I recently read that one well known church in the United States did a survey of its members and discovered that less than 40% of them read their Bible or prayed even once a week. This is a very sad statistic and we wonder why our Christian lives are anemic, graceless and powerless. Reading the Bible and prayer are essential for a vibrant life of faith. It’s like breathing in and breathing out. When we read the Word of God he talks to us. And when we pray we speak to God.
I believe that every Christian desires a deep and intimate relationship with God. We know there is more to life than what meets the eye and our 9 to 5 job. We want to experience God to have an adventure with God. But we often find ourselves distracted by things, even good and necessary things. Therefore we need a plan to build a habit of Bible reading and prayer.
And a careful study of what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer” will help us to focus on the importance of prayer. When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray he taught them to pray biblically, clearly and simply in order to better worship God, serve Him and trust in Him for the meeting of all of our needs. So let’s begin to look at what the Lord Jesus Christ said about prayer and the first thing we will learn is how not to pray.
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:5-8)
The first point our Lord Jesus makes is this: don’t be hypocritical. The word “hypocrite” has its origin in the ancient Greek theatre. Actors came on stage wearing really large masks so that everyone could see what emotion they were portraying. And there was a mouth piece in the mask so that the voice could be amplified. Therefore Christ says to us when you pray don’t put on a show. There is no need to be dramatically religious to try and impress people. After all you are praying to God and not to men. Pray from the heart and be open and honest with God about your thoughts and concerns.
Now, our Lord is not saying that we shouldn’t pray with boldness or with a fervent passion; we should. What he is teaching is that we should be real in our prayers; don’t pretend. You want God to applaud your prayers not other people. And when Christ says that we should pray in secret, in your room, he is not condemning public prayer or praying together as a church. Our Lord is saying there is no need to put on a public performance. Lift your heart to God alone. Why we pray determines how we pray. Are we praying to be seen by men or heard by God?
Secondly, Jesus teaches that we should not use vain repetitions in our prayers. Our prayers are not to be merely recited or chanted or repeated thoughtlessly. And there is nothing magical in the words we say or how we say them. Again, this does not mean that we cannot be persistent in our prayers and keep praying for something until the answer comes. In fact Jesus teaches that we should persist in our prayers in Luke 11.
And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? 8 I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. So 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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11:5-10) [my emphasis]
If you are praying for someone to be saved pray that prayer until it happens. If you are praying to overcome sin pray until you have the victory. If you are praying to God to meet a need then persist in faith until it is met. And avoiding vain repetitions does not mean we cannot repeat a word or phrase over and over again. Repetitions can be mind numbing, but it can also burn a truth deep into our hearts. Here is an example from Psalm 136.
Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. 2 Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever. 3 Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever: 4 To Him who alone does great wonders, For His mercy endures forever (Psalm 136:1-4)
These words “His mercy endures forever” can be repeated in vain, from an empty heart and it will do you no good. Or they can be repeated with faith and devotion and awe towards God and inspire your heart. Even our Lord Jesus Christ repeated himself in prayer.
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. (Matthew 26: 39, 42, 44)
It is not the mere repetition of words or thoughts that is wrong. It is the vainness, the emptiness of heart and faith in prayer that is wrong. To sum up how not to pray; you don’t need to be hypocritically religious. You don’t need an audience to impress or special words. God simply desires your heartfelt praise and thanks and trust and requests. Finally, before Jesus Christ taught his disciples how to pray he said,
Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:8)
We do not need to be like the hypocrites or the heathen when we pray. God doesn’t need to be persuaded. He doesn’t need information from us or special chants. In fact God knows what we need before we even ask Him. And this brings up a good question. If God already knows our hearts then why should we pray? We should pray because God invites us and asks us to pray. He says,
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. (Psalm 81:10b)
Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me. (Psalm 50:15)
Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3)
Jesus Christ said,
So 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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11:9, 10)
We pray because we are encouraged to pray and because we are commanded to pray. The apostle Paul encourages us to be “praying always with all prayer and supplication…with all perseverance.” He also wrote “pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
God is more ready to hear us that we are ready to pray. He is more ready and willing to give then we desire or deserve. We pray for our sake not His. We pray to focus our hearts on God who is the source of all that is good. Prayer changes things because it changes us. God invites us to pray so that we have fellowship with Him as He accomplishes Hid god will. So with all of this as background let’s read how we should pray?
In this manner, therefore, pray:
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 forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13)
As we read this prayer three things spring to mind. Number one is that it is so simple. There are no long words, no strange theological terms. Anyone can pray like this. Secondly, it is brief. It takes less than a minute to pray. So many people say that they don’t have time to pray. Really? I’ll bet that you waste more than a minute every day. Thirdly, the prayer is comprehensive. It covers all of life.
God is in this prayer. We are in this prayer. The past is here. The present is here. The future is here. The first half of the prayer focuses on God. He is our father. We want His name to be revered, honored and glorified. His kingdom and His will is to be the central desire of our lives.
The second half of this prayer focuses on us: our past – “forgive us our debts”; our present – “Give us this day our daily bread”; and our future – “do not lead us into temptation.” The prayer begins with God and then moves on to us. This is the right order. All of life is in this prayer and all of eternity is in this prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer outlines the most fundamental features of the Christian life. It has the power to reshape our lives. The prayer itself can be prayed just as it is and it would be good to memorize it. But it is not to be a mere chant—it is a challenge. It should be prayed from the heart in the same way that you would pray over any other section of Scripture. Our Lord Jesus Christ has given us in this prayer a pattern for all our prayers and for all of life. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to live as well as how to pray. May it change all of us for the better.
 There are a number of Bible reading plans available (http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/readingplans/). My wife and I both read our Bibles early in the morning. But we often make it a family affair immediately after supper. We clean our places and then sit back down at the table and read one chapter each day. Each person reads a few verses and this takes only about 10 to 15 minutes.
 Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson,
Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
 James 5:16, 17
 In the next study we will see that corporate prayer is very much encouraged.
 Psalm 139:1-4
 Ephesians 6:18
 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 18