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What to say when you pray

Many people say they don’t pray because they don’t know how; they don’t know what to say. I, too, confess to being more reluctant when praying aloud and in public. (Aloud in the shower is fine.) But God is not demanding a soliloquy or poetry of any kind. No PowerPoint presentation is necessary.

He says “all kinds of prayers and requests” are accepted. (Eph. 6:18)

Don’t feel “less-than” for being uncertain about what to say; even the apostles asked how to pray. Here’s the answer they received:

9 “Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day [a]our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from [b]evil. [c][For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
(Matthew 6:9-13 New American Standard Bible)

Casual or formal with God?

This works out great for us because we now have this obviously perfect example.
But do we understand what we have? Many people read the Lord’s Prayer and hear a formality that is beyond them (even when it’s not the King James version), and they think formality is what’s expected. But language is an interesting thing; it changes in tone and formality through not just translations but through the times. What we read as formal and proper was probably everyday Aramaic. Pretty standard speaking for Jesus and his disciples. It was respectful, as one might expect when talking to someone of infinite power, but it was plain language of the day.

So it’s OK if you wouldn’t—and don’t—use “hallowed.” If a phrase like “give us this day our daily bread” is just not how you think or talk, it’s OK. My stepfather often thanked God for the vittles (no, not victuals) at the table, and I’m sure God heard and understood him just fine. God speaks your language.

Jesus used words and phrases that fishermen and carpenters were comfortable with. He prayed about things that concerned them. He spoke about little things–their daily needs (feed me, don’t let me be hungry; give me a meal today and every day).

And he spoke of the big things—such as debts and the will of heaven here on earth.

He also spoke of character; we have forgiven our debtors, his prayer states. If we haven’t, apparently we should have!

Where, when and from what position you say prayers are all immaterial too. Jesus wasn’t on his knees when he shared this prayer with the boys. And although he said go into your room to pray instead of standing and praying on the street (Matt. 6:5-6), the bigger concern was the attitude. Don’t say poetic prayers for the praise of your peers; pray from your heart, to and for your God.

Time of prayer

If Jesus’ prayer had been divided into two parts, one said in the afternoon and another in the evening, it would still work. If you prayed for your needs today and the world’s needs tomorrow, it would be OK. Pray for your family in the morning and your leaders at night; it’s OK with God. If you pray for food in that moment you feel hunger, spontaneously, unplanned, it’s a good prayer. And if you say thank you sometimes instead of asking for anything, it would be nice. Gratitude is good for you, and God might appreciate it! And if you want to complain because you’re hungry or angry because James the Welcher didn’t pay you what he owed you, God will listen. He understands your moods. And He knows what you need better than you do. He’s a perfect Dad and wants us to come to Him for all things.

God has provided us this open door of communication. Use it and talk to Him. Whine, cry, laugh, joke, praise. He just wants you to pray. And don’t forget to stop and listen too, because this should be a two-way conversation. Jesus tells us to pray without ceasing; this means that talking to and listening to God is part of our everyday life; it’s how we live. It’s probably more like texting than a phone call—the response you get might not be immediate! God is listening and He does respond!
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