Learning how to pray like Jesus
Praying never came easy for me.
At first, I worried I wasn’t doing it right. I’d get so concerned with how I was praying, I’d lose track of what I was saying.
Even after I realized prayer is a conversation not a performance, I still wrestled with what to do. I would bow my head and wait for the words to come. Eyes closed, I had good intentions of talking to God, but instead, I often ended up making grocery lists and writing emails in my mind.
To many of us, the idea of talking to God can feel too spiritual, too significant to be entrusted to a regular person. But the more I read the Bible and learned about prayer, the more I realized that’s exactly who prayer is for.
Prayer is not a special gift reserved for some people. It’s a direct line to our Heavenly Father and it’s open to all people.
Jesus’ close friends were surrounded with ritualistic examples of prayer, and He was so passionate about helping them understand what prayer should be that He gave them (and us) a model for what to do.
“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 6:9-13).
Maybe your team huddled up and recited this prayer before games. Maybe your mom or dad prayed it with you every night before bed. After a while, the Lord’s prayer can start to feel like a magic chant or incantation. But like any good model, the power isn’t in the words themselves but in what Jesus is teaching us to do.
3 Things Jesus Teaches Us About How to Pray
Jesus starts His prayer by celebrating God for who He is. Hallowed is an old English word for holy. It isn't a word we use often, but it's the best way to describe God.
Taking a few minutes to acknowledge that God is above all changes the tone of our conversation. Reflecting on God’s character puts our relationship into perspective and allows us to come to Him in humility. Then, as we start to speak, we’re more aware that this is the Almighty, our loving Father, not an equal or a genie required to respond to our wishes.
Some of the best examples of celebrating God’s character are found in the Psalms, a book of worship songs and prayers nestled in the middle of the Old Testament.
- “To Him who alone does great wonders, For His loving kindness is everlasting” (Psalm 136:4).
- “For Your loving kindness is great above the heavens, And Your truth reaches to the skies” (Psalm 108:4).
- “Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples” (Psalm 77:14).
The second thing Jesus does is anticipate what God will do on Earth and in the kingdom to come.
We all have something we’re looking forward to. Maybe it’s the birth of a child, the start of a new job, or the family reunion you’ve been planning for a year. In our minds, we have a picture of how things will go.
But rather than praying for the details of our day to go according to our plan, Jesus teaches us to look forward to God’s will being done. Our vision for the future is not always the same as the Lord’s.
God sees more than we do, knows more than we do, and loves better than we do. In Isaiah 55:9, God reminds us of this, telling Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We know the best is yet to come because we know the one who is to come.
No matter what’s happening in the world around us, we know the best is yet to come because we know The One who is to come. God is working in this world in ways we cannot fathom, and His plans for eternity — His kingdom come — are better than anything we could imagine. Remembering that truth is what allows us, as Christians, to have hope in all circumstances.
The last part of Jesus’ example focuses on asking for help to be more like God and more dependent on God. Jesus teaches us to specifically ask God for three things:
- provision (“our daily bread”),
- forgiveness (“forgive us our debts”),
- and guidance (“lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”).
Who doesn’t need all three of those things on a daily basis? But if I’m being honest, those are the three things I’m least likely to remember to ask for.
I spend most of my prayer time asking for healing for friends and family members, guidance for friends and colleagues struggling with major life choices, and salvation for others who don’t yet have a relationship with Jesus.
Those are all good things. But if I’m spending my time praying only for others I’m forgetting that prayer isn’t just about seeing life change in others, it’s about God changing me.
Asking for provision reminds me that I need God’s help to do everything, even the things I feel confident in my ability to handle. Asking for forgiveness forces me to confront my own sin before launching into a prayer for someone else’s. And asking God for guidance protects my heart from pride by reminding me that I’m only able to avoid sin with His help. I might be forgiven, but I’m far from perfect.
Like small talk on a first date, praying felt awkward the first few times I tried it. But like any other healthy relationship, with time and effort, a deep affection begins to replace the awkwardness.
The words still come slowly some days, but even in those moments, I can go back to Jesus’ example and find something to celebrate, to anticipate, and to ask God for.
Looking for help learning to pray? Check out this 27-day prayer guide.