The reason there are so many books on prayer is that even after reading them, we still struggle to pray. Some reasons are intellectual—we don’t know how or why to pray in a particular situation. Some are volitional—our hearts are distracted or apathetic. Still other reasons are due to lacking proper practical tools.
As I’ve pondered how to grow in prayer, one simple solution has stood out as a versatile tool for overcoming our struggles: the Lord’s Prayer. This should come as no surprise, since this is the way Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matt. 6:9–13).
Here’s how the Lord’s Prayer helps us overcome six common prayer struggles.
1. We forget why prayer matters.
Perhaps the most foundational reason we struggle to pray is that we forget prayer’s purpose. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us. We pray in order to glorify our heavenly Father. We pray in order to unify our hearts with His kingdom vision for the world and to align ourselves with His will. We pray for provision, pardon, and protection from the evil that comes from both inside and outside us.
2. We aren’t sure God hears us.
This suspicion leads many to neglect prayer, which is the only guaranteed way for God not to hear our prayers. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we pray to God our Father. A good father hears the cries and requests of His children. God, our perfect Father, always hears us and always answers us in His way and His timing (not always in the way we want, however).
3. We don’t know what to pray.
Sometimes believers don’t know what to pray, or they pray the same thing over and over and stop praying due to the monotony. The Lord’s Prayer gives us a Spirit-inspired path for knowing what to say in prayer. You might take a general approach to saying the Lord’s Prayer, using its petitions as a template and filling them in with specific praises and requests.
Martin Luther recommended this technique in his brief book A Simple Way to Pray. You might also use a specific approach and filter one person or situation through the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve found this a helpful way to pray for both spiritual battles and everyday matters.
4. We become distracted.
Peter admonishes us to “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Pet. 4:7), and Paul adds that we are to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it” (Col. 4:2). We can’t be sober-minded or watchful in prayer if our minds are somewhere else. My to-do list, phone notifications, and young daughter all want my attention. The Lord’s Prayer guides us on a mental path that helps the mind focus on each step of the journey.
The Lord’s Prayer template can also be a helpful way to renew prayer after being interrupted: If I’ve made it through the “Your will be done” petition and need to step away for whatever reason, I make a mental note of where I left off and later return to pray with “Give us this day our daily bread.”
5. We feel guilty.
Sometimes we may feel guilty because of specific sin, or maybe we because our prayer lives are lackluster. The Lord’s Prayer cuts through our guilt by reminding us of the grace that comes when we pray “forgive us our debts.” Be encouraged: God prescribes this petition for sinners, meaning He fully expects you to need this petition and He fully wants to answer it. This petition has confession of sins built in, reminding us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The Lord’s Prayer tells us: Our guilt should not keep us from prayer, but should drive us to it.
6. We are busy.
The brevity of the Lord’s Prayer has something to teach excuse-making busybodies like me. To pray the 52 words of the Lord’s Prayer verbatim takes about 20 seconds. If you have more than 20 seconds, you can expand one or more of the prayer’s petitions in prayer to fill the time. How many extra chunks of time do you have throughout the day that you could fill with short pockets of communion with God through prayer?
Spirit-Inspired Tool for a God-Centered Life
It’s possible your greatest need in prayer is not to know more about it, but rather to know how to use the most foundational and comprehensive tool given to us in Scripture. As with any tool, its purpose is found not by focusing on the tool, but rather on setting our eyes on our praiseworthy Father, King, Provider, Pardoner, and Protector—and to shape our lives by His sovereign rule and care.
Editor’s Note: Kevin’s new book When Prayer Is a Struggle: A Practical Guide for Overcoming Obstacles in Prayer is filled with gospel encouragement and practical tools for growing in prayer. Pastor Colin Smith called the book, “A treasure chest of wise and practical counsel. . . . This book will expand your horizons and give you a new vision for how you can pray more effectively.”