Pray then like this:
“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."
Often when I pray, whether early in the morning during an extended quiet time or briefly throughout the day, my prayers are focused on me. When I need help or wisdom, I pray. When I have messed up and need forgiveness, I pray. When my kids are driving me nuts, I pray. When I am facing something difficult or confusing, I pray. Rarely do I spend time during these prayers focused on who God is or what He has done. And when I do it’s often simply the gateway to get to what I actually want to pray about…me! “Lord, You are great and mighty, so show Your power in my life!” or “Lord, Your love is everlasting, so help me to feel Your love!” But in Matthew 6:9, there is no comma, there is simply a period. Jesus says, “pray then like this,” and He begins the prayer by simply focusing on who God is without an attached request. The requests do eventually come, but not until praise has been given and a reminder of who God is.
It could be easy to assume that this was just a formality, that Jesus was simply opening His prayer as one would a letter. That when we pray, it is important to say who we are praying to first and say something respectful. However, in the context of Matthew 6, this could not be the case. The reason Jesus was teaching on prayer was because of those whose prayers were a formality meant to be seen by others, full of empty words and phrases. Instead, Jesus is teaching us to pray in an intimate and personal way, first to God as our Father in heaven, and second to God who is holy and set apart from all of creation. These two descriptors of God are contradictory, one highlights our intimate relationship with Him while the other highlights how distinct He is from us. Yet both are necessary for us to recognize when we come before Him in prayer, we come before Him as our loving Father who desires a relationship with us while also recognizing that He is the holy Ruler of all things.
Many of the Psalms demonstrate this for us. Psalm 100 both praises God for being the Creator of all the earth while also reminding us of His goodness, faithfulness, and lovingkindness to us as His sheep. In Psalm 8, David is overwhelmed by this when he says, “When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (verses 3-4). Similarly, in Psalm 104, God is praised for how He rules over all creation yet also cares uniquely for every single creature on earth. Many other Psalms proclaim this amazing mystery (such as Psalm 113, 115, 121, 136, 150…) and show us how to do this when we pray.
As we begin to pray, it is transformative for us to first recognize both these characteristics of God because it sets our minds on what is truly most important. What I have experienced is when we begin our prayers focused on ourselves, our burdens, or our needs, it drags our focus lower and lower away from God, focusing our hearts and minds on the hopelessness we feel or on the perceived limitations and dead ends we are up against. Even beginning our prayers focused on God’s commands and imperatives can fill us with shame, regret, and hopelessness. Conversely, when we begin our prayers focused on who God is, it raises our eyes off of what is going on in our lives and on the ways we are falling short. It then sets our eyes on the only One who can give us hope and perspective, God, who is both our loving Father and the Creator of the universe.
So next time you pray, begin by fixing your mind and heart on who God is, what He has done for you, and His love for you, and let that shape how you then see your life and the petitions you are bringing before the Lord. If you aren’t sure how to do this, then you could use the Psalms as a guide. Or, you could simply begin with the words of Jesus, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name,” and pray them from a heart that truly believes that is who He is in your life.