Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:5-13).
Prayer should be the simplest and easiest part of Christian living, but our imperfect minds complicate praying as we complicate so many things. Some Christians use prayer books and use only prayers created by others, while other Christians regard only spontaneous prayer as genuine. Some repeat the same brief prayers with great frequency, while others pray only on certain occasions, such as mealtime and bedtime. Some only pray aloud, others only in their minds, while most Christians pray in both ways at different times. A few take Jesus literally and never pray what other people can hear. Since Jesus prayed several times in the presence of others, we can take his warning to “go into your room and shut the door” as an exaggeration, parallel to “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3).
When we pray, we speak to God. Prayer is not a time to lecture others while directing our words to God—prayer is communication with the God who made us and who is in charge of the universe. We cannot impress God by the beauty of or prayers, so we might as well keep them simple and personal. We cannot fool God about ourselves, so we should not try, not even in our prayers. We pray often, because God is always with us and always wants to hear from us. We tell God what we want and what we need. We do not think that we can persuade him or bribe him to give us something that he does not want to give. We do not bargain with God. God has attached powerful promises to prayer, but he retains control of the universe.
The prayer Jesus taught his disciples, known both as the Lord’s Prayer and the Our Father, is an outline to guide our prayers. Martin Luther wrote that an hour is too little time to pray the Lord’s Prayer properly. When we honor the name of God, we stop and consider the many names of God and what they tell us about him. When we ask for daily bread, we add other needs; and when we pray for forgiveness, we confess our sins, as many as we remember.
Among some Christians, the Lord’s Prayer is also used as a group prayer. At those times, everyone in the group speaks the prayer together, often using vocabulary and grammar from England of the 1600s. This unites Christian prayer, not only with everyone in the building, but with previous generations of Christians who now are in Paradise awaiting the Resurrection. After all, the Lord’s Prayer is a group prayer—it has no I or me or mine, but is addressed to our Father and mentions our daily bread and our trespasses. Therefore, when we pray this prayer, we are praying for Christians around the world and not only for ourselves.
But when we use this prayer and teach it to our children, we need to explain the words of the prayer. Otherwise, they will grow up praying, “Our Father who aren’t in heaven, hollow be thy name,” or even, “how do you know my name?” Children should know this prayer so they can pray it with others and use it as an outline for their personal prayers. When we do not know what to pray, the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful help. We know how Jesus wants us to speak with him and with his Father. We also know what Jesus and his Father want to give us. Paul wrote, “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Along with those groanings, the Holy Spirit has given us this prayer from the mouth of Jesus himself, so we never need to feel that we are at a loss for words when we approach the throne of God. J.