Have you ever started to pray before you realized you didn’t know what to say? Ever caught yourself praying the same mundane prayer night after night, just going through the motions? Or maybe you’ve felt inadequate praying in front of others, insecure because you’re afraid you’ll forget a request or stumble over your words or accidentally start reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (if that’s you, PLEASE leave a comment). Over the years, I’ve struggled with prayer, both its purpose and practicality. Recently though, a popular scripture suddenly struck me, and it’s served as the solution I needed.
Before I go on, I feel the need to address 2 items:
- I am not a theologian. I’ve read the Bible, and I’ve studied certain books and verses with no real direction from an expert. The opinions and beliefs shared in this blog are mine. Do with them what you will.
- It’s my firm belief that God does not care about the words. He cares about your motives when you come to Him in prayer.
With that, my goal in this post is to
a. share with you a particular prayer that has given me clarity over the past few months and
b. show you a practical application of this prayer, based on my non-scholarly observations.
You’ve probably heard it before:
“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 (NIV)
Now let’s break down this selection, line by line, and I’ve provided some examples of how you might incorporate your own personalization in prayer.
- “This, then, is how you should pray:”
This first line was monumental for me. I wondered how I should pray, and behold! If you ever don’t know how to start a prayer, JESUS GAVE US A SCRIPT — it can’t go wrong as long as you mean it.
- “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,”
Perspective! Who’s in heaven? Who’s not? God is in heaven, not me. He is greater than I could hope to become. And He’s a Father, a loving, caring, reliable Father. For anyone who has never known a positive father figure, this may be extra difficult to understand. But if you ask yourself what a father should be, God is that — and more! The second half of this verse required me to do some minor digging. The NLT version reads, “may your name be kept holy.” Google defines hallowed as “greatly revered and honored.” I love that this prayer starts by putting me in my place. I’m coming to God to give thanks, ask for forgiveness, and make requests — it’s not the other way around. I’m nothing.
— “Lord, You are in heaven; I am not.”
— “Father, I am a lowly human being; You are GOD! You made me, and You knew my name before I was conceived.”
- “Your kingdom come,”
The NLT version reads, “May your kingdom come soon.” This one is difficult for me to grasp because, as logical as it is to look forward to a day with no pain, no struggle, no stress, no hatred, etc., it still saddens me to imagine not getting to watch my son grow up. Eternity or Terribly Awesome Twos? It’s a toss-up.
— “Though I value my earthly treasures, I know that eternity with You will be greater than I can imagine.”
— “Though it scares me, I welcome the day when You redeem all the pain on this earth and bring us home with You.”
- “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
I’ll be the first to admit: this part sucks. Bad things happen: people die, storms destroy, mothers miscarry, kids get hurt, dads lose their jobs, and ice cold sweet tea topples onto the floorboard in the Texas heat. When my husband and I were recovering after our miscarriage and hoping every month for news that would redeem the pain, I prayed, “Thy will be done,” until I became angry and bitter. His will sucks sometimes. His timing isn’t always as perfect as I think mine is. Yet we’re supposed to desire His will, not ours. It’s easy to say, hard to mean.
— “Your ways are greater than my ways. Though I’m scared in this chapter of my life, I know You have plans to make me prosper, if I would just lean on You.”
— “Though I long for (____________), I trust Your ways and Your timing. I yield to Your will, even though it may be painful for me.”
— “We hope for a quick recovery but fully realize that You may have different plans for Grandma. Your will, not ours.”
- “Give us today our daily bread.”
First of all, I love food, and I’m thankful for the food that nourishes my family, even broccoli. But the Bible tells us that Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35). So when we pray this verse, the writer, in my untheological opinion, isn’t just referring to physical bread to be eaten and digested. He’s talking about Jesus and the Holy spirit. (You might wonder why you should have to ask for the Holy Spirit, but I guess even God appreciates an invitation on occasion.)
— “Thank You for the nourishment You provide our bodies.”
— “I invite the Holy Spirit to come in and change me. Make me a servant.”
— “Please bless us today with the nourishment we need, both physically and spiritually speaking.”
- “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
More than once, the Bible states that in order to be forgiven, we must forgive others too: your ex, the boss you want to hate, your attacker(s), the parent who left, the parent who stayed, the driver who cut you off, the stranger that gave you the bird because you missed your turn and almost caused an accident. There are some “unforgiveable” offenses, but we are called to forgive anyway. Don’t ask me how. But this verse forces me to think about those who have hurt me in some way, and if I’m still mad, I’ve got to try to forgive them. I’ve struggled with one particular person over the past year, but each time I pray this prayer, I forgive this person and choose to show love the next day. I often have to repeat this process many times. (But God’s got it worse, I bet.)
— “Though I’m struggling to let go of my anger, I forgive (So-n-So) for treating me with such disrespect. Teach me how to show love to this person the next time I see them. Please forgive me for my sins as well.”
— “Forgive me for (insert sin). In obedience to You, I choose to forgive (So-n-So) for the pain he/she has caused. Remind me to forgive again, as You have forgiven me again and again. “
- “And lead us not into temptation,”
Would God lead us to temptation? According to James 1:1 — No. Yet Jesus addresses temptation because even He was tempted to cave at times. By acknowledging the temptations in your life, you can easily see your imperfections and, with time, you’ll see that it will take more than sheer will to overcome them.
— “Today I’ve been tempted to (be rude to my spouse, yell at my kids, ignore my parents, think negatively, lie, steal, etc.)”
— “Give me the endurance to resist (another drink, walking out on my family, bottling everything up, making excuses, being lazy, being overly critical, etc.)”
- “But deliver us from the evil one.“
Referring to the previous line, Satan is the tempter. It’s important to realize that temptations themselves are evil. The Oxford Dictionary defines temptation as “the desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise.” I mean, how often are you tempted to eat your peas and carrots, and who would stop you? How often are you tempted to show love to that annoying coworker? When’s the last time you were tempted to give your money to the poor? Let’s not confuse temptation with obligation, which is “the condition of being morally or legally bound to do something.”
— “Save me from the enemy, as he attacks me at work and at home (list specific areas).”
— “Rescue us from the one who plants such negative thoughts in our heads and leads us to believe the worst in each other.”
— “Change me, as I am unable to change myself, surrounded by such evil in this world.”
Practice makes perfect, and prayer is no exception to the rule. While I believe God does not care about syntax or speech impediments, I know He cares about our motives. He cares that our hearts are in the right place when we come to Him in prayer.
This prayer was written down over two thousand years ago, and it still applies today. Talk about evergreen material!
The next time you pray, especially if you struggle to find the right words, read this prayer, and as you read each line, insert your own personal applications. From patience to finances, weight loss to spiritual growth, whatever you may be struggling with today, this prayer has you covered.
Share your thoughts, experiences, and your own take on this prayer in the comments below. And let’s remember to respect each other’s differences of opinion.