Regardless of how long you have been a Christian I’m sure that you have wondered how to pray. Jesus’ disciples asked him this same question (Matthew 6:5-15). His response was The Lord’s Prayer. But this prayer isn’t intended as a prayer to be recited repeatedly (see Matthew 6:7). Instead, Jesus is telling us how to talk to our heavenly Father.
This teaching from Jesus on prayer begins by setting the right framework. When we begin to engage in a conversation with God, we need to remember who we are talking to — the Creator of the universe who cares for each one of us. He knows how many hairs there are on our head! (Luke 12:7). Along with this we need to recognise that God is to be set apart and revered (“hallowed be your name”).
Next, we need to recognise that God wants to be intimately involved in every part of our life. Even though we may sometimes feel that our daily needs are not important enough for God to bother with. Often I have heard people say that they don’t want to bother God considering all the suffering in the world. That is a scheme of the enemy: to think that God doesn’t have time for us, and that if we pray He won’t be listening because He’s too busy doing stuff that is way more important.
In Jim Carey’s film Bruce Almighty he plays the character Bruce who thinks he can do just as well as God. God hears of this and meets him, giving him his powers to prove that he is doing the job correctly.
As time goes on, Bruce realises that he is hearing voices in his head. He re-encounters God, who explains that the voices are prayers, meant for God, and that he must deal with them. He gets swamped with all the prayers people offer to God. It is too much for his human nature to respond to!
Bruce’s experience is not how God is. He cares intimately for each one of us and if we believe in His infinite love then we have to believe in His infinite capacity to listen, hear and understand all our needs. That’s why Jesus taught each of us to pray that His Heavenly Father’s plans will be worked out in our life (“your will be done”).
What is the practical implication of this in our life, “your will be done”? Think of a parent/carer bringing up a child. When Anna started to crawl we had to be aware of what she was doing, where she was heading and very often we had to warn her that what she was about to do was dangerous. In this she learnt to yield to our voice and commands, so when she heard us warning her, she knew she had to respond because there was good reason to do so. It is the same for us. As God’s children created in His image, He is calling us to yield to His will and follow His commands, because there is good reason to do so. They are beneficial to our health physically, emotionally and spiritually. That’s also why we bring before God even the most mundane matters of everyday living (“give us today our daily bread”). God is always in the detail.
Next we need to look at our sin. Because sin creates a barrier between us and God and between us and others, God wants us to admit what we’ve done wrong (“forgive us our debts”) and He then instructs us to forgive those who have wronged us (“as we also have forgiven our debtors”). Matthew 6:14 and 15 underscore the importance of forgiving those who have hurt us.
14For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
If you are like me, you may well think that Jesus is being harsh here! These two verses give us a startling warning about forgiveness: if we refuse to forgive others, God will also refuse to forgive us. Why? Because when we don’t forgive others, we are denying our common ground as sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. God’s forgiveness of sin is not the direct result of our forgiving others, but it is based on our realising what forgiveness means. You see, God does not forgive us because we forgive others, but solely because of His great mercy. As we come to understand His mercy, however, we will want to be like Him. Having received forgiveness, we will then want to pass it on to others. The simple truth is this, those who are unwilling to forgive have not become one with Christ, who was willing to even forgive those who crucified Him (Ephesians 4:32; Luke 24:34). Out of the two it is easier to ask God for forgiveness, than it is to grant it to others. What Jesus is wanting us to do is that whenever we ask God to forgive us for sin, we should ask ourselves, “Have I forgiven the people who have wronged me?”
Finally, God wants us to live free from the painful consequences of sinful choices, so we pray “lead us not into temptation”. We say this not because God tempts people to sin, but because we need His help to avoid temptation.
Understand this truth: God doesn’t lead us into temptations, but sometimes He allows us to be tested by them. This is exactly what He did to His Son Jesus. He led Him, by the Spirit, into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. Satan is real, he is not symbolic, and is constantly fighting against those who follow and obey God, so as Jesus did, and as His disciples, we should pray to be delivered from any trying times and for deliverance from Satan (“the evil one”) and his deceit. As testing times and temptations will come we need to be alert and ready for it. Satan’s role is to try and get us to live his way, or our way, rather than God’s way.
I am not unlike you: as a Christian I struggle with temptation. Sometimes it is so subtle that I don’t even realise when it is happening to me. When temptations seem especially strong or when you think you can rationalise giving in, consider whether Satan may be trying to block God’s purposes for your life, or someone else’s life. But remember this truth that we need to know about temptation – temptation itself is not a sin! We sin when we give in and disobey God. Knowing and remembering this truth will help us to turn away from temptation.
Another truth is this: God has promised that He won’t allow any of us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). Ask God to help you recognise temptation and to give you strength to overcome it and choose God’s way instead.
The Good News is this: we can believe all that Scriptures teaches about how we are to respond to God’s will and plans for us through Jesus because God cares about us and listens to what we have to say. As our heavenly Father, He occupies a place of great power, and He listens, hears and does answer our prayers.
The essence of all prayer is communication with God, offered to Him from a sincere and contrite heart through His Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can never pray too much, all God asks is that we do it and mean what we say!
When we get a good handle on our personal and private prayer then we will be better equipped to engage in other types of prayer which we will explore on other occasions
Why not write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions. Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.
Digging into God’s Word
- Can you identify the following types of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer?
Praise, petition, intercession, and confession to God. (Matthew 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4).
2. Can you write prayers of praise, petition, intercession, and confession to God?
3. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t include a prayer of thanksgiving. Look at the following verses and describe a prayer of thanksgiving.
- 2 Samuel 22
- Psalm 63
- Luke 1:38
- Luke 22:39–44
- Romans 12:1
- Hebrews 10:1–25
- Hebrews 13:15–16
Digging deeper into God’s Word
How do the following verses teach us to remember when prayers seem to go unanswered?
- Psalm 37:3–9
- Isaiah 55
- Habakkuk 3:17–19
- Luke 18:1–8
- James 4:2–3
- 1 John 5:14–15
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You, Lord for loving me and reminding me of Your Truth. Help me to keep my eyes on You, especially in times of fear. May I remember that You can use all things for my good and Your glory. Give me a heart that trusts, and take away the desire to lean on my own understanding. Thank You for Your protection, provision, and presence! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Father, I want to live in the shadow of Your wing. When life is hard, and I don’t know what to do, help me remember that You are with me and that I am never alone. I cannot live without You. I cannot face tomorrow without the promise of Your presence. Today I choose to walk and live under the protection of You, The Most High. In Jesus’ name. Amen.