(This is the second post in a ten post series on The Lord’s Prayer.)
As a Pastor, a question that I am often asked goes along the lines of, “well, I know I should pray, but why?” When I give them an answer, they usually follow up with “but how do I pray?
The simple answer to why is granted to us because the privilege of prayer was given to us at a great, great sacrifice. It cost Jesus his life.
While Jesus used many different situations to teach His disciples how to pray, he chose to use this opportunity to give them, and us, a model of how to do so:
“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 5: 9-13 (ESV)
You will notice that Jesus didn’t tell the disciples what to pray, but how to pray. Though we often repeat this prayer as a form of worship — this is good — this is really a model Jesus gives us for how to pray. Do you you notice the structure of the prayer? Jesus was giving us a good instruction on the content of our prayers.
There are six total requests. You will notice that the first half of this prayer is theological and the requests are directed vertically, God-ward while the last part of the prayer involves more earthy, human requests. I don’t think this is a coincidence or simply style. We usually get this backwards. We usually begin with our needs and then, if we have time, throw in a few nice God-phrases. But the Lord teaches us to begin by appealing to God, in humility and dependence.
The more important question, though, still goes back to why. Why should we pray? When we look at this passage of Scripture, there are six things that we can recognize about why prayer is important, and why we should make prayer a priority in our lives.
First we should pray because Jesus prayed.
Jesus is our example, our model. But Jesus, though God, was also man and He believed in the priority of prayer. He constantly prayed to his Father throughout his ministry, in times of both joy and tribulation. Jesus said to the disciples that the servant is not greater than His Lord. What was necessary for Jesus is absolutely vital for us.
“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” John 15:20 (ESV)
Second, we should pray because it reminds us that we are not God.
To pray is in and of itself an act of worship, is it not? To pray acknowledges that we are not the masters of our own fate, that we do not control the world. We are mere creatures, dependent wholly on the God of the universe. When I think of the greatest leaders in world history, the good ones were men of prayer. They realized their power had limits. And so should we be people of prayer.
Third, we should pray because God calls us to pray.
Simply put, to pray is to obey Jesus’ instructions, God’s commands, and the Spirit’s prompts that we must get on our knees and pray. Ours is not to figure out how a sovereign God bends to our prayers. It’s to simply pray. When we pray, we are obeying one of the basic commands we are given as disciples.
Fourth, we should pray because God is the great provider.
Repeatedly in Scripture, God presents himself as the great provider. Just a few verses after he taught the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 6:25-26 (ESV)
He knows what we need before we need it. He delights in caring for our needs. And so it’s foolishness for a needy people not to bring their needs before a powerful God.
Fifth, we should pray because prayer aligns our hearts with God’s will.
Quite often when we pray, we don’t even know what we need. We don’t know what to pray. And in prayer, on our knees, in humility before God, letting the noise of the world fade, our hearts are aligned to God’s will. We pray not only to talk to God, but to listen to him.
Sixth, God invites us to pray and promises to answer our prayers.
In the marvelous providence of God, somehow God appropriates our prayers into His sovereign will. God tells us that when we pray, He acts. James reminds us in James 5:16 that the prayers of the righteous yield much. I don’t understand it. I can’t tell you how God can be sovereign and yet bend his ear to our prayers. But I know it’s true.
In the next post we will look at the first line of this sacred prayer, “Our Father in heaven,”