When people are first coming to faith, one of the questions often asked is, “how do I pray?” The Gospel of Luke tells us the disciples asked the very same question of Jesus. This week, we’ll explore the question, too – using Scripture to teach us to pray.
“I don’t pray for God to take my problems away, I pray only for God to give me the strength to go through them.”
Last week we spoke about doing away with New Year resolutions and recommitting our lives to Jesus; and developing a deeper relationship with Him. We also spoke about one of the ways we can further our relationship – through prayer.
For some of us today, this may be “old news.” Even so, with the hustle, bustle of our everyday lives we have drifted a little of course, and the message bears repeating. Others may be new to the whole concept of prayer, and may truly be wondering, “where do I start?”
First, let me remind you that we should be taking everything to God in prayer. Philippians 4:6 tells us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Notice the verse doesn’t say to only pray for or about certain things. It doesn’t tell us that some things are too great, or too small. The statement is clear – we should take, what?, EVERYTHING – to God in prayer.
Okay, you might say, but how? Are there any guidelines? Guess what – the disciples were unsure, too. Luke 11:1 tells us, “…one of His disciples said to Him, Our Lord, teach us to pray…” What follows is Jesus’ response, and it is one of the most known prayers of the Bible – The Lord’s Prayer.
Who can recite the Lord’s Prayer now? (Recite the prayer as it is known.)
Now, before we go too far, I want to point out a few things. First, many of us have heard slightly different versions. For instance, some versions use “debts,” some use “sins,” and some use “trespasses.” Those differences are neither here nor there. Second, some have recited this prayer for so long, and from such a deep-seated memory, that the words have become empty and shallow, without any real meaning. Third, there is great debate among Christians as to whether or not we should even be saying the Lord’s Prayer at all anymore. Some say that since the Kingdom of God is already here, there is no need. Others say the Kingdom of God is not here yet, and so we should be reciting the prayer in earnest. That debate is a much bigger topic – one that is best set aside for another time. Finally, there are some problems with the standard translations.
For example, they all include the statement, “Lead us not into temptation…” But, James 1:13 tells us, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any man; but every man is tempted by his own lust; he covets and is enticed.” Since God does not tempt, it makes no sense to pray and ask for Him not to lead us into temptation.
With this in mind, I’d like to offer an alternative. The version I prefer is from “The Holy Bible From the Ancient Eastern Text,” a translation from the Aramaic. In this translation, Luke 11:2-4 reads:
“Jesus said to them, “When you pray, pray like this (Matthew says “in this manner”), Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us bread for our needs every day. And forgive us our sins (Matthew = offenses) for we have also forgiven all who have offended us. And do not let us enter into temptation; but deliver us from error (Matthew = evil).”” Matthew goes on to include, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
No matter which version you prefer, there are some basic things to keep in mind. Foremost is that Jesus did not command we memorize and recite this exact prayer. Notice He said, “in this manner” or “like this.” He provided His disciples, and us, with a template, a recipe, if you will. In His prayer, He has given us the ingredients to use in our own prayers. Let’s break it down…
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed by thy name” – Our prayers should always be addressed to whom? – To God, our Father. His name is Holy, and we should be worshiping and praising Him.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, as it is in heaven, so on earth” – Heaven, indeed His kingdom, is a spiritual realm of true love and peace. This line reminds us to pray that the perfect love and peace, God’s will, be made manifest through us and our actions here on earth.
“Give us bread for our needs every day” encourages us to focus our prayers on our needs, not on selfish desires. It can also be viewed from a spiritual aspect. John 6:35 tells us, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”” When we hold Jesus in our hearts, when we focus our lives on living in a relationship with Him, He will fulfill all of our spiritual needs each and every day.
“And forgive us our offenses, for we have also forgiven all who have offended us.” Here we are reminded to confess our errors to God, that they may be forgiven. It also implies we live a life of forgiving others. Notice it doesn’t say we will, or we might someday forgive others. It doesn’t say we forgive only those who we deem worthy of forgiveness. It states quite clearly that we have already forgiven ALL who have offended us.
“And do not let us enter into temptation, but deliver us from evil” is our plea that God’s Holy Spirit guide us away from those things that would separate us from Him.
As we can see in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gave us a beautiful example of how we should pray. The Lord’s Prayer isn’t necessarily one we must memorize and recite over and over again. Can we? Yes! but, as with all prayer, what matters is that it comes from the heart. If we simply memorize and recite the words, without truly feeling them in our hearts, they are simply shallow words devoid of meaning. Remember, God doesn’t care what words we use. He is far more interested in having a deep, heart-felt relationship with us.
As we begin a New year, and we recommit our lives to Jesus, or perhaps commit our lives to Him for the first time, let’s also make a commitment to utilize our most powerful tool in developing and deepening our relationship with Him – prayer.
As most of you know, my favorite Christian-themed movie that we’ve shown on movie night is To Save a Life. in the movie, the main character, Jake, is completely new to faith. When it came to prayer, he had no idea where to start. He simply prayed:
“God, I don’t know if I’m allowed to be mad at you, but I am.
All this has happened to me, and I’m trying my best to do the right thing,
and everything around me just keeps getting worse.
Chris told me I could ask you for help…but I don’t even know what that is,
but I know that I need it. I don’t have anywhere else to turn.
All I know is that I can’t do this by myself.
God, please, just give me the strength to do what’s right.”
Jake’s life was completely falling apart. His parents were getting divorced, his girlfriend was pregnant, he was in jeopardy of losing his basketball scholarship, his childhood best friend had committed suicide, and he had lost all his popularity and status at school. To me, his prayer, in all its simplicity, hit the main points of the Lord’s Prayer. He glorified God, and he wanted God to guide him and give him strength to do what’s right. Like our quote, he didn’t pray for specific outcomes. He prayed for strength to make it through, and to do what’s right. What a beautifully simplistic way of saying ‘feed me spiritually, forgive me any wrongs, and help me forgive others’. Did Jake use all the words of the Lord’s Prayer? No. But was he sincere, and was his prayer from the heart? Yes! And so it can be for us. Whether you’re new to prayer or prayer is part of your everyday life, if you choose to recite the Lord’s Prayer, by all means, do so. Just do it from the heart and make sure you mean it. If you choose not to use the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer, that’s okay, too. Like Jake’s, your prayers can be very simple. Just remember Jesus’ formula. The more you do, the closer to God you will feel, you will truly experience Jesus living in and through you, and the deeper your relationship will be.
- Philippians 4:6
- Luke 11:1
- James 1:13
- Luke 11:2-4
- Matthew 6:9-13
- John 6:35
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