The Gospels capture a very endearing moment in Jesus' life that sheds light on this question. In Matthew 6 and again in Luke 11, Jesus was finishing a private conversation with His Father when, "one of His disciples said to Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray.'"
Now, these guys were not unschooled in religious rhetoric. No doubt they had been taught proper Jewish prayers since childhood. But Jesus prayed differently. As they overheard His prayers or prayed along with Him, their desire to pray more like Him increased. Ironically, they asked God Incarnate, to tutor them in growing closer to God, His Father.
Let's sit at Jesus' feet with the disciples to learn a timeless lesson on how and for what we should pray. Jesus begins His instruction in Heaven:
Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Jesus modeled our first appropriate thought in prayer to be worship for who God is--He is holy and He is our Father. When we acknowledge God for who He is, our hearts melt in awe and adoration. Though in heaven, God desires to dwell with us here and now on earth. Though He alone is holy, His eagerness to connect with us is found in the gift of His Son. Heaven and earth join in this simple first statement.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus' instruction, as well as the example of His life, modeled surrender. The disciples heard Him pray this here on a Galilee hillside, as well as later in the garden outside Jerusalem as He prayed through the most painful night of His life. Your will be done. Jesus lived His entire life in surrender to His Father's will. Jesus calls us to do the same.
Give us this day our daily bread . . . . And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Just so our prayers our rooted in real living, Jesus reminded the disciples that we are dependent on God for everything---for today's food, for our next breath. He invites us to ask the Father for everything and anything according to His desire. In fact, even the word prayer means "to ask earnestly." Jesus tells us to ask for God's protection against evil and for His provision of daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Jesus had lived with people long enough to get right to a root reason many prayers rise only ceiling-high. Forgiveness---such an amazing gift from God and such a huge hurdle in our relationship with others! But Jesus addresses both head-on. In essence, He said that your prayer's effectiveness depends upon your willingness to forgive someone else. (Anyone come to mind?)
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
When we acknowledge God to be the Author of all life, all blessing, all kingdoms, all glory, Jesus says He is duly honored. Everything we have, we receive from His hand. There could be no other proper way to pray than to thank Him for all He is---the focus of all eternity. Jesus directs our response to pure thanksgiving.
Worship, petition, confession, and thanksgiving. Though your conversations with God may include much more, let Jesus' model of interaction with His Father form the framework of your prayers. Follow the Master Teacher in growing closer to God.
Echo God's Word to Him in Prayer
Worship -- Psalm 148, Hebrews 13:15, Rev. 4:1-11
Surrender -- Psalm 37:3-7
Confession -- Psalm 32, 51
Petition -- Colossians 1:9-12, James 1:5-6, 4:3
Thanksgiving -- 2 Corinthians 2:14-15, 9:15; Psalm 100
Insight for Living's Bible teacher, Chuck Swindoll, has devoted his life to the clear, practical, application of God's Word and the communication of God's grace. A pastor at heart, Chuck has served as senior pastor to congregations in Texas, Massachusetts, and California and most recently to the newly formed Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. But Chuck's listening audience extends far beyond a local church body. As a leading radio program in Christian broadcasting, Insight for Living now airs in every major Christian radio market, through more than 2,000 outlets worldwide, in 11 languages, and to a growing webcast audience. Chuck's extensive writing ministry has also served the body of Christ worldwide, and his leadership as president and now chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped to prepare and equip a new generation of men and women for ministry. Chuck and Cynthia, his partner in life and ministry, have four grown children and ten grandchildren.