“Let us pray.” “I’ll pray for you.” “Keep us in your prayers.”
Many often hear phrases like these or something like it. It might even be a good safe guess that each of us may hear the word pray at least once a week. (quite possibly more.)
But why do we mention prayer?
Furthermore, why do we pray at all?
And even furthermore, how do we pray?
In the book of Matthew, Jesus give his followers instructions for prayer.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today 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 the evil one.’
Matthew 6:5-15 (NIV)
In looking at this text, we can see some insight into how, and even why we pray.
First Jesus tells us that prayer isn’t about show or status. It’s not something we do to impress others or flaunt about, as something that makes us better than others. Nor can we have an argument with a neighbor and end it by saying, passive aggressively, “Well, you are wrong but I will pray for you.”
Prayer must be sincere. Jesus is not saying that prayer cannot be done with others, but when we pray, it must be real. Just like when we are talking with someone we care about. We don’t want to be phony and showy with someone we feel close to. God cares about us and wants to have a close and sincere connection with us.
Jesus also instructs us not to babble on. Somehow, we have gotten the idea that prayers must be eloquent and poetic, speeches. Ones that go on and on. A prayer doesn’t need to be a sonnet. Again, just like talking with a loved one, a prayer can be a sincere and to the point conversation. God doesn’t want you to speak in ways you do not normally speak. God wants you to be yourself.
For more understanding, let’s look at the example of prayer Jesus gives us and break it down a bit.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, (We can acknowledge who God is. God is like a caring parent, but even more so. God is Holy. God is the creator. God is God)
your kingdom come, (We ask for the kingdom of God, which is the love and grace of Jesus Christ, to be with us.)
your will be done, (God is in charge. This means that love is in charge. We ask that the love of God be our way of life.)
on earth as it is in heaven. (Heaven is not a far away place. Christ is with us now! As Christians, we are to be like Christ. We are to show love and grace, not after death, but right here and now.)
Give us today our daily bread. (Jesus is the bread of life. We ask that God gives us the nutrients, practices and the tools we need to be in the spirit. To experience Christ, and to share Christ with others.)
And forgive us our debts, (Everyone of us has done and will do things that take our focus off of God. Some call this sin, some call it trespasses, some call it debts. Whatever name given, this is anything that has taken us off the path or focus of Christ’s love. Doing things, we know in our heart to be harmful to ourselves or our neighbors. Doing things or acting in ways that don’t exactly fit into the role of loving God, or ourselves, or our neighbors.)
as we also have forgiven our debtors. (The nature of being Christian, is to want for our neighbor, the same that we would want for ourselves. As we ask to be forgiven, we also ask to forgive others. Resentment can be a load to carry. We can find forgiveness as a way of giving things to God and releasing ourselves of this heavy load.)
And lead us not into temptation, (We ask to be and remain in Christ. To keep our focus on love. To be loved and to share love. To not lean or fall into the areas in our lives that take us away from God)
but deliver us from the evil one.’ (Christ acknowledges here that there is evil and temptation in our world. We pray for God to help us stay in love and avoid hatred)
in many ways, prayer is like keeping a regular appointment and to have a conversation with God. To check in. To ask for help. To find reassurance. To exercise accountability. To focus on love. Experiencing love and sharing love. To thank God for being a loving God.
We can also use prayer as a way of expressing all of our feelings with God. Even the ones we don’t think God wants to hear.
In a letter to a church in Philippi, a city in ancient Macedonia, Paul writes:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
Simply put, this means tell God how you feel. If you have feelings of anxiety, don’t hold them inside where they will fester and cause you more pain. Release those feeling by sharing them with God. This is the same for all negative feelings. Anger, fear, guilt, insecurity, whatever the feeling is, ask God to help you with it. Ask God to help you work through it.
God doesn’t want you to hold onto feelings and emotions that keep you down. God wants to hear all of your feelings because, quite simply, God loves and cares about you. You may find, after sharing your feelings with God, that you are even able to share your feelings more with others. You may discover that God really is on your side and wants the best for you.
At neighbors church, we take a three-minute break during services. Three minutes to pause, reflect, rejuvenate, or whatever.
In those three minutes, people connect with others by having a conversation, sharing a thought or a laugh.
In those three minutes, people find nourishment by getting a donut, some fruit, a coffee or juice.
In those three minutes, people find some relief by stretching, using the bathroom, or stepping outside.
In those three minutes, people reflect on what they have experienced in church so far, they think about the songs they heard, consider something that was said and how it made them feel.
In those three minutes, people make plans with friends, think about their day and what they have coming up in the week.
In those three minutes, people prepare their minds, body and spirit to hear God’s message coming up after the break. They prepare to listen for ways God is speaking to them. For ways God is with them. For ways God is comforting them. For ways God is calling them.
A lot can be done in just three minutes.
What if we all took three minutes each day?
What if we took three minutes each day to pray?
To talk with God.
Share with God.
Rely on God.
Listen to God.
Lean on God.
Be uplifted by God.
Be energized by God.
To thank God.
To appreciate the mystery of God.
What if we took three minutes each day to express our love to God and to be remind ourselves that we are indeed, loved by God?
Maybe that is why we pray.