“Teach Us to Pray”

Let me say up front that if your take-away from this post is that I’m against prayer lists and praying specific prayers, you’ve badly missed the point. I use prayer lists and there are (a few) scriptural examples of praying very specifically, e.g. Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36-40). But I am calling into question some of our motivations and common ideas about prayer.

Here’s what Jesus said when the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray (Matthew 6:7-14):

And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is 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 do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’

With this context, consider some common practices in prayer. Don’t be offended if these are practices you hold dear. Your motives and understanding determine whether they’re healthy or not. For me they’re problematic.

Here’s what I’m talking about: I’ve often heard that we should “Pray specifically for what you want God to do”. Also that we should “Make a list of the things you pray for and keep track when God answers.”

The rationale usually given for these practices is so that our faith is built when we see our prayers answered. This is a page out of our Western culture that teaches us to set specific, measurable goals. But prayer isn’t about creating a scoresheet for God’s performance. Personally, I find God faithfully answers my prayers but rarely does it according to my plan. Let’s be clear that God doesn’t need us to tell Him how to do His job or even what we need from Him (Matt 6:8). I’ve been guilty of expounding one line of the Lord’s prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”, listing my needs at great length while skimming over the rest of the prayer.

Here’s my point: The Bible doesn’t teach us to come to prayer offering God our solutions and keeping score. We’re taught to come humbly asking God to do what He already knows and wants to do. It’s not our many words, but the longing in our hearts that God responds to. As we learn to long for the things He longs for, the stewardship He’s given us over our lives becomes an opportunity for us to invite Him to reveal His glory in our world.

I’m championing the cause of fewer words and more longing hearts in our prayers.

Related thoughts from John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, and Ole Hallesby at these links.

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