Jesus’ prayer starts with acknowledging God as Father (a radical way to view God!) and a deep desire to see his will worked out on earth. It does not start with a list of “what I want”. It is the balance of celebrating the character of God, seeking God’s will for the world and our lives, rejoicing in our salvation, and acknowledging our sin that is so hard to keep when we pray without guidance.
It is interesting that Jesus teaches a prayer rather than giving a list of “things to pray about”. Prayer is caught rather than taught: we learn to pray by praying! As a result, the church through the ages has made great use of prepared prayers to express the longings of our hearts, the needs of our souls and the concerns of our minds. For example, here is a prayer of St Augustine (354-430 AD):
Almighty God,in whom we live and move and have our being,you have made us for yourself, so that our hearts are restless till they rest in you.Grant us purity of heart and strength of purpose,that no passion may hinder us from knowing your will,no weakness from doing it;but in your light may we see light clearly,and in your service find perfect freedom;through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. *
Thoughtful prayers, written by articulate and faithful followers of Jesus through the centuries can be very helpful because:
- They give us deep things to say to God when our own words don’t come to mind;
- They enable us to express our struggles and fears in ways that inspire hope in the goodness and power of God;
- They remind us that we face life’s challenges with the absolute assurance that God is with us;
- They orient us away from our own desires and towards the will of God when we have important decisions to make;
- They can give substance to our worship by acknowledging God’s sovereignty and grace.
Of course, the real issue with prayer is the attitude of our hearts, not the magnificence of our words. Praying to impress others, or thinking that many or fancy words impress God is wrong-headed (Matt 6:5-7); rather we seek intimacy with our heavenly Father.
Here are some prayers for you to try:
- Paul’s prayers: e.g. Eph 1:15-19; Phil 1:3-6, 9-11; Col 1:9-14; 1 Thess 3:9-13; Philemon 4-7.
- Psalms: e.g. 3, 8, 16, 25, 26, 28, 31, 42, 51, 63, 73, 86, 103, 123, 138, (and many others)
- Hannah’s Prayer 1 Samuel 2:1-10 ; Solomon’s Prayer: 1 kings 8:23-53, 56-61
- Prayers of the early church: try these Prayers of Early Christians, or First century prayers, or Early Christian prayers… (or Google others)
May the wonder of God touch your heart as you spend time with him.
* In: “2000 Years of Prayer” compiled by Michael Counsell, (Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg: PA, 1999).