Prayer seems to many a mystery: both to people who haven't discovered Christ and those who have. The fact is that we are all lifelong learners when it comes to prayer - none of us have it sussed. For those of no faith they may mistakenly believe they can't pray, or that they need someone to pray for them. That's why as a church we have put some simple resources on our new 'Help Me' page to help get people started.
Jesus gave some simple instructions in his sermon on the mount. First he says that "It doesn't need to be a show", in fact he says "don't make it a show"! Presumably at the time there were some who made it their profession to pray in public, but it became all about the show and nothing to do with connection or content. Instead Jesus calls us to intimacy - he says it is better to go into your room, close the door and just be you and God together. A place where you can know God as Father. Personally for me the elation of knowing that intimacy far outstrips any need I might actually be intending to pray for! So find your place where you can regularly go and just be with God.
Second Jesus said "don't babble". He referred to pagans, but I know some Christians who seem to fit this description! Its as if there is the equation "the more you say or repeat it, the more likely God will answer". That equation isn't true: God acting is not dependent on verbosity or repetition. So keep prayers simple and to the point - lets stop the babbling! God knows the need anyway, so just come in intimacy.
Jesus spells out a prayer, and it starts with God: "Our Father in heaven". It reminds us 'God is God and we are not!'. That is always a good place to start - it is why the vast majority of our church leadership prayer times start with a focus on God, the grace seen through Jesus, and the work of His Spirit. With God it is then about His Kingdom - where people, things, structures align with Him and His will. The desire is that we line up here on earth as it does in heaven: heaven and earth meeting.
It is in that context - with God being God and living for His Kingdom - that we ask for our needs. The ask is simple: give us just what we need for today, and don't be anxious about tomorrow. Remember this is need not want. Our consumer culture confuses the two - so we have to untangle. The simplicity of today is radical and counter cultural. It doesn't mean we can't make any sensible provision for the future, but we are to do it with a simple daily trust.
Learn to do that in a climate of forgiveness - a 'grace economy'. This is where we ask and know God's forgiveness on us, and we extend it out to others. This links the vertical (to God) with the horizontal (to each other), with forgiveness being the theme.
It is in that climate in which you can ask for guidance and leading - Jesus says "lead us not to temptation", which could also mean "testing". This is curious in that Jesus himself was led into the desert and tempted. So we should understand it as 'lead me away from that which I cannot bear'. That is born out by the next phrase deliver us from the work of evil: recognising that the devil will always want to be throwing us off course and messing with us. The bottom line is asking for an active walk with Jesus: step by step with guidance each day.
It is worth reflecting on the simplicity of this prayer: God - Kingdom - Provision - Grace/forgiveness - Active leading. That is all the ingredients you need! Of course there are many questions, many avenues we could explore - but pause those and focus on the simplicity. If we discover it for ourselves, then when we talk to others it is much easier to relate and help them get started.