Teach Us To Pray
Teach Us To Pray
Do special prayers exist which are more powerful than others, or are there certain prayers which are more effective in certain situations? Is one prayer position, i.e., kneeling, bowing, standing, facing east, etc., better than the others? Are prayer wheels and rosary beads useful?
The fact that these questions can be asked is evidence that there is much superstition in the way the world approaches “prayer.” Does God hear the prayer of a little child but reject the prayer of a man? There are answers to all of these questions, but to be able to answer these questions requires a fundamental understanding of prayer. Where do we go to get the truth about prayer? What is prayer?
Knowing how to pray in the right way does not come naturally. What do we need to understand to be able to pray effectively? The world thinks that Jesus composed the “Our Father” as a nice prayer for the disciples, but the church of God has always understood that this was not a prayer. Jesus was giving them the overall outline – a framework for the entirety of the picture He would portray to them during the course of His public ministry. What Jesus taught His disciples was not a prayer to be repeated verbatim.
The “Lord’s Prayer” was not a prayer for all occasions. In fact, it was not a prayer at all, but a synopsis of the basic fundamentals that must be incorporated into our prayers for a genuine relationship to exist with both the Father and Jesus Christ. The newly selected disciples saw Jesus praying and wanted to know the correct approach to prayer. They did not ask Jesus what to pray - they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus took this opportunity to begin upgrading the belief patterns of these carnally thinking men to the point where conversion would produce spiritually reasoning members of the church.
Jesus then addressed the aspects of personal prayer and gave them an effective framework for prayer. This is what Jesus taught the disciples.
“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 forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” (Matthew 6:9-13)
Is that all there is to it? It seems so short. Here, in these few words, Christ gave a concise summary of those intricate details that He would be expounding for the next three and a half years. His disciples would undergo what would prove to be a rigorous learning process. Jesus was introducing them to the basics – most of which they couldn’t begin to comprehend at that starting point in their training. But in the long run, the understanding of these primary concepts would enable them to pray diligently and meaningfully – and most importantly – to have a right relationship with the Father.
The new truth Jesus was showing to the disciples was so far-reaching that the disciples were amazed – it was too much for them to fathom. Over and over, they had to ask Christ to explain His sayings. It would take the guidance and direct intervention of God through His Holy Spirit, after their conversion at the first Pentecost, almost four years later, to lead them to a fuller understanding. Jesus, knowing their lack of understanding, encouraged His disciples with this promise.
“These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy [Spirit], whom the Father will send in my name, [it] shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:25-26)
In effect, Jesus was telling them that they would be able to “put the whole picture together” later. With God’s Holy Spirit, they would be able to grasp the wealth of wisdom in each phrase Jesus had given to them.
The following sections will expound on each of the concepts expressed in Christ’s outline. We will be looking in a detailed and deeper way at each one of those clauses that Christ gave to His disciples, because they are meant for us as well. But first, let’s consider the meaning of prayer.
What is prayer? Prayer is communication with God. It is talking to God with the understanding that there is an interaction taking place – a “meeting of the minds” – between God and us. Prayer is a close respectful dialogue that can only be accomplished through a right relationship with God and with an understanding of what God is all about. In prayer, we relate in a very intimate and personal way our deepest thoughts and introspection to our Heavenly Father. Prayer means “to ask earnestly;” it means “to plead, or to petition” – we cannot effectively do this if we hardly know the Father.
For example, when we first meet someone, the initial relationship is shallow, even superficial. That’s natural, because we know so little about the person. As we come to know someone, we gain a deeper understanding of who he is, what is important to him, and what he expects in the relationship. The more we know someone’s character and personality, the deeper and more meaningful the relationship can become. Close friends know just about everything about each other.
In the same way, we can only draw near to God when we know all we can about Him. Many people in the world who say, “I love Jesus,” actually know next to nothing about our Savior and what He expects of us. Their relationship is shallow indeed. Actually, that kind of superficial relationship is the only one that most people have with the True God. The prayer of most men and women is ineffectual because they cannot comprehend the spiritual depth within those words of Jesus Christ. Those who are unconverted are unable to have a close relationship with the Father because they have not yet gotten to know Him – their sin continues to be the cause of division. You might say, they haven’t been properly introduced.
“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2)
When we sin, we make God our enemy – not our friend. That separation between each person and God the Father must be removed by Jesus Christ before a right relationship with the Father can exist. Our sins, which tear apart any possibility of a Godly togetherness, must be removed before we can begin to have the mind of God. That is what reconciliation means – to be of the same mind with one another. Jesus’ death paid the price of our sins, making reconciliation with the Father possible.
“For if, when we were enemies [sinners], we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:10)
Jesus’ sacrifice makes it possible for God the Father to come into the lives of repentant people – making them individual members of the Family of God – the church.
When the original apostles asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He didn’t say to them, “You are doing just fine – just do whatever comes naturally.” There are correct ways to pray, and there are incorrect ways to pray. Jesus Christ told His disciples not to pray as the hypocrites did. They wrongly prayed in public in order to gain notoriety for themselves. Jesus told His disciples that there wouldn’t be any additional reward for that type of prayer. He said in Matthew 6:5 that they had already gotten what they wanted – they attracted attention to themselves.
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”
James, the half-brother of Jesus would later explain other wrong concepts about prayer. He showed that certain prayer requests aren’t answered because of improper approaches to prayer.
“Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:6)
Some years back, the late blues-rock singer Janis Joplin sang a song that demonstrates a wrong approach to God and to prayer. This is an example of asking amiss.
“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?…
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down …”
Besides the total irreverence shown to God’s name, Miss Joplin’s song demonstrates an approach toward God that all too many have when they pray. Obviously, we wouldn’t use God’s name so flippantly, but how many of us make the preponderance of our prayers the “give me” prayer? “O Lord, give me this, and give me that.”
What about the football coach who gets down on one knee with his team just before the start of the Friday night game and beseeches God to grant his team protection and safety? At the same time halfway around the world, two small countries at war with each other invoke God’s name each asking God for victory over the other nation. Does God hear their prayers? The astute reader will have caught the violations of God’s law in these last two examples of wrong prayer. Sabbath breaking and killing are sins which preclude a right relationship with God – He will not answer prayers like these.
“Now we know that God heareth [answers] not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth His will, him He heareth [answers].” (John 9:31)
We can contrast this wrong manner of praying with a correct attitude of prayer.
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The only limitation in the depth of the relationship we are able to have with God is on our part. In other words, we can build and build on our nearness and communication with our Heavenly Father through the right kind of prayer.
In the next
section, we will look more into how to pray correctly, and how not to
pray. We do not naturally or inherently pray as we should. Let’s take a
look in the Scriptures where we will find instruction on the correct way
to pray – because there is a right way.