Updated: Mar 9, 2018
TIME magazine once had a cover with the headline asking, "Is God Dead?" Two days after its publication a reporter asked Reverend Billy Graham the question, "Dr. Graham, is God dead?"
Billy Graham immediately responded with a resounding, "No!" The reporter followed up by asking, "Well, how do you know?" The reverend sharply replied, "Because I talked to Him this morning."
How did he talk to God? Through prayer.
Why then is prayer such a misunderstood subject and so controversial? Prayer is simply a conversation between mankind and his/her Creator. Throughout the ages, we hear about prayer, and in many cases people simply don't understand prayer. For most, it seems like a one-way conversation where we petition God for our wants and desires - like a genie in a bible!
Others think prayer is our way of convincing God to do our will by "storming the gates of Heaven" to make our demands known. And then act defeated and disappointed when God doesn't answer the way we desire.
And then there are those who think prayer is only reserved for the most holy among us, and in order for our prayers to be heard, we must perform some scripted ritual or petition someone in a higher position to pray on our behalf.
The fact is prayer cuts out the middle man and gives us the ability to directly communicate with our Maker - the God of Heaven and earth - and receive a response. Prayer or communication with Jesus is not mental illness or even crazy (as ABC's The View co-host, Joy Behar called it after the Vice President stated he believes Jesus talks to him every morning)! After all, why would we expect for God to simply hear us but never respond? That would be crazy!
Call it what you want, but I know for a fact our Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, speaks to me and He's speaking to you, too! If that makes us crazy, then so be it.
How then should we pray effectively, in order to connect with the living God?
Here are some tips in understanding how to pray:
Jesus used His own prayer as the model in Matthew 6, saying:
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 forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
To simplify and summarize the context of how we should pray, using modern English, this is what the model of the Lord's prayer teaches:
"Our Father in heaven" acknowledges His role in our lives as Abba Father, our eternal Caretaker and loving dad.
"Hallowed be Your name" recognizes and acknowledges His holiness and place. We don't used the word "hallowed" any longer, but it simply means "holy" or "sacred," and in this context it shows God as exalted above all things.
"Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" is an evangelistic and prophetic request. As Christians, we know that our lives on earth are temporary and there is a new heaven and a new earth coming, as referenced in Revelation 21.
But we also know that God’s kingdom is being established today as people come to know Him and become part of His family. So as we pray this line about God’s will being done, and God’s kingdom coming, we should remember that we are not only praying for the future but also for God to move on people's hearts right now, so they will give their lives over to Christ and establish His earthly kingdom.
"Give us this day our daily bread," isn't just about feeding us, but about giving us what we need. God knows our need and is able to supply all of it. We are simply asking Him to provide for our needs on a daily basis.
"And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," is not about money. Debts in this context means "sin," and it reminds us to not only repent and seek forgiveness for the sins we commit, but to help us to forgive the sins committed against us.
This is critically important. Forgiveness is not about the person who sinned or offended us, it's about preventing bitterness and anger from creeping into our lives as we are wronged. Just the same, our request for forgiveness of our sins turns away God's wrath and anger, and extends grace and mercy to us, as we extend the same to those who hurt us.
"And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." This catches many off-guard as it appears Jesus is asking God NOT to lead us into temptation as if God is the One who does that. In fact, this line is asking God for protection. He is asking for God to watch over us and help us move away from temptation so we will not give in to the devil.
"For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." This is, again, acknowledging the high place of authority in which God sits. It is a form of respect and honor.
While you do not need to pray the Lord's Prayer specifically verbatim, it does serve as a model for how we should pray. To reiterate, here are the important parts in summary:
1. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and praise - thanking Him for the many blessings while praising Him and acknowledging His position of authority as our Majesty.
2. Desire to serve Him and His people with passion - we are all here to build up the kingdom, and we should pray for Him to help us serve others and minister to their spiritual, physical, and emotional needs.
3. Petition God for provision and believe He will provide - all things belong to God and He knows our needs. He will supply our needs "according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" the Bible says in Philippians 4:19. But not just our needs. We should intercede and pray for God to meet the needs of others, too.
4. Ask for forgiveness. Christians aren't perfect, they're just forgiven. Without Christ in our lives, sin is not forgiven. Good works or having a kind personality, good heart, and peaceful presence will not buy your forgiveness of sin. Only Christ can do that once you accept Him as your Lord and Savior. (To learn how to accept Jesus and make Him Lord of your life, go here)
And when we learn how we are forgiven by Him, we can learn how to forgive others and prevent ourselves from carrying the burden of unforgiveness.
5. Ask for God's protection. We have an enemy that is like a thief, and he has one mission - to steal, kill, and destroy us (John 10:10). But, God has authority over even him. And He will protect us when asked. Pray for protection over your family, friends, children, school, work place, church, and community.
6. End with honor, just the way you began. Honoring God and recognizing His position of authority cannot be underestimated. You are talking about the One and Only true God who, with His voice, breathed life into being! He set the stars into place and formed the heavens and earth with His voice. Imagine how one with such power could overcome our most stressful situations! He is the God who is more than able to help you, and He deserves our respect, loyalty, and honor.
By using the Lord's Prayer as a model, we can connect with the living God and know He is alive and well, ready to bless His people.
And don't ever let anyone tell you that's crazy!
I recently read a great book by Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, titled, "The Daniel Prayer." It is an excellent resource for learning how to take your mediocre prayers to life-changing conversations with God. Be sure to check it out if you want to take your prayer life to a new level.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.