When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer has become a model for Christian prayer ever since. It can be prayed directly in faith, to cover all of the needs we have each day. Or it can be used as a model, a framework, from which an extended time of prayer can emerge.
The prayer begins with “Our father”, two words, but with profound meaning.
The first word “our” makes it clear that this is not individual prayer. Even though we may pray it individually, it is a corporate prayer. We live in a culture and society which places great value on the individual, “my rights,” “my choice” etc. We are continually challenged to be the best we can be as individuals. Immersed in this culture we have naturally applied an individualistic worldview mentality to our relationship with God. The church reinforces this when evangelists ask us: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
It is right that they ask questions like this, each of us need to personally respond to the drawing and calling of the Holy Spirit, leading us into faith in Jesus. But while our decision to respond to the person of Jesus is personal we are born again into community, not as isolated individuals. Yes, faith is personal, but it’s not private. We are part of a community. We are members of the body of Christ, the Church.
This should be no surprise to us, as it is consistent with how God has chosen to work in the past. He has chosen to work with families, Adam and Eve, the family of Abraham, the children of Israel. God chose to work through a Covenant relationship with the Nation of Israel beginning with the Exodus from Egypt and continuing through to the present day.
When Jesus instructs us to pray “Our” Father, he is reminding us that we pray as part of a community, not as mere individuals. The prayer is not about us as individuals. It is not about getting what we want as individuals. It is not about God just meeting my needs. It is a prayer set in the context of community. It’s a reminder, that when we pray, even if it as an individual, that we are part of the larger community. We pray as the body of Christ and not as an isolated individual.
Why is this Important?
It’s important because God chooses to work through groups of people rather than individuals. Sometimes the leader is the only one who is seen, but there is always a group of people together. No one person has all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. God has designed us to need each other. As we work together using the gifts, talents and resources the Lord has given to us, we see his kingdom expanded.
God chooses to work this way because God is a person who loves community. In fact, God is community. He is the triune God, three persons yet one. The trinity is this mysterious expression of community, which through the Holy Spirit, we are invited to participate in. God reflects his very nature in the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples to pray. So as we recite this prayer in faith, or use it as a framework for an extended time of prayer we begin with the reminder that it is a prayer of community.
Father God, thank you that you place us in community together and that you draw us into deeper community through the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Lord, when we struggle with that community aspect give us grace to be faithful and love to enable us to grow. As we pray remind us again and again that we do so not on our own, but that we join together with brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ to pray to our Heavenly Father, who has loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die in our place. Thank you for uniting us together in Jesus. In Jesus name, who unites us together as brothers and sisters, we pray. Amen.
Here is one of the greatest secrets of prevailing prayer: To study the Word to find what God’s will is as revealed there in the promises, and then simply take these promises and spread them out before God in prayer with the absolutely unwavering expectation that He will do what He has promised in His Word.
-Reuben Archer Torrey
Praying the promises of God anchors our prayers within the will of God. These are things God has promised to do so they will be in line with his will. It means that we can approach God with confidence and not with some lingering doubt about whether or not he will listen to our prayer. Instead, knowing that God has promised this allows us to be confident that we are praying for we shall receive. We can pray with unwavering expectation, that God will answer.
It seems only too easy, just pray the promises, but in order to pray them we have to know what those promises are. To know that requires that we dig into the Word to find those promises. The need to be fully familiar with God’s word is essential, and not just a part, but the whole of God’s Word. There is a danger that we can pluck abstract verses and think that they are promises which we can just apply…
For example, Job cries out: “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? (Job 21:7) We can’t take that verse and assume that all seniors are really wicked people, because they have reached old age. Nor can we say that everyone who is wicked is going to live a long life. We need to be aware of the whole counsel of Scripture and not pick and choose verses we want, after all Proverbs 16:31 reminds us “Grey hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.”
We need to mine the Word of God for the true promises which he expresses. This means continuously reading, studying and digging in to what the Word says…
Discover promises like the one God makes to Abram:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
This is a promise which we can continue to expect with absolute unwavering expectation that the Lord, has done, is doing and will do for the nation of Israel.
So dig in, discover the promises and pray them in faith for a powerful prayer which shall prevail.
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. (Acts 4:29)
When we step into the place of prayer it is often to ask the Lord to change circumstances. We pray for healing for someone who is sick, comfort for someone who is grieving and for the Lord to change the heart of someone who is walking away from God’s kingdom. Prayer changes things and the Lord is able to move in people’s lives and circumstances because we pray.
But prayer does not just change a situation it will also change who we are, so that we can be used by the Lord to be his change agents in this world. God’s word is a double edged sword and it works on us just as much as on the situation we are praying for.
It can simply be the action of the Holy Spirit giving us a deeper love for the person who we are praying for. But it can be a more profound effect. In Acts 4, Peter and John had been in prison because they had been speaking about Jesus. Once they were released the believers gathered to pray. They were praying about the persecution and discrimination which they faced. You would think that the focus of the believers’ prayers would be to stop the persecution, to protect themselves from future imprisonment. But instead they pray that they would be changed. The believers pray for great boldness to be able to speak. They ask for signs and wonders to be performed so that they would be able to speak about Jesus.
Their prayers were not “Change this bad situation Lord,” but “Change us so that we can be effective in this situation!” God heard and answered their prayer in such a tangible way that the building was shaken, the believers were filled with the Spirit and spoke boldly.
What challenging circumstances do you face today? Where are the places you want the Lord to step into and change? How may the Lord be wanting to change you so that you can become the change agent for the situation?
Prayer changes things and often the very first thing which needs to be changed is our own hearts.
Are spiritual disciplines, like daily prayer or scripture reading, harmful? Don’t they lead to a legalistic Christian walk?
Any spiritual discipline can become legalistic when the focus shifts from the purpose of the discipline to a focus on the discipline itself. The purpose of the disciplines is to build relationship with God. If we lose that focus then daily prayer can become just another thing to do in an already busy day.
In some ways, discipline has somewhat of a negative connotation to its meaning. But a helpful way to view these disciplines is to think about a professional athlete. They do not just get up one morning, head to the track and set an Olympic record. They have to spend a lot of time training and working out so that they can be in peak fitness. It takes time, practice and a lot of determination. It’s the time spent training that allows them to be their best on game day.
In a similar way, the time that we spend in daily prayer or reading scripture, builds us up. It’s like a spiritual workout which helps us to be spiritually fit and healthy. As we continue we grow in our relationship with our heavenly Father and our prayer times become richer.
When our focus shifts from focussing upon the Lord and our relationship with God, to making sure we complete the discipline then success is measured by how long we pray or how many chapters of the Bible we read. Our focus is no longer about relationship but about completing a task.
Developing a regular practice of prayer and Bible reading deepens our relationship with God and allows us to journey through the ups and downs of life with more confidence and comfort.
The key is to focus on the relationship not the practice.
Have you ever wondered how God feels as he looks at this messed up world? A recent experienced helped me gain a fresh perspective.
The morning had been spent touring and working at a Gospel Mission. At lunch time there was the opportunity to line up and have lunch with those who were using the mission. It was an amazing time of listening to stories and hearing testimony about how awesome God is.
There was a break before we began the afternoon shift and the local park provided an opportunity for sun and to enjoy the scenery. Our group passed a park bench where a man was sitting next to a shopping trolley, which looked to contain all of his possessions. We said hi and he responded cheerfully. We continued to walk and the others decided to wander down to the docks to see the nice boats. A tug in my spirit made me think that I should just go back and sit on the bench with this homeless guy, so I did.
I asked if I could sit while I waited for my friends and he said yes. So I sat, rested and watched the view over the lake. “It is a beautiful view” I commented, hoping that this might lead to a conversation. Nothing, then after another minute he suddenly stood up, grabbed his trolley, turned and said “Don’t talk to me, your crazy!”
With that he was gone, and I was confused. I was pretty sure the Spirit had prompted me to sit there. I had had great conversations earlier with the homeless people at the mission. So what had just happened?
In reflecting with a friend later I realized that what I experienced is similar to what God experiences from the world. They get up, walk away and want nothing to do with a “crazy God” who is looking for a relationship with his creation. What sadness that must cause him.
Pausing to reflect on how God feels in a situation can help us reset and refocus our own understandings, prejudices and bias. It allows us to get on board with what God wants to do in a situation and helps us to pray a more compassionate and informed prayer.
“Lord, show me how you feel today…”