For the longest time, I thought that I pretty much stunk at praying.
Don’t get me wrong, I would come to God regularly, maybe with a prayer list or journal in hand if I was really on top of things.
But too many times, daily prayer was just an item on my spiritual checklist, and as a result it felt rote, aimless, boring and powerless.
I quickly lost focus and my mind wandered to what it thought were more interesting pursuits.
That’s humbling to write.
I’ve wondered at times, What is wrong with me? Is there a “right” way to pray? Or a wrong way? What exactly does God expect us to say when he already knows our thoughts, anyway?
I think Jesus’ disciples wondered about some of these things too. I’m guessing this is why he offered them many lessons on prayer.
So what did Jesus say about prayer? He actually appeared to shock a few people.
Jesus’ message contrasted with those that were very…religious. (Hmm, sounds a little familiar.) Some of the Jewish leaders at the time loved marking all the right boxes, praying long and loud, making a show out of fasting and demonstrating to everyone how extremely godly they were (Matthew 6:5).
And then there were the regular Joes like the rest of us mortals who probably felt a little inadequate and lost when talking to the LORD of the universe.
What made Jesus’ approach to prayer different was that it was an ongoing conversation in an intimate relationship with his Father, rather than a religious act you could check off your daily list.
Along with Jesus’ other teachings, his words on prayer were tough pills to swallow.
And you know what? They’re still tough. But that’s what makes them so effective.
The secret to a powerful prayer life isn’t following some formula or method.
Rather, it’s about digging deep, asking yourself hard questions and humbly presenting your thoughts to your Creator. I mean, that just sounds life-changing, doesn’t it? And that’s the effect Jesus was after.
What if we could pray those kinds of prayers too? I believe we can. And these four surprising things Jesus said about prayer will help you do just that.
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What Did Jesus Say About Prayer?
1. Pray for God’s Will (and Your Heart To Align with It)
…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…Matthew 6:10
When Jesus’ disciples asked him how they should pray, he offered them the Lord’s Prayer. I find that this is a beautiful and powerful place to start when I’m completely drawing a blank about what to say.
While there are a lot of great points in this simple prayer, what has struck me is this short phrase: “your kingdom come, your will be done.” Why would you ask God for his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth—so that he can have your permission? I think not.
Rather, prayer is an opportunity for us to get our own hearts in alignment with God’s plans for his kingdom. We see Jesus practicing this openly in the Garden of Gethsemane before he went to the cross (Matthew 26:36–46). Ummm, so if Jesus needed to get his heart in the right place, how much more do I??? This is tough. Time to get busy.
2. Pray on Behalf of Your Enemies
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.Matthew 5:44
Speaking of getting our hearts in alignment with God’s will…this one is a real doozy.
How often do you pray in earnest for people with different beliefs than you? For people who have hurt you?
In recent events we’ve seen a lot of protests in the streets and opinionated rants online…but who’s praying on behalf of the people who are filled with hatred and violence?
Remember that Jesus prayed for the people who were killing him as it was happening. That’s the standard.
I think that, practically speaking, these are some of the most challenging passages in the whole Bible. Forgiveness given and received, especially when it’s undeserved, can make us cringe pretty hard. Add some of those heavy thoughts to your pretty prayer journal.
3. Pray for Big, Gutsy Requests (and Believe That God Will Answer)
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.Mark 11:24
Do you pray “safe” prayers because you’re afraid God will say no?
Honestly, I have a hard time wrapping my head around this one. If I believe it, it will come true? That sounds more like an interaction with a magic genie than with God.
But I think when you’re having an ongoing conversation with God and actively working on aligning your heart with his will (#1) and you’re genuinely engaging grace-centered prayer (#2), then you are probably going to be less selfish and more in tune with what God wants.
This is the natural next step: believing that his is going to answer in a big and powerful way.
That doesn’t mean that God is a genie waiting to grant all of our requests. But consider this: courageous prayer puts us in a very vulnerable position. I can’t think of anything more intimate than sharing your deepest desires. This tough concept really challenges me to push myself deeper in authentic conversations with my Father.
4. Pray with Persistence
And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?Luke 18:7
This passage is about a widow who asked over and over again for justice until she got it (see full passage Luke 18:1–8). Okay…this is another head-scratcher. Why does God sometimes want us to ask more than once? Especially when he also said that he would answer if we ask in faith?
God isn’t hard of hearing. Just like we sometimes choose to make our kids wait, we need to wait as well.
Praying for something regularly proves how important it is to me—for my own benefit.
My kids ask me for lots of things, many of which they immediately forget in the next five minutes. But if there’s something my kid asks me about over and over and over again? It proves that the request is genuine—and I’m more than happy to respond.
It’s similar with God and us. While he doesn’t need proof of our genuineness, repetition forces us to examine and assess our own hearts each time we ask. It’s a pretty effective filter.
Go Deeper with Jesus’s Words About Prayer
To sum it up, what Jesus said about prayer is surprising, challenging and encouraging. His teachings are incredibly simple but powerful. While I believe God listens to us in whatever ways we try to reach out to him, he provided guidance for a reason—that we might connect with him at a deeper level, as Jesus did.
If you want to go deeper, don’t forget to grab your prayer prompts!
How do you like to pray? I’d love to hear some of your tips in the comments!