Lord, Teach Us To Pray
Prayer grows out of desire, a feeling of dependence, and confidence in someone's ability to grant the request we make. If a person did not desire a thing, he could not sincerely pray for it; if he did not feel dependent - if he felt his own ability to get what he wanted - he would not pray for it; neither would he pray to any one, unless he felt that such a one was able to give him that which he desired. Perhaps the greatest hindrance to prayer is a lack of confidence in God's ability to answer prayer. It is argued that all things proceed according to the laws of nature, and that therefore God could not answer a prayer without working a miracle.
A wise woman once said during a study of prayer, "We pity the heathen in his praying to his idols, but I tell you, we surround God with so many limitations that we make Him little more to us than a heathen's god is to him". The theory mentioned limits God, makes Him more helpless than His creature; for the smallest mother bird answers the hunger cry of its young. And we answer the request of others every day. Parents hear and answer the request of their children. In none of these matters is a miracle wrought; and yet we are told that God cannot do likewise without working a miracle! Some people put in so much time figuring what God can do and what He cannot do, that they fail to do what they should do.
The early Christians were not hindered by these modern theories; they prayed, and left the answering in the hands of God. It would help us if we would quit theorizing about what God cannot do, and believe the truth stated by Paul "who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think". (Eph. 3:20). It is not, therefore, becoming in us to subscribe to a theory that makes God less able than His creatures. But not all prayers are answered. "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination". (Prov. 28:9) "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear". (Psalms 66:18). If a man prays for the purpose of making an impression on men, that is all the reward he gets for his prayer. (Matt. 6:5). On the other hand, "Whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we kept His commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in His sight". (I John 3:22)
A study of the prayers recorded in the Bible is both interesting and profitable. These prayers are full of reverence and confidence; they are short and to the point. There was no effort at high-sounding language nor rhetorical flourishes. None seemed to desire to be heard for his much speaking.
John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, though we are not informed as to the nature of the prayers John taught them. People do need to be taught how to pray, and what to pray for. It is likely that the disciple wanted to know how to pray, and not merely what he ought to pray; for the request shows that he felt the need of praying. He did not know how to pray or what to pray for.
In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus gives some teaching on how to pray, and on how not to pray. A secret prayer should be prayed in secret, never in public. No prayer is heard for its multitude of words. A prayer does not have to be eternal to be immortal. A public prayer in worship is an expression of the worshippers in the assembly. Naturally the leader would be supposed to pray for those things that concern the whole church. At the close of the prayer they all sign that petition with their amens. It is then the united petition of the worshipers. It is then necessary that the congregation be able to hear the leader of the prayer if they are going to sign the petition. In public there is the temptation of the leader to make a nice speech and tell God all those things that He does not know. This may impress the church, though I doubt it. The need is to pray to the Lord for the people, not to the people for the Lord.
On the account of conditions and circumstances, prayers, to be appropriate to the occasion, must vary. It seems, therefore, that Jesus was giving them a model by which to formulate their prayers. In fact, in Matt. 6:9, Jesus says, "After this manner therefore pray ye". He then gave them the same words as we find in the text of this chapter. Where Luke has "Father", Matthew has:
"Our Father who are in heaven". Search the Bible through and you will not find in any of the recorded prayers the endearing terms so often heard in prayers of today. God is addressed with reverence and awe, but never as "our dear, loving heavenly Father". Why not go by the Bible in this respect, as well as in all the others? The Lord teaches us to pray, and how to pray, but many do not heed the teaching. The term "Father" is applied to Him because He sustains a relation to us similar to that of our fathers. Any good father has an interest in his children and yearns for their welfare and happiness. He hears their cries and grieves over their troubles and sorrows. He gives them, as best he can, that which he thinks is best for them but never that which he believes would be to their hurt. Our Father seeks our highest good and grants to His faithful children their rightful desires. If not, in what sense is He a Father?
"Hallowed by Thy name". To hallow is to make sacred, or to hold as sacred. To hallow the name of God is to revere it, to esteem it above all other names. God's name is to be revered throughout the whole earth. Those who revere His name will not speak it lightly; they will not use it as a by-word, nor in foolish jesting, nor swear falsely by that name. Perjury is, therefore, a double sin; it is lying and taking the name of God in vain. Let the name of God be held and spoken in the name of reverence, as becomes children of God.
"Thy kingdom come". The kingdom foretold by the prophets had not been established. Its near approach had been preached by John the Baptist, and was so preached by Jesus Himself. It was, therefore, appropriate for the disciples then to pray for it to come. Since it has now come, why should anyone pray for it to come? Would it now sound strange for one to pray for the church to come? It would be just as appropriate as to pray for the kingdom to come. If a man is a Christian, he is in the kingdom; it would not be sensible, therefore, for such a one to pray for the kingdom to com. We may pray for God's kingdom to be increased - for more and more people to be brought into it and for those in it to be better citizens of it.
"Give us day by day our daily bread". In the Greek, it means "Our bread for the coming day". This is a petition for the necessities of life - food, clothing, and shelter. Of course, Jesus did not mean to encourage His followers to look for these things to be handed to them without any effort on their part. God has appointed that men must work for the things they need; and yet there are many forces that may help to destroy our efforts - forces that God alone can control. Man can cultivate the soil and plant the seed, but he can have no control over the weather conditions that make growth possible. W pray for these things that are clearly beyond our power to produce. Laws in the physical world may be invariable, but that does not hinder our using them, or operating by them, in answering the petitions of our children or the call for help from anyone. God can do infinitely more than we can; let us not try to make him helpless under the operations of His own laws.
"And forgive us our sins". This sets forth clearly the fact that the followers of Christ do sin; if that were not so there would be no reason to pray for forgiveness of sins. To those who claim that they do not sin, John says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8). Were it not for the mercy and grace of God, we would all be doomed for all eternity. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). Therefore, the one who does not think he has any sin to confess deceives himself, and has no promise that his sins will be forgiven. How many can say what Jesus taught them to say? "For we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us". Sin is here spoken of as a debt to God. Obedience is His due; sin is a failure to give Him what is due Him.
"And bring us not into temptation". Do not put us to the test; do not bring us into conditions that will try us. The petition is a recognition of our weakness; we might not stand the trial. "There is no temptation but that which is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but with the temptation shall also make a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (I Cor. 10:13). The illustration Jesus gave seems a little strange to us, for the customs of today are not as they were then. The man had securely shut the door; besides, he did not want to disturb the children. It is easy for parents to sympathize with him on that point. He preferred that his friend would just go on, and not cause him to disturb his children; but his friend was so persistent, he would disturb them anyway. So, because of his friend's persistence, he arose and gave him as many loaves as he wanted. Jesus gave that illustration to encourage His disciples to be persistent in their praying. The same point is emphasized in the parable of the unjust judge and the importunate widow (Luke 18:1-8). The widow felt that her cause was just; yet knowing the judge to be selfish and unjust, she persisted in her pleas until she obtained justice. Jesus spoke this parable to them "to the end that they ought always to pray, and not to faint." That is, they should persist in their praying and not give up.
"Ask and it shall be given unto you". If we turn our ear away from hearing the law, God will not hear us. If what we ask is for that which we should not have, God will not grant our request. "We know not how to pray as we ought" (Rom. 8:16). We , like children, desire to have many things that are not best for us to have; but God is a wise Father. There are some things that God has definitely promised; we know that it is according to His will to grant such things. In making our petitions for other things, it is appropriate to say "If it be Thy will".
When children ask for things they need, no father will give them hurtful or useless things. Jesus this illustration to show that our Father in heaven is more willing to give good things to His children than are earthly fathers. Where Luke has the Holy Spirit, Matthew has "good things". As Luke records it, the Holy Spirit is to be given to those who pray for the Holy Spirit. As the ordinary gift of the Holy Spirit is promised to all that obey the Lord, it does not seem that it was for this that they were to pray, for a disciple to pray such a prayer would be to ask for what he already had. The miraculous power of the Holy Spirit was given according to His own will, yet it was proper and right for disciples to desire such gifts (I Cor. 12:11; 14:1). As it was right to desire such gifts, it would be lawful to pray for them. Since such gifts are no longer given, it would be wrong to pray for them now. What could one mean then to pray for the Holy Spirit. I pray that prayer for a greater measure of the Spirit in my life. I want to be sensitive to the things of God. I want to be able to discern the will of God in making the right decisions. I need the Holy Spirit to possess my life, not just be a guest in my house.
These reflections seem fitting to close this chapter. "Holy and reverent in His Name" (Psalms 111:9). Things pertaining to God are holy, and must be reverenced (Lev.19:30; 26:2). David would not kill King Saul because Saul was God's anointed (I Sam. 26:6-11).
In your thinking, is there any sacredness in the Bible? If we had reverence for God and the things of God, we would not use His name lightly, nor would we weave a passage of scripture into some foolish joke.
"Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that you may spend it in your pleasures" (James 4:3). It is not God's will that we spend that with which God has blessed us in a wasteful way. "And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us" (I John 5:14).