My earliest memories of prayer are repeating ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ in school assembly. At the time these were just words to which I gave little consideration and simply repeated verbatim.
As a teenager and young adult, I knew about the importance of talking to God. I had been told I should approach him as if I was having a conversation with a friend, and my prayers were very much like that, albeit very one-sided conversations that were mostly about me, with some thoughts about others thrown in for good measure.
Jesus rightly understood our human weaknesses and knew that left to our own devices we would neglect to give God his proper place. Using the Lord’s prayer as a template for prayer helps remind us to do this.
At this point I don’t remember giving the Lord’s Prayer any consideration. A group bible study1 of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) in my twenties was key in developing my understanding and practice of prayer. One overarching lesson has remained with me and continues to influence my prayers.
In the opening verses, Jesus emphasizes the need for us to make God preeminent in our prayers. First, he directs us to think about God’s position as our Father and his status in heaven; then he directs us to hallow God’s name. To hallow means to let God’s name be holy, sanctified, praised and prized2, and this involves putting God first in our prayers by worshipping him simply for who he is.
Jesus then directs us to pray for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done; still, the focus is on God.
Significantly, it is only as we reach the end of the prayer (Matt. 6:11-13) that Jesus guides the focus towards our human considerations: instructing us to ask for daily needs to be met, sins to be forgiven and help to avoid temptation. This highlighted to me the importance of praying in a manner where God’s greatness and plans should be first on our agenda. My prayers often missed this significant perspective, containing concerns for myself or others but missing the praise of God Himself.
I don’t believe Jesus’ intention in giving us the Lord’s Prayer was for us to repeat it mindlessly, or to discourage spontaneous, heartfelt, prayers about issues that are important to us, of which there are many examples in Scripture.
As a teenager and young adult, I knew about the importance of talking to God. I had been told I should approach him as if I was having a conversation with a friend…
However, I believe Jesus rightly understood our human weaknesses and knew that left to our own devices we would neglect to give God his proper place. Using the Lord’s prayer as a template for prayer helps remind us to do this.
Whether we use the Lord’s Prayer as our template, ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), or a different approach, the most important thing is that we put God and his things first, coming to ourselves last of all. Jesus instructed,
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33)
Giving God his proper place changes our perspective, and we can then trust him with whatever is to come.
Sharon Reilly, The Church of God in Cardiff