I previously wrote that Christians aim to live a life that is centered on God, but you can also avoid one. I want to discuss this by looking at the life of Jonah so that you won’t avoid a God-centered life but cultivate one. You can avoid it for a...
It always startles me that the disciples never said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to preach.” They heard the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest man that ever lived, the Sermon on the Mount, and yet not one of them ever said, “Lord, teach me to preach.” They never said, “Lord, teach us to do miracles.”
They did say, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
And I’ll tell you, if there’s any prayer that needs to be prayed in the church of God today, as far as I’m concerned, it is, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Leonard Ravenhill)
I no longer pray like I did as a child. Like the apostle Paul, when I became a man, I gave up childish ways (I Corinthians 13:11). In the context of prayer, this meant relinquishing “Now I lay me down to sleep…” at bed time and “God is great…” at meal time for more personal words with the Almighty.
Still, I sporadically find myself at a loss for the prayers I long to see escape my lips. When I pray, I have to apply conscious effort to stave off the repetition I clung to as a child via memorization and habit.
Thankfully, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6), Jesus teaches a simple but profound framework for speaking with God when we’re at a loss for what to pray.
Why We Pray
At the outset of his teaching Jesus begins by saying, “And when you pray,” not “And if you pray.” God assumes an ongoing relationship with his people through prayer. Refraining from prayer, even though “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8), facilitates self-centeredness and an attitude of independence from God. Neglecting prayer disconnects us from conscious dependence on God. In short, prayer is not a monologue—but a dialogue.
As John Calvin puts it,
Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things. 
How to Pray
Praise for God
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (vv. 9-10)
The Lord’s Prayer begins with what I like to call projection; that is, projecting our praises to God for his hallowed (holy, consecrated) nature and sovereign authority over all life (Colossians 1:16-17).
As selfish creatures, we’re prone to launch into demands at the outset of prayer. But starting with worship resets the heart into a posture of humility as it allows the mind to dwell on the countless kindnesses that God has already shown.
The psalmist David writes,
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. (Psalm 9:1-2)
In these two verses, David, like Jesus, sets an example for us, beginning his prayer with gratitude to God. Next, he recalls God’s “wonderful deeds” towards him. But as verse two nears an end, he turns his attention right back to finding joy alone in the Most High.
Jesus teaches us in The Lord’s Prayer to begin prayer worshiping God for his holiness, and for the desire to see his sovereign will unfold here on earth as it is in heaven.
Petition for Daily Bread
“Give us this day our daily bread…” (v. 11)
After Jesus highlights projecting our praise to God, he petitions for God’s provision in two ways in verses 11-12.
Jesus references bread here first, which points us back to the bread that fell from heaven for the Israelites. In Exodus 16, the author writes,
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.” (v. 4)
“Daily bread” and “a day’s portion” of bread tell us plainly that God provides what’s needed for the day. “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” adds Paul in Philippians 4:19.
In short, rely on God’s endless riches for the day’s needs, and circle back to joyful worship in the evening, thanking him for being the one who provides without fail.
Petition for Forgiveness
“…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (v. 12)
In addition to the petition for daily bread, Jesus teaches us to make a petition for forgiveness, while reminding us that we need to forgive others.
Why we need forgiveness for our sin against God can be answered in many ways, but Dr. John Piper provides a succinct answer:
It is about me getting to God [see 1 Peter 3:18]. I am made for God. I am made to know him and love him and be with him in a fellowship that is satisfying to my soul and, because it is satisfying to my soul, it is glorifying to his name. (Desiring God)
Forgiveness through the death of Jesus on the cross is the only way we can be brought back into this relationship with God.
How this verse tests our ability to let go of being wronged! There’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t cry out to God for the forgiveness of my sins, but I tend to be more silent about forgiving others. “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive,” Paul writes in Colossians 3:13. After concluding the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus goes on to say that our sins will not be forgiven by God if we do not forgive others who wrong us (6:14-15).
The message is clear: Forgive much, for you have been forgiven much.
Protection from Evil
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (v. 13)
The Lord’s Prayer concludes with a call for both guidance and deliverance—guidance away from enticing sin and rescue from evil. In fact, “evil” is a word that’s only amplified in malevolence with the addition of a “d” at the beginning.
But this final verse of The Lord’s Prayer reminds us of the famous psalm: Psalm 23. In it David writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4).
John Calvin provides a concise summary of verse 13, writing, “Whoever implores the assistance of God to overcome temptations, acknowledges that, unless God deliver him, he will be constantly failing.”
The apostle James affirms Calvin’s words, adding that we are tempted to sin by our own selfish lusts (James 1:13-14). But men and women who hold up under such temptations and trials are promised the crown of life (see James 1:2-18).
Jesus teaches us to implore God’s assistance for his protection from all evil, whether that be the devil, or our own sinful hearts.
Most Bible translations do not include the benediction at the conclusion of The Lord’s Prayer , but it would serve us well to revisit the King James translation for the purposes of returning one final time to praising the Lord: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13, KJV).
If you are ever unsure what to pray, return to The Lord’s Prayer. It’s short but so wonderfully profound and restoring. Start by praising God for who he is. Next, petition him for forgiveness and provision. Finally, seek his counsel to steer clear of the snares of the world and of your own sin, for he is the mightiest Deliverer.