How should we pray? Many people are familiar with the Lord’s Prayer. You know, the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples recorded in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. It begins: “Our Father which art in heaven….”. Jesus taught this prayer to his followers not so that they should merely repeat its words, but to provide a guide for regular prayer.
Who are we talking to?
Focus for a moment on the first section of the prayer: “Our Father which art in heaven: hallowed by Thy Name.” These are significant words. What are they teaching us about prayer? First, these words remind us that we are talking to a person. We are speaking with the God who is real and personal, not an impersonal Force as the Star Wars movie series depicts God. Then, God is called Father. According to Jesus, prayer is to be directed primarily to the Father–the first person of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yes, there is only one God, but he apparently exists in a way that is beyond our understanding: one in essence, yet three in personhood. Jesus, the incarnation of the Son, teaches that our prayers should be directed to the Father. Jesus emphasizes that God is “our Father”. Remember that Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples rather than to the crowds. Those who have put their trust in the Father’s Son may call God Father.
What kind of God are we praying to?
The prayer reminds us that God is in heaven. That means that he is in a position to hear our prayers and do something about them. An earthly father is limited in what he can do, but our heavenly Father is not limited in either wisdom, or power. Finally, God is said to be holy (hallowed be Thy Name). Many people don’t have trouble thinking of God as loving, —possibly because this concept of God is so appealing. But a holy God – one who is pure and perfect, one who is not like us, one who has no sin or wrong associated with him in any way – is a problem for some folks. We need to be reminded of this aspect of God’s nature because it determines both our attitude in prayer and the kinds of things we request of Him. He doesn’t think like we do. He is not motivated by some of the things that motivate us. He is holy.
What is the goal of prayer?
Once we understand who we are addressing in prayer and what kind of being he is, we can focus on the next portion: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When we pray like this, we are asking God to do those things which will honor Him and serve His own purposes. Praying like this should immediately remove any selfish elements in prayer. By focusing on the goal of God’s Kingdom coming on earth, we are wiping the slate clean of wrong, self-centered, or impure motives.
Praying for God’s Kingdom to come also causes us to focus on exactly those things which he has already promised to hear and answer. Though we may not always know what to ask for specifically, praying like this automatically narrows our requests and intercession to the kinds of things that we are aware of that God favors and is likely to grant. For example, the types of things the Bible says are according to God’s will might include:
- that people will hear and respond to the good news that they can be forgiven, remade, and restored to God through faith in Jesus
- that people may grow in personal goodness and godliness
- that God’s people may be purified and have a positive influence in the world
- that the basic needs of family, friends and people’s in general will be met.
Maybe you can think of more.
But if we are praying for God’s will to be done above all else, then we must submit each our will to God’s will before our prayer can proceed to other things. Submitting our wills to God’s will means that we must consent that God’s will can take place in our lives — if nowhere else. We must be willing for His Kingdom to have its effect in the things that are dearest to us, even if it means that our plans are changed, and the direction of our lives alters drastically. We must not harbor those sins of attitude that resist the coming of God’s Kingdom. In other words what we are saying to our Heavenly Father as we pray is that our greatest desire is to have what God desires. We are saying that we will be pleased to see his glory and his purposes worked out in our lives. We are saying that God has permission to use us in this process of accomplishing his will on earth.
What kinds of requests should we make?
Jesus teaches that prayer should include things that we are concerned about. He lists several types of things that are legitimate requests in prayer:
Daily bread. God knows that we need basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing, the means to make a living and the health necessary to maintain life. Notice that there are no luxury items mentioned. The Bible does not condemn extras in life by any means. But Jesus’ prayer focuses on the basics needed to maintain life and productivity. This focus reminds us that we can be content with simple things, and that we should not become caught up in chasing more and better as so many people in contemporary society are.
Forgiveness. Aside from the very few people who really don’t see that they have ever done anything wrong, all of us know we have sinned. We know in our hearts that we have hurt people, that we have shamed ourselves, and that we have offended God’s standards in one way or another. We know this because we recognize that we have violated common standards of right and wrong, but also because we feel guilty and ashamed. At the core of the good news is that Jesus died to secure our forgiveness, cleansing and empowerment to live differently. In asking to be forgiven of trespasses, we are in effect asking to receive the benefits of Christ’s atonement. Part of that request is the realization that forgiveness has indeed been granted in Christ.
The partner to the request for forgiveness is that we forgive others. How can we who have experienced God’s forgiveness refuse to forgive those who have offended us? While perhaps our forgiveness from God is not contingent on whether we fully forgive others, Jesus presents them as a package deal: “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Protection. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Very simply, we beg God to protect us from ourselves when under temptation and from people and situations that would bring harm.
Though not all experts agree that this final phrase was part of Jesus’ original teaching, traditionally Christians have included, “For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, Amen.” It is certainly fitting that our prayers may end with a recognition that all good things belong to God. So, with these things in mind, let us pray in the way that Jesus taught His disciples!