How to Pray the Our Father Well
The prayer Jesus taught the disciples provides us with a blueprint for all our prayers, as CLAIRE ALLEN explains.
Let’s talk about prayer. For most of us, being on fire for the Lord and “praying without ceasing” is not happening.
Sometimes even ordinary prayer feels futile and hard to do. Why is that? It’s part of our fallen nature—a nature we must confront every day.
Prayer is one of the pillars of the Christian life — we can’t do without it. But our prayer lives often stagnate and run dry, and this can have a knock-on effect on the rest of our Christian life.
Problems with an ebb in prayer are very often caused by unresolved anger, fear, doubt and ongoing sinful habits. Bitterness and disappointment are big ones too. If these things are standing in the way of communicating with God, you need to do everything in your power to get rid of them. The cost of keeping them around is just too high.
How Jesus prayed
Jesus prayed many times, as we witness in the gospels. If it was necessary for him, it’s necessary for us.
He always prayed in the Father’s will — something we might not do but should always strive to. We don’t pray for our will to be done but God’s — he always knows what’s best. If we look back at situations in our own lives, we may sometimes be glad that God didn’t give us what we were asking for. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own.
Don’t pray on repeat
Do you find yourself praying about the same old things? That’s OK. In fact, it’s normal. Life doesn’t change dramatically all that often.
But don’t say the same old things about the same old things. This is where the Bible comes to our rescue. The people in the Bible went through the same things we do. You’ll find plenty to pray about and myriad ways to pray through Scripture.
David is a beautiful example. In his psalms he’s either yelling out in joyful thanksgiving or whispering out of the depths of despair — either way, he’s never wishy-washy.
He loudly proclaims God coming to his rescue — his rock and salvation — and he describes times of barren silence and depression when he asks where God is and begs him to return. He cries out in guilt when he has sinned, begging for forgiveness and reconciliation and in times of crisis asks for deliverance from his enemies.
For David, God was his moon and stars. Nothing happened without God; David was utterly dependent on him and pressed into him, weeping in bleak times and singing his joy, happiness and utter gratitude to God in good times.
To my mind, this is what “praying without ceasing” really means; it’s not only casual chatting or haphazard Thank-you Lords, though these have their place, too.
Jesus said: ‘Pray like this’
The Lord’s Prayer can be prayed sentence by sentence, expanding each sentence into a prayer. It’s important to do this for two reasons:
Firstly, we say this prayer every Sunday at Mass, and after a time it can become automatic, something that loses its meaning.
Secondly, Jesus gave us this prayer as a method of praying. “Pray like this,” he said.
So the Our Father can be a “blueprint” of every other prayer we say. Every part of the Lord’s Prayer can expand, reaching into every corner of your life and up, bridging the divide between you and God.
The Lord’s Prayer is split into two sections: (1) All about God; (2) Our interaction with God and others. And it’s deliberately in that order.
Let’s break it down.
All about God
Our Father: God. Our supreme creator. In him we live, move and have our being. He is Love. Without him, we wouldn’t know love or any good thing. He is our highest treasure and our greatest good and we long to be united with him.
Hallowed be thy name: Make your name sanctified, set apart your name in the minds and hearts of people as beautiful and sacred.
God is the reason for our lives—we were created to give him glory and to become conformed to the image of Jesus, the firstborn among many brothers. In other words, a new humanity. Let your people know and love you.
Thy kingdom come: Jesus spent a great deal of time teaching about the Kingdom of God—most of his parables are about it. So it’s pretty much an integral part of who we are and what we do.
And who are we? Children of God, adopted to sonship through the blood of Christ. What do we do? Kingdom-living — not the kingdom of this world, but the kingdom of heaven. It’s all about being conformed to this image of God’s son.
Thy will be done: This one is simple and we’ve heard it before—it’s thy will, not my will be done. I don’t always know what’s good for me; in fact, I may want the very things that could destroy me.
So we always want to pray that God’s will is done in all situations—above all trust that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).
Don’t miss the “for those who love God” bit—a reflex of the new-born heart. Pray for knowledge of God’s will in our lives.
On earth, as it is in heaven: Our eternal destination. Ask God to keep you on this path. We know Jesus reigns with all authority but there is still so much brokenness in the world. Ask that Jesus brings more of his kingdom to the world, starting with your own heart and family.
God and us
Give us this day our daily bread: Here’s where your personal dimension comes in. Pray for the things you need, thank God for the things he has given, and pray for the needs of others.
Forgive us our trespasses: We are in need of forgiveness every single day. Don’t let lingering and unforgiven sin become a barrier between you and God.
As we forgive those who trespass against us: This is equally critical. We dare not withhold forgiveness from others when we believe God has forgiven our sins. We forgive others because God has forgiven us.
Also, bearing grudges and holding bitterness blocks our Christian walk in the Kingdom of God. Ask God to fill you with his strength so that you are able to lay aside all past hurts.
Lead us not into temptation, Deliver us from all evil: Here’s where you ask for protection, where you ask God to keep you on the path of faith, where you ask that “your enemies be turned as to stone as you pass by”.
Here’s where you ask that you will not fall into sin or stop wanting the Lord or be distracted by useless worldly pursuits that entertain you for a short while but leave you wanting.
Extending the blueprint
Pope Francis said about the Lord’s Prayer: “It’s important to start every prayer with addressing God as ‘Father’.” That is because it reminds people they are children of God.
“Without feeling that we are children, without feeling oneself a son or daughter, without saying ‘Father’ our prayer is pagan,” he said—it is an empty prayer built only on words. The “cornerstone of prayer” is the Father. All prayers must begin with God, the Father, also because he knows his children and what they need even “before we ask him”.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer can be a ring-fence around your prayer life to stop you becoming distracted or repeating the same things. It also deepens your love for this “blueprint” which Jesus gave us. This “blueprint” can be extended to many other parts of the Bible, all the while deepening our knowledge of God’s word.
You just can’t lose.
Claire Allen is the digital editor of The Southern Cross.