In my ministry travels I’ve become aware of the fact that not everyone knows how to pray. In fact, I’ve found in some places that it isn’t traditionally thought that the people can pray but rather believed prayer is only for the learned and the leaders, the bishops and pastors. But of course, this simply isn’t true.
Jesus himself taught those around him how to pray and we find this instruction in Matthew 6:9-13:
“9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
Jesus begins this prayer with an intimate term of Father. This would have been surprising to those he taught, scandalous even, because he is suggesting familiarity with God, the kind of close relationship that we may know in our earthily families but that would never be imagined with the creator of the universe.
And yet this is the start of Jesus instruction. He is basically opening up a new dimension of prayer as that of intimate, close, familiar, conversation. Imagine if you will a kingdom and a king. In this kingdom there are the common folk, those who work in the palace, other leaders alongside the king and then there is the family, the children of the king.
In any kingdom there is protocol that governs which people can approach the king and in which manner. The rules might be many and few would have opportunity for an audience with the king. But imagine that in that kingdom and with that king, though there are many rules, that the children of the king require no protocol and are not subject to the same rules. A son or daughter of the king bypasses all the rules and protocol by virtue of being a son or daughter. They have unparalleled access to the king.
This is the image that Jesus paints. As sons and daughters of God we have full access. It is the same as when my children would crawl up onto my lap when they were smaller. They needed no permission and no invitation even, they simply knew and acted on their freedom to snuggle in whenever they wanted. This is how we approach our prayer life, our whole life, with God.
At the same time we find Jesus directing our hearts and minds to honour God, “hallowed by thy name”. We acknowledge the greatness of the name of God. In this we declare his goodness, his might, his holiness, his omnipotence, his governance; we give honour to God.
We say ‘Father’ and we say ‘How great you are’.
Both hand in hand, familiarity and comfort and ease alongside worship and adoration.
In verse ten Jesus directs our prayers into agreement with the Father’s will on this earth. Throughout scripture we are taught about the power found in agreement of two or more. In our natural and human life we find it all too easy to agree with Satan. Our minds are often full of his lies, his condemnations, his attacks, his confounding, but for a life that goes forward in the strength of the Lord it is imperative that we begin agreeing with God, with his promises, his purposes, his hope, his strength. ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ gives us the model of how to align our hearts and minds with the plans of God.
Here we put down our own best thoughts and wisdom and declare our allegiance to a wisdom higher than ours.
Verse eleven with its simple ‘give us this day our daily bread’ declares and admits our dependance on the Lord for our very lives. Taken literally we cry out to the Lord for the necessary food and resources to get us through each day. This simple line also models to us that we take it one day at a time. Notice that Jesus did not instruct us to pray ‘give us this years bread’. Rather we walk day by day with the Lord.
Taken symbolically this simple line points us to our need for spiritual bread which is of course Jesus Christ himself. John 6:35 finds Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Here we acknowledge our need of a saviour and when we do this we enter into all the possibilities and resources that heaven holds.
Verse eleven is interesting. The ability to speak out ‘and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors’ brings us face to face with our own hearts for only if we have forgiven others can we speak this with sincerity. Our attention is immediately, yet indirectly, drawn to the state of our own hearts and we are given pause to consider a moment the truth of what we are speaking for ourselves.
It becomes apparent very quickly if we have in fact forgiven others or not. Our hearts catch us if we have not and we are compelled to enter into this work of forgiveness. Here we are simply reminded of the heart of the gospel and compelled to live it out.
In addition to this simple remembrance for our own sakes is the incredible power in forgiveness unto another. John 20:23 says, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
It appears that we are entered into the work of our Lord and his grace unto each other. Suggested here, if not explicitly stated, is the power unto life or death. Consider how it reads in the Complete Jewish Bible, “If you forgive someone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you hold them, they are held.”
Without forgiveness we hold the sins of others. And don’t we know this to be true. To hold the sins of others in our being becomes a heavy and tortuous thing. Bitterness destroys us from the inside out.
The depths of this Matthew 6:11 verse we may never fully comprehend, never fully fathom the depths of, yet we can agree and bring our hearts into alignment, into agreement regarding God’s forgiveness of others and therefore our forgiveness of them as well.
Jesus finishes off by instructing, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This last part of The Lord’s Prayer holds for me the least clarity. It seems to be a cry of our need to be delivered from our own wayward heart and ways; an acknowledgment that we have this huge propensity to sin and to evil and our subsequent and desperate need for the Lord’s help.
Its a good place to end I think. For we’ve just traversed a wide journey. We started off familiar in the Father’s arms and we declared the glory of his name (vs.9). We’ve stood alongside in powerful agreement unto his will and heart over our lives and this world. As vice-regents we have commanded the kingdom of God into our realities (vs.10).
We then immediately fall to our knees declaring our utter dependance on his provision both physically and spiritually (vs.11) and are reminded of and brought to account the state of our relationships with the Lord and with others (vs.12).
Finishing off finds us once more standing alongside the Lord simply stating our humanity and declaring his omnipotence (vs.13).
Prayer is first and foremost a matter of our hearts position before the Lord. It isn’t the words we speak or the length by which we pray, it has nothing to do with eloquence, nothing to do with volume, and its not really about repeating what we know about God, rather it is a private conversation between God and you.
In this the simpler the better. Too many words and we lose our effectiveness.
On my recent trip to Mozambique, where prayer was a loud repetition of facts about God my own prayers became simpler and simpler.
“God we welcome you. God we love you. Thank-you for this day.”
LEARN HOW TO PRAY over at http://teachingpeoplehowtopray.org
2 thoughts on “How to Pray”
Jesus’ prayer is indeed meant to be a contrast to pompous public prayers, like those of the scribes and Pharisees in the synagogues (Mt. 6:5-6). Later (in Mt. 23:7-10) Jesus says these leaders like to be called rabbi, but his disciples should not be called rabbi, for they have one teacher (Christ); and call no man father, for they have one Father, the one in heaven. This relates to Jesus’ prayer that addresses “our Father, the one in the heavens” (not the ones on earth); “it’s your name that should be revered” (rather than the earthly fathers).
With our one Father and teacher, we are all brothers and sisters (23:8). When we also pray that the Father’s will be done on earth, we do so having been taught by Christ what our Father wants (such as the various commands of Mt. 5-7, in the middle of which is Jesus’ prayer). So our Father is also the king of this new kingdom of disciples of Christ (who is his vice-regent), and we pray that the obedience our Father demands will be done by us, his humble children.
Yes and Amen Lucas – although God never demands obedience, he invites it and us into fullness of relationship with him whereby everything is made new.