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How to Pray




Poet George Herbert powerfully described prayer as “God’s breath in man returning to its birth.” 

Long ago, in a garden, God-breathed, and mankind came to be (Genesis 2:4-8). God made the whole earth, breathing life into you and me so we may return our breath to him in fellowship.

 We call this fellowship: prayer.

Tim Keller describes prayer as “the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God,” and “the key to everything we need to do and be in life.”

Charles Spurgeon noted that “true prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance” but a far deeper “spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.”

With such a high degree of weight, gravity, and purpose, knowing and learning how to pray must be central to walking with God. 

So, what is prayer, and how exactly do we do it? 

Is it a blessing before dinner? 

A nightly bedtime routine? 

Is it offering polite sentiments or thanking God for life’s many blessings? 

Does it feel like a casual conversation with a friend or a desperate plea for help?  

Although there are numerous approaches to prayer and ways to pray, the Gospel of Matthew provides a helpful model and structure to guide us along our journey of better knowing how to pray. Often referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer,” this model for prayer is not a mere religious routine composed of benign words meant to be memorized, washed, rinsed, and repeated. Rather, these are the Holy words of Jesus, Son of God, and they are a central starting place for beholding God and guiding our fellowship with him through prayer. 

Jesus said: 

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

   on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today 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 the evil one.’

Matthew 6:5-13

Attempting to plumb the depths of the Lord’s Prayer in one short article is akin to seeking to understand the vastness of the heavens through the lens of a single telescope. However, by observing a few primary elements of the Lord’s Prayer, we can learn several incredible truths about who God is and how we can better fellowship with Him through prayer:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be thy name // A Prayer of Ascription & Adoration

The Lord’s Prayer begins by rightly ascribing to God His person and His place. In our attempts to approach our Creator in fellowship through prayer, Jesus is instructing us first to behold God as he is, and then from that place, and from that posture, allow our prayers to follow.

Notice that Jesus does not instruct us to start with “requests.”  Similar to David’s prayers in Psalm 103, Jesus is instructing us to first “bless His holy name.”  Starting prayer with ascription and adoration not only places honor where it is due but also positions our hearts to properly respond in holy awe to the One who created us and desires our fellowship.

Your Kingdom come, Your will be done // A Prayer of Consecrated Submission

What does it mean to see God’s Kingdom come and His will be done? Theologian John Calvin provides a taste of what this means by saying, “The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word—would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world.”

Jesus is modeling for us both a declaration of God’s Kingship and also our subsequent need for His will and reign in our lives and in the affairs of the world. This approach of consecrated submission postures our inclinations away from seeking my kingdom and my will and toward the better way of Thy Kingdom and Thy Will. 

Give us this day our daily bread // A Prayer of Supplication

Jesus doesn’t leave things merely at prayers of ascription, adoration, or consecration. He also models for us God’s fatherly desire that we ask of Him our needs. God desires his children to ask of their Abba. He is the King of the Kingdom, the One rightly positioned as our Heavenly Father, and he loves to hear our expressions of needs and requests. 

Yet rather than merely asking through a list of never-ending needs, we see in the words of Jesus that God wants us to first approach Jesus as both our foremost need and the only one capable of truly fulfilling our needs. In John 6:35, Jesus declares of himself, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 

Jesus is inviting us to come to the well and drink. 

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors // A Prayer of Intercession

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

In the midst of our sinful and flawed nature, Jesus reminds us in this model for prayer that we are loved and welcomed. When it comes to fellowship with our Creator, we are invited to come as we are. Because the grace of Jesus covers us, we can ask and receive the grace and forgiveness we so desperately need, knowing that our Father loves to hear our voices. 

And not only that but by asking and receiving mercy and grace from the Most Holy, we are likewise compelled to be extenders of mercy and grace to others. In God’s economy, these are two sides of the same coin. Jesus is showing us that God receives glory and is honored both as a forgiver and as we who have been forgiven extend forgiveness to others.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil // A Prayer of Protection

As Jesus closes his Great Prayer, we see the truth of our condition as seen in Paul’s letter to the church Ephesus when he wrote, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)

We are in a spiritual battle being waged in the heavenly realms. Here, Jesus models that prayer is a primary weapon in that battle. Those of us who are in Jesus—those for whom God created fellowship with Him—have heavenly authority through the name of Jesus to call out to God for protection and deliverance, not only for ourselves but also for the world.

John 8:12 says, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’”

So, how do we pray? Although there are many ways, a great place to start is to follow the model of The Lord’s Prayer, which was put forth to us by the One whose pathways never darken and whose glory lights the world: Jesus.

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Scripture References

  • Genesis 2:4-8
  • Matthew 6:5-13
  • John 6:35
  • Hebrews 4:16
  • Ephesians 6:10-18
  • John 8:12
Jake Gross Dr. Gross joined the DTS family in 2016 to lead the Passion Global Institute. In 2020 he was appointed Dean of DTS-Atlanta. Prior to DTS, Dr. Gross spent 15 years serving in a variety of postsecondary leadership roles, including stops at Auburn University (War Eagle), Pepperdine University, and Kennesaw State University. Dr. Gross has a deep desire to see Jesus glorified in and through the educational process and takes great joy in serving students as they journey toward graduation and beyond. He delights in being married to his best friend, Emily, and they are blessed with three amazing daughters— Abby Jane, Blythe, and Joy. Dr. Gross loves fly fishing with Emily, coaching his daughters’ soccer teams, and is a firm believer that Christmas should not be celebrated until after Thanksgiving.