A Simple Guide to Effective Prayer

Erik Cooper —  July 18, 2018 — Leave a comment

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to pray. At least consistently. Daily. Effectively.

We can spout all the super-spiritual mantras about prayer that we want. We know it’s vital to Christian living, the health of our daily relationships, our family, the impact of our work, our ability to lead. We know we should pray. We believe we should want to pray.

But when it comes to the practical reality of actually praying, most of us find prayer frustrating, mysterious, and difficult. So we carry the shame of underachieving in this lifeblood of the Christian faith. So what do we do?

I hate doing things that make me feel dumb (this is why I stay far away from hardware stores), so how do we get smarter at praying? I stumbled upon an ancient tool that has helped me immeasurably over the last few years. Martin Luther and other church fathers used this as a simple gateway to prayer, and I think you will find it powerful in your life, too.

The Lord’s Model Prayer

Before “freeform” praying for his own needs or the pressing issues of the day, Luther would pray through the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6 putting each phrase into his own words. I’ve found this process incredibly liberating! It gives me a biblical roadmap to express my own thoughts, hopes, and fears and doesn’t leave me stranded in the wilderness of my own wandering ideas and emotions.

So let’s take a moment and look at each of the six phrases in The Lord’s Model Prayer and see how they might provide a simple pathway into the powerful discipline of prayer.

1. “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’”
–Matthew 6:9

The first phrase of The Lord’s Prayer is positional, placing us in our rightful place and God in His.

First, it’s relationally positional. We are part of a family. We have a Father. Perhaps that word conjures up bad images in your mind from your own upbringing, but I assure you that God is the true and beautiful standard of Fatherhood. He’s what you always imagined a loving Father to be. A covering. A trustworthy patriarch. He’s our eternal identity source. We are image bearers of our heavenly Father, carriers of His DNA.

It’s also morally positional. Our Father is holy. His is the Standard. This idea of God is not popular in today’s post-modern culture, but it’s vital for our flourishing as image bearers of the Creator. Yes, God is love. But He is also holy! He is truth and love. We are under God’s leadership both relationally and morally.

Forming this phrase into your own words might look something like this:

“Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.” Lord, we thank you today that you are our Father. We are made in Your image. We trust ourselves to your loving care and nurture today, but You are the One in charge. You are the standard bearer, and we look to You and not our own desires, not the influence of our culture, but to You today as our holy and loving Father. As our Father today, resurrect your DNA in our lives. May we honor your name and your position in and over us today.

2. “Your kingdom come, you will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
–Matthew 6:10

Here we are submitting to the sovereignty of God in our lives, our families, our work, our communities, our nation, and in the world. The word Kingdom refers to God’s dominion, His reign and rulership. Jesus resurrection ushered in God’s Kingdom, but His dominion over all creation is not yet complete. We live in the “already but not yet,” the middle act of God’s Great Story, and so we experience both the first-fruit blessings of Christ’s Kingdom alongside the broken realities of this sinful world. We live in this tension, and so we pray for more of God’s Kingdom to reign in us and through us and through His people.

We also pray for God’s will, His desires, plans, and purposes. I often find myself praying that God’s will would “swallow up” my own, that down to a cellular level God would resurrect my impulses so that they mirror His, that He would “re-order” the things I love. That I would want to want what He wants! This act of daily submission to the dominion and will of God is a vital and powerful part of daily prayer.

Putting this portion into your own words might look something like this:

“Your Kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Lord, today I ask that your Kingdom would take more dominion in my heart, in my family, in my work, and in the world around us. God, I don’t trust my own heart. I’m not sure which desires to trust and which ones to be suspicious of, so I give you all of them. I need you to come and reorder the things that are important to me. Lord, I want to want what You want today! Rewire me. May your purposes come to bear in my life and in all my circumstances today.

3. “Give us this day our daily bread,”
–Matthew 6:11

This portion of The Lord’s Prayer is about daily returning to our Source. Our power is not in our stored up knowledge, our job, our source of income, our bank account, or our political system, it’s in our ongoing dependence on Jesus Christ. Left to our own devices, we begin to trust in things other than Him.

Pastor Jack Miller phrased it this way: “We organize our lives and plan our futures, and what lurks deep in our hearts is a desire for security to replace our need for Jesus.”

What happened to the manna in the wilderness when the Israelites tried to store it up? It went bad! God said, “I will feed you every day, just trust me,” yet His people tried to take His miraculous provision and store it up so they didn’t have to depend on Him anymore. We do the exact same thing! We want to trust what we can see, feel, touch, and control, but God knows we’re only living as we were created when He is the ongoing object of our dependence and trust.

This part of The Lord’s Prayer in your own words might look something like this:

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Lord, I know my heart wants to find it’s rest in things I can control. I make idols, I store up treasure, I desperately try to create my own security. But today I return to You, the only true Source! I place my dependence in you, not my family, my job, my retirement account, my preferred political party. In You. Be my wisdom, be my strength, be my provider, be my daily bread. For this day. Tomorrow I’ll be back again, because it’s in You that I place my trust.

4. “…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
–Matthew 6:12

God’s grace is the lifeblood of our daily existence. Our only righteousness is Jesus’s righteousness that is given freely to us. Even when we do right, outside of Jesus, we do it for the wrong reasons! We must bring our brokenness to Him for healing and wholeness each new day. We must live in this grace!

But it’s not just our need for forgiveness that this prayer illuminates. Jesus harshly warns us just a few verses later, “if you don’t forgive others the Father won’t forgive you.” There’s an image of us reaching up to God for mercy with one hand while strangling our brother with our other hand, and this can’t be.

I don’t know what you’ve experienced. You may have extreme pain and brokenness in your past, things so dark and painful you don’t know how to let go of them. If you can’t find grace for others inside yourself, let God’s grace to you overflow from your life into theirs, even those that have hurt you deeply.

Putting this part of the prayer into your own words could look like this:

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus, I come to you again as a humble sinner in need of grace. Sin is like a disease that is rooted in my flesh, and You are the only remedy. May I live and breathe your grace today! May I live from your forgiveness in my own life and may that grace empower me to holiness today. And for those I struggle to forgive God, may your grace to me overflow as grace through me. May I be a forgivEN forgivER today.

5. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
–Matthew 6:13

There is sin in me and there is sin all around me. I need to pray for protection from both. Left to my own devices, I will migrate toward fulfilling the identity hole in my life through my own means. I will look to my idols, and in seeking to satisfy my own internal longings, I will be tempted to do some awful things.

We need to pray for protection from the sin within, but we also need to pray for protection from the sin all around us! Pray protection over families, spouses, children, businesses, communities, our countries, and the entire world. Pray for supernatural preservation, that the “locusts” wouldn’t devour our “crops,” that evil would have no foothold, and that what the enemy intends for evil God would turn to good!

Phrasing this portion of the prayer in your own words might look like this:

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Left to my own devices today Lord, I will succumb to sin. I will worship my idols. I will seek to fulfill my own identity in my own way, and it will break my relationship with you and others. Protect me from my own depravity Lord! Protect me from this sin within as well as the evil all around me, from those who would try to kill and destroy what you are resurrecting and renewing. Protect us from the evil one and his work in this world.

6. “For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.”
–Doxology

This doxology was only found in certain fragments of original scripture, so most modern translations no longer carry it. I love to include it because I think it wraps up this model prayer by refocusing my spirit on who God is and my place within His greater narrative.

There is this inherent imagery we cling to that tells us we are the central characters in our own story, but that’s not how we were designed, nor is it how we flourish and find eternal meaning in this life. We were not created to be the main character in a story that we are writing about ourselves, we were made to be beloved members of the supporting cast in a Divine masterpiece that God has been writing since the beginning of time!

When we live as if we are the center of our story, as if our happiness, our desires, and our passions are central, we are actually living outside our created design and heading for ultimate misery. This doxology puts me back in my proper place and God fully in His!

Wrapping up The Lord’s Model prayer in my own words might look something like this:

“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory!” I declare today Lord, that You at the center and I am on the periphery. You are at the center and I revolve around you! You are the main character in the story of this day, and I am here to serve the telling of Your story. Today is Yours, Lord. The dominion, power and glory are Yours, Lord. I am yours, today, Lord. Amen.

The Power of Prayer

Do you see how this simple model can work as a bridge to prayer? It makes the ethereal mystery of prayer more accessible, and I think that was Jesus’s intent. From this point, my prayers and petitions can flow in their own freeform manner because they have been shaped by Jesus’s gateway.

Prayer is powerful because it forces our hearts into a place of humble submission and surrender, right where we were created to live and flourish in God Himself.

30 Day Challenge

I challenge you to faithfully use this model for 30 days and see if it removes the normal fear and struggle most of us associate with prayer. Jesus told us to pray and He showed us how. Prayer doesn’t just supplement our work, it is the work. Let’s get to it!


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

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