An alarming truth in Christianity is that prayer today is not what Jesus taught that prayer must be. Today's prayer violates and does not follow His teaching.
What should your prayers be like? The answer is as close as the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15). The Lord's Prayer is part of a lesson on prayer that Jesus gave.
What is the lesson?
First, Jesus made two preliminary points about prayer.
Prayer is not a public thing.
Unfortunately, in most churches and with most Christians, prayer is only a public thing.
"And when you pray, you will not be as the fakers because they are fond of standing to pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the plazas in order that they might be shown to the people. Amen, I tell you, they have all of their pay. But when you pray, go into your storage room. And after you close your door, pray to your Father in the hidden realm, and your Father who sees in the hidden realm will give back to you" (Matthew 6:5-6 from the Breakthrough Version).
This is what Jesus taught and this is what Jesus did. Jesus did not go around saying public prayers. No, he got up early in the morning and went to a private place to pray. This is why the disciples had to ask him how to pray. If Jesus had been praying out loud in front of them, they would not have to ask. They could just pray like He prayed in public. But Jesus did not pray in public.
To defend public prayer, some have asked, "What about the upper room?" My response is, "What about the upper room? Do you think they prayed out loud in the upper room?" Did Peter stand up and say, "I will start out in prayer and then we will continue around the circle until everyone has prayed. Then we will do it again and again all day and all night."? I don't think so.
Because your prayers are always public, you project this image on the Bible and think that in the upper room they prayed your way. Do you think that they did not know this teaching of Jesus? Do you think that they did not follow the example that Jesus set? In the upper room they prayed privately, quietly, each person to himself. This is how prayer should be done in our churches today. An hour, fifteen minutes, or five minutes of prayer should be a part of our church services. Church should be a house of prayer.
The second preliminary point about prayer is that you do not have to add a bunch of words to be heard by God. God knows what you are saying. You don't have to explain it to Him. You don't have to say it over and over again. You don't have to pray for a certain length of time. You don't have to use special words or phrases. He already knows what you need. Just talk to God as if He were standing right next to you.
Something that is obvious in Greek is that the Lord's Prayer is made up of six imperatives. An imperative is a demand or statement of something that is essential. "He ate the green beans" is a regular sentence (indicative). "He must eat the green beans" is an imperative. So the Lord's Prayer state six things that must happen in prayer.
Unfortunately, the Bible version that is usually quoted for the Lord's Prayer, the King James Version (KJV), does not translate this passage very accurately. The Breakthrough Version (BV) does. I have put the KJV and the BV side by side in the subtitles below so that you can see the differences.
When you pray, make the name of God sacred.
In Bible times a name was much more than a word. It signified a person's character and being. Prayer is a time to realize that God is not you or even close to you. He is on a level far above you.
Your prayers should not try to bring God down to your level but should raise your awareness of God up to His sacred level. "If you will look for the LORD your God, you will find Him, if you look for Him with all your heart and soul" (Deuteronomy 4:29).
Make God king. The world does not revolve around you. It does not revolve around Hollywood or Washington DC either. It revolves around God.
Pride, thinking that you are better than others, that you are king, is wrong. Making God king is right. Bringing God's empire to this earth involves first bringing it to you. You must make God king of everything. Prayer is a time for you to explore the areas where God is not king and what you can do to fix that. It also involves seeing how much God actually does control. Are you worried about something? Use prayer to see why you worry, that God is in control, and that He will do what is best.
God's empire works in this world in ways that are not seen and will not be seen until Jesus comes. You have a place in that empire. Prayer is a time to explore God's empire and trust it.
What must happen? What you want? No, what God wants. Ask what God wants. You know what you want, but do you know what God wants? Selfishness, doing what you want, is wrong. Doing what God wants is right. It is not something you automatically know. Prayer is a time to ask God what He wants and consider what He wants in every situation.
"Daily" is a wrong translation. The Greek word means next, not daily. God does not wait until the last minute to provides your needs. He gives them before they are needed.
This is not a request. It is an imperative. Another way of stating it is "You must give us...."
We owe God much. We owe Him to not sin. We owe Him to serve Him. We owe Him to think about Him. We owe Him our lives. Think about that. What should you have done? Prayer is a time to look at the events of the previous day and see where you went wrong with God.
This is not a request for forgiveness. It is an imperative. It is a reminder that God must forgive us of our debts. But there is a certain factor that goes along with this. See the next phrase.
This part of the prayer is telling God to forgive us in the way (as) we forgave (this is past tense in Greek, not present) others. In other words, if we did not forgive others of what we thought they owed us, we are telling God not to forgive us.
Look through your previous day. Who did something wrong to you? Who hurt you? Who had faults? Whom did you find fault in? Prayer is a time when you consider those people and release them from their debt. You may have to forgive them many times. If their fault comes up later (days or months later), release them again. You need to see that they are good people made in God's image. This is love.
This point is so important that Jesus expands on it afterwards in verses 14 and 15. If you do not forgive those who do wrong to you, God will not forgive you. That is clear. Jesus meant what He said. Sadly, this is a teaching that many Christians refuse to accept and do, so they end up living their lives with no forgiveness from God.
The problem some Bible scholars have with this passage is not with what is said but with the assumption they staple to these verses. The assumption is that if God does not forgive a person of his sins then he is not saved. That is never stated.
Christians who do not forgive their brothers are Christians who never experience the forgiveness and love of God even though they do end up in heaven at the end of their lives.
This teaching that God is not forgiving to a person who does not forgive is mentioned many times in scripture. Don't twist it into something it is not.
The KJV and most Bible versions make this an imperative. It is not. God does not take us into trouble. In Greek this verb is aorist subjunctive (which is often translated as future), not imperative. Are you looking for who got you into the mess that you are in? Don't look at God. Look at Satan. Look at yourself. Look at the people around you, but don't look at God.
Even though God did not get you into the mess that you are in, you can expect Him to get you out of it. He is the only One who can. This is another imperative. It is not a request. "You must save us from the evil." Prayer is a time to identify the trouble that you are in, how you got there, and trust God to rescue you from it.
God is bigger. Remember the greatness, power, and authority of God. Prayer is a time for you to remind yourself about how great God is.
Prayer is not a time when you say a bunch of words to God. It is a time when you align yourself with and listen to God. It is something that every Christian needs to do everyday. The Lord's Prayer gives you a list of guidelines for that.
Do you see what prayer should look like? Look at your prayers. Is this what they look like? If not, when you pray, go through the words of the Lord's Prayer, a phrase at a time, and do what that phrase says to do. Let Jesus teach you how to pray.