As it is the business of tailors to make clothes, salespeople to sell goods and chefs to cook, so it is the business of Christians to pray. But how do we pray? “Lord, teach me to pray.”(Lk 11:1) The disciples asked Christ this question when they saw Him coming from a session of prayer. His face was beaming with the light of heaven and energized by the Holy Spirit. No wonder they pleaded, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Still, these men had been going to the temple all of their lives. They had recited hundreds of prayers and had heard the priests pray out loud. Yet when they saw Christ, they knew they were missing something. Somehow they, like most of us, failed in their principal business. Sadly, not very many of us know what it means to pray, and thus it is probably the most neglected opportunity and privilege we have. Yet every Christian needs the gift of prayer because it’s the breath of our soul. You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it. (James 4:2 ). St. James wasn’t saying we never pray, but that we pray poorly. So how do we pray? God’s answer to the disciples’ request was what we call today the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say this:
“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 also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Mt 6: 9-13)
The Lord’s Prayer is comprised of several petitions, which are divided up very much like the Ten Commandments. The first three petitions are God-ward—vertical—and the last set petitions deal with the horizontal relationships we have with others.
When you pray, address your heavenly Father (Lk 11:2a)
God has adopted us into his family. “Our Father” tells us that we are received as children of God. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11)? We can go to our Father knowing that He has the very best gifts in store for us. The very phrase “Our Father” is clothed with love. He’s someone who we can safely approach with love, even when He disciplines us. Proverbs 3:12 records, “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights”. Psalm 103:13 adds, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him”. This also means that we are a family of brothers and sisters, praying to “our Father.” He’s not just my Father; He’s your Father too. We are separated from God, and we’re acknowledging that by saying, “There’s a problem: We’re here; You’re there.” What’s caused this separation? Isaiah says, “Your iniquities [sins] have separated you from your God” (59:2). In the garden, God asked Adam, “Where are you?” In our prayer, we’re confessing to God that we’re far away from Him—much in the same way that Adam ran from God. We’ve been separated from paradise. But we have hope. “May your holy name be honoured”. When Jesus asked his disciples to say this, he was reminding them of the need to come to the Father in an attitude of worship, for while we know him intimately as our Father, the name of God the Father is holy (Lk 1:49) and is set aside from all other names in the universe. He is above everything he has ever created, and his name is above every name on earth and under the earth. So we are to enter his presence humbly.
The prophet Daniel understood clearly how to hallow the name of God when he came before him in prayer seeking insight into the meaning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The Lord God answered the prophet’s request in a night vision. As a result Daniel blessed the God of heaven, and he hallowed and sanctified his name (Daniel 2:20-23)
When you pray, be aware of the spiritual kingdom (Lk 11:2b)
When Jesus said, “Thy kingdom come,” he was calling us to keep praying that it would come in the hearts of men and women everywhere, that the righteousness that is in heaven might come to earth, in and through us, to those who are held captive by the evil one. One day, may the world acknowledge Jesus as King of kings when he comes again to this earth and sets up his kingdom of righteousness, and we will actually be able to see it. What is our part in the spiritual kingdom of God? Now, since we have established a personal relationship with Jesus as King and Lord of the universe as well as of our own personal lives, we need more than ever to not only pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” but to realize that God wants to use us to establish his divine rule in the hearts of men and women all around us right now. Seek first the kingdom of God (Mt 6:33) Lord, use me as salt and light within my immediate family, community, school, and workplace. Lord, use me as a minister of reconciliation in your wonderful plan of redemption for struggling marriages, rebellious children, and injustice within government. Lord, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And Lord, please include me!”
When you pray, be aware of your daily needs
“Give us each day our daily bread.” In the garden before the fall of Adam and Eve this prayer was not necessary, for it was the Lord’s delight to provide for his children. But then when sin entered into the world, all that changed. Man was then faced with sweat and toil as he approached hard soil, thorns, and thistles, and his crops were jeopardized by disease and death. Since the fall, mankind has been faced with the lack of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual bread. Therefore, we are encouraged to come before our loving heavenly Father and ask for bread not only ourselves but also on behalf of others. Bread stands for everything we really need for our earthly existence so that we can live out our life within the will of God. Should a wealthy person with their cupboards full still pray “Give us this day our daily bread”? Yes, absolutely. Never take the blessing of basics for granted. Remember Job’s full barns were all lost in one day. The longer we live, the more we should be conscious of how utterly dependent we are on our Father to provide our daily needs. You need to relate to him every day. It’s like not eating for that amount of time, and then you can experience spiritual starvation.
When you pray, be aware of your sinfulness
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Sin corrupts our lives and destroys the fellowship between us and God and between each other. Sin is rebellion against God and against each other. Sin is missing the mark of God’s intended purpose for our lives. Instead of having ‘giving lives’, we have ‘taking lives’. It includes greed, lying, murder, all the ways we act wrongly and break the laws of God. As we come into the presence and light of a holy and just God, we become immediately aware of our own spiritual darkness, our hearts filled at times with sinfulness, guilt, and shame. We know that except for our relationship with Jesus Christ as our Savior and mediator between the holy God and sinful man, we would suffer the wrath of God. But in order to be forgiven of our sins, we must first be willing to forgive from the heart all those who have sinned against us. Otherwise we are hypocrites. Our forgiveness is given to us by the grace and mercy of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). We need to extend that same grace and mercy of God toward those who are also victims of a fallen nature and who live in a fallen world. Christ reveals a connection between the vertical and the horizontal relationship—right in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Mt 6:14-15)
When you pray, be aware of temptations
“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The word for temptation can also be translated test or trial. Once we come into a personal relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we soon realize that “…we…are being transformed” (2 Corinthians 3:18) into the very image of Jesus Christ. We are “…new creature[s]; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17.) But as new creatures we still live in a fallen world, and we discover early on that at times our flesh, the old Adamic nature with all its weaknesses, tempts us to fall back into some old sin. Now temptation is not sin, and at times like that we need to realize that because we now have the person and power of the Holy Spirit within us and the power to choose between going back into a former sin or letting Jesus control our new life, we can say with Paul, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13.) But as new creatures in Christ we need to keep in mind the powerful temptations that come to us daily from the world, the flesh and the devil himself and ask the Lord’s help to overcome it.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, it must be in a spirit of complete surrender. And if we’re going to be ready when Jesus comes, we need to learn to pray the way Jesus taught. The essence of prayer is bound up in loving God with all our hearts, for we cannot really love Him if we aren’t getting to know Him.