Patterning Prayer

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“Prayer is as natural to the Christian as breathing.” Have you heard that? Have you experienced how profoundly untrue it is? Have you realised that prayer does not come naturally at all? Prayer is certainly as necessary to the Christian as breathing, but it hardly comes naturally. As one pastor has said, prayer goes against the grain of our nature and therefore requires effort, dedication, and endurance.

As Jesus continued instructing his disciples about what it means to have surpassing righteousness, and specifically after he warned them against the barrier of hypocritical prayer, he turned to a positive model for prayer. “Pray then like this.” He gave them a pattern that they could follow in their prayers (Matthew 6:9–13).

I have recently offered some detailed thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer and I do not plan to repeat myself. I do think, however, that it will be helpful to consider, from this prayer, three reasons that we need a model prayer. If prayer was as natural to the Christian as breathing, there would be no need for models. (After all, we don’t require a model to teach us our to breathe.) The very fact that models for prayer abound—and that one of them came from Jesus himself—suggests that we need patterns to help guide our prayers. His model prayer identifies three reasons (and we could no doubt add more) that using a model is beneficial to our walk with the Lord.

First, using a model helps us to focus our priorities. Jesus identified the God-ward nature of prayer’s priority when he taught his disciples: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (vv. 9–10). Humans are profoundly self-centred creatures and our innate tendency is to turn to the Lord only when we have a tangible need. While we should certainly bring our needs before God in prayer, our priority should be his glory and the advance of his kingdom on earth as in heaven.

Second, using a model prayer helps us to identify (and overcome) our self-sufficiency. “Give us this day our daily bread” (v. 11). Not only are we profoundly self-centred creatures, but we are also deeply self-sufficient creatures. We tend to think that we are the source of our own needs being met. Like the Laodiceans, we far too frequently fall into the trap of believing that, through our own efforts, we are rich, have prospered, and have need of nothing (Revelation 3:15). Following Jesus’ pattern for prayer, or any similarly helpful pattern, reminds us that we are dependent on God to meet our daily needs.

Third, using a model prayer helps us to recognise (and repent of) our sinfulness. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (vv. 12–13). Humans are not only self-centred and self-sufficient; we are also naturally self-congratulatory. We are quick to spot the sin in others but slow to recognise it in ourselves. Adopting the Lord’s pattern helps us to admit that we are sinners—and that we do actually sin—and to see that we need his help to identify and resist temptation in our lives.

So, no, prayer is not as natural to the Christian as breathing, even though it is as necessary. But, unlike breathing, prayer is something that we need help with. We need to recognise that prayer goes against the grain of our sinful nature and that it therefore requires effort, dedication, and endurance. Modelling our prayers after a biblically-instructed pattern can be helpful in this regard.

As you reflect on the Lord’s Prayer this morning, help it to instruct you on your need to learn how to pray. Consider the lessons that it teaches you and then use those lessons to teach you how to pray more effectively.