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How do you learn how to ride a bike? Well, you read the instruction manual, watch presentations on YouTube, listen to podcasts, take a college lecture and study the views of famous bike riders, right? Well all of those things will expand your knowledge about bike riding, but it won’t help you at all to practically ride a bike unless you actually get on one. The best information or tips will only aid you if you are actually practicing the bike riding concepts. So how do you learn how to pray? Well I read books and study sermons on it and… you see where this is going. Prayer isn’t just something we learn about, it’s something that we do. Now I am, of course, not against studying about prayer as that will aid you in your proper practice of it. However, the only real way to learn how to pray… is by praying.

Now every true believer already has a base sense of what it means to pray, if they have called upon the name of the Lord then they have already prayed. Prayer should come naturally to believers, even if it’s the simple “Lord help” given in times of desperation. Prayer is the breath of the regenerate soul. There is no such thing as an unpraying Christian. But we are often unsatisfied with our prayer life, we feel convicted because we know that we should pray more but we do not. Often our problem is that we do not know what to say or how to say it. Thankfully, Jesus Christ has already given us his divine instruction on how to pray. In Luke 11:1 the disciples ask him plainly “Lord, teach us to pray.” His reply is “When you pray say:”

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”[1]

So how did he teach them to pray? Well, having already told them not to be like the hypocrites, Jesus gave them a prayer. You know how you learn to pray? By praying what Jesus prayed, this is the foundational doorstep to any proper prayer life. This is what Jesus gave to us. Now I did not say “use this as a pattern” or “this is an example that you fill in with your own thoughts” no, literally pray and say these words. Pray them often, pray them daily, over and over and over again. The prayer itself petitions for “our daily bread” so just as we need food each day, let us pray it every day to our Lord. You may object that if you don’t use your own words then it won’t be from the heart, however, when you sing a hymn are you unable to do it from the heart? After all, you are repeating someone else’s words, the same words you’ve heard over and over again. Yet when those Hymns and songs of the faith touch us we sing as if they were our own heart that wrote them. Let the inspired prayer of our Lord then be the very prayer of your heart.

You may say, but that’s just a pattern and we need to add our own words to it. So do you think that you can improve upon the words of Jesus? Now, I am not saying that the Lord’s prayer is the only prayer that a Christian can ever say, for we even see other prayers in the Bible, and the Lord’s prayer is indeed an instructive example. However, the Lord’s Prayer is the formative prayer in the Christian life that teaches us how to pray, not by mere information, but by getting us to actually pray it. Let the scripture itself inform and change our prayer by the actual praying of the scripture.

Christians, not only of the early church, but also of the Reformation understood the significance of the Lord’s Prayer in Christian discipleship, as every reformed catechism lists the importance of the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer is included in the catechisms with such great doctrines as Justification, Sanctification, the Law of God and coming Judgment; it’s not an afterthought in the Christian life, as many modern Christians see it, rather it is seen as a foundational part of the Christian’s life. The Heidelberg Catechism explains of the Lord’s Prayer that it contains all that God commands us to prayer for, “Everything we need, spiritually and physically, as embraced in the prayer Christ our Lord Himself taught us.”[2] Keach’s Catechism tells us that we need not have innovation in prayer for God has given us specific direction in how to pray, “The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer, but the special rule of direction is that prayer, which Christ taught His disciples, commonly called the Lord’s Prayer.”[3]

The prayer itself is short, but it is deep. The catechism of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer summarizes the prayers depth well, when asked what a person desires from God in the prayer it answers, “I desire my Lord God our heavenly Father, who is the giver of all goodness, to send his grace unto me, and to all people: that we may worship him, serve him, and obey him, as we ought to do. And I pray unto God, that he will send us all things that be needful both for our souls and bodies; and that he will be merciful unto us, and forgive us our sins; and that it will please him to save and defend us in all dangers [spiritually] and bodily; and that he will keep us from all sin and wickedness, and from our [spiritual] enemy, and from everlasting death. And this I trust he will do of his mercy and goodness, through our Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore I say, Amen, So be it.”

For some reason we assume that to be spiritual we must be spontaneous, but that assumption is unfounded from the scriptures. We think we have to add our own personality into everything we do, but the Lord does not require innovation, he requires faithfulness. So we learn to pray by actually praying, and the Lord has even provided us with what we are to pray. Let us return back to the basics of prayer, let us believe with conviction our Lord’s lesson to us, and let us have a firm hold on the authority of scripture that lays prayer out for us plainly. Therefore, let us pray without ceasing and let us return again and again to pray the Lord’s Prayer, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

[1] I have listed the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13 as it is a fuller account.

[2] Heidelberg Catechism Question 118

[3] Keach’s Catechism Question 110