One of the fundamentals of the Christian life is the practice of prayer. Even for those who are not disciples of Christ, the urge to address something outside oneself, even if it means speaking to an idea, place, thing, or passed loved one can be strong. I think it is indicative in some way that God has designed us to communicate with Him. Of course, Scripture is very clear that God made us to talk to Him, and that this not only pleases Him but must be done for our continued relationship and wellbeing. It would then follow that God would have a word to say on how prayer is conducted too.
Luke records that, “It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.’ And He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” ’ ” (Luke 11:1-4). Scripture will reveal that no one, not even Jesus or His apostles use this same prayer again. What this means is that Jesus taught principles and procedures with this prayer, not direct recitation.
We can express these principles as follows. First, prayers ought to start by reverently acknowledging God’s glory and greatness. It is Him to whom we are praying and we are privileged to speak to Him. Second, we should consider His will and our hope that it be accomplished, if at least in my life. Matthew records Jesus’ line in this prayer to that effect (Matt. 6:9-13). I find Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard useful here when he said, “Prayer does not change God, but him who prays.” That idea is true for the one who prays with God’s will in mind (Jas. 4:1-4, 1 John 5:14-15). Third, requests can and should be made of God, but always with an eye to His will. It is God’s will that you be fed, among other things, and He will provide through various means. Fourth, a plea for forgiveness as appropriate is appropriate when offered to the one mighty to save. But as you will see, it is also conditional on whether or not I am doing His will. And fifth, we should request to be defended from the enticement to do wrong, or put another way, be given the opportunity to do what is right. That is God’s will after all.
When Jesus’ lesson is viewed as principles, you see many prayers that follow this pattern, especially when made by the disciples (Acts 4:24-31, Eph. 1:17-23). What’s left is to discern God’s will, but that isn’t difficult. Look to the Scripture. He has left it there for you to hear from Him. Prayer is a communication, and sure, it has a bit of a procedure, but with a little practice, we can be changed by it. Changed to do His will.