We’re entering into another important season of prayer with our special prayer wee coming up. It is with this in mind that I want to talk to you about having a vibrant prayer life.
The quality of any relationship depends on communication – this is something we are all aware of. It is no different with our relationship with God. Throughout church history the times of closest communion with God the Father are marked by an insatiable appetite for both hearing God’s voice in the scriptures and through having a passionate prayer life. This is how we grow in God.
The Bible everywhere champions the Christian’s privilege of prayer. Here are just three examples:
It celebrates the God who hears our prayers (see Psalm 35 v 15)
It speaks of the peace we receive through prayer (see Philippians 4 v 6)
It rejoices in the blessings of answered prayer (see Matthew 21 v 22)
So in mentioning just three of the great benefits of prayer, don’t you think it strange that Christians don’t pray more. Our excuses, of course, are plentiful and varied for why we don’t. We’re too busy, too stressed out, too tired, too deflated or disappointed, too embarrassed, don’t feel eloquent enough, etc. But isn’t it true that for a good many Christians their struggle with praying is in the simple fact that they don’t know how to. This was certainly the case with the 12 disciples.
Even though the disciples lived with Jesus for three years and saw him pray every day. Even though they witnessed the power of His prayer life, they had to admit that their own prayer lives were incredibly poor and shallow in comparison. The disciples were absolutely intrigued with the prayer life of Jesus and genuinely longed to be able to pray like Him. This is why they were compelled to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.
Jesus knew it would be pointless giving them an A, B, C formula or a series of ‘dead-cert’ techniques. What’s more He knew it would be pointless bringing challenges that would only make them feel guilty. Jesus knew He needed to give them a model, a practical framework to build their prayer lives around – and this is exactly what He did. We call it ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. It is the prayer the Lord shared with His disciples when they asked Him to teach them how to pray.
Of course, this extraordinary prayer has become the most famous, frequent and familiar prayer in Christendom. Some though have suggested that it has been misnamed and believe it should have been entitled, ‘The Disciples’ Prayer,’ as it was then it was given to.
First century Jews often committed various prayers to memory for recitation. Such prayers normally came from the book of Psalms. This was the practice that the early Christians adapted into their daily worship and devotional times. They would have recited and gone through this prayer on many occasions. Yet, Bible commentators tells us that the Lord’s Prayer was most probably intended to be more of a ‘sample’ or ‘model’ prayer rather than a strict formula. This is most probably the reason why the account in Matthew’s gospel differs slightly from the account recorded in Luke’s gospel.
The purpose of originally teaching the prayer wasn’t to teach some sort of mantra that was to be endlessly repeated word for word (not that there is anything wrong recitation). But it was meant to be more of a ‘guide’ and a ‘template’ which could be adapted and built upon and expanded by the individual.
So bearing this in mind, let me encourage you to compare how Matthew records what Jesus taught in Matthew 6 with how Luke records the Lord’s Prayer in his gospel in Luke 11. Notice in particular the differences. Ask yourself what can you learn from the different accounts? What do you think they teach you about the way you should and could pray?
“We are forever feeling overwhelmed by busyness but continue to cram our diaries with a relentless search for relational fulfilment in both secular and church events, while neglecting the personal joy of time with our Father in prayer. We make times for Champions League Football or Facebook or fishing or the gym or chatting on the phone, but can’t find time to pray. These attitudes make us chronically prayerless and leave us feeling far from God.”
Much of the brilliance of the Lord’s Prayer lies in its conciseness. It is simple enough for children to take in and understand, yet at the same time, its richness in Biblical doctrine and depth will feed and satisfy the appetite of the most mature believer or studious theologian.
The Lord’s Prayer contains so many applications for daily living. It is both a ‘model prayer’ which can be prayed verbatim. When prayed like this sincerely from the heart it can indeed be extremely invigorating and meaningful. Yet, at the same time it is a ‘pattern for prayer.’ It is a flexible outline that can be expanded upon and used as a skeleton to be fleshed out. You will soon see that each phrase acts as its own launching pad into even greater depths of prayer and devotion.
Jesus taught this prayer in response to His disciples’ request – ‘Teach us how to pray.’ Take a look again at the beautifully crafted words of this prayer. What do you think Jesus was teaching us? What are the main themes? Can you identify the key phrases, the important truths and the salient points? How do you think it might help you in your own prayer life? Write down your thoughts on the journal page. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you how to pray through the prayer. Here it is …
‘This then is how you should pray,
Our Father in Heaven
Hallowed be Your name
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as it is in Heaven
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our debts
As we also have forgiven our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For Yours is the Kingdom
The power and the glory
Jesus said, ‘When you pray, pray like this.’ (Matthew 6)
Interestingly enough Jesus begins to teach them how to pray, not by telling them what to pray for, but how they should actually approach Almighty God in prayer. He tells His disciples that they should come to Him addressing Him as ‘Father,’ just as a little child might come to his daddy. Now believe it or not this was a completely new and shocking concept. In fact, some would have considered it to be radical, revolutionary and even blasphemous.
Think about it for a moment, Jesus instructed His disciples to approach Almighty God … the transcendent creator … the omnipotent ruler … the terrifying judge of the cosmos … the sovereign … the all-knowing omniscient one … the eternal never-changing ancient of days … the all-wise God … as Father … as ‘Dad!’ What on earth was Jesus thinking? You see in Jewish culture in Jesus’ day and of course previously in the Old Testament, God was always addressed with divine titles of powerful gravitas and majestic splendour. He was always approached with fear and awe and with almost a sense of trepidation. Now, they wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest if Jesus had said begin your prayers with …. our creator in Heaven … our infinite in Heaven … our judge … our warrior … our Holy one … but ‘our Father,’ isn’t that just too blasé, too casual and far too flippant. Did Jesus really understand what He was actually saying here?
The original Aramaic word (the language Jesus spoke) for the word ‘Father’ is ‘Abba.’ This was a term of respectful intimacy used in the average Jewish family. In English it is something akin to ‘Dad.’
Jesus was actually making the point that there is no need to approach God with any apprehension, fear or doubt, but we should approach Him with full confidence as one of His own children. Jesus was saying we should approach God, the Father, with affection and with intimacy and with an attitude of childlike love and trust – as unto a Heavenly Father.