Prayer is not merely an invitation it is a command.
Jesus does not merely suggest a way of life to us. He commands us to learn to really follow him. But his commands are not burdensome.
So far in this series we have covered the commands of Jesus regarding how we are to relate to him. So it is natural then for us to move onto what he teach us about prayer.
Today’s article is adapted from a chapter in Hope Reborn a book I co-authored with my pastor Tope Koleoso who is a man of prayer. It also contains some material taken from the chapter on prayer in my first book Raised With Christ.
Prayer is simply communicating with God. Many Christians over-complicate this and find it difficult as a result. When we appreciate that God is our Father, and that He loves us, it will become more natural for us to spend time with Him.
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of prayer. Down through the centuries countless Christians who have been used by God in remarkable ways have been people who were particularly devoted to prayer.
Yet ordinary Christians like you and me often feel guilty at the mere mention of the word. Which of us feels satisfied with our prayer life? Who feels that he or she prays enough and that his or her prayers are as effective as they could be? We offer many reasons, or rather excuses, for our prayerlessness. Wayne Grudem has rightly pointed out:
If we were really convinced that prayer changes the way God acts, and that God does bring about remarkable changes in the world in response to prayer, as Scripture repeatedly teaches that he does, then we would pray much more than we do. If we pray little, it is probably because we do not really believe that prayer accomplishes much at all. Systematic Theology, p 377
I wish I was more of an expert at prayer and that I prayed more than I do. I do thank God that I am learning, albeit rather too slowly. Sadly, I recognise myself all too often in that quote. I long to know more about prayer, and often forget to pray as I should. I know I am far from alone in feeling this way.
One of the secrets to a fulfilling prayer life is for your prayer to be entwined with the Scriptures. Always remember this: pray before you read the Bible, and pray based on what you have read.
Some Christians turn prayer into little more than worrying out loud. Presenting God with a long list of concerns, and asking Him to prevent bad things from happening is not what prayer is all about. Of course, we come to Him to ask for His help. However, first and foremost we are to worship and align our will with His.
There are different forms of prayer. You can pray short “help me” prayers as you go about your daily business. One of the best things to do as you prepare yourself for any task is to ask, “God, please give me wisdom to know what to do and say.”
But we do well to find a time during the day when we can devote ourselves to connecting with God. This can be during a time of Bible reading, or at a different time. Many people find that praying while out walking is very helpful. There is something about being surrounded by nature that can help us feel closer to the Creator.
You will probably find it more effective in the long run to make a habit of praying out loud when possible, although it may seem strange at first. Prayer is talking with God, so it is a good idea to actually speak.
We can best learn to pray by doing it with others. Praying with a mature Christian friend, a small group of friends, or the whole church can be inspiring.
Jesus’ disciples saw how often He went out alone to a remote place to pray. Sometimes Jesus prayed very early in the morning. Other times He prayed all night. Clearly He took prayer very seriously. It is not surprising therefore that one day Jesus’ disciples asked Him for advice on how to pray. All Christians regularly feel the need to come to the Lord and ask that he “teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
In reply, Jesus taught his disciples this model prayer, and prefaces it with a clear command. Matthew 28:20 teaches us that all Christians are to be taught to obey this command just like all Jesus’ other commands gave to his disciples:-
“Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9-13)
This is often called the Lord’s Prayer, although we know that Jesus Himself certainly never prayed it as He never had to ask for forgiveness. It can be very helpful to work through the elements of this prayer, using them as a guide as you pray in your own words. In a recent sermon at the church I attend Tope’s son TJ suggested this can also be used as a framework of how to pray for other people, even our enemies.
We don’t simply have to pray these words although we can do so, but it is also very helpful to use this prayer as a framework of how to pray crafted by our Lord and Saviour. We can pray in our own words inspired by each section.
1. RELATIONSHIP: “OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.”
Jesus’ model prayer begins by reaffirming our relationship with God. He is not a heavenly headmaster to cower before. He is not a remote boss. He is a loving Father.
Just like in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), our Father will come running toward us whenever we come to Him, even if we don’t feel His presence. Begin your prayer with who God is. Remind yourself that He loves you. He invites you into His presence despite your stained heart. Don’t begin with confession or you may feel depressed and condemned.
Don’t allow the fact that you may not have prayed for a long time to prevent you from coming to God. Come boldly into His presence, thankful for what He has done for you, and confident of the free access given to all who believe in Jesus.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne
of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to
help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
How wonderful that we have a loving and all-powerful Father who is always caring for us.
The word “our” is not insignificant. It indicates belonging, both to God, and to all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Together we are the family of God. It is a pity that many churches today have abandoned meeting together specifically with a view to pray. Especially since every revival in history started in a prayer meeting.
2. REVERENCE: “HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME.”
Here we focus on the fact that God is in heaven, and His name is to be hallowed, or treated as holy. He is to be praised and worshipped. Linger in His presence often. Focus on His glory always. Remind yourself that he is God and you are not!
Learn to list to yourself all He has done for you daily, and return thanks to God for all his kindness towards you. When you recognize how worthy He is and thank Him, it sets the tone for the rest of your prayer time. You could play some worship music and sing along to help you focus on Him.
Honouring God in this way underlines our utter dependence on him. We depend on him for everything.
3. RESPONSIBILITY: “YOUR KINGDOM COME, YOUR WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.”
This next section is about requesting God’s purposes to be fulfilled here and now. There is a day coming when this world will be filled with the glory of God, and when all pain and suffering will cease. In the meantime we ask, “Let this world reflect the world that is to come.” We pray not just for our own comfort, but for the values of Jesus’ kingdom to break into our homes, our churches, our workplaces, and the communities in which we live.We may find ourselves mourning the latest tragedy that demonstrates how broken our world is. We appeal to God to rebuild families, comfort the suffering, and bring justice to the poor.
Like the disciples in Matthew 9:38 who are told to pray that God would send out workers into the harvest field, God will also ask us to be part of the answer to our own prayers.
4. REQUESTS: “GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD.”
We now turn to reaffirming our reliance on God for everything. He has promised to supply all our needs “according to his riches in glory” (Philippians 4:19). He has more than enough resources to meet our needs. Like a humble child approaching his father, we ask God to provide for today, rather than worrying unnecessarily about the future.
God does not promise to make us rich. But He does promise to look after us. We also pray for God to meet the needs of others at this point, as an expression of our love for them.
It can be helpful to have a list of your requests and to keep a record of how God answers them, which will sometimes be in the most surprising ways. Don’t expect God to always do things the way you think is best. There may be times when it feels like God has forgotten you. Weeks, months, or even years might go by when your faith in His fa- therly love for you is stretched to the limit. But remember, He is always caring for you, even during the hard times.
One day we will be with Him forever, and whatever trials we have experienced will be just a distant memory. God’s plan may be different from ours, but it is always for our good:
And we know that for those who love God all things
work together for good. (Romans 8:28)
5. REPENTANCE: “FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS.”
Because of what Jesus has done for us in dying on the cross and being raised again for us, we have access to God in heaven irrespective of what we have done. Having worshipped Him, and having spent some time requesting things of Him, we now turn to the confession of our sins, which Jesus refers to as debts.
This is late in the model prayer because God wants to remind you that He is your Father first. No matter what you have done, if you are a believer, your sin has been covered and you are made righteous before Him.
But we are to pursue a lifetime of repentance. We acknowledge the things that we have done that we should not have done, and things that we should have done that we have not. This is not just about what we might think of as big sins, but includes acknowledging things like wrong attitudes, laziness, careless talk, or greed. Our sins are ultimately against God, so we must turn to Him for forgiveness. You can read Psalm 51 for a model prayer of repentance.
Be specific. Ask God to prompt your conscience about sins you may not be aware of. Use the same words that the Bible does to describe sin, rather than polite euphemisms. As we pray, we realize that we are forgiven, feelings of guilt disappear, and we emerge with a fresh determination to serve Jesus.
6. RESTORATION: “AS WE ALSO HAVE FORGIVEN OUR DEBTORS.”
Jesus is very clear that receiving forgiveness from God cannot be isolated from our need to forgive others. As you pray, you may be reminded of a broken relationship. If so, resolve to go and attempt to repair it. If you want forgiveness from God, you must be prepared to offer forgiveness toward others.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably
with all. (Romans 12:18)
Thinking about ways to try to resolve difficult relationships is an area where you will benefit from the advice of a wise Christian. If you are struggling to forgive or be reconciled, find someone trustworthy to talk it over with. It is not gossip to discuss your problem with someone who can be part of the solution.
There may be times when you have genuinely done everything you can to resolve a difficult relationship. Forgiveness doesn’t always lead to things being the same as they were beforehand. However, you must learn to let go of all bitterness, or it will consume you. When you hold on to hurts from the past, you harm yourself, not others. Forgiveness will bring release from any resentment that is slowly corroding your heart.
Ask yourself if there is anyone you need to forgive. Or perhaps you need to ask someone else for their forgiveness? Don’t be unwise in this; you do not have to ask for forgiveness from someone every time you have a bad thought about them. Imagine the folly of saying something like, “Please forgive me, I have been constantly laughing at your singing voice in my mind every time I hear it in church.” While you may well need to repent of this before God, your approach to the victim of your internal mockery, should be to simply look for a way to bless them, instead of telling them about it. There is nothing to gain by “confessing” such a sin to them. It may sound foolish, but some Christians think that doing so will make them feel better, and perhaps it does, but only at the expense of the person who had no idea that you had a problem with them in the first place.
We should not be naïve and unwise about what forgiveness means for our relationships with others. There can be times when a sin is so severe that it would be unwise to attempt to restore a relationship of trust too soon. Some sins are also against the law, and in such circumstances we will need to involve the appropriate authorities. This is especially true concerning abuse, when inaction could put others at risk. You can forgive someone but still report them to the police.
The critical question, however, is how seriously will you take Jesus’ warning that He will not forgive you if you don’t forgive others?
7. RESCUE: “AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL.’
We are fickle beings, prone to wander from our love for Jesus. There is also an enemy who would love to see us fall. We should ask God to protect us from the schemes of Satan, and keep us from sin. It is all too easy to think that sin is something other people will do.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13, NIV)
I hope that you find this framework a good way to reboot your prayer life. I intend to start using it again more regularly myself. As I God-willing begin to post more often I will explore some other commands Jesus gave us about prayer.
Coming soon: the rest of the series “Jesus Commands”
Jesus said that if you obey him your life will be established on a firm foundation when the storms come.
Adrian hopes God willing to be able to return to blogging more regularly soon.
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