The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray (which would mean Jesus’ way of praying, not how to pray in general as they would have been taught to pray since childhood) and he gives them two contrasting teachings.
First, he gives them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. The outstanding point of this prayer is how God-centered it is. God is praised. It is God’s kingdom that we wish to see advanced. The rest of the prayer is one of basic provision: bread for today, forgiveness, and protection from the Devil.
Next, Jesus also challenges his audience to pray with audacity:
So this is my word to you: ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. You see, everyone who asks receives! Everyone who searches finds! Everyone who knocks has the door opened for them! (11:9-10)
This is the prayer of bold persistence. Prayers of this sort are focused on the person praying. This is a very different kind of prayer from the first.
Most of us pray one or the other of these prayers. We easily pray for ourselves and God’s agenda takes a backseat. We have an easy time taking our needs to God but have yet to learn there may be a more important, kingdom-advancing point to our need. Or, for others, God is the center of much of our prayer and we feel guilty asking for ourselves. We might come around to “asking, seeking, knocking” but only after our own best efforts have been exhausted or we are convinced we should dare to ask for ourselves.
Jesus tell us here that both kinds of prayers are necessary. There is not one right way to pray. Some days all that matters is God’s agenda and we can be content with the basics. Other days, in desperation, we cry out boldly for our own needs, because we must.
Life requires both.