Spiritual disciplines are the habits that form the Christian life. Regular habits, such as fasting, prayer, meditation on God’s Word, confession, sacrificial giving, and others, help us to keep our whole lives focused on Christ and his work for us.
Most Christians assume that prayer should be a part of a regular part of a Christian’s life. We have grown up with prayer around us, at mealtimes, in worship, and throughout the whole day. Still, it’s always good to go back to the basics. Here are a few good reasons why we should pray:
God promises to hear and answer us. Just after Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer, he teaches us our Father’s promise to hear and answer our prayers:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:7-11).
Even the words, “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer teach us this. By teaching us to call God our Father, Jesus tells us that he listens to us as a loving father listens to his children. He loves us this way, because Jesus has made us the Father’s children. By his death and resurrection, we have been adopted as children of God.
Prayer gives our troubles to God. Prayer acknowledges that we need something from God. We are not self-sufficient. We are not in control. We need someone to take care of our problems, which are more than we can handle. Philippians 4:6-7 connects prayer and peace by offering our petitions to God. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We are anxious when we hold on to our problems. We are at peace when we trust that God will handle them. Prayer is a reminder that the only one who can solve our own problems is the almighty, all-knowing God, who promises to hear and answer us. When we pray, we tell God to handle it.
God commands us to pray. While the great benefits of prayer should drive us gladly to pray, sometimes that’s not enough for us. Our sin keeps us from seeing the need for prayer, so we put it off. But God commands every Christian to pray throughout holy scripture.
We should begin with Jesus’ own teaching on prayer. When he gives us the Lord’s Prayer, he says to us, “This, then, is how you should pray” (Matthew 6:9). He accompanies the gift of the Lord’s Prayer with the command to pray it.
St. Paul gives us a clear command to pray in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
We can also see a command to pray in the most unlikely of places, the second commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” This command assumes that there is a proper use for the name of God, calling on him in prayer. As Martin Luther writes, “We are there required to praise that holy name, and call upon it in every need, or to pray. For to call upon the name of God is nothing else than to pray.”
Many people believe that the only true prayers are those that spring from the heart. They might say that we do not truly pray with our full devotion when we pray written prayers. There are a few problems with this viewpoint:
For Christians who are not in the habit of daily prayer, a set order of prayer can help them establish the habit and teach them to pray. There are many guides to establishing a set order of prayer, sometimes called a prayer rule.
An Orthodox guide to prayer offers this example as a rule for morning and evening prayers:
Martin Luther’s Small Catechism also offers a simple prayer rule :
Luther also suggests adding daily prayer to each meal with this rule:
After the meal:
You may also take an example from the hours of daily prayer that developed from the monastic system in the middle ages. Different prayer services, called the Divine Office , developed as monks prayed. Here’s an outline of morning and evening prayer:
If your church has a liturgical tradition, you should be able to find a version of this somewhere in your church’s resources. If not, many hymnals contain versions of the morning and evening prayer that you can do at home or even in short worship services at local congregations.
Prayer is an important part of a Christian’s life. God promises to hear us when we pray, and he commands us to call upon him in every trouble. While it can be difficult to establish your own routine of prayer, try one of these rules to help you build a routine. Talk with your pastor about how to incorporate this habit into your daily life.
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