Jesus never commanded his followers to pray. I know some people who would be relieved if they ever learned that – “Great!” they would say, “I hate praying with other people”. But Jesus didn’t have to make prayer a command because there is no need for a command. It’s just what people do, regardless of religious affiliation or non-affiliation (and atheists, I have to ask: do you ever find yourself in conversation with someone you don’t believe in?). But while Jesus apparently expected his followers to pray, many Christians feel uncomfortable praying, particularly out loud. For many people prayer is complicated, and the notion that prayer is simply talking to God is too simplistic. There has to be some trick, like knowing when to use “thee” and “thou”, and the other special prayer terms (as well as the right tone of voice at the right time), not to mention knowing what you can pray for, and what you shouldn’t.
In “Frankly Speaking – What I’ve Learned About doing Church”, I say, flippantly, “If you claim that you don’t know how to pray, you must not know the Lord’s Prayer.” Most people, even in this day and age, know the prayer. However, the Lord’s Prayer has become a set of religious words to be repeated – recited – as some act of piety, rather than prayed with informed intention. So to inform your intention, let’s break down the Lord’s Prayer a little bit.
The Lord’s Prayer as a Model
It is easy to say “Be real with God, be focused in prayer, and reveal yourself to Him”. But how does one do that?! According to Jesus, “this then, is how you should pray…” The Lord’s Prayer is not a set of words that carry the guarantee of being heard by God, or somehow will bring you spiritual benefit. It is Jesus’ how-to example of praying. There are six parts to this model of prayer Jesus gave us:
PRAISE: begin by expressing your love to God—”Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Right. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Dude! Your name is soooo hallowed!”? “Hallowed” is not part of our everyday conversations any more. If it sounds like Halloween, there is a connection, but that’s not to say we pray, “God your name is kinda spooky”. Hallowed refers to sacred, holy, sanctified, or blessed – in other words, set apart from everything else. Why desire God’s reputation be set apart from everything else? Because being completely Other is essential to who God is. Acknowledging and honoring God’s character is praise. Praise is how to begin prayer. “Hallowed be thy name” praises God for who he has revealed himself to be in your life, and it asks that God’s nature would be revealed to the entire world and therefore be praised everywhere.
PURPOSE: Next, prayer is how you commit yourself to God’s purpose and will for your life: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Pray for God’s will to be done in your family, your church, your ministry, your job, future, community, nation, and the entire world. This is an incredibly powerful thing to pray. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed a variation of this prayer, “Not my will, but yours be done”, a prayer of completely giving himself over to God’s purpose. If you seriously want God’s will done on earth, you also need to seriously want God’s will accomplished God’s way in your own life.
PROVISION: Ask God to provide for your needs: “Give us today our daily bread”. Don’t get all lathered up about your wants versus needs – let God sort that out, just ASK! Express your dependence on God to provide you with everything you need today. The thing is, you might not have tomorrow, or next year. All that counts is your absolute trust in God right now. God will be there to ask tomorrow for what you need, as well as next year. Of course, it’s silly to assume that this about praying only for groceries. It’s safe to assume “bread” symbolically refers to everything and anything you need to get through today, whether that’s enough gas to get through until pay day, or the patience to deal with a co-worker.
PARDON: Ask God to forgive your sin: “forgive us our debts.” This is part of the intention of being authentic with God, because being honest with God leads to admitting that we’ve blown it, made mistakes, and that we have lived according to our will instead of God’s. Prayer is how our relationship with God is restored, not by futile efforts to somehow make it up to God.
PEOPLE: Pray for others: “as we have also forgiven our debtors.” How can we ask God to forget and leave behind what we did against him, if we don’t do that for others? It would be complete hypocrisy to ask God to forgive us if we don’t do the same for the people who offend us. And as we pray about our relationships, we begin to pray for the well-being of those people as well. “Lord, I need to forgive Bob for this … I don’t know what is behind this. Is there a problem? Take care of his needs, help him with the pain, or hurt, or whatever led to this problem.” See “There is no Debt Ceiling in God’s Kingdom” for a more in-depth explanation of forgiveness.
PROTECTION: Ask for safety: “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” According to Jesus, part of prayer is to seek God’s help. Help in our struggle to live Christ-like lives; each of us has a weak spot where we are incapable of passing any kind of test in that area. We are to pray about those temptations that slip through the gaps in our armor every time. We can also pray for protection against the evil in the world that we are powerless against. Things like radical Islamic jihad, governments that ignore their people, or unprovoked, unreasoned violence. We can pray about whatever form of evil we feel threatened by.
It can be life changing to realize that Jesus meant for this prayer to be prayed, not recited once a week in worship, or at funerals as many of us do. Jesus gave it to us so that we would have a pattern for our times of focused, personal prayer. (Have you ever stopped to wonder what it would look like for God to answer the Lord’s Prayer?) Use the Lord’s Prayer as structure for your daily prayer. But rather than reciting it to God, pray it to God. Use its various parts as a starting point for your own words.
Take it piece by piece to tell God the specifics of:
- Your praise;
- The where, and with whom you want to see his name respected;
- The situations where his kingdom needs to come and rule;
- Turning your priorities and purpose over to Him;
- Your specific needs;
- The specifics of your sin;
- The particular people who need grace;
- The temptations and evil you face.
|If you don’t know what to say when you pray, or how to spend intentional time praying every day, you really do! Jesus has already taught you how to pray, just like he taught the disciples. Commit yourself to take time each day for the next week to pray through the Lord’s Prayer. Will you recognize when the Lord begins to answer your prayer? That will be the exciting challenge!|