Welcome to this second session on the Essential Discipline of prayer. In our last session, we covered some foundational principles, and, in this Session, we get practical and talk about how to pray. Thankfully, we are not left to figure this out on our own. Jesus Himself provides clear direction on the subject when one of His disciples asks Him plainly:
“Lord, teach us to pray….” Luke 11:1
In response to this request, Jesus gives His disciples a model prayer, which has become known as the “Lord’s Prayer”. This model prayer is filled with requests regarding four of our basic needs:
- Physical Needs
- Relationship Needs
- Spiritual Needs
By praying about these needs, we confess our dependence upon God to provide for them, and we express our faith in our Heavenly Father who promises to care for us. Let’s look, then, at each of these needs.
First, the Lord’s Prayer addresses our need to worship. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus begins His prayer with these words:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9 -10
As followers of Jesus, we are called to work within the heavenly kingdom that He revealed earth. His truth, righteousness and love must reign in our lives, displacing the lies, evil and hatred that now infects our world. If we are to succeed in this struggle, we must worship. We have a basic human need to worship, or we will get lost in the chaos that otherwise seems to reign.
1.1. Focusing on the Father’s Name
The model prayer therefore begins by focusing on the Father. We ask that His name be “hallowed,” which means that we want God to keep His name holy among us. We want this because we know that the Holiness of God changes everything. Through His Servant Moses, God says:
“I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” Leviticus 11:44
We want God’s holiness to be crystal clear for us, so that we know how to live. We want to know the true God, the real God, not a god that we invent on our own. A human-made, human-defined god cannot help us. Before all else, we must hear the God who reveals Himself as the great ‘I AM’. (Exodus 3:14)
1.2. Focusing on the Father’s Will
After focusing on the Father’s name, then, the model prayer continues by focusing on His will. We pray that:
“…[Y]our kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
As God’s people, we must be obsessed with the Father’s will, just as Jesus Himself was when He walked on this earth in our flesh. Remember His prayer before submitting to the cross?
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42
By praying for God’s will to be done, we get to the very heart of prayer. We dialog with God to reconcile our will with His will. As we pray, we tell God what we think, what we want, what we would like to see happen. Then we reflect on His Word and listen to His Spirit as we seek to understand His will and His ways. In the end, however, we know that His will must overrule our will. Our ways must submit to His ways, because, ultimately, His ways are always better. As we begin our prayer, we must remind ourselves of this truth.
2. Physical Needs
After addressing our need to worship, we are better prepared to dialog with God about other needs. The Lord’s Prayer next deals with physical needs. We read:
“Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11
God remembers that we are flesh and invites us to come to Him with the basic needs of our body. A little later in this passage, Jesus addresses these physical needs in more detail. He says:
“…[So] do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:31-33
In this passage, we learn three important truths about our physical needs.
2.1. Dependence upon God
First, God is teaching us to depend upon Him, rather than ourselves, for all our physical needs. Too often we depend upon ourselves, and then turn to God only when this does not work. On another occasion, Jesus says:
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24
Wealth and possessions have a way of separating us from God. We delude ourselves into thinking that we can provide for ourselves, by ourselves. This false thinking then allows us to trust our own ways rather than God’s ways. By praying, therefore, about our physical needs, we remind ourselves how much we depend upon God in all times, not just when our money runs out or our bodies start breaking down.
2.2. Contentment with God
Second, by praying for “daily bread”, we learn contentment with God as we separate imagined need from real need. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that exaggerates its need. Sometimes we even jokingly refer to our “First World Problems.” Yet, sadly, we can watch the news for ten minutes and see what real needs, real poverty, and real brokenness look like. If we keep reminding ourselves that we only need the basics, our “daily bread”, we will learn to become thankful for what God does provide, rather than obsessing about what we do not have.
2.3. Comforted by God
In other cases, however, our physical needs of course are real and genuine. Cancer is real, homelessness is real, poverty is real. In cases like these, we learn a third truth, that God desires to comfort us. When our physical needs become so intense that they overwhelm us and drive us to despair, God invites us to come to Him. We cry out to Him, with all our fear and sadness. In the process of this lament, we learn to shift our burdens upon Him, because we cannot bear them ourselves. The Apostle Peter says:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
Because we cannot control all the forces that drive us into real need, we bow before the sovereign God who rules over all, and we know that He is fully aware of our need. As we wait on Him, and focus on doing His will in His kingdom, He promises to lift us up “in due time.”
3. Relationship Needs
After addressing physical needs, then, the Lord’s Prayer takes up our relationship needs. It says:
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12
Just as “bread” represents physical needs in this model prayer, “debts” and “forgiveness” address the wider range of human relationships, and God calls us to pray about these relationships, especially when they are broken.
We pray about forgiveness because it is the cure for those broken relationships. In forgiveness, God offers the power of His grace to heal us when these hurts take place.
3.1. Forgiveness for Us
We begin with our need for forgiveness, so we confess our own “debts”, where we have sinned against God and others. The Apostle John writes:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
In our Essential Truths course, “Why the Cross?”, we learned the reason for our confidence. Jesus Christ died for us, and in our place. He takes upon Himself the guilt and judgment that our sin deserves. By confessing our sin in prayer, we remind ourselves of this sacrifice. Because of Jesus, the Holy God is also our Heavenly Father, and we can boldly enter His presence as His beloved children, now clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
3.2. Forgiveness for Others
As we embrace our own forgiveness and grace made possible in Jesus, we are better prepared to address the “debts” of others, who have sinned against us. In prayer, we ask God for the power of His grace to forgive, because only then can we be healed from the damage that broken relationships cause.
When someone hurts us, we can become obsessed by that hurt, so that those who hurt us still have power over us. We can remain their victims. God wants to empower us to grow beyond this hurt. The first step in this journey of healing begins when we introduce God’s forgiveness into this brokenness. Initially, we may not be able to forgive another on our own, but we can accept the forgiveness that God offers freely to everyone. We may not be strong enough to forgive, but God is strong enough, and has demonstrated that strength in the cross of Jesus. By talking with God about the hurt that others have caused, we gradually come to see that person as God sees him or her, a sinner that needs His love and grace, just as we need them.
4. Spiritual Needs
This takes us, then, to the last request in this model prayer that deals with our spiritual needs. The prayer says:
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:13
This is a fitting conclusion to a prayer that begins with our need to worship. As we seek to put God first in our lives, as we work through our physical and relationship needs, we are in the end dealing with spiritual matters. The Apostle Paul says:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12
And the Apostle Peter says:
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
In prayer, we dialog with God about how to fight against these spiritual forces that seek to destroy us.
Practically speaking, this means that we must learn to deal with temptation. Temptation is the enemy’s strategy to draw us away from God’s will and ways, back into our old, sinful, self-serving ways. For this reason, we pray that God will deliver us from temptation rather than lead us into it.
God Himself does not tempt us. James says:
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” James 1:13-14
In our prayer, therefore, we are asking God, through His Spirit, to protect us from our own errant ways. We do not want to be “dragged away” by our own evil desires.
This, then, is the model prayer that Jesus has given us, to teach us how to pray. It addresses our deepest human needs. But what about timing? How often should we pray? The Apostle Paul gives this advice:
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18
In other words, led by the Spirit, we should be praying all the time about everything. And because God is with us everywhere, at all times, we know that He always listens and cares. So, we will continue to pray for you, that God will lead you even deeper in your relationship with Jesus.
- Continue your prayer journal this week. Spend one day on each element of the Lord’s Prayer: Worship, Physical Needs, Relationship Needs and Spiritual Needs.
- Continue to pray with and for someone else this week. Share with another person how God is working in those situations as you pray.