Prayer is one of the most underused resources and the biggest forgotten privilege. It is not something to be boasted about in front of others; rather, it is a state we are to continually live in with sincerity. Prayer is just as much an opportunity to give glory, honor, and love to our creator as it is a space to humbly cry out our heart’s desires to our Father. Prayer. It connects the finite to the Infinite.
The next section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus rebukes haughty “prayers” that are more attention seekers from our fellow man than they are conversations with our Savior. But like any good teacher, he doesn’t not leave us with only criticisms, but also gives us tools to dive deeper into the gift of prayer.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
There is merit in public prayer. Praying out loud at church, over a meal, or to start a meeting is not at all what Jesus is criticizing here. Done in a reverential spirit, these are honorable things to do. Rather, it is when we pray for our own glory instead of God’s that we are hypocrites. A pastor praying over his church is an honor, but they should do so with the intent to draw others towards the Lord, not to boast about his spirituality. Correct prayer is a disposition we embody. We pray, whether out loud to a group or privately in our hearts, to draw attention away from ourselves and towards God.
When we pray to the one true God, let us remember that he is omnipresent. I have at times made long repetitive prayers for forgiveness of the same sin. I have learned in doing so, I almost mock the character of God. God is with me. He knows what I’ve done. He knows if my heart is truly repentant or not. If I ask for forgiveness with sincerity, he is quick to forgive the first time I simply say, “Lord, forgive me, I’ve sinned. Help me to forever turn from this sin.” That’s it! Continuing to babble on is almost questioning the grace and might of God. Of course pray specific prayers and praying often for the fulfillment of prayers is not wrong. But many words or eloquent speech will not make God hear you better. When we pray, let us pray specifically and simply with trust that God will answer how he sees best.
Next Jesus goes into the Lord’s prayer where he lies out a guideline of how to pray. I’d like to go into depth on each section as to what I believe Jesus meant and how we can apply it to our personal prayers.
This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven, hollowed be your name,
First of all, Jesus is recognizing the adoptive relationship we have with our heavenly Father. Because of the sacrifice he would make on the cross, we are adopted into the kingdom of heaven as children of God. People can have “oops” children, but adoption is an intentional act on the parents part to include a new member into the family. God went out of his way becoming man, conquered our sins by dying for us, and rose in victory because he is that enthralled with each one of us. He loves is so dearly. So when we pray, let us talk to God as is he were our beloved Father. Earthly dads will fail but we now have a Dad who will never forsake us and wants to communicate with us.
Second, we should pray with reverence. Simultaneously we can pray like we are talking to our dad yet also remembering that he is beyond anything that we could comprehend and so much more holy than we are in and of ourselves. When you have a good dad and are a good kid, you have and equal balance of closeness and respect for your father. We should approach our heavenly Father the same way. We could not connect with God on a personal level if it were not for the adoptive sacrifice Jesus made. It is an incredible experience, thus prayer thing. It is an honor that humbles us.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus declared in Luke 17:21 that the kingdom of God is already in our midst. So why pray for it to come? In essence, we are to pray for it to come into completion. God is already setting up his kingdom in his people through Jesus. But until his return, we are still fighting other spiritual forces on this earth. We are to pray with expectance for the full final reign of God.
Prayer in its true sincere form is in and of itself a submission to God’s will. We can pray for what we want or need, but we need to acknowledge that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). We have established that he is our Father and he is a good Father. Good parents don’t always give into to what their kids want because they know more than their kids know. When we pray, we should do so acknowledging God’s good and perfect will and ask for it to come to completion in every area of our life.
Give us today our daily bread.
Where do we go when we need something? Do we call up our best friend? Ask our boss? Plead with our spouse? Or do we hit our knees and ask the one who actually has control over it all?
Jesus has us ask God for our bread. Sure, this is literal and we should ask God for our food. But this goes beyond to our every need. Physical, emotional, spiritual, mental needs are each needs God can meet and wants to meet.
He also said, “give us this day.” He could have said, “give us this year ot this month,” but he said day. I am convinced this is because God gives us just what we need to make it through what we are going through that day. We will have to come back tomorrow to ask what we need to get through tomorrow. If he were to give us more, we might become prideful and think we have enough ourselves. If he were to give us less, we might not be able to make it through what we are facing. He gives us exactly what we need when we need it if only we ask him.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
We can’t receive forgiveness if we refuse to forgive. This is plain and simple and plastered all over the bible. Jesus mentioned this earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-26) and mentions it again in a few verses. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us to forgive our sins. We deserved death and the things we have done have broken the heart of God. Yet he is still willing to forgive us if only we extend the same mercies to others. Unforgiveness in our hearts breaks our adoptive relationship with God as we entered that relationship via forgiveness.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
To be clear, God will not tempt you. That is not in his good, holy nature. But he will allow us to endure temptation as testing and refining of our faith (James 1:2-4). Of course none of us wants to go through temptation and risk displeasing the heart of God. Yet previously in the prayer we declared that God’s will, not ours, be done. So if God chooses to have is endure temptation to make us stronger in our faith, so be it. Therefore, I think this also means lead us not into a temptation we cannot bear. As our faith grows, we can endure more things, but while we are young and weak in areas certain temptations may overcome us. Let us pray to not be tempted further than we in Christ can resist.
When we are tempted, we should pray for deliverance from satan. God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can resist with his help. In our finite selves, temptation is too much for us. But Jesus is our deliverer. We are not fighting alone. We need only cry out and god will renew our strength to endure what lays before us.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
The Lord’s prayer wrapped up in verse 13, yet in closing this topic of prayer Jesus reiterated the importance of forgiveness. Why when he has mentioned it so much? It is not to beat a dead dog. Rather, prayer is a gift we are given to be close and communicate with our Father in heaven, but we cannot partake in this closeness if we are separated by unforgiveness. You may be thinking, “but Rachel, you don’t know what they did to me.” No. I don’t. But I do know what we all have done to God. Yet he is still gracious to forgive us if we forgive others.
You may not feel like forgiving. That’s okay! Do it anyway. Yes, work through your pain. Go through good Christian counseling. But you still need to forgive. If you profess christianity, this is not optional. Maybe after a while of intentionally forgiving despite your feelings, you will eventually “feel” like forgiving those that hurt you. Maybe you’ll never feel like it. Do it anyway. Feelings, while real and important, can be subject to our fleshly nature. With the strength of Christ in us, let us forgive no matter how we “feel.”
We underrate prayer drastically. We, who are unholy mortals, have the opportunity to connect with a holy God. It is a honor and privilege to pray. Our disposition while praying is essential. We need to come before God recognizing our heart’s critical need for him. I’d like to leave you with a quote on prayer that was recently said at my church. I don’t know who said it, but I do know the power behind it. One part says “I believe God hears desperate prayers.” Which I again feels pertains less to sobbing on our knees and more to our acknowledgment of our desperate need of God. While God hears our words while we pray, he pays closer attention to our hearts while communicating with him.
“Alright prayer. All earthly things with earth will fade away, but prayer grasps eternity. I’m convinced of this: God does not hear prayer. He hears desperate prayer. Prayer is not a position on your knees, prayer is not a position. It’s a disposition. You get to the point you’d rather sweat, you’d rather weep in his presence than laugh in anybody else’s presence. You’d rather God whispers a secret into your heart that breaks you than somebody give you the prizes that all the world covets. Prayer is almost the greatest human privilege that we have.”