How Should We Pray to God?
WHEN a disciple asked for instruction regarding prayer, Jesus did not refuse to give it to him. According to Luke 11:2-4, he replied: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Catholic Douay Version) This is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. It conveys a world of information.
For one thing, the very first word tells us to whom our prayers must be addressed—to our Father. Notice that Jesus made no room whatsoever for praying to some other person, image, “saint,” or even to him. After all, God had declared: “I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven things.” (Isaiah 42:8, Dy) Prayers directed to anything or anyone other than our heavenly Father are therefore not heard by him, no matter how sincere the worshiper may be. In the Bible, only Jehovah God is called the “Hearer of prayer.”—Psalm 65:2.
Some may say that “saints” act merely as intercessors with God. But Jesus himself instructed: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Also, whatever it is that you ask in my name, I will do this, in order that the Father may be glorified in connection with the Son.” (John 14:6, 13) Jesus thus ruled out the idea that anyone called a saint could serve in the role of intercessor. Observe also what the apostle Paul said regarding Christ: “He not only died for us—he rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads for us.” “He is living for ever to intercede for all who come to God through him.”—Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25, Catholic Jerusalem Bible.
The Name That Must Be Hallowed
The next words of Jesus’ prayer were: “Hallowed be thy name.” How could one hallow, that is, sanctify, or set apart, the name of God unless one knew it and used it? Over 6,000 times in the “Old Testament,” God is identified by the personal name Jehovah.
A footnote on Exodus 6:3 in the Catholic Douay Version says regarding God’s name: “Some moderns have framed the name of Jehovah . . . , for the true pronunciation of the name [of God], which is in the Hebrew text, by long disuse is now quite lost.” The Catholic New Jerusalem Bible therefore uses the name Yahweh. Although some scholars favor that pronunciation, “Jehovah” is a legitimate and long-established way of pronouncing the divine name in English. Other languages have their own ways of pronouncing the divine name. The main thing is that we use the name so as to hallow it. Has your church taught you to use the name Jehovah in prayer?
Proper Subjects for Prayer
Jesus next taught his disciples to pray: “Thy kingdom come.” The Gospel of Matthew adds the words: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10, Dy) God’s Kingdom is a government in the hands of Jesus Christ. (Isaiah 9:6, 7) According to Bible prophecy, it will soon displace all human governments and bring in an era of global peace. (Psalm 72:1-7; Daniel 2:44; Revelation 21:3-5) True Christians therefore make the coming of the Kingdom a recurring theme in their prayers. Has your church taught you to do so?
Interestingly, Jesus also showed that our prayers may include personal matters that concern us. He said: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:3, 4, Dy) Jesus’ words imply that we can seek God’s will in everyday matters, that we can approach Jehovah about anything that might worry us or disturb our peace of mind. Regularly petitioning God in this way helps us to appreciate our dependence upon him. We thus become more aware of his influence in our lives. Daily asking God to forgive us for our offenses is likewise beneficial. We thereby become more aware of our weaknesses—and more tolerant of the shortcomings of others. Jesus’ exhortation that we pray for deliverance from temptation is also appropriate, especially in view of the declining morals of this world. In harmony with that prayer, we are careful to avoid circumstances and situations that could lead us into wrongdoing.
There is no question, then, that the Lord’s Prayer tells us much about offering prayers that please God. But did Jesus intend that we take this prayer and simply recite it regularly?
Further Counsel on Prayer
Jesus gave further instructions on prayer. At Matthew 6:5, 6, we read: “When you pray, you must not be as the hypocrites; because they like to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways to be visible to men. . . . You, however, when you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.” These words teach us that prayer should not be offered in a showy, ostentatious way so as to impress someone. Do you pour out your heart to Jehovah privately, as the Bible urges?—Psalm 62:8.
Jesus gave this caution: “In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.” (Matthew 6:7, JB) Clearly, Jesus did not approve of memorizing prayers—much less of reading them from some book. His words also rule out the use of the rosary.
A Catholic missal makes this admission: “Our best prayer may be our own spontaneous thoughts when we turn to him in gratitude or in need, at times of sorrow, or in our regular daily adoration of him.” Jesus’ own prayers were spontaneous, not memorized. For example, read the prayer of Jesus recorded in John chapter 17. It adheres to the model prayer, emphasizing Jesus’ desire to see Jehovah’s name sanctified. Jesus’ prayer was spontaneous and profoundly heartfelt.
Prayers That God Hears
If you have been taught to offer memorized prayers, to pray to “saints” or to images, or to use religious items, such as the rosary, the idea of praying in the manner that Jesus outlined may at first seem intimidating. Yet, the key is coming to know God—his name, his purposes, his personality. You can accomplish this through a thorough study of the Bible. (John 17:3) Jehovah’s Witnesses are ready and willing to help you in this regard. Why, they have helped millions around the world to “taste and see that Jehovah is good”! (Psalm 34:8) The more you come to know God, the more you will be moved to praise him in prayer. And the more you draw near to Jehovah in reverential prayer, the closer your relationship with him will become.
All true worshipers of God are therefore urged to “pray incessantly.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Be sure that your prayers are truly in harmony with the Bible, including the instructions of Jesus Christ. In this way you can be certain that your prayers will have God’s approval.
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The more we learn about Jehovah, the more we are moved to pray to him from the heart