Teach Me How to Pray
Prayer has been a significant part of my life for as long as I can remember. Whether it was prayer before bed or a church-wide prayer event, I was consistently experiencing some type of prayer. As I grew up, the expression, "I'll need to pray about that," or "take it to prayer," became common usage in my communication. But, what does that really mean? I find that as I mature in my faith, I often ask the same thing of Jesus as disciples in Luke 11:1, "teach me to pray."
I find it interesting that the response that Jesus gives (The Lord's Prayer), has become a trite and repetitious recitation that we often quote in a low monotonous buzz; commonly chanted from the King James Version with words we barely understand. My spirit is grieved when I think on this, because there is nothing about this prayer that should be limited to platitude! Packed into this stanza lies the format that God Himself has given to us in response to the request, "teach us how to pray." For me, this reality is telling of our lukewarm tendencies when approaching the topic of prayer. Each line is filled with heavenly wisdom when approaching the throne of God:
Incredibly, Christ instructs us to address God in this way. No, this was not the first time that God is referenced as Father in the Bible, but it is significant in how it is used to introduce this topic. We often approach God for his infinite wisdom or unquenchable power. Or maybe we throw ourselves at the mercy of a righteous judge. But how often do we approach God as our Father? I think of the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. In this story, the Father not only receives the son, but he also runs toward the son. How would it impact our approach to prayer if we saw God as running toward us instead of waiting for us to come to Him? It is interesting to me that Jesus is recorded to have shared this story only a few chapters after his teaching on prayer.
...hallowed be Your name.
On the extreme opposite, we may experience those who have no problem believing that God desires to answer our prayers. Many seem to treat prayer as a kind of wishing well that produces prosperity and blessing at our whim. While I believe that God desires to bless us, I have a difficult time accepting the relationship that this seems to convey. God is our Father, not a genie in a bottle. At times, we seem to forget that He is, the all-knowing one and we are the ones limited by our finite wisdom. What is more, how often does our own depraved nature motivate our prayers? If we were to receive all that we have ever asked for, we would not be spoiled brats rather than mature sons ad daughters? C.S. Lewis said it best, "We want not so much a Father but a grandfather in Heaven, a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, 'What does it matter so long as they are contented? That's not to say that God purposely withholds from us, as though to tease us. But instead that He is Holy, and what he desires for us is Holy. So what does this teach us about prayer? Instead of coming to God with our long list of "wants," what if we came to Him and allowed Him to tell us what to pray?
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven
I, like many other believers, have wrongfully understood this statement as a safety net against praying the wrong thing. When given two options, I have often prayed for the one that I wanted, but followed up with, "but your will, not mine." In all honesty, what I was saying was, "I want this, but in case I would actually want that, make sure I get what I really want." Now, of all the things that one can do, this is certainly not the worst, but it misses the power abiding in this part of the prayer. Here, Christ is commanding us to release the activity of Heaven into the Earth. In an earlier article, I demonstrate how earthly dominion has been given to mankind through the creation and restored at the resurrection. With this being said, God has chosen to partner with us as we pray. As He said to Peter, "what you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven" (Matthew 18:18). Prayer is how we agree with the Will of God and prepare its way. Rarely will you find a believer who disagrees that prayer is essential, but are we equally convinced that a lack of prayer is detrimental?
Give us this day our daily bread...
When I read this portion of the prayer, I am immediately reminded of Exodus 16. In the wilderness, God provided the Israelites with "bread from Heaven" Each day, this mama would fall from the sky, and the people would go out and collect it. God's specific instruction was, "the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day…" They did not receive enough bread for a week's worth, or even for the next day. They specifically collected enough for the day that it was collected. Consider for a moment the level of faith that would be required to be obedient to this direction. Every day when they consumed the last of their ration, they had nothing left for the next day. All they could do was trust that tomorrow God would once again be faithful. The verse goes on to say, "...that I may test them whether or not they will walk in My instruction." The entire operation was a training process to teach the Israelites to trust in Him. The wilderness theme resurfaces again and again throughout Scripture, coupled with the theme of God providing for the faithful. The significance of this being found in Christ's teaching on prayer is far larger than can be addressed in the scope of this article. But, we should realize that prayer is intended to lead us into a deeper place of faith and trust in His faithfulness. If our prayers don't scare us, they might not be what God is asking us to pray.
Forgive our sins, for we also forgive those who are indebted to us.
I have always found it interesting how these two concepts are seemingly fused. Of course, what comes to my mind is Jesus parable in Matthew 18 - the unmerciful servant. If you're unfamiliar with the story, a servant, who owed an astronomical amount, was taken to the king for trial. The servant pleaded with the king and the king was merciful. As the servant went out, he found someone who owed him money and demanded he pay immediately. When the king found out, he had the servant placed in prison until he could pay back the debt that had been previously forgiven. This is a very interesting parable and when taken literally, the message is hard-hitting. It would seem that God is saying that we will be forgiven to the measure that we forgive others. Christ does say this very clearly in Matthew 6:14-15, "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." It can't be put more clearly than that. But, what does this have to do with prayer? Mark 11:25 says, "Whenever you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone so that your Father, who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions." Prayer not only facilitated communication with our Heavenly Father, but it also fosters community with our fellow believers. Effective prayers are prayed in humanity. One of the surest ways for pride to abide in our lives is for us to harbor unforgiveness toward one another.
Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
There are many different directions that I could take in expositing this particular passage of the prayer, but I will choose to take the road less traveled. Prayer is dangerous business. This is true for many reasons. In this case, I mean that leaning into the activity of prayer can often result in twisted theology and deception. When we begin to listen to the Spirit, we must realize that the voice of the Holy Spirit is not the only voice we can hear. We also have a real and true enemy who would desire nothing else but to distort the Truth. Take, for example, Jesus temptation in Matthew 4. In this case, Satan quoted Scripture in an attempt to convince Jesus to bow to him. That being said, it is not beyond Satan's ability to take something good and use it as a weapon of deception. So how then do we combat this? Fortunately, Jesus shows us the answer. When Satan attempted to twist the Truth, Jesus used discernment and revealed the lies and half-truth that Satan was presenting. We must have such a grasp on the Word of God that we can defend its Truth!
Much can be said, and many pages could be written on the deep and powerful lessons abiding in Christ's very instruction on prayer. I invite you to take some time and meditate on the Lord's prayer. It is so much more than cross-stitching across a decorative pillow!
About the Author
Devin Peterson, B.Th., M.Div.
Devin Peterson is a passionate writer with a heart for prayer and intercession. He has earned his Bachelor of Theology(B.Th.) from West Coast Bible College and Seminary and his Master of Divinity (M.Div.) with an emphasis in Biblical Languages from Luther Rice College and Seminary. As the youngest son of Kevin Peterson (the founder of RFM) he has been a part of the ministry his entire life. Currently, he serves as President and Chairman of RFM. Devin lives in Mansfield, Texas with his wife Ashley.
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