Teach Us to Pray: Introduction
The Lord’s Prayer is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. I love reading it, reciting it, and preaching through it.
So today I am starting a ten-post blog series, Teach Us To Pray, where we will look in depth at the Lord’s Prayer. The first two posts will be an introduction to prayer and what we can learn from how Jesus prayed. In the remaining posts, we will go line by line and examine what we can gather from His words.
The Lord’s Prayer, one of the most recognized passages of Scripture, is one of three foundational documents – along with the Ten Commandments and the Apostle’s Creed- of all branches of the Christian Church. This prayer has comforted and strengthened millions throughout the centuries. It may be the one part of Scripture that almost everybody knows, even those who are not followers of Christ or those who have yet to dust off the cover of the family Bible. And yet in many ways, these words are so familiar to us that we almost don’t know them.
I want to go deeper into the heart of Jesus’ instructions on prayer here. But before we look at the specific verses of this prayer, there are three things we can learn about prayer in general from Jesus’ words:
1) The Humility of Prayer
To pray with humility does not mean we all called to pray weak and unsubstantive prayers. Instead, when we look at the prayers of Jesus, we see a model of what true humility looks like – the absence of pride, the exaltation of the Father.
Jesus makes three reflections about the humility of prayer. First, our motivation for prayer must be worship, not public acknowledgement. Jesus says:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Matthew 6:5 (ESV)
Second, Jesus says our best prayers should be private, saying:
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6 (ESV)
Jesus isn’t saying that all prayer should be private — public, corporate prayer has always been expected of God’s people in worship. But oftentimes, people want to be seen as “prayer warriors.” The ironic thing about being a prayer warrior is that nobody should know you are a prayer warrior. The minute we seek to be “known as someone who prays well” is the minute we have our earthly reward. The fervency of our public prayer should come as an outflow of our private prayer.
Lastly, humble prayer is simple prayer. Jesus says:
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:7-8 (ESV)
Genuine and authentic communication is what separates humble, dependent, Christian prayer from religious prayer. Many religious people feel there is actually power in the phrasing of prayers. Though it’s a good habit to regularly recite prayers like the Lord’s Prayer, speaking these words means nothing if our hearts are not right before God.
Some of the most eloquent prayers in the world have bounced right off the ceiling. And some of the simplest, ugliest prayers reach the gates of Heaven and the heart of God. We should not pray to be seen and noticed. We should pray to bow ourselves in dependence before a holy God.
2) The Assumption of Prayer
The second point of Jesus’ instruction on prayer is simply the assumption of it. Notice Jesus doesn’t say if you pray, but when you pray. Jesus is assuming those who call him Lord, those who are his followers, will actually pray.
Jesus said in Luke 18 “men ought always to pray and not to faint.” As God’s people, we are called to prayer. Jesus himself was a man of prayer, taking long stretches to go into seclusion and pray. And when you look at the early church, you see that they were fueled by prayer.
But not only is it assumed we will pray, God commands us to pray.
Jesus says in Matthew 5 “Pray for those who persecute you.” Ephesians 6:18 says, “And praying in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Likewise, we are instructed in Colossians 4 to devote ourselves to prayer, “being watchful and thankful.”
You will be hard-pressed to find a Godly man or women who wouldn’t testify to the crucial nature of prayer in their lives.
I’m deeply convicted by this. Perhaps the sin we are all most guilty of, myself at the top of the list, is the sin of prayerlessness. We can have programs and ideas and we can preach and teach and disciple, but if we are prayerless, we are operating under our own power.
3) The Possibility of Prayer
The third thing we realize when we look at scripture is we can’t dwell too long on prayer without realizing the miracle of it. We take this for granted, but to have access to the sovereign and supreme God of the universe through Christ is nothing short of a miracle.
Do you realize this?
We began life alienated from God by our sin. In the Garden, before the Fall, Adam and Eve literally walked with God. But sin is a barrier that keeps us from God. But God, through Christ, is the bridge. He’s the way to God. And because Jesus conquered sin and death at the cross and resurrection, we now have access to the God of the universe. Hebrews 4:16 says we can come boldly before His throne.
Not only can we come boldly because of the resurrection, but we can come at any time. He will always hear us. As we see in Romans 8, there is nothing that can keep us from approaching the Father.
The poorest, poverty-stricken, sin-laden follower of Jesus has access to the most powerful presence in the world. What a miracle that God hears our requests and acts on them, that He works on our behalf! In Romans 8, we are also reminded that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and helps us with our prayers. We not only have an audience with the Almighty, but we have the Spirit to guide us and the Son to intercede for us.
The miracle and accessibility of prayer should compel us to act on this unchanging truth.
It is my hope that over the next few weeks, these words, although familiar, will come alive to us again as we examine Jesus’ words, teaching us to pray.