If you watch Orthodox Jews pray at the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, you might wonder about the leather band wrapped around their forearms and the box strapped to their heads. The objects are called the tefillin, worn during a prayer ritual that some believe dates back to the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:6-8). The process to don the tefillin is very elaborate and must be performed in an exacting manner. This illustrates that in Jesus’ time, Jewish prayer was very focused on the “how”—praying in a specific way.
When Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13), He makes very little mention of any techniques—no folding of the fingers in a certain way or bowing at certain times. Instead, in the verses preceding the Lord’s Prayer, He seems to de-emphasize the “how” of prayer altogether (Matthew 6:5-8). The first words of the Lord’s Prayer reveal the true focus of prayer—not the “how,” but the “Who” we pray to: “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). And this is what makes prayer so powerful—not that we know how to pray, but that the God we pray to is our loving, faithful Father.
As much as I would love to say that this was a habit peculiar only to the Pharisees, I too often become obsessed with the “how” of prayer—thinking that it’s because I pray in a certain way or say certain things that prayer works the way it does. But I have to remind myself regularly that the power of prayer isn’t in the how, but in the Who. Prayer works not because I do it in just the right way, but because I pray to a God who loves me.
As James wrote, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father. . . . He never changes” (James 1:17). May we pray to God simply because of who He is.
NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Titus 3:1-11
Read Luke 15:20-24 to be reminded of the character of our heavenly Father to whom we pray.
Do you ever find yourself focusing more on the how of prayer than the who? How can you make sure your prayer life is based on the identity of whom you pray to and not how you pray?