The amazing thing about prayer, is that nearly everyone does it – but hardly anyone thinks they do it well. If you visit any Christian bookstore you will notice that the largest display of books is about prayer. And it’s not just Christian bookstores where you’ll find books on prayer. Regular bookstores also sell a wide range of books on prayer (even if they do classify them as books on ‘meditation’!). One of the most frequently searched questions on Google is, “How to pray” (which then points enquirers to over 2.3 billion web pages answering their question). But in all of human history – and two thousand years before anyone but one had ever heard of Google – there was just One person who was supremely qualified to answer this question. And fortunately for those of us who really want to know the answer to this question (without having to peruse more than 2.3 billion web pages!) He gave us the answer.
¶ Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
WHAT IS PRAYER?
Put simply, prayer is talking to God. It can be done by speaking audibly to God. It can be done silently. It can be done in writing. For those who do not understand what prayer is, it is – at least what they think is – a way to make God do what they want. While it is true that we can submit our requests to God in prayer (Phil. 4:6), true prayer actually begins by submitting ourselves to God first (Rom. 12:1). The person who begins to pray by telling God what to do is bound to be disappointed with God when they eventually discover that it is God who wants to tell them what to do! Perhaps this is why “unanswered prayers” is offered as one of the main reasons why atheists do not believe in God (even though it reveals the gravitational pull on every human soul to seek and connect with God).
Prayer is a mystery. Why does the all-powerful Supreme Being invite us, His creatures, to have direct access to Him through prayer? This is astounding! But even more astounding is that He invites us to share in His government over our world through prayer to Him! Notice the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer:
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
It is almost like the parent who has not only provided their growing child with a comfortable bedroom in a comfortable family home that they can call (and to some extent, make – by their decorations and furnishings) their own, who then must ask their child for permission to enter. Even after they have told their child to tidy their room, the parent still enters after their child has left for school and does the last of the tidying up that their child didn’t notice (and still doesn’t even afterwards). There are times of course, when the child may be overwhelmed by the task to tidy their room. In those moments they may call out to their father, “Can you help me?” I sometimes see this as being like our prayers to God. He has given us our lives; He has given us our world; He has told us to keep them tidy; and, there are times when it is just too overwhelming to do it. It is in these times that we call out to Him for help. And just as our earthly parents love to help their children, our heavenly Father loves to help His children who call out to Him for help.
Our prayers express our trust in God. When we pray to God we are acknowledging our dependence upon Him. The highest prayers we can pray sound very similar to the highest prayers ever prayed which were recorded by the Gospel writers, Matthew (Matt. 26:39) and Luke, who recorded what Christ prayed just prior to Him entering into His suffering for the sins of the world:
[Jesus knelt down] saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”
This is the greatest example of a prayer ever prayed. It models exactly what prayer is about –
- surrender to God “not My will” (this is the essence of worship);
- trust in God “but Your will be done”;
- talking to God “Father…”; and
- then submitting a request to God “remove this cup [of suffering] from Me.”
HOW NOT TO PRAY
Jesus taught His followers how not to pray.
¶ “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.¶ “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Praying is talking to our heavenly Father. It is not done merely to impress others. Jesus called this type of praying hypocritical. It is not a matter of having the right words, more words, long words, or even many words. Our praying should come from our hearts to God. Because praying is firstly an act of our surrender to God, we do not pray with a tone of telling God what He must do or how He is to do it. When we pray, we are not talking to the devil or any evil spirit – we keep addressing our heavenly Father when we pray. And when we are praying we are addressing the Only One who declares and decrees what will be, therefore we do not declare to the air what things must happen or how they are to happen.
PRAYING LIKE JESUS
Jesus spent time by Himself and prayed for certain people. This is remarkable. Jesus told Peter that He had been praying for him that his faith would not fail and that after he had been restored he would be able to strengthen his fellow disciples (Luke 22:32). How much more then, should we be praying for one another? When Jesus reached the tomb of His dead friend Lazarus, His praying for this moment had all been done. Thus, His prayer before raising Lazarus from dead was remarkably short:
So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent Me.”When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
It’s also amazing to me that as well as Jesus praying for Peter – and each of His other disciples (John 17:9-11) – He also prayed for all future believers yet-to-be-born!
¶ “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.
This tells me that I can pray for my great great great grand-children who are yet to be born to love God and walk after Him with all their heart. It also tells me that I can pray for our church family who, in two or three or four hundred years time, will be a witness to their community just as we are being a witness to ours now.
And He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.
Jesus often spent time on His own praying (Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 11:1; 22:41). He prayed for the will of God to be done and taught His disciples to do the same (Matt. 6:10). Perhaps this may mean that praying to God does something profound to us in the process. Quite possibly, praying for God’s will to be accomplished in the earth transforms our hearts and minds to be conformed to God’s will in the process. If this is the case then it might be worth our while examining the prayers that were prayed in the Bible – particularly by Jesus and His apostles as recorded in the New Testament epistles. By praying these prayers we may also become conformed to them and discover two beautiful things. Firstly, our hearts enter a rest with our Saviour even in the midst of any turmoil we may be encountering. This is what we see Jesus doing in Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed. Secondly, our souls find peace with God as we openly and transparently commune our petitions to Him and ask our Daddy to join us in our moments of overwhelming mess to help us to clean up what we could never manage on our own. This is why we should pray these prayers. Let’s pray.
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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