One night a father heard his young daughter speaking, although she was alone in her room. The door was cracked open just enough so that he could see that she was kneeling beside her bed in prayer. Interested to find out what subjects a child would bring before God, he paused outside her door and listened. After tuning in to her prayer he was puzzled to hear her reciting the alphabet: “A, B, B, D, E, F, G …” She just kept repeating it. He didn’t want to interrupt her, but soon curiosity got the best of him and he broke into prayer, “Honey,” he asked, “what are you doing?”
“I’m praying, Daddy,” she replied.
“Well, why are you praying the alphabet?” he asked.
She explained, “I started my prayers, but I wasn’t sure what to pray. I decided to just say all the letters of the alphabet and let God put them together however he thinks best.”
When it comes to prayer have you ever felt that way? You knew you needed to pray, but just weren’t sure how you should go about doing it. Maybe the words escaped your mind or you were uncertain about what would be the best way to go about doing it.
Don’t feel bad! You’re not the first person to think that! In Luke 11:1, Luke records, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.” When you look at the prayer life of Jesus you find that he set’s a rich example of what prayer is all about.
Luke 11:1b-2a (NIV)
…. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say…
Jesus’ best friends and closest followers watched Jesus ministry and observed his rich prayer life and obviously noticed how he spoke to the Father with ease. He seemed to always have the right words to say and his prayers were powerfully answered. So, they asked him, as we can too, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Jesus granted their request. He gave them a guide for how they can pray. The writers of the Bible recorded it and today we call it, “The Lord’s Prayer.” Perhaps a more appropriate title would be “The Disciple’s Prayer” because it was given to Jesus’ followers so that they could pray with power!
So, tonight, I want to take a closer look at this particular prayer. The words in this prayer are not necessarily what should be repeated ritualistically in prayer but more of an outline of how and what to pray for. I believe that Jesus was giving His disciples a model for prayer that they could base their prayer life on.
begin with praise
Praise happens when we talk about or sing about who God is. It’s verbalizing certain things that we know about His character. It is speaking about the great things he has done in the world and in our lives. Jesus put it like this…
Matthew 6:9 (NIV)
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Notice that Jesus first describes God as “our Father in heaven.” He’s our father, not some uncaring, unnoticing deity. This was a concept that must be understood.
The writers of the Old Testament had a much different concept of their relationship to God than we do today. When the scribes who copied the Old Testament scriptures wrote the word for God, Yahweh, they would throw away their pen, never to use it again. They reasoned that once it had written the word, Yahweh, the pen was disqualified to write anything else. (David Jeremiah, Prayer, the Great Adventure p. 84)
The Jewish people couldn’t conceive of God as Father. It was very hard for them to think of Him in relational terms, but that’s exactly the thing Jesus wants us to recognize in our prayer.
He is the God who is near
He is a present help in times of trouble. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Still there is another aspect of God’s person that we should not forget.He is the God who is Most High
Hallowed means “holy,” or “set apart.” It’s the recognition that the Creator is distinct from His creation. God is totally pure, far wiser than we are, and more powerful than the largest exploding supernova. We begin in prayer by getting our mind right with regard to whose presence we’re entering into.
When John F. Kennedy was President of the United States, Life magazine published photos of his children, John Jr. and Caroline, playing with their toys on the floor of the Oval Office. Those images captured the hearts of the American people like nothing before or since. Why? I think it’s because it bridged a gap between two thoughts: Kennedy was the President of the United States, but he was also a father. He held ultimate political power in the Free World, but playing at this feet were two little kids who called him Daddy. I don’t think your kids would have been allowed to do that. Nor mine. But his kids were. Why? He was their father. He was not only President of the United States; he was also their dad.
In the same way, God is both our Father and the Lord of Glory. We can approach Him confidently in prayer because we are His dearly beloved children, but we must never forget that He is also the Sovereign of the universe.” (David Jeremiah, Prayer the Great Adventure pp. 89-90)
An ancient Orthodox writer wrote, “God cannot be grasped by the mind. If he could be grasped, he would not be God.” We are profoundly different God and I, which explains why friendship is not the primary model used in the Bible to describe our relationship. Worship is.” (Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God, p 110)
Prayer recognizes the proper relationship between us and God.
Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
If you’ve crossed the line of faith you don’t have to come to God trembling in fear. You have access because you’ve been forgiven and adopted as his child. On the other hand, you don’t treat God as your good buddy, “Bubba”. He is a friend but He is not like the guy or the girl next door. No, He is our holy, heavenly Father. It is praise and worship that ushers us into His presence.
Psalm 22:3 (KJV)
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabits the praises of Israel.
surrender to God’s priorities
Matthew 6:10 (NIV)
10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We will only see powerful prayer when we approach God with the right attitude. Here Jesus calls us to submit ourselves totally to God. In asking that His kingdom come we’re essentially giving up control of our lives and handing it over to God. In a kingdom, there are only two classes of people, the ruler and those who are ruled over.
There must be a recognition of our place within God’s kingdom and a surrender to His rule before he’ll answer our prayers in a powerful way. He won’t entrust His stuff to us if we’re going to misuse it to selfish ends.
Richard Baxter, a great Puritan thinker and writer, well understood the real truth. He used to write these words whenever he was asked to sign one of his books: “Lord, what Thou wilt, where Thou wilt, and when Thou wilt.” In the old Puritan manner of speaking he was saying, “Lord, whatever you want, wherever you want it, and whenever you want it, that’s what I want.” (David Jeremiah, Prayer, the Great Adventure p. 106)
Does it scare you to pray like that? Well it should! But that’s where faith comes in! If we believe that God is good and on our side we understand that he’ll only tell us to do that which is for the best.
This then, is also why we need to seek the mind of the Father when we pray. How many times do you being praying by asking God how He would have you pray? One of the reasons Jesus sent the Holy Spirit is so that we would have access to the mind of the Father. It is important friends that we speak out loud and vocalize our prayer when we pray, but it is more important to open your ears first to what the Spirit of God may be directing you to pray for.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)
ask for God’s provision.
After we’ve focused on who God is and submitted to his rule in our lives we can then go on to ask for His provision. Jesus said to simply ask…
Matthew 6:11 (NIV)
11 Give us today our daily bread.
Obviously, this was intended to move us beyond a request for food. Here we simply ask God for our needs, not our wants. Notice what’s really being asked for here, “daily bread.” And we’re to ask for today’s only, not tomorrow’s. God will meet our legitimate daily needs, but not necessarily the luxury things we ask for.
Indirectly, this single verse clues us into how often we should pray and bring our needs before God. We’re to seek him daily. People who seek him consistently each day are the one’s who experience his powerful answers to prayer. Those who are most dependent on God tend to be those He uses in significant ways.
Whatever your needs are, bring them to God on a daily basis. Even if you think they’re petty, go ahead and ask. Our heavenly Father delights in giving us good gifts the same way you delight in giving your children what they need. Ask specifically. Ask confidently. Ask persistently. Ask with faith. Just don’t give up.
Dr. Helen Roseveare, missionary to Zaire, told the following story. “A mother at our mission station died after giving birth to a premature baby. We tried to improvise an incubator to keep the infant alive, but the only hot water bottle we had was beyond repair. So we asked the children to pray for the baby and for her sister. One of the girls responded, ‘Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late because by then the baby will be dead. And dear Lord, send a doll for the sister so she won’t feel so lonely.’ That afternoon a large package arrived from England. The children watched eagerly as we opened it. Much to their surprise, under some clothing was a hot water bottle! Immediately the girl who had prayed so earnestly started to dig deeper, exclaiming, ‘If God sent that, I’m sure He also sent a doll!’ And she was right! The heavenly Father knew in advance of that child’s sincere requests, and five months earlier He had led a ladies group to include both those specific articles.” (Our Daily Bread, March 18, 2002)
examine your personal relationships
Here come one of the toughest parts of the Lord’s Prayer. When you realize the magnitude of what Jesus recites in the next verse it makes you think carefully before you say it.
Matthew 6:12 (NIV)
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Think of the person who has done you the most wrong recently. Now pray, “Lord, forgive me of my sins the way I’ve forgiven so and so.” God wants us to reflect on our relationships with people because they can be an indicator of our own relationship with God. If we harbor unforgiveness we’re not right with God. Don’t expect answers to prayer if you’re holding out on forgiveness. Now hear me here. I am not talking about going to others and asking for their forgiveness. Though that is important that is not what Jesus prayed in this prayer. I’m talking about your willingness to go and forgive others.
Jesus was so serious about this point that at the end of His prayer He elaborated on this verse.
Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
This stuff is serious business, if we’ll use the same mercy towards others that God has extended to us our prayers will take on a whole new character and power. Implied in this part of the prayer model is that we pray for the needs of others. I mean that’s what is assumed we do. But then this statement takes things one step further – we have the opportunity to go beyond forgiveness and prayer for the needs of others and allow God shape us to be like Him!
seek God’s protection
Next is what could be one of the more puzzling verses of the Bible.
Matthew 6:13 (NIV)
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
You see this verse is hard to square with another portion of the Bible that says:
James 1:13 (NIV)
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
So how do we square off those verses? Here’s how. First of all notice the location of this particular verse. It follows, “Father forgive us…”. Temptation is an enticement to sin. It is only natural then that following the prayer seeking the forgiveness of sin that we ask for deliverance and protection from the things that lead us to that sin in the first place! God never leads us to sin. Never. He does test us, however. He allows trials in our lives that are intended to draw us nearer to Himself and strengthen our faith and dependence on Him. Often, within the midst of trials and struggles we encounter a temptation to sin. That temptation comes from either ourselves – our own evil desires – or Satan, the enemy.
Another way to read this verse then is, “And keep us from those places, situations, circumstances where we experience temptation and rescue us from the evil one.” In other words, if I can avoid testing and still be close to you, please let it be, but if not help me to overcome temptation with your power. We have a promise in the scriptures that God will bring us through those times. Our part is to pray and ask for wisdom to see it coming.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)
13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Friends, prayer can change your life. Take this model of prayer given by Jesus and build your own daily time with God. You’ll find that not only does God consistently answer your requests, but He’s changing you in the process.
The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.