Prayer can be one of the most confusing things in the Christian life. People can pull out scripture and twist it horribly about prayer.
There are some “camps” that say–pray it in faith and it is yours. This can be a problem because then the “responsibility” of all faith is on the person. So, when you are not healed or do not get the provision or the answer, then it must be a failure of your faith. This view ignores key scripture about the nature of God and his sovereignty and his wise provision as Father.
There is another “camp” that says, “God is sovereign…he is going to do what he is going to do, so what good is it to pray?” This view ignores specific scriptures that tell us to relate with and ask God for our needs.
Many teachings about prayer, when not firmly grounded biblically, have the propensity for spiritual abuse. I have seen people within small groups and churches that have been totally crushed in their faith when someone accuses them of not getting their prayers answered because of lack of faith. They are defeated by the body and believe that they have to perform to get God’s favor. I am thankful that our relationship with God is not based on our performance because we would all be in big trouble. It is only through the blood of Jesus Christ, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence. We can exercise and grow in our faith, but we need God’s grace and help to strengthen us in the process.
God has purposes for everything, and he may be teaching us specific things by not answering our prayers in the specific way WE desire. He is always working for our good to conform us to the image of Christ, but that good is not always circumstantially comfortable. There is purpose for suffering in the world and in our individual lives. I do not write this glibly. Suffering is not easy. I have learned the most about prayer and relating to the Father in suffering in my life, and I know that will be true in circumstances to come. Every time I go through a hard time, I have to relearn to rely on Him and look to Him and his purposes.
Many people live with prayerless lives. They are lacking the fellowship with the Father with which Jesus died in our place to bring. Jesus, God himself, showed the importance of prayer in his life. He would pull away from the crowds and his disciples to relate to his Father. He said his life was about listening to and following his Father. He prayed for the disciples and us, as his future followers, in John. Throughout God’s word we are called to pray without ceasing, be persistent and to remain in God.
Prayer is the way that we relate to God. It is not about giving him a list of our wishes like a child sitting in Santa’s lap. That is not much of a relationship; that seems to be about us. Simply believing that God is in control and not praying is ignoring our relationship with him. So, you can see that both “camps” are off.
Prayer is not divorced from every other teaching about God in his word. He works consistently and in line with his character and purposes. So, we are to study prayer in light of this.
Jesus probably knew (since he knows everything) that we would be confused about prayer, so he graciously gave us an example in the Lord’s Prayer. The problem with the Lord’s Prayer is that it has become a memorized statement instead of a guide for prayer. We can say it in a group without the slightest inkling of what we are even talking about.
We have forgotten the intended purposes of those words.
Jesus begins by praying “Our Father.” This denotes the relationship present–a familial relationship with warmth.
The next few lines continue to focus the attention on the Father and his purposes. When we focus on who he really is, we have to see who we really are. That is humbling. “Hallowed be your name.” This is simply lifting his name up in the manner it deserves. We spend so many hours thinking about us and me and I and we that we forget the amazing God that he is. This is the time to think on his attributes, his character, his purposes. We think about lifting up his name above our circumstances. We think about lifting up his name in our circumstances. We focus on the reality of our hearts–questioning how we love him with everything in us.
“Your kingdom come.” The gospel of Jesus encapsulates the kingdom–it is what changes us to bring us to life from being dead in sin. We were separated from God because he is holy and we are sinful. Through Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we are invited to repent from our sins and believe that Christ gives us new life by depositing his Spirit in us. This is the hope of the world. His gospel is our only hope. Apart from him, we have nothing. We are left here on earth to introduce the beautiful truth of his kingdom in our hearts to others in need. He is working in hearts all around us, and he calls us to love them by sharing his truth. This is praying for his truth, love and grace to come to our household, our neighborhood, our workplace, our city and then all those places beyond–nations, governments, schools, etc. Matthew adds that “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” His revealed will is all throughout the word of God. With his spirit in us, we are called to live in the character of God. Our lives as Christians are in a constant state of being transformed into his character and likeness. This is his will (Romans 8:28-29). Again, the focus is on him and not us. So, we take that example in prayer.
With the focus on Him, we have to examine the places in ourselves that are not like him. This leads to three different thoughts…what we need from him to carry out his will (our daily bread), what we need from him in relationship (forgiveness of sins and forgiving others of sin as he has forgiven us), and what we need to walk out his life (protection from temptation and evil).
In the flow of the prayer, I do not think we leave behind the fellowship that was laid in the beginning. We are ready, in humility, to ask for our needs to carry out life to glorify his name today. This can be food, strength, love, graciousness, patience, monetary provision, wisdom, etc. If you remember the Israelites in the desert, they were provided manna (food) from heaven daily. If they tried to save it for the next day, it spoiled. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6), Jesus calls us not to worry about tomorrow. Ask for your needs today–trust him and do not worry. Ask in accordance with his purposes and his will (what you already know he is about). Also, ask for ways you can use what he gives you for his kingdom purposes.
As we relate to who he is, we see how far we are from him. We see our sin–wrong motives, selfishness, spiteful words, anxiety, distrust, etc. We are to confess our sins specifically and ask for forgiveness, and it is given through the blood of Christ. We are to remember the gospel daily–it is our hope. We are declared righteous in Jesus, set free from the bondage to our sin, and God no longer has wrath toward us but is our Father (Romans 3:21-26). In the light of the depth of the forgiveness he offers us, we are to offer that to others (Ephesians 4). So, we are to pray for places where we relationally need to forgive others who have hurt us just as God has so graciously forgiven us.
Then, we are to guard our hearts against temptation and evil. We are to be in the world but not of it. We are not to camp out in a commune, yet we are not to become like the world. He saved us to be blameless and pure, so he wants us to grow in holiness daily. To do that, we need to pray about the sin struggles in our lives and lean on him to change us and help us make decisions that will lead to growth instead of giving in to sins. We are in a real battle in this world, and we desperately need his strength and help.
I write this, not as an expert on prayer, but one who continues to struggle and learn. I write this to encourage you to pray beyond the written words. Relate with your Father. In the light of who he is and who you begin to know him to be, ask for your needs in living in his will. Pray and live with a passion for him to be glorified in all circumstances in your life–finances, work, school, parent-child relationships, sibling relationships, relationships with your enemies, etc. Search his scriptures about prayer. Ask him to teach you, and practice prayer daily.
In the last month, I have been talking about prayer with some of the girls that I meet with. These girls invited me to dinner at their house to share with them about prayer. Thank you girls for the food, fellowship and thoughts.