The Principles of Prayer

The Lord’s prayer was never the Lord’s Prayer. He never prayed it nor could He have prayed it, because He never needed forgiveness. It is not really a prayer for anyone to repeat either. How sad, that the very words of the Lord have been misused and even turned into vain repetition. This section is part of the Lord’s teaching on communication in the Kingdom, so this is really a paradigm of prayer, a model of how to communicate with the King.

When Should We Pray?

Prayer is not an optional activity in the life of a believer, nor is it a special skill used solely by some elite spiritual Delta Force of the assemblies. The Lord Jesus assumed the normal desire and activity of every child of God would be to speak regularly to our Father in prayer. He said, “WHEN thou prayest” (Matt 6:5), not “IF thou prayest.” Every citizen in the spiritual kingdom of heaven in Matthew has the priceless privilege of being able to enter into the presence of our heavenly Father. We do not need to stand in line, nor do we need to fear rejection, as Esther did when she went into the presence of King Ahasuerus. Our line of communication is available 24/7, and we should frequently be in contact with heaven.

Although we should speak often throughout the day with our Father, the Lord Jesus taught that we should also have specific times for prayer. Judas knew exactly where to find the Lord Jesus because he had observed that He went to Gethsemane to pray at night. This is searching! Could somebody find you based on the regularity of your time in prayer?

Where Should We Pray?

If we can pray at any time, we can also pray in any place. Again, the Lord Jesus assumes that each subject in the kingdom will not only pray often throughout the day, but also in a specific place of prayer. The Pharisees loved to pray publicly, on the street corners and in the synagogues. While it is never wrong to pray in public or when the Scripture is opened, He challenged His disciples to be different than those in religious circles. He exhorted them to have a private “closet” where they would meet with God.

Be advised, though, that having a time and place for prayer will not be easy. Jesus said we are to “shut our door.” We must even shut out contact with other people by shutting off all visual and audio communication and focus on Him. In assembly meetings or around the table, we usually shut our eyes to avoid distraction. Applying this principle to our daily life, we must actively establish a time and place to have communion with God and jealously guard it, even from legitimate things that will want to put their heads in the door and draw us away. E-mail, cell phones, Internet, iPods, etc. must all be turned off, and no person or activity should call us away physically or mentally. The Lord Jesus made the effort to leave houses, cross lakes, depart from crowds and even friends, to go up mountains or into gardens just to have time with his God. So, where is your closet, the place you visit daily to commune alone with God?

Why Should We Pray?

The issue of our motives in our communication with heaven is vital. The Lord Jesus warned of the possibility that some might use this spiritual activity as a way of being noticed by others and to receive honor (and applause) from others. The Pharisees had perfected the art, and thus loved to pray where they were visible, in synagogues and on street corners, so they could “be seen of men.” Our focus is not to be graded by the loudness of the “Amens!” of others. Our focus is to open our hearts to the Father who can answer and reward spiritual reality in His time and in His ways.

The real purpose of prayer is to bring about a corresponding reality relative to the desire of heaven. In the model prayer, “in heaven” is repeated three times. It is not to inform God, as our “Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matt 6:8).

By expressing ourselves in prayer, we are aligning our thinking with God’s and wanting the will of heaven on earth.

How Should We Pray?

God wants real, genuine communication with His people. The pagans mechanically repeated their prayers to try and get the attention of their gods. On Mount Carmel, they pleaded all day long and cut themselves to get the attention of their god, Baal (1Kings 18:26-29). Similarly the Ephesians chanted, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” for two hours trying to get her to hear them (Acts 19:34). On the other hand, “we have boldness and access with confidence” (Eph 3:12) and our “Father which is in secret” is always in the “closet” waiting to hear from us.

The Jewish Pharisees prided themselves on their proper prayers. They rambled through the morning and evening supplications, checking off prayer from their daily “To Do” lists. Soon, they could parrot all the beautiful words like a recording, while their hearts were frigid, dry and “far from Him” (Mark 7:6). Even we, as believers, can fall into dry, mechanical communication with the Lord. There is nothing wrong with repeated prayer. The Lord Jesus “prayed the third time, saying the same words” (Matt 26:44) in Gethsemane. The difference is that His heart was in it. In fact, He “prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). Seeking to express ourselves to God in fresh ways is important, but the real test is the freshness of our hearts. Are we just saying prayers or really praying, communicating honestly from our hearts with the Father? We must not confuse the regularity of our prayers with the reality of our prayers.

We all need to learn to speak naturally; there is no extra spirituality in using a sober singsong tone. We would never speak like that to anyone else, so why would we speak like that with our Father? Therefore, we must work hard to avoid and root out clichés and expressions that lend to boring prayers. We certainly get no extra credit for sounding drab, dull, and monotonous. Perhaps listening to ourselves and working to communicate well in private is the key to being able to communicate better in public.

While we certainly have freedom to be open with our Father, we should never lose our awe and respect for His person. ¨Hallowed be Thy Name” (Matt 6:9)reminds us that our Father is unique, sovereign, and stands worthy of reverence and awe. Therefore, while we should be comfortable in the presence of our Father, there are no grounds to be casual. One error is to become formalistic and assign a false spirituality to the use of certain tones of voice, clichés, or antiquated vocabulary. Another error is to be disrespectful and lax in our tone, word choice, and approach. May God help us to strike the Christlike balance of speaking with freshness, yet with complete reverence.

Perhaps the greatest key to a vital prayer life is to learn to speak to God about the things of God. Prayer is not intended to be a spiritual drive-thru, where you place your order and expect that what you requested will be delivered to you quickly. Before any requests are mentioned in the model, the Lord Jesus says we should be able to spend time speaking of the Father’s Name, the Father’s will, and the Father’s kingdom. There is little more aggravating in life than a person who only talks about himself. So, are we guilty? It is a wonder the Father puts up with such one-sided conversations where we talk only about our lives, our families, our friends, our bills, our contacts, etc. We must resist letting our prayer life become monotonous due to selfishness. Instead, we have to actively discipline ourselves to take time to talk to God about His interests, His plans, His gospel, His assembly, and above all, His Son. Do you ever read the Scriptures and just speak to the Lord about what you have read?

What Should We Pray?

Finally, notice that we are free to speak of absolutely everything in prayer. We can speak about physical things such as our daily bread. We can also speak about social matters (debts between citizens), spiritual matters (the evil one), and emotional matters (temptation). We can address issues of the past (an offense), of the present (daily bread), and of the future (coming kingdom). We can speak of needs related to the body (bread), soul (forgiveness), and spirit (temptation). We are free to discuss God, others, and ourselves. There is no subject about which we cannot speak to our Father in heaven. He is interested in every detail of our lives. May God help us to see the privilege, honor, and value of speaking to God in prayer.