Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How To Pray (According To Jesus), Part 1

Jesus' model prayer for his disciples is recorded for us in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13. If there ever was someone qualified to teach us how to pray, it is Jesus! He is the unique and eternal Son of God himself; and when he came as a Man he devoted himself to prayer (Mark 1:35; Hebrews 5:7).

How did Christ teach his followers to pray?

First of all, note that throughout the prayer Jesus used the word 'us' rather than 'me.' The focus is on community, not the individual. Jesus wants his followers to pray together.

There are 6 petitions, or requests, in the prayer. Let's look at the first 3 in this post, and we'll study the last 3 in Part 2. Here is the text:
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. Matthew 6:9-10, ESV
  • "Our Father..." Jesus' disciples - those who have come to God through Jesus, repenting of sin and believing on Christ and his work on the cross - have a new relationship with God. He no longer relates to us primarily as our Judge, but as our Father! We have intimacy with God, and this is the first thought as we pray. Not all can say this, for Jesus spoke of some as being children, not of God, but of the Devil (John 8:44). What a privilege to enjoy a new and intimate relationship with God through Jesus!
  • " heaven." By calling God our Father we are reminded of his closeness to us. But the very next words ("in heaven") remind us that he is not only our intimate Father but the sovereign Lord of heaven! So in the opening words of our prayer we are reminded that God is both near and far. We embrace him in love as our Father, but we also bow to him in reverence as the King of heaven!
Now that our thoughts are on both God's intimacy and power, the petitions begin. The first three petitions focus on God, while the final three focus on our needs. Jesus wants us to first spend time thinking of God's heart rather than rushing in with our own desires and needs. This teaches us humility,  shapes our perspective as we pray and lines up our thinking and heart with God's! So as we pray, we are being molded by God. The purpose is not just to give God our requests, but to be changed by him progressively as we fellowship with him in prayer! Don't forget to seek to KNOW GOD, not to merely check off your 'to do list' that you prayed.
Now we are in a better position to pray according to God's will.

1. "Hallowed be your name." This is not simply a declaration ("Father, your name is hallowed"), but is a request. Jesus wants us to ask God to make his name to be seen as holy. It already is holy. But the prayer is that we (and others) would recognize his name as holy. "Father, let your name be honored and respected and cherished and feared and praised; let your name be adored by me today, and by my family and neighbors; let your name be seen as glorious in our city and to the ends of the earth; Father, work for the glory of your name!" This is what Jesus himself prayed in John 12:28: "Father, glorify your name." Jesus wants us to spend time praising God and conforming our heart's desires to his own desire to glorify his name in all the earth (Isaiah 11:9b; Habakkuk 2:14).

2. "Your kingdom come." God's kingdom is both 'already' and 'not yet.' God's kingdom is where he rules and reigns in men's hearts. It is here partially and spiritually in the lives of believers. And yet it is still to come fully and physically when Christ returns. This petition creates in us a longing to see God's kingdom advancing as more and more people bow the knee to the Lord and begin to image Jesus Christ and shine with his light. Jesus wants us to spend time praying about the advance of the fullness of God's rule and reign!

3."Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." God always and certainly carries out his secret and sovereign will - what he has declared from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:11). But his revealed will is what he has declared in his word to us. It shows us what is pleasing to God. This is our prayer in the 3rd petition, that God would line things up on earth, increasingly, with what Scripture tells us is pleasing to the Lord (ESV Study Bible notes). Jesus wants us to pray that things around us would unfold according to the word of God.

In our next study we will look at the petitions that deal with our needs.
Praise God! May the Spirit of God help us pray deep and meaningful prayers that bring us close to the Lord and conform our way of thinking to his. May God help us love him and desire his glory and kingdom and will!

Now we've studied Jesus' teaching on prayer. Time to go practice!

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