Once Jesus was praying in a particular place. When he had finished, one of his disciples approached. “Teach us to pray, Master,” he said, “just like John taught his disciples.” [Luke 11:1 (NTE)]
I used to look forward to our occasional stops in the bank where a tray of homemade cookies always was laid out for their customers. I admit to having no will-power when it came to their white chocolate chip/macadamia nut cookies. With a hint of lemon, they were so delicious that I searched the internet to find the recipe so I could skip the bank visit. Several recipes came close but none were quite right so, using those as a guide, I developed a recipe that met the taste test!
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He recited what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” It’s important to remember that the disciples asked how to pray but not what exact words to use. Being a good teacher, instead of a lecture on praying, Jesus gave them a model prayer, but certainly not the only prayer to be said.
My recipe search told me the basic ingredients I needed for the cookies: flour, baking powder, brown and granulated sugars, butter, eggs, and lemon extract. Jesus’ model prayer included basics like praise, an acknowledgement of God’s holiness, acceptance of His will, confession, forgiveness, and petitions for daily provision and protection from evil. I found other recipes that included ingredients like cornstarch, lemon zest, nuts, and vanilla extract. If we look at other prayers said by Jesus, we find things like thanksgiving, a desire to bring God glory, and pleas for others and for the church.
When Jesus showed the disciples how to pray, He gave them an outline (or a basic recipe) rather than a comprehensive list of components. Like a recipe, it’s up to us to put them all together. Some days, I give God an extra cupful of thanks and praise because, unlike salt, we can never overdo those ingredients. It’s often easy to skip the confession and forgiving but, like forgetting the baking powder in cookies, prayers don’t seem to come out right without them. While it’s possible to add too much flour to a cookie recipe, our prayers seem to improve the more we pray for the needs of others. God, however, probably won’t find our prayers very appetizing if we spend more time mixing in petitions for ourselves than for others! Unlike a cookie recipe, there is no set amount of time for baking the perfect prayer; that’s a judgment call. As for me, I often find it necessary to bake my prayers a long time before acceptance of God’s plan forms in my heart.
When we grow bored with the food we’ve been preparing, we create new recipes or tweak the old ones by adding something extra like dried cherries or cinnamon chips to oatmeal cookies. The same goes for our prayers. If prayer seems boring, we need to change it up by gathering the ingredients and presenting them to God in a different way. Just as there are countless ingredients with which to bake delicious cookies, there are countless components that can go into our prayers. Regardless of the recipe, my grands are pleased whenever I bake; I think God feels the same way about our prayers!
Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things. [John Calvin]