Teaching Us How to Pray
If familiarity breeds contempt, we can easily treat the most well-known prayer in Scripture contemptuously.
Jesus uttered this prayer. We call it “the Lord’s Prayer,” yet Jesus didn’t pray it. Rather, he taught it. He said:
“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. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’” (Matt. 6:9-13).
Thinking we know this prayer, we tend to read right over it. Instead, I invite you to notice.
Notice that these verses don’t teach confession, thanksgiving or praise. While other scriptures show other facets of prayer, the Lord’s Prayer contains key petitions. Here, Jesus taught us what to ask for.
Notice also that he taught who to pray for. The second half of this prayer, beginning, “Give us,” includes four requests. Reading each request, we naturally notice the petition itself. We focus on what we’re asking for. But notice who we’re praying for: “give us,” “forgive us,” “lead us,” “deliver us” (italics mine).
If you were to list those for whom you pray, might the list include: Yourself? Family? Friends? Coworkers? The sick and hurting? People who don’t know Christ? Christians? Church leaders? Missionaries? Government leaders? Communities? Nations?
No matter how long or short your list, mentally draw a box around it and title it, “Us.” Jesus taught us to pray for people. It’s good and godly to pray for “us.”
Yet notice: Jesus also told us to pray first and foremost for someone else, someone who doesn’t usually appear on our prayer lists at all. Jesus said,
“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.’”
Jesus instructed us to call on “our Father in heaven.” He taught us to pray to God. That doesn’t surprise us.
Ah, but in the same breath, Jesus taught us to petition our Father on behalf of his own kingdom, his will and his name. Jesus taught us to pray for God. Seeing that, we’re stunned. We realize: Prayer doesn’t look like we thought it did.
Reread or recite the Lord’s Prayer. Notice that praying for God doesn’t mean you tip your hat to him, politely gesturing his way before launching into lengthy prayers for “us.” The entire first half of this prayer offers petitions to our Father, for our Father.
Notice what happens inside you when you pray the words: “Give us. Forgive us. Lead us. Deliver us.” You’re praying for “us.” You can’t help but identify, mentally and emotionally.
Do you feel the same resonance when you pray: “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” If not, you’re not alone.
Try as we might, we can’t wrap our minds around the praying-for-God petitions Jesus taught. We can’t emotionally justify the requests. We’re finite; our prayer time, limited. And dire needs of countless people cry out to be met. Why spend substantial time asking God to do for himself what he clearly has the wherewithal to do, especially when we don’t even know how to ask? Too often, the best we know to do with these petitions is just to parrot the words.
Good news! What you can’t do yourself, you can do through our Lord, who is the Spirit. From the moment you come to the Father through the death and resurrection of the Son, the Holy Spirit lives within you. He teaches you all things.
As you yield to and move with the Spirit of God, refusing to quench or grieve him, you find yourself impelled by something stronger than emotion, more certain than knowledge. Deep within, you long for your Father’s name to be hallowed, his kingdom to come, his will to be done. Fervently, you ask.
And so, the God who calls you to pray to him, empowers you to pray through him and teaches you to pray for him.
As you learn to pray for God from your inmost being, a surprising thing happens: You begin to pray for “us” in new ways. Where before you asked for what you thought you and others needed, now you ask very different things. You begin to see root issues God wants to address. You begin to glimpse what he wants to do. You petition with greater wisdom, power and authority, as Jesus teaches you, Spirit to spirit, how to pray.
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