The Secret to Prayer
by Samuel Whitefield
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:1–4 ESV)
Luke 11 gives us a glimpse into an intimate conversation between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus had been praying and the disciples were so impacted by His conversation with His Father they asked Him to teach them how to pray. Jesus’ response to their question was stunning.
Jesus began by graciously responding to their request. He could have easily said His prayer life with the Father was unique because of who He was. He could have told them they could never achieve the kind of intimacy He had with the Father because of their weakness, sin, and immaturity. Instead of rebuking the disciples or creating some sort of expectation of distance between them and the Father, Jesus gave them a pattern of prayer that is both simple and profound. Jesus’ first sentence sets the expectation for how we should approach prayer:
And he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.” (Luke 11:2)
The words are so familiar to us it can be easy to miss the full weight of Jesus’ words. He taught us to approach God the same way He did. In other words, to pray correctly we should pray with the same confidence before God that Jesus had.
When we want to learn prayer, we usually look for answers about how to pray. We want to know what words to use. We want to know what we should pray for. We desperately want to get the formula for prayer right, but this is not where Jesus began. Jesus began with relationship. Jesus knew the sentences we speak in prayer are not nearly as important as having confidence in whom we are praying to.
Most of humanity is searching for the right formula for prayer, but Jesus warned us to not approach prayer that way:
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7–8 ESV)
Prayer does not begin with the right phrases, it begins with confidence in whom we are praying to. When we relate to God as Father—a truly good Father—it radically changes the way we pray. Our prayers become honest. They become vulnerable. They become relational. We search for formulas for how to pray, when in reality we need confidence in the One we are praying to.
We are not heard because of our fancy words or because we get the formula right. We are heard because He is our Father.
There are helpful tools we can use such as praying the Bible and prayer lists. However, prayer must begin with confidence in relationship, or words and phrases will become an empty ritual. Jesus taught us to approach God in prayer the same way He did.
If you were Jesus, how would you approach the Father in prayer? That is the way we are to pray. Next time you pray, see yourself approaching the Father with the confidence Jesus had. Other instructions for prayer are helpful, but this is where a vibrant prayer life begins.
Many believers have the sincere desire to improve their prayer lives. While there are many tools to help us pray, coming into connection with the truth of our relationship with God is what fuels a steadfast prayer life that is vibrant and fulfilling. Times of connection with our Father help focus and refocus us in the place of prayer. Onething, our annual young adult conference, is a time of connection with the One who hears prayer and responds. Consider joining us for this four-day event of worship, biblical teaching, and times of ministry. Join us in December!
Samuel Whitefield serves as faculty at IHOPU.