Prayer 101: The Essential Prayer to Essential Prayer

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

I could hear the frustration in her voice. Listening to a call-in podcast, I heard Lisa talk about her failings with prayer. She wanted to pray, but didn’t really know how to make it a better experience. “I know I should pray. So I do it. But, it’s so hard. I must be doing something wrong. I have to make myself pray. I feel guilty when I’m not consistent and when I struggle. What would you say to someone like me?” she asked the host of the talk show. 

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The pastor-host proceeded to give her excellent advise. Prepare a space for prayer. Include natural light and/or candle light or light from an oil lamp. Involve the body by standing, kneeling or crossing yourself. Include a cross, icon, or picture of Jesus. Use a prayer book that includes some psalms. Repeat the Jesus Prayer throughout the day. Establish a prayer rule for morning and evening prayer times. Pray at meals and with others at home and church.

Since he focused on the practical (vs. theological) aspects of prayer, because that was what Lisa was asking about, I thought his response was spot on. I’ve often written about all these elements of an effective prayer life. It was all good. 

It was all a bit overwhelming as well. 

As the pastor-host suggested one good prayer practice after another, I got the feeling that he might be piling on too much information. Sadly, that’s exactly what I would have done in that situation. It takes one to know one. I wondered if Lisa got lost in all the suggestions. What do I do first? What’s most important? Do I have to do it all to be successful? 

So, it got me thinking. What is one simple, doable, practical means to begin establishing a solid prayer life? Is there one essential to prayer that if overlooked makes something of prayer that’s out of character? 

I think this is exactly what a disciple asked Jesus when he said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 

No doubt, the disciples of Jesus were already praying. They often entered the Temple at certain times during the day to pray. They observed Jesus praying and perhaps tried to imitate him. Their observance of the Sabbath would have included prayers. The question asked of Jesus was not because the disciples were at ground zero. 

But, there was something not quite right. They were not used to nor were they familiar with the prayer life Jesus modeled before them. Though He never critiqued how they prayed, they intuitively knew something was amiss. They needed help.

Who better to help them know prayer than the one who actually knows prayer. (That’s a good lesson for us, too!) 

What’s amazing to the spontaneous, “led by the Spirit,” say-what’s-on-your-heart Christian, is that when asked, Jesus gave His followers words to say and a way to say them (in forgiveness, with persistence, while fasting, in humble devotion). He gave them a prayer book not a prayer lecture; words to say not words to study.  

“Out of my experience and understanding of what it is to commune with the Father,” Jesus says, “say these words and you will learn how to pray. When you pray, say…

Our Father, 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 forgive everyone indebted to us. 

And lead us not into temptation, 

But deliver us from the evil one. 

This prayer from the lips, heart, and experience of Jesus is the one essential to your prayer life. To neglect this prayer is to neglect prayer. It is prayer. It is how you learn to pray. Say what you may, it must be essential to how you pray. 

Those who would push back on this due to their bias against set prayers, liturgical prayers, or written prayers are pushing back against Jesus himself. This is what Jesus prescribed. How do you argue against Him? 

This prayer is not primarily given to analyze, sermonize, or exegete. It is given to pray. Just pray it! 

The way to pray is to pray this way. 

How can you do this? 

  1. Memorize the words by praying them over and over. 
  2. Pray these words during the day. Early church fathers taught to say these words morning, noon, and night. For us that might be when we awake, at noon, and before we go to bed. This might correspond to your meal times so that you pray these words in giving thanks before each meal. 
  3. Pray this prayer when awake during the night. These words can replace anxious and niggling thoughts making sleep possible again. 

It’s that simple. Say the “Lord’s Prayer” three times a day. Can you do that? Of course! 

The challenge is to remember to do this. Here are some practical suggestions: 

  • Pray this prayer before you eat. Rarely do you skip meals. If you eat three meals a day, it’s a natural. 
  • Set an alarm on your phone or watch to go off morning, noon, and night. 
  • Connect it to an activity like driving to work or home after work. Pray these words before you pull out of the driveway in the morning and when you pull into it in the evening. Pray it when you boot up the computer and when you shut it down. 
  • Pray it anytime but especially when doing physical labor. 

The important thing is to pray these words from your heart in communion with the Holy Trinity. You don’t even need to know their full meaning. The prayer will become meaningful as you pray it. 

Praying the “Lord’s Prayer” three times a day is an essential and simple way to learn to pray. It’s not complicated or intimidating, difficult or exhausting. It is beautiful and satisfying. 

You can succeed in prayer by following Jesus’ instruction, fittingly, three times a day. Why not begin right now. 

How are you struggling with prayer? How can this simple prayer reminder help your prayer life? Share below. 

Dr. K