what did these words mean in the language of regular people like me?
Today we think of the ancient world in our own terms, and we forget that what are, to us special, religious-sounding words are nothing more than simple Greek verbs and nouns that meant nothing but their literal meaning to the speaker.
Take prayer. We think of prayer as a special thing, reserved for God. It isn’t. It’s simply an English word meaning “to ask”.
In Shakespeare’s day, “I pray thee, give it me” didn’t have any special meaning reserved for God. It just meant... I’m asking you, politely, to give me something (Genesis 13:8, 25:30, etc.).
Now if you simply update the English word used 400 years ago to the translation we would use today, if prayer were not a dogma, but a simple word... it would be hard to misunderstand prayer.
Prayer means asking. We can ask each other for things, we can ask God for things. That’s why the Bible doesn’t have specific prayers for us to recite; because the doctrine of a prayer didn’t exist apart from the idea of asking God for something.
No one in the Bible ever recited someone else’s prayer; because what person has a list of asks that they write down and repeat every day, or in certain circumstances??
The Lord’s prayer was not a prayer we were meant to memorize and recite like robots. That’s why Jesus said after this manner pray, or pray in this way – He never said recite this exact prayer! (Matthew 6:9). It was a template, a guideline – that’s why no one in the Bible ever copied it!
If you saw your brother ask your father for something, using an eloquent heartfelt plea, and saw your father grant it... would you try and recite the same exact words? And if you did, would it work?
Probably not; it wouldn’t ring true to him because the words didn’t come from your own heart! (Matthew 7:7, Romans 10:1). God doesn’t want a canned speech any more than your own father does (Matthew 6:7); just be straight with Him, and ask Him what you want (Matthew 7:7-11).
Treat God like a good Father (2 Corinthians 6:18), not like a medieval dictator being approached by a serf (Hebrews 4:16). Because if you’re formal and distant with Him, that’s how He’ll be with you (James 4:8).
And like when you ask your own dad for something, do so in your own words, not in an archaic or dead language! None of that “I thank thee, O Lord” stuff. Just say whatever sounds normal to you, because God hates pretentiousness! (Matthew 23:14).
As for how often we should pray, that’s even easier: as often as we have something to ask for... Or as rarely. If you have nothing to say, then don’t say anything. Just like you would your human father.
If you have a lot to say, then spend all night saying it (Luke 6:12). If you’re an important person with a lot of things to go over, do it three times a day (Daniel 6:10-11), or seven (Psalm 119:164); if you’ve got nothing to say... then say nothing. See how easy all this is?
Prayer means “ask”.
Why are we still talking about this?
If you truly understand what these words meant to the men who wrote them down – if prayer really means ask to you – then it’s hard not to understand how to use it, or what it means! Because the Bible is really that simple if you just let it be...