Search the gospels and you will find that Jesus assumed his disciples would pray.
On several occasions, he began teaching moments with the three words, “When you pray.”
If we are to learn to pray right, we will need to pay attention to the instructions Jesus gave his disciples about praying. So, let’s look at five of Jesus’ teachings.
One, Jesus said, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”
Here is a stern warning not to make prayer a spectacle, hoping to be seen and admired by others.
Two, Jesus said, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father.”
Thus does Jesus teach us that prayer can be an intimate, personal conversation with our loving heavenly Father. While we can, and should, pray with others, we should also establish the habit of talking with God alone, in a private place.
Three, Jesus said, “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
Authentic prayer, then, does not require an abundance of words. I once heard a man pray aloud in a meeting for more than 15 minutes. He prayed so long that I got bored and started timing his prayer.
My friend Mary Webster said that once she prayed alone for three hours and uttered only two words, “Help me.” Babbling on and on then while praying is to pray like a pagan, not like a child of God.
Four, Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
More than once Jesus reminds us that if we have an unforgiving spirit, we might as well not pray. To pray correctly includes seeking God’s forgiveness for our sins, but God will not forgive our sins until we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.
Five, Jesus said, “When you pray, say ‘Father, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come.”
What follows is Luke’s version of the “Lord’s Prayer.” Here is the revolutionary idea introduced to the people of God by Jesus, that our prayers are to be directed to “our Father.”
While many today are staunchly opposed to addressing God with the masculine word “Father,” it remains unshakably true that Jesus taught us to do so. That is an irrefutable fact.
Early in my Christian life, I struggled to know how to pray alone with God. I had no instructions about how to do it. Should I pray aloud or silently? Should I close my eyes? Bow my head?
Gradually I learned a few “patterns” for prayer, like the ACTS plan: Begin with adoration, followed by confession, thanksgiving and, finally, supplication. That is a good plan because it begins with the adoration of God and puts requests for yourself last.
It was E. Stanley Jones, however, who helped me most with the process of a quiet time of prayer. His plan was simple enough: “In your prayer hour, take your testament and a pen.”
That makes sense. How does God speak to us? Mainly, through the holy scriptures. Of course, His Spirit can speak directly to our spirit in our quiet time; sometimes we may hear the “inner voice” speak profoundly to our needs. But on a day-to-day basis, the best way to “hear” God, and to communicate with God, is to read the Bible, especially the New Testament, constantly asking these questions: “What is God saying to me in this passage of scripture?” “What would happen if I took this lesson seriously?” “How can I apply this teaching in my daily life?”
We do not “worship” the Bible though it our finest book. We may call it “The Book” for it is indeed the greatest book ever written. The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the Word of God so when we read the words of the Bible, we can ask these words to take us to the Word.
Then, we may invite the living Word of God, Jesus himself, to speak his word of guidance, correction or comfort to our seeking hearts.
Change our lives
There are words in the Bible that can change our lives from time to time — words such as hope, grace, forgiveness, peace, joy, love.
E. Stanley Jones says God has “gone into those words and he comes out of those words” to meet our needs when we need them.
Brother Stanley admits that all his life he would often press his lips to some verse on the page that touched his heart. Laughing, he says that “through that verse I kiss my Father’s cheek!”
I love that! And like Brother Stanley, we too can often see God’s face shining through holy words of scripture.
There have been several moments in my life when I knew God was speaking directly to me through some sacred words of scripture. It was like the Lord was calling my name!
I can identify with the Chinese Christian, Doctor Lo, who homesick and discouraged, turned to his New Testament for comfort. The first words his eyes fell on was Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always.”
So, when you pray, you may enrich your quiet time alone with God by doing more than closing your eyes and praying. You may read precious words of scripture and invite your Father to speak to you through those words.
Use your pen to make notes that may well be God’s message to you. Write down what you are “hearing” him say to you.
Then, thanking him for fresh words of hope and guidance, arise and get busy living like he tells you to live, knowing that Christ will indeed be with you always!
Walter Albritton is a Methodist minister and writes a weekly column for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.