This then is how you should pray…
How – not what.
Should – not must.
I told someone a while back that I’d write something about the Lord’s Prayer. I guess it’s time. I kept thinking about it last night as I was trying to go to sleep. And those two words kept going through my mind.
How and Should. Some religions – even some Christian denominations – seem to be more into what and must.
But that’s not what Jesus said.
He said How and Should.
Regular readers will know that I seem to be incapable of writing anything short. What’s amazing is that even the longer ones get expanded when I use them in a class or a Bible Study. There always seems to be more. Anyway – given that, I’m going to break this into several pieces.
This is part 2 in a series of 10 looking at the Lord's Prayer, as given to us in Matthew 6:9-15.
You can view the entire series by clicking on the link just under the title line. Or, you can see the entire series list in the right sidebar.
Before going any further, let’s start off with the simple question – Why?
I chose the image above for many reasons, one of which is that it answers the Why question.
Prayer is – at it’s core – a conversation with God. A two way conversation. Yes – we say words. Maybe out loud. Maybe silently. But something comes from us with the intention that it goes to God. But it’s more than that. If we don’t listen for a response – we’re missing a huge part of why we pray.
More on that later – but I wanted to get that thought out for you right away.
So you can think and pray about it as we move on.
Some religions / people tell us when we should pray. Some say at night is best. Some say first thing in the morning is best. Some believe Sunday (or Saturday, or Friday) at service is good. On and on – so many choices.
Let’s look at some examples from the New Testament on the topic of when –
Ac 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Ro 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
2Th 1:11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.
2Ti 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
Interesting. Constantly. And really – how could anything less be expected? Which part of our lives do we not live for God? Which part of our lives do we think we can do better without Him? Or maybe – which part of our lives do we not want God to know about? No matter – constantly is really the only choice if we really love God and believe our lives are truly for Him and in His hands.
Given that – let’s go to the backdrop for the Lord’s Prayer – what Jesus said just before giving that prayer –
And when you pray…
Mt 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Even though prayer is to be constant – it’s not something to be done for the purpose of being seen by others. The prayer is – as I said earlier – a conversation between us and God. Maybe it’s us as an individual – in which case the prayer is directly between one person and God. Maybe the prayer is as part of a group – in which case the prayer is between that group and God – but certainly not for one individual to impress others in the group with our words, or to make is look more spiritual than others in the group. Or – as Jesus’ examples show – prayer is not for us to look good in front of others – even strangers.
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Ouch. That means the only reward for those prayers – the ones intended to make ourselves look good – is that maybe we look good to some of the people watching us. But that’s it. God knows those prayers aren’t really meant for Him – and treats them as such. No matter how eloquent – or full of flowery / “churchy” words – or how much emotion appears to have been put into the prayers – if they were meant for people, they are delivered to people. Delivered to people. Not delivered to God.
Mt 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
Here, Jesus says to go into our rooms and close the door so no one sees us praying. Considering His examples of not praying to look good in front of others – whether that be in the synagogue or in public – going to a room and closing the door is an excellent counter to those examples.
However – consider what Paul says about praying constantly. Certainly he didn’t spend his entire life in a room with the door closed. Far from it. We read
2Co 11:26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Even with all that – he was constantly praying. Not in a room alone. Well – except those times he was in solitary while in prison. But you get the point. I hope.
So – how do we reconcile these two? Do we pray constantly? Or do we pray alone?
The answer – Yes. To both.
From the Bible Knowledge Commentary, we read –
Jesus prayed at every major crisis point in His life. He prayed at the time of His baptism (Lk 3:21), and at the time of the choosing of His disciples (6:12). He was often alone praying (Lk 5:16; Lk 9:18) and also prayed with others around (Lk 9:28–29). He prayed for Simon (Lk 22:32), and He prayed in the garden before His betrayal (Lk 22:40–44). He even prayed on the cross (Lk 23:46). One of His disciples, impressed with Jesus’ life of prayer, asked Jesus to teach them to pray. 1)Martin, J. A. (1985). Luke. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 234). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books
Lk 3:21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Lk 5:12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Lk 5:13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
Lk 5:14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
Lk 5:15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Lk 9:18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
Lk 9:28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.
Lk 22:31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Lk 22:39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Lk 23:44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice,“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
These are just some of the examples of Jesus praying. But we see that it is very much in line with the concept of praying constantly. And that praying while others are present isn’t necessarily praying to them – but is in fact praying to the Father.
Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
As we saw – in secret doesn’t mean that we are physically locked away in a room with the door closed. Rather, it’s our prayers that should be locked away – meant for God – not meant for others to think better of us. Sometimes Jesus prayed for others, with them present. Sometimes Jesus prayed in front of a handful of people. Sometimes Jesus prayed in front of everyone. But always – Jesus prayed to the Father. We should do the same.
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans …
Again – it’s not the words. Using more words ins’t what God wants. It’s our true, heartfelt feelings that He wants.
After all …
your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
if He already knows – the only thing left is for us to express to Him our feelings. And they may as well be really open and honest – because He does already know.
Why – revisited
Maybe all of this begs the question – why do we even need to pray? If God already knows what we need and is perfectly capable of knowing our true feelings – why does He make us pray? Why doesn’t He just give us everything we need right up front?
I could go on for quite a while on this one, but the Reader’s Digest answer is –
He doesn’t force us to follow Him. He doesn’t force us to believe anything He says. He doesn’t even force us to believe He exists!
By the same token – he also doesn’t walk away from us if we at first don’t want to follow Him.
He wants us to make a choice. While He could force us to “love” Him – the simple fact that force was used means it isn’t Love.
So just like He won’t condemn us immediately for rejecting Him –
He also doesn’t just give us everything we need – whether we just don’t ask, or totally refuse to even acknowledge Him.
And sometimes – when we pray – the answer is “not yet”. And harder still – the answer could be “no”. Even if it’s something we think we really need.
And that is why the listening part is so important.
If we don’t listen – how are we to know the answer?
If we don’t listen – how are we to know the reason for the “not yet” and “no” answers? Even if there is no given reason, just knowing that He heard is better than forever wondering what happened. Or if anything even happened at all.
For instance – many times for me the answer has been that I need to learn something first.
Many years ago, I changed my question from “Why not?” or “Why me?” to “What do You want me to learn (from the situation)?” While I’ve never received an answer to the first two questions – I’ve always been made aware of what I need to learn. Not that I actually did learn quickly – or well. But my own issues have been pointed out.
Conclusion – This then is how you should pray…
What we’re going to learn isn’t how to recite The Lord’s Prayer.
With apologies to the Catholic Church (at least as they were when I was younger) we don’t see any examples of Jesus or any other New Testament figures praying a whole bunch of “Our Father’s” with some “Hail Mary’s” mixed in between. Not one.
What we do see is examples of heartfelt, honest feelings being let loose from people with the target being God.
But – just as I said it’s a two way conversation – there is a method in the middle of all these raw feelings. After all – He is God. There’s a certain amount of respect due. There’s an acknowledgement of His place – and our place. He’s God. We’re not. There’s also that little matter of what we “need”. Not what we “want” – but what we “need”. And there’s an acknowledgement that we may differ in our opinions of needs versus wants when compared to how God sees it.
So what we’ll see is that how you should pray isn’t about the words – but is very much about aligning our hearts and desires with His heart and desire for us – and realizing that what He has planned for us is so much better than anything we could ever even dream of.
So stay tuned, as we go through this amazing prayer – probably a verse at a time – to see how we should pray.
image from prayerlesson.blogspot.com
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Martin, J. A. (1985). Luke. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 234). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books|