A young boy called the pastor of a church near his house. He asked the pastor to come by and pray for his mother. She had been very ill with the flu. The pastor knew the family and he was aware they had been attending another church. So the pastor asked, “Shouldn’t you be asking your new pastor, Brother Simon to come by and pray for your mom?” The young boy replied, “Yeah, we thought of that, but we didn’t want to take the chance that he might catch whatever Mom has.”
Have you ever pondered, “What is the purpose of prayer?” As I have observed Christians through the years, it is apparent that the perceived purpose for prayer differs from person to person. For some, prayer is like a 9-1-1 call. If circumstances deteriorate into a crisis, well, then it’s time to pray. For others, prayer is like visiting Santa at the mall. God exists to give us what we want, and we are not too proud to ask. In fact, I had a training union leader who said, “Don’t just tell God what you want, tell him what color!” Still others view prayer as a time to inform God. One man was praying and said, “Dear Lord, if you haven’t already, you need to read the front page article in the New York Times.”
9-1-1…Santa…Breaking the news to God…Is this why we pray? Just how should we pray? In our devotion today we will discover the priority and pattern of prayer. Read on…
Read Jeremiah 33:3, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – The Right Priority
From the beginning to the ending of the Scriptures we find prayer. According to the article, “All the Prayers in the Bible,” 61 of the 66 books either contain prayers or teach prayer. The Bible contains almost 1,100 references to prayer. Considering that we are restored to God in a covenant relationship, it stands to reason that the Lord would desire to commune with us. We are His children and He is our Heavenly Father.
In Jeremiah 33:3, God invites Jeremiah to call unto Him. Not only are God’s children invited to call unto Him, Colossians 4:2 teaches us to devote ourselves to prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reveals that prayer should be a priority. We are to pray without ceasing. This continual state of prayer means an ongoing dialogue with the Lord, recognizing that He is “with us always,” and the we are “temples of the Holy Spirit.”
With such a preponderance of prayer in the Scriptures, and with God’s invitation to make prayer a priority, just how is it that we should pray? Read on…
Read Luke 11:1-4, Matthew 6:5-13 – The Right Person and Pattern
If we want to know how to pray, we must be taught by the One who prays perfectly. We must learn from the Right Person.
When I was a student at Georgetown College, the President hosted an alumni dinner. I was asked to represent my class at this elegant event. When I sat down at the table, what lay before me was the most confusing array of forks, spoons, knives, multiple cups, plates and saucers. Everything appeared to have a purpose and be in its place. It was really quite impressive. As I pondered the place setting, it occurred to me – I had no idea what to do!! My confusion must have been apparent because a dear elderly lady across from me whispered, “Just watch what I do. You’ll be fine.” I didn’t know where to start until I looked to one who knew.
After Jesus prayed, the disciples were gathered around. One of them said to him, teach us how to pray. They had come to the right person. They were looking to the one who knew precisely what to do! Jesus was a man of prayer. He did absolutely nothing without consulting with His Father!
Before He chose the disciples he spent the night in prayer. Many times he withdrew from everyone to pray. Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane pouring out His heart, or just before His arrest and crucifixion. As Jesus prayed, the disciples watched what He did! And they made a request of Him: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” They had come to the right person.
Before we move on, let me offer a warning. There are many people today, even Christians, …who are adapting prayer techniques from other religions. This is not only dangerous – I believe it is idolatrous. When Kendall, my middle son, was in the 1st grade, I made a visit to his school. That day the children gathered on mats in a corner of the room. I asked the aid what was going on. She said the children were participating in yoga. She described it as “centering.” The aid assured me it was not religious. She said it was just a harmless way for the children to relax and focus.
Contrary to her description, this adaptation of Eastern Religions and New Age Spirituality teaches that divinity is naturally within all of creation. So, prayer becomes an inward searching for harmony and oneness with the universe. This stands in contrast and is incompatible with Christian spirituality and prayer. Our spirituality is not born from within. It is offered to us by God’s grace through faith. It is formed as we are crucified with Christ, when we no longer live, but Christ lives within us! We don’t search inside ourselves for some cosmic connection. We are united to Christ by new birth. We don’t connect to God by meditating really intensely. Rather, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds! We don’t look within. we fix our eyes on Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith! He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father, but by Him!!! If we truly want to know how to pray, don’t look within – look to Jesus. He is the right person to teach us!!
So, they ask Jesus how to pray. Jesus shares with them the Right Pattern. You may have noticed that Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer is sort of the “Reader’s Digest abridged” or shorter version. Matthew records the longer version. The differences are not contradictory. They reveal that two men were inspired to write different accounts. Of the Lord’s Prayer, theologian J. I. Packer said, “This prayer is a pattern for all Christian praying. Jesus is teaching that prayer will be acceptable when, and only when, the attitudes, thoughts, and desires expressed fit the pattern…
Let’s consider this pattern by focusing briefly on each part. Jesus begins by identifying the one to whom we pray. He said, “Our Father.” Many early manuscripts, and Matthew add, “who art in heaven.” These two statements communicate volumes. God is our “Father.” This speaks to God’s nearness to us – His immanence. We have a relationship with God as His children! In Jesus, this family bond is restored. Adam Hamilton tells the story of visiting a family in his church. The family included a single mom with two children. One was a 5 year old girl. The father had deserted them and moved to Texas to avoid paying child support. When Adam walked in, this little girl wrapped her arms around his leg and then said, “I got a birthday card from my daddy, do you want to see it?” Adam said, “Absolutely.” She went to her bedroom and brought out a card which was torn and tattered. When he looked at it, he saw it was 2 years old. But she still carried that card with her wherever she went. She didn’t remember what her daddy looked like but she had a longing to be in relationship with her father. Pastor Tim Smith, who tells Adam’s story, points out, regardless of our relationship to our earthly fathers, or the lack of a relationship, deep within us is a longing to be in relationship to God the Father.
By uniting with God’s Son, we have become sons in the Son! God is indeed our father, but we must also recognize that God is in heaven. This speaks of His transcendent holiness. We must understand the balance of the two ideas. Yes, we are children of God, even allowed to call Him Abba – daddy or papa. But, God is still the all-powerful creator of the universe. Even though we have been invited to crawl up onto his lap, he still deserves our deepest reverence and worship. “Our Father, who art in Heaven hallowed be your name.”
I have a strong aversion to anyone calling God, “The man upstairs,” or, referring to the Lord as my good buddy. God’s name is not “the man” or “good buddy.” His name is to be holy above every other name! And so, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lord help me put your first!” Heavenly Father – I set you apart over my entire being. Without this priority – our lives are completely out of order.
Jesus then teaches us to pray, “Thy kingdom come…” Isn’t this what Jesus came to preach? This was His ministry. He proclaimed – The Kingdom is at hand – the Kingdom is near – the Kingdom is in your midst. Indeed the king had come – but few recognized His reign. As we pray, “Thy kingdom come…” We are praying for God’s purposes in Christ to take hold. For the Lord to reign in our hearts and in the hearts of an ever expanding kingdom! One day, God’s Kingdom will come in final consummation. On that day the tyrannical earthly regimes and corrupt kingdoms will fall and God’s Kingdom will be established forever! But, until that day, we pray that His kingdom will be known in the here and now as we carry on the ministry of Jesus. He is enthroned on our praise and in our lives. Where the King is, there is the Kingdom!!
Next, Jesus teaches them to say, “Give us each day our daily bread.” This phrase is a fascinating one! For any Hebrew, “daily bread” would have carried extra meaning. They would think about “manna,” which was miraculous bread given to them daily. So, this could mean to pray for our ordinary everyday provisions. But, manna was no ordinary bread – it was bread from heaven. In John 6:31-35, there is an interesting parallel. Jesus is approached by thousands whom he has just fed with five loaves and two fish with 12 baskets left over.
The people say to Jesus, Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;”
Is it possible that praying for our “daily bread” means praying for more of Jesus in our lives? Lord, every day, we want to feast on your Word!! When tempted to turn stones into bread, Jesus said to Satan, quoting the words of Moses, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God!” So, Jesus teaches us to pray for more than our daily portion of bread. We are to pray daily for the Bread of Life!! Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more…
Jesus then teaches them to pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Uh oh…this one starts to get really personal. I read a story about a little boy was sitting on a park bench in obvious pain and he was filled with anger. A man walking by asked him what was wrong. The young boy said, “I’m sitting on a bumble bee.” The man urgently asked, “Then why don’t you get up?” The boy replied, “Because I figure I’m hurting him more than he is hurting me!”
How many of us handle forgiveness like this little boy? We endure pain for the sadistic satisfaction of believing we are hurting our offender more than he is hurting us. When we get off the bench of un-forgiveness, both of us can begin to realize relief from our pain. Jesus teaches us to pray for God to forgive us just as we forgive others. For some of us, this brings great comfort – we forgive easily. For others of us, who hold grudges. This should be horrifying! Jesus said in Mark 11:25, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Who do you need to forgive?
Finally, we are to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” It was Satan who tempted Jesus. It is Satan who tempts us. The story is told of four high school boys who couldn’t resist the temptation to skip morning classes. Each had been smitten with a bad case of spring fever. After lunch they showed up at school and reported to the teacher that their car had a flat tire. Much to their relief, she smiled and said, “Well, you missed a quiz this morning, so take your seats and get out a pencil and paper.” Still smiling, she waited as they settled down and got ready for her questions. Then she said, “First question—which tire was flat?” Lord, please lead us not into temptation. We are to ask God to keep us from wandering into the mine field of Satan’s malicious intent. Sometimes the temptation is of our own choosing!
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray No doubt they saw a connection between his public power and His private prayer. Jesus offered them this beautiful prayer. Elmer Towns said of it, “The Lord’s Prayer includes everything you need to ask when you talk to God. It is a model prayer that teaches us how to pray.” N. T. Wright made this observation, “For the Lord’s Prayer is not so much a command as an invitation: an invitation to share in the prayer-life of Jesus himself.”
During these days of Journeying to Jerusalem, we are following the footsteps of Jesus. As we move ever closer to the cross, may we also be brought to our knees. By following Jesus on the Pathway to the Passion, may we rediscover the priority and pattern of prayer.