“Teach us how to pray.”
Again and again people were amazed by Jesus’ life – His words carried wisdom and authority. He healed the sick, cast out demons raised the dead and rebuked the turbulent sea. He loved. He forgave His enemies and turned the other cheek. “We have never seen anything like this,” they said.
His disciples realised that the secret to His power and authority lay in His prayer life. So they said to Him, “Teach us how to pray.”
If only each of us had the opportunity to observe Jesus pray! To hear the very words He used, the loud cries and petitions. We know He interceded for the disciples and agonised over Jerusalem. His prayer at the last supper is recorded at length. We find Jesus praying at the tomb of Lazarus, before the feeding of the 5000 and often before daybreak.
In view of the huge amount of time Jesus spent in prayer, it does seem surprising that to the disciples who sought His secret, He gave in rather brief words what has come to be called the Lord’s Prayer. An earnest seeker is bound to be disappointed. Imagine the disciples’ surprise: “Is this all? This prayer seems more fitting for children than for a prayer warrior.”
Not surprisingly it’s often ignored in the pulpit and elsewhere.
Yet, Jesus decided that this was all he needed to teach his disciples on prayer besides the admonition 1. Not to make a show of it, and 2. That mere repetition of words has no power in itself.
Why did Jesus not teach them more on prayer? Some of the possible reasons are:
- Praying is as natural and instinctive to a Christian as running is to a child. Every child must take small steps and fall many times before he learns to run.
- A prayer life grows by praying and not by studying techniques. Doing is learning.
- People may inspire us to pray, but only the Holy Spirit can guide us.
- So we need to seek Him and all prayer is ultimately a seeking after God.
Prayer is at the heart of Christian living. Our attitude and response to outward situations develop in the prayer closet. The key to a successful Christian life and witness, therefore, is a balanced prayer life built on the framework of the Lord’s Prayer.
Jesus’ intention was not to give us the exact words to use; the Lord’s Prayer rather teaches us how to balance our priorities in prayer. Our behaviour and lifestyles will change as our priorities become aligned with the Lord’s.
Imagine your prayer life as a building supported by 4 pillars – each pillar necessary to the strength and stability of the whole. These 4 pillars would be
1. The pillar of praise – We rejoice in God, praising Him for His attributes and character:
“Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
2. The pillar of work – Here we come before God as His co-worker in the building of Christ’s kingdom; we seek His instructions and pray for our fellow workers:
“May your Kingdom come, Your will be done.
3. The pillar of need – We present our needs and our relationships:
“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we also forgive those who sin against us.
4. The pillar of war –We pray for strength and protection against our enemy, the devil:
“Lead us not into hard testing, but deliver us from the evil one.”
To be effective citizens of the eternal Kingdom we need to be correctly positioned in our outlook toward 1) God, 2) His Kingdom or Government, 3) Ourselves and our neighbour, and 4) The enemy Satan.
The habit of following this pattern in our daily prayers will help us mature as Christians who share Christ’s vision for the Kingdom. In this present age, most people neglect to ask God for protection against the evil one and to be kept from temptation. As a result, sin abounds even within the church. Our ancestors, however, were careful to obey the Lord’s command and prayed very specifically for deliverance from the evil one. So an over-emphasis on one pillar, for example petition to the neglect of another such as prayer for protection, will result in an unsteady structure.
Jesus said that anyone who listens to His words and does them will be as one building his house on a rock. When our prayers are fervent and balanced, our lives will be stable and unshakeable. This is why we need to reflect carefully on the Lord’s Prayer and learn to pray.
“Father, please help us pray.”