. While we may struggle to be humble, we know that in the end we will be commended by God. Knowing we are not alone to deal with life’s troubles, God knows and cares about us, can help relieve our worries. God is not the accuser, nor the adversary. But we must be aware of the devil’s tricks. It is he who is the accuser (These accusations in our head are from the slanderer, our adversary). All those who belong to God, our brethren, are also suffering and resisting Satan. It is God’s purpose for us to overcome and be perfected, but that can’t happen without trial and testing. We have been warned. Resist the devil, and in resisting, we escape.

We have examined how to pray according to Jesus’ teaching, but it is helpful to ask why we pray. Is our prayer to get what we want and when we get what we want do we feel approved by God? Is this what Jesus means when he says:

And answering, Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, If you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do the miracle of the fig tree, but even if you should say to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, it will be so. And all things, whatever you may ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive. —Matt 21:21-22

And answering, Jesus said to them, Have faith of God. For truly I say to you, Whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and be thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be to him, whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, All things, whatever you ask, praying, believe that you will receive, and it will be to you. —Mark 11:22-24

But there is more to it. The Apostle John and James make it clear.

And this is the confidence we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. —I John 5:14-15 

Yes, we can count on God to answer our prayers when we ask according to his will. And his will is explained in Torah. James says the same thing.

You desire greatly and do not have. You murder, and are jealous, and are not able to obtain. You fight and you war, and you do not have, because you do not ask God. You ask, and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order that you may spend on your lusts. —James 4:2-3 

Murder, or even just hatred, jealousies, and fighting to obtain our desires are contrary to his will. And even if we don’t commit these sins, but ask out of covetousness, which is contrary to the commandments, our requests will not be granted by God. At the last Passover, Jesus instructs us in receiving answers to prayer.

Indeed, I tell you truly, He that believes in Me, the works which I do, that one shall do also, and greater than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you may ask in My Name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My Name, I will do it . If you love Me, keep My commandments. —John 14:12-15

You have not chosen Me, but I chose you out and planted you, that you should go and should bear fruit, and your fruit remain, that whatever you should ask the Father in My name, He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another. —John 15:16-17  

And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Truly, truly, I say to you, Whatever you shall ask the Father in My name, He will give you. Until now you asked nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, so that your joy may be full. —John 16:23-24

To received from the Father we must keep his commandments, and we must grow toward sanctification. The Father takes pleasure in our full joy as a natural father takes pleasure in giving to his children, now and especially at our resurrection.

So, do we pray only to get something from God? Or is it the relationship with our Father that we are cultivating during our prayer time? Jesus spent time praying to the Father. We should do the same, meditating on the word, gaining insight to our weakness, understanding the Father’s plan and his commandments, gaining wisdom to deal with the challenges of the world. In this way, our relationship with the Father grows. We will see his will done on earth; we will have our physical and spiritual needs met; we will recognize and forgive others who may have offended us; we will escape the evil one. The full purpose of prayer will be accomplished in us.