Bible Study: Praying to God

In today’s study, we take a look at the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples to learn how we can grow in praying to the Lord.

Introduction

This is part 3 of our Bible study series on Jesus’ sermon on the mount to His disciples.  So far in this series, we have taken a dive into both the Beatitudes and the Mosaic Law to see what they both mean for genuine believers in the world today.  The next subject we are going to take a look at in this study is one that many believers are familiar with – prayer.

All of us believe we know a thing or two about prayer, right?  But for the disciples, the way in which they were going to start communicating to the Lord was going to be brand new.  Jesus had to teach them how to properly pray to the Lord. I believe this is something that we as believers should always go over so that our prayer life is one that is always proper.  

If you are not “big” on prayer, but say you have faith in the Lord, I feel like this is a study you should pay close attention too.  Prayer is the most valuable thing that we as believers have in our relationship with the Lord. A lot of times we do not take advantage of the tool that is our line of communication with the Lord.  So, let us take a look at prayer and how we properly pray to the Lord.

Prayer is personal

It is interesting when we take a look at what Jesus first says about prayer in Matthew 6 (Matt. 6:5-15).  I think the thing that stands out most to me about what He first says, is how He essentially tells us that prayer is something that is very personal.  I think this is very important for us to know because it also explains our relationship with the Lord as well.  All of us have very unique and personal relationships with the Lord.

Jesus first says to us (Matt. 6:5), “you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.”  I will touch on part of this in a moment, but people thought they could only pray in the temple (or synagogue) in those days.  So, some would go to the temple to pray but do so in a manner that they could be seen praying.

The Lord does not ask for public displays of affection from us!  Some folks love to be seen doing things, for whatever reason. Yet, we have a personal relationship with the Lord and so when we communicate with Him, not everybody needs to see us doing it or hear us doing it.  Everybody is not involved in our personal relationship with God.

So, Jesus tells the disciples (Matt. 6:6), “when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”  Again, I tell you, our relationship with the Lord is one that is personal, but it is also an intimate relationship!  What you say to God, and even what He answers to you, is between you and the Lord!

There are many times when people ask me to pray a prayer for them.  There is certainly nothing wrong with them doing that, and we should certainly pray for one another (James 5:15).  However, I often advise those who ask me to pray for them, to also pray for themselves. Sometimes people want others to talk to God for them and don’t talk to Him themselves.  That’s not how our relationship with the Lord works! No, we have to go talk to the One who loves us and not always try to send others to do it for us.

Who can pray to God?

The beautiful thing about prayer is that anybody can pray to the Lord.  Because I am the pastor/preacher, I often get asked to do the prayer in public settings.  I certainly understand the tradition of the pastor/preacher leading prayer, but the preacher is not the only person that can pray to the Lord.

All who genuinely believe in the Lord inherit the right to communicate with their Father in heaven.  John wrote (John 1:12), “as many as received Him, to them He [Christ] gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”  There is nobody that can prohibit you from praying to the Lord! You have just as much right to pray to God as I do!

Again, there are people who often ask me to pray for them because they believe my prayer has more “power” to get through to God.  No, in all honesty, all of us have the same reach to the Lord IF we pray faithfully to Him.  Jesus tells all of us that anything we ask for in His name will be done (John 14:13-14).  Anybody can pray to the Lord, but in order for the prayer to be heard and answered by God, it must be done out of genuine faith.

Where to pray?

Also notice what Jesus says about where one should pray.  At church, one of my members has mentioned where he does and does not pray.  He often explains that he does not pray in the bathroom because he does not feel that is a proper place to pray to the Lord.  As I explained before, prayer is something that is personal between you and the Lord. Personally, I will pray any and everywhere to God!

In ancient times, however, the temple (or synagogue) was deemed the “proper” place for prayer. We even see this illustrated to us in Jesus’ Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).  In the parable, both men went to the temple (synagogue) to pray.  The Pharisee used it as an opportunity to gloat about his faith and put down the tax collector.  Certainly a misuse of praying publicly, right?

There are many people who still make going to the temple or church to pray part of their practice of faith today.  Some do not pray unless they go to their temple or to their church building! Yet, what happens when you’re unable to get to the temple or to the church building to pray?  Do you go without praying during that stretch? I certainly understand wanting to pray “on holy ground” but the Lord dwells inside of all of those who genuinely believe in Him.  

Paul asked (1 Cor 6:19), “do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”  You see, a piece of God is dwelling in your heart (that is your soul).  Therefore, holy ground is wherever you go because you have the Holy One dwelling in your spirit today!  You do not have to be in the church or temple to pray to the Lord! You can pray absolutely anywhere you feel comfortable.

 Some may think that Jesus also had a problem with public prayer when they read: “You shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues.”  The preferred place for prayer, I believe, is somewhere that is private but there is nothing wrong with public prayer. Jesus was mostly speaking against how the hypocrites were using (or misusing) public prayer.  Again, they were using it for the sole reason of being seen when prayer is not about being seen.

Prayer does not have to be long

In our prayers, Jesus then tells us something that all of us need to hear and remember.  He says (Matt. 6:7), “when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”  One of my biggest gripes about prayer, especially when I was younger, was folks used to be long and repetitive in their prayers!  Some heard those prayers and believed that was how one should pray.

Jesus makes one thing very clear to us about our prayers, there is no need for us to use vain repetitions in our prayers.  Jesus pointed to the fact that heathens would do do that when they would pray to their gods. This reminds me of when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and they kept repeating their prayer so that Baal could hear them (1 Kings 18:26-29).

If you’re not familiar with the story, let me give you a quick summary because it serves a point to our study.  The prophets of Baal spent the entire day praying to their altar for Baal (a false god) to answer their prayers.  They began to jump on their altar (a stone bull) and even cut themselves so that Baal would answer. By evening, there was no response of any kind to their prayers.

Elijah, after mocking them and having a good laugh, prayed one time to the Lord and the Lord answered immediately (1 Kings 18:30-38).  If you look at Elijah’s prayer, his prayer was very simple. Elijah asked that the Lord reveal He was God so that the people could turn back to the Lord and away from the idols (1 Kings 18:36-37).  You will notice in his prayer, Elijah did not have to say anything repetitively nor did he use any elaborate or eloquent words.

Again, prayer is something that is personal.  God is not going to judge you on whether you use elaborate or simple words.  What is made clear to us is that when we do pray, we should be concise (to the point).  Our Father, Jesus tells us, already knows exactly what we need before we even ask (Matt. 6:8)! With this being the case, there is no need to beat around the bush or to plead and beg with the Lord in our prayers!  Pray and have faith in the petition you have made of the Lord in that prayer.

The example of a genuine prayer

Jesus then gives us an example of how to pray.  We call this prayer the “Lord’s prayer”, but if you really want to see the Lord’s prayer, you should look at His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 17).  No, the prayer that we see here on the mount was more so an example or a model for how the believer should pray.

This is here because Jesus was teaching the disciples a new way to pray. Throughout their following of Jesus, He would teach the disciples about prayer. I will reference some of those teachings as we continue through our study.

Acknowledging the Lord

I, admittedly, do not say this prayer much because I have been praying for so long that I pray my own prayers!  That said, we should certainly use this prayer to teach others how to pray and what to pray for. Notice that Jesus opens this example by acknowledging who it is He is praying too.  Jesus says (Matt. 6:9), “Our Father, in heaven.”  

As I mentioned earlier, all of us that genuinely believe in God have earned the right to be able to pray to our Father who reigns from His throne in heaven.  We do not pray to anybody – no man, no woman, no other deity – but the Lord, our Father God in heaven. Jesus died for us to be able to make petitions of the Lord and so we should certainly pray to the Lord!

Now, when I pray, I usually start by saying “Our Father” when in a group, or I say “Lord” when praying to myself or with another.  My dad had one of the most beautiful openings in his prayers. He would say something along the lines of, “To the most righteous, Almighty, everlasting and eternal Father God.”  

Hearing him say that would always make me smile when I was younger, but mostly because I didn’t get it and thought it was funny.  Now, I certainly understand what drove him to saying that because that was his love for the Lord speaking. That was also my dad’s personal relationship with the Lord speaking.  I believe all of us should open our prayers in our own way, but we should always acknowledge who it is we are praying too at the start of our prayers – God.

Supplication made known

Now, notice in the petition of this model prayer how concise it is.  Jesus, in the model prayer, says in this petition (Matt. 6:11), “Give us this day our daily bread.”  So, for that day, this prayer asks for the Lord to be a provider (of food or maybe whatever they needed to make it through the day).  There’s no repeating of what is being asked of the Lord here.

You will notice that same manner continues with the next petition of the Lord.  Jesus prays (Matt. 6:12), “Forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.”  This, we recognize, is a prayer of forgiveness. Now, Jesus does not need to pray for forgiveness because He has no debts (trespasses) against the Lord.  We are very sinful, and we certainly still commit sins even after proclaiming our faith so we should always pray for forgiveness.

Again, I want you to pay attention to how concise this prayer of forgiveness is in the model prayer.  Jesus does not get into a manner of bartering in this model prayer. What I mean by that is that we do not see Jesus saying, “Lord, IF you forgive me, then I will do (fill in the blank).”  The child does not have to barter with the Father to receive anything from Him. Again, the Lord knows when we have done wrong, He simply looks for us to admit our wrong and seek His forgiveness.

In the last examples of petitioning the Lord, Jesus prays (Matt. 6:13), “Do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”  Again, every petition that Jesus made of the Lord is concise – to the point. I want to keep making this point because Jesus is not drawing this prayer out by begging and pleading incessantly.  We do not have to pray in such a manner to where we are constantly begging and pleading as if God did not hear us the first time around!

Praying in Jesus’ name

Now, let’s note how Jesus ends this model for a prayer.  Jesus says (Matt. 6:13), “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”  He concludes this prayer in the same manner in which He opened this prayer by acknowledging who it is the prayer is too.  The prayer is to the Lord, and the prayer is filled with faith in the Lord’s power and the Lord’s glory.

 I referenced a scripture earlier in this study from John’s gospel (John 14:13) – Jesus was teaching the disciples more about prayer in this scripture.  Jesus said, “whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”  In the model prayer, we see Jesus praying in the name of the Father.  Jesus taught us that when we pray, we should all pray in a like manner.

You will hear many public prayers closed out with the words, “in the name of Jesus I pray.”  This, when said genuinely, indicates that the one praying has faith in what Jesus said He would do.  We must remember that Jesus is God – that was the name given to the flesh form of God.  God is the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. When we pray in the name of Jesus, we are also praying faithfully in the power and glory of God.

Your prayer of faith must be genuine

If there is anything we should take away from the model prayer is the genuineness of that prayer.  The prayer is one that is filled with real faith in the One who is capable of granting the blessings that we pray for.  One of the things that many who are not necessarily strong prayers say to me often is that they “don’t believe their prayers work.”

Prayer is never going to work if you do not have faith in what it is you’re praying for and who it is you are praying too.  There are many people who pray in such a manner that they want to test to see if God is real, listening, and can do what they have heard said He can do.  Then, when nothing instantly happens, they turn away and say, “I knew God wasn’t real” or “I knew prayer did not work.” Who are we to think that we can test God?

Let me tell you, if you have ever said these things before, you were never praying a prayer out of genuine faith.  You essentially want the blessing without having faith in that blessing being delivered.  In order for prayer to work, the prayer must be of genuine faith in the Lord.

Prayer should mature

I also want to say this about prayer:  our prayers and our prayer life should mature as we mature in our faith.  For example, all of us go through different things and we all have different needs that the model prayer does not include.  Yes, the model prayer is great for a beginner – somebody learning how to pray – but over time you should learn how to add your needs to that prayer and make it a prayer of your own.

We should certainly not use vain repetitions, and to add to that, we should certainly not pray for vain (meaningless) things.  Often times, about prayer, we hear someone say (John 15:7), “you will [pray] what you desire, and it will be done for.”  We begin to think of every lustful and vain thing in our hearts to pray about, and we believe that God is going to bless us.

Again, we must grow up – we must mature – in our prayer life.  Prayer does not work in that manner. The Lord does not reward the covetousness heart (Luke 12:15).  In fact, covetousness is something that the genuine believer is supposed to move from within their heart (Eph. 5:3).  No, when you pray, do not pray for what you covet or lust after, pray for what you need.  (There is a difference between what we want and what we need – be sure to learn this difference.)

Remain humble and thankful

Let us also remember to remain humble in our prayer life.  I mention this because I do not believe the prideful person truly ever prays for anything.  Pride leads to destruction and so this is another thing the believer should remove from his or her heart (Prov. 16:18).  A humble person will always recognize their need to come to the Lord.  This is why I always preach and teach about being humble.  The humble person will not only pray for themselves but they will also learn to pray for others as well.

Lastly, I want to add that we should also learn to be more thankful in our prayers.  We should always praise and thank the Lord for His providence, care, mercy, and love.  Paul wrote (Phil. 4:6), “but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.”

When I pray, I typically give thanks to the Lord in the opening of my prayer.  I thank the Lord for allowing me to see another day. I also thank God for allowing me to see and talk to loved ones along with the food I ate that day.  I especially thank God for allowing me to continue to be able to make it on this journey each and everyday.

It is important for us to give thanks to the Lord and acknowledge Him.  We do not do that enough and that is truly saddening that the believer does not give Him thanks.  We have a line of communication that Job cried for in his day of troubles (Job 9:33). Now, in our day of troubles, we have that line of communication directly to the Lord that we should be grateful for.  Not only that, but we have a right to the eternal kingdom because of God’s only begotten Son (John 3:16). God has done so much for us that we should certainly be thankful for.

I hope you enjoyed this study and will share this study with somebody, somewhere.  If you have any questions or comments that you would like to make about prayer, feel free to share them below!

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About Pastor Leo H. McCrary II

Rev. Leo H. McCrary II

Rev. Leo H. McCrary II was licensed to preach August 12, 2012, and ordained April 28, 2013. Currently pastors at Christian Unity in Douglasville, GA and online through New Found Faith.

Questioning Your Faith?

You are saved by Faith - Eph. 2:8-9

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Who can be saved? - Romans 10:13

Salvation is free! It is God's Love - John 3:16-18

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God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit - John 5:6-8



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