Most of us as children grow up learning a hobby. It might be art, dance, music, sports or other activities. Mine was sports. There were lots of kids in my neighborhood and I was always outside catching a baseball, throwing a football, or kicking a soccer ball around. I even participated in some teams and leagues and had coaches help show me how to be a better player. So, regarding football, I knew how to throw the ball, whether it be a short pass or a long one that needed to be lofted over a defender.
Now let’s imagine for a moment and suppose the following happened: What if, when I was little, I saw Peyton Manning (or insert the name of who you think is the best quarterback of all time) walking by the sidewalk while I was out with my friends playing football? What would we do? We would probably at first shout for joy and want an autograph or a selfie; but if he was willing to hang around for a while longer, what do you think we would do? Yes, exactly, we would ask him to show us how to throw a football. We would want to learn from THE expert!
This is how it is with Jesus when he taught the disciples and others how to pray. It was not like people could not pray or knew nothing about prayer before Jesus came around. Many excellent prayers are recorded in the Bible before Jesus came onto the scene. The disciples realized that they had THE expert on prayer with them, so they asked him how to pray. They wanted to learn from the best. They could and did pray, but they wanted to do it even better. Jesus then recited what is known as “the Lord’s prayer.” It is found in Matthew chapter 6 and Luke chapter 11.
I think that if Peyton Manning had a few minutes to teach me about throwing a football, he would probably give me some tips and pointers to keep in mind as I practiced throwing in the future. This was true of the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t think Jesus gives us a word-for-word “perfect prayer,” I think he is imparting to us some principles to keep in mind as we practice the discipline of prayer, as we talk to God himself.
Let’s look at a few of these principles:
1. To pray well, you need to know who you are talking to.
Jesus starts out saying “Our Father in heaven, hollowed be your name.” The word “heaven” includes the expanse of the whole universe and the word “hallowed” simply means totally pure and separate. So, when we pray, we are praying to a spiritual being who is so vast and powerful even the universe cannot contain him and he is so pure and distinct from us.
2. When praying, submit to God and what he is doing and trying to accomplish.
Jesus goes on to say “Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” This phrase means that we understand that God has an agenda, and it is not that we come to God in prayer demanding that he fulfill our own agenda. We submit to his plan and agree that we are agents of his kingdom.
In the best book that I have read about prayer, Praying with Paul: a Call to Spiritual Reformation, D.A. Carson says this:
Brothers and sisters in Christ, at the heart of all our praying must be a biblical vision. That vision embraces who God is, what he has done, who we are, where we are going, what we must value and cherish. That vision drives us toward increasing conformity with Jesus, toward lives lived in the light of eternity, toward hearty echoing of the church’s ongoing cry, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” That vision must shape our prayers, so that the things that most concern us in prayer are those that concern the heart of God. Then we will persevere in our praying, until we reach the goal God himself has set for us.
3. It’s OK to ask for God to supply our needs.
Jesus continues the prayer “Give us this day our daily bread.” We have physical, emotional, and spiritual needs and God knows about them before we ask. So, it is only natural that we ask God, because when asking we are acknowledging the fact that all of our necessities are truly given by him. Consider again the following words from D.A. Carson’s book mentioned above:
There is more to praying than asking, but any sustained prayer to the God of the Bible will certainly include asking.
4. Our prayers should also focus on our sanctification. The prayer concludes: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Here, Jesus emphasizes our walk with God in obedience to him.We realize that we are to conduct ourselves “in manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27, NIV).We recognize that God guides us in our struggle against sin and that God forgives us when we make mistakes. AndWe rejoice in the fact that we can live distinctly. We can show others what a godly life looks like. Besides the Lord’s prayer recorded in Matthew and Luke, we can also learn other things about prayer in other passages.
Questions to consider:
How can you implement some of these tips into your prayer life?
Can you think of any other passages that further teach us on prayer?
For further reading: Praying with Paul: a Call to Spiritual Reformation, by D.A. Carson.