I received this question today from a good friend:
"What's the proper way to pray? Is there one? What do we say to God? My prayers have been sounding like requests and I'm not sure how it's communicating to God"
My first reaction to this question was "It doesn't matter how you pray, as long as you pray."
I think the relationship is what is important, God loves us as we are, He shouldn't care how we pray, as long as we do.
Then I thought deeper.
In the Book of Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains how one should pray, and I thought---if the "HOW" wasn't important, then why would it be in the Bible?
If it doesn't matter HOW we pray, then why did Jesus go through the trouble of telling us HOW to pray??
Jesus said in Matthew 6: 5-13
This prayer is a template for us to follow when we pray.
When we begin our prayers we need to recognize that God is our Creator and He is Holy and above all things. The fact that this is the First thing we are to do in our prayer tells us that it is of utmost importance.
Why is it so important that we praise God and be Thankful to Him before anything else in our prayer?
It is to keep us humble. We must recognize that it is through Him that all blessings flow. It is not by our greatness, but by HIS greatness that we are blessed in this life. If we do not recognize this, then we will have a wedge between us and God as we think we don't need Him.
We would be like the 2 year old that tells his mother "I do it!" There may be lots we can do, but we should not do all things, and like the 2 year old that cannot recognize the danger in some of the things he chooses to do independently of his mother, we do not recognize the danger in things we choose to do without God's blessing.
Pride is at the root of all evil. Think about that.........you will see that it is true.
So in our prayers, we must first recognize that God is Supreme and we must humble ourselves before Him. We must show our gratitude for His grace and mercy.
And we also need to recognize that as He rules in Heaven, He also rules here on Earth. And although we may wish for things to be a certain way, we do not see the greater picture. So ultimately, we must wish for His Will to be done.
Again, like the 2 year old who can't see the danger, we cannot see the greater picture. As we lose loved ones, for instance, we cannot see the good in this. But we have to trust God and trust that when His Will is done on Earth, it is only for Good, never anything less.
We also need to recognize that we need His grace and mercy daily. Just as we need "bread" to nourish and sustain our bodies, Jesus is the "Bread of Life" and His Word will nourish and sustain our soul.
We need to recognize that we need Him in our life every day--that when we start drifting away from Him we will feel that ache in our heart. There is a place God carved out in our hearts for Him to place the Holy Spirit within us.
Think of it like God planting a little seed of himself within us to care for. If we do not nourish this seedling every day by spending time with it and caring for it (through prayer and bible study) it will wither away. It never truly dies, but may go dormant, and after a time you will feel an ache in that spot.
So in our prayers, we need to renew our commitment to God to spend time with Him daily, as He is our Daily Bread.
Then we are reminded that we must forgive those who have hurt us. If we are holding a grudge against someone for something, then our prayers cannot be pure. It is like "static" or "buffering" in our attempts to "talk" with God. We cannot get a clear, 4G / HD connection with Him. God knows as we hold onto those grudges that anger will fester and grow and it will separate us from Him
Think again, back to that little seeding of Holy Spirit we are to care for---if we nurture our grudges instead of that seedling, which one will grow and take over?
And that final part of the prayer template is to remind us that Satan is real, evil is real and we cannot face it alone. There is spiritual warfare all around us and we cannot face it without Him to strengthen us.
So what Jesus teaches us is really not just "How" to pray.....but also very much "How" we should live..........
So to put it in a modern way, a typical prayer might go something like this:
Dear Father in Heaven
I rejoice in You and the beauty of all your creations
I am thankful for this beautiful day, for my loving friends and family,
You have blessed me abundantly
Much more so than I could ever deserve.
But God, please hear me now
Please hear my prayers that I send to you for I recognize that I need your help.
I have had a disagreement with my friend
I have a loved one who is sick
I am struggling with class in school
But if it be your will that...
I loose my friendship,
my loved one dies,
I fail this test
Then I ask for your strength and guidance to help me through it.