Beckett: What is Prayer?

Question 231 in the Small Catechism defines prayer as “speaking to God in words and thoughts.” Is it really that simple? Yes, it is. A lot of people tell me they don’t know how to pray. I find this hard to believe, for most of these people have the Lord’s Prayer memorised. I don’t think it’s so much that they don’t know how to pray, but that they’re afraid to use their own words and also afraid of sounding like a blundering idiot in front of people. Of all people, Christians should not feel anxiety when they pray because they’re not praying to a Judge who weighs our prayers against certain evidence. Rather, we pray to our Father who loves to hear our prayers.

I like to think of it this way: When a child brings her artwork to her earthly father, he doesn’t say how terrible it is because it’s nothing compared to Rembrandt, Monet, or Van Gogh (or Lucas Cranach the Elder if he’s Lutheran). Instead, he adores it and hangs it up in his office. In the same way, when our heavenly Father hears your prayers, He doesn’t scoff at them because they sound nothing like Luther’s prayers, or Augustine’s, Paul’s, Moses’, or your pastor’s. Rather, He adores them and holds them in His gracious hands.

If you really think you don’t know how to pray, simply pray the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord gave us these words not simply as a guide, but they are also His words. No human prayer can top our Lord’s. Do you hallow God’s name on your lips? Are you living joyfully in His kingdom? Do you desire His will over your own? Do you trust in Him for your daily bread? Do you need forgiveness (hint: you always need it)? Is there someone you refuse to forgive? Are you beset by temptation and evil? All these things are always needed; therefore, we pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly, if not daily.

If you’re more anxious about praying extemporaneously—that is, using your own words—this is the guide I always teach others that I learnt in college:

P — Praise God
R — Repent
A — Ask
Y — Yield

Using this guide, prayer before a congregational meeting could sound like this: “Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank You for safely gathering us this evening to discuss the matters of the church. Forgive us where we have gone wrong in advancing Your kingdom. We ask that Your Holy Spirit guide our discussions tonight, that we may converse with mutual respect and calmness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord,” OR “according to Your good and gracious will. Amen.” We can even use the words of the saints who have gone before us, like Luther’s morning and evening prayers, or the prayers prepared for certain situations in the hymnal or, for pastors, the Pastoral Care Companion. We can even be audacious enough to pray the Psalms, which are the true prayers of the Church. Much more can be said about using this guide I’ve given (such as how you pray to each person of the Trinity), but this should suffice for now.

However you pray, always know you pray to your dear Father in Heaven who loves to hear from you.


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