Jesus promised His apprentices that they could live a life of continual connection with Him. Prayer is one way, among many, that we receive and enjoy that abiding life with Jesus. Throughout the ancient biographies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there are many examples of Jesus himself praying. Sometimes he goes away in secret to a desolate place to pray in silence and solitude. Other times he prays publicly among groups of people. He taught his disciples to pray, and we see his earliest followers praying in His name.
Looking at Jesus’ example and teaching, it’s clear that prayer is relational connection with the living God. God is not a theoretical or philosophical concept or a mere power like electricity that we need to tap into somehow. Our prayer life involves real and tangible connection with God, who is personal. We come to God to interact with him, personally and honestly, trusting that nothing we say will surprise God or be off-putting to Him. He made us. He knows us.
Prayer involves both outward and inward dimensions. Outwardly, prayer is one of the ways God has ordained for us to contribute to His work of redemption in the world. C.S. Lewis pointed out that in addition to our physical work, prayer is a foundational, powerful way that we join God in overcoming evil with good. Prayer is much more powerful than our physical work because it involves God’s power brought to bear upon our world, so God, in his loving kindness, sifts through our prayers because of the magnitude of what could be accomplished through them. Our physical work, on the other hand, has built-in limits to the effects it could have on the world.
The inward dimension of prayer involves formation. God made us dynamic beings who are capable of change and transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Prayer, being interaction and time with God, has the potential to change us. As we spend time with Jesus in prayer, He changes us, He transforms us more and more into His image.
There are many prayer practices we could engage in, and I would encourage you to explore and experiment with a variety of ways of praying. I’d suggest beginning with The Lord’s Prayer, as found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. This prayer was the response Jesus gave to his disciples saying, “Lord teach us how to pray.” Of all the things he could have said to them, this is what he chose to say:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your Name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and forever.Amen.
A regular habit of praying this prayer will keep us focused on the main plot and purposes of Jesus rather than side projects and alterative agendas. These are his priorities for his apprentices. To pray this prayer, begin by simply praying it, as it’s written. As you pray, work at slowing down your pace and then pausing briefly after each phrase. “Our…Father…in…heaven. (pause)” Slowing down may help you to really think and feel what you’re praying. You may also find that the silence that slowing down creates enables you to experience the nearness and presence of God in new ways.
A second way of praying The Lord’s prayer is to pray it a phrase at a time and expand each phrase with your own thoughts. Doing this allows you to think about the meaning of each phrase and apply it to your specific circumstances. It’s meditative in that you mine the words for meaning and application. As you do this, you’re essentially saying, “Jesus, you set the topic, and I’ll dwell on it in prayer.” After you’ve exhausted a phrase, you move on to the next one. For example, when dwelling on the first phrase, “Our Father in Heaven,” the following topics come to my mind: our adoption in Christ, God’s constant and meticulous care for our ever need, His protection, His love, and His nearness. Each one of those ideas could be expanded upon through prayers of thankfulness and petition.