When Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6), he wasn’t just giving us words to recite, he was teaching us how to relate to God in a new way. The God who would rip the temple veil when Jesus died (Matthew 27:50-51), opened the curtain (Hebrews 10:20) so that we could boldly approach God with confidence, not as slaves, but as children (Galatians 4:7). In teaching us to pray, Jesus was guiding us in how to connect with God under the new covenant.
In his book, “Prayer,” Richard J Foster describes twenty-one types of prayer – all of which could be summed up as taking a moment to acknowledge His presence and your relationship, whether listening, speaking, or in silence with God. Just as there is no magic location, there are no magic words for speaking with God. We are told not to “heap up empty phrases” (Matthew 6:7). Rather Jesus says, “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
So, what should prayer look like? Sometimes it can look like communicating as a couple in love. It could be a quick whisper of a sweet nothing, a long deep conversation, an argument, a passing hello, or just day to day casual talk. Sometimes it can look like a young child, talking to a parent, asking for help, guidance, or to have a need met. It can be talking through the day, through fears and anxieties, and giving them up to be taken care of (Philippians 4:6). It is all of this and more because prayer’s not about following a formula, but about connecting with God in all the ways He relates to us, and that doesn’t always include us talking. As Charles Spurgeon said, “True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.”
Jesus said we must worship in the Spirit. Prayer helps us “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). The Spirit intercedes for us, knowing the words and needs when we don’t. As Paul said in Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered.” Prayer is for our benefit and it glorifies God. We can enter in truthfully and flawed to be relieved of our worries and shame. We are guided in truth (John 16:13) and are set free (John 8:32). We are empowered against temptation (Matthew 6:13, 26:41).
Prayer is more than joining with the Spirit. To pray is to join with the saints and to intercede with and on behalf of them. When Jesus taught us to pray, he began, “Pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven.'” And the rest of the Lord’s prayer continues with “us” and “we.” We especially ought to intercede for our children. In the gospels children were brought to Jesus for his blessing. “They were bringing to him little children, that he should touch them, but the disciples rebuked those who were bringing them. But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation, and said to them, ‘Allow the little children to come to me! Don’t forbid them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, he will in no way enter into it.’ He took them in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands on them” (Mark 10:13-16).
No matter your situation, it is the right time to pray (James 5:13-15). Paul said to, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). In Spirit and truth are the right way (John 4:24). If you can only utter a “Thank you, Lord” here and a “Forgive me” there, it is good. If you pray for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, it is good. If you pray down on your knees or down the freeway with a child screaming in the back seat, it is good. There is no condemnation for those in Jesus (Romans 8:1). We weren’t told to pray as a regulation to be met, but as an invitation to connect and draw upon a God who is near, who cares, who provides, and who gives rest. It is a tool that empowers us against sin. Jesus said, “Watch and pray, that you don’t enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
It’s particularly important to emphasize to our children the boldness and ease with which we can come to Christ in prayer. It’s all too easy to confuse them with ceremony and rules (bow your head, fold your hands, etc.). While these practices help keep us from distractions, it’s important to consider the uniqueness of the child. Help him to set aside anything that would distract from the goal and purpose of prayer which is to truthfully connect with God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. And help him to discover how he can draw near to a God who is near to him.
Consider challenging your family to pray in a new way, whether it’s longer prayers, shorter prayers, or silent prayers – whether standing instead of sitting, eyes opened instead of closed. Connect with God in a new way.