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January 6, 2012

I believe in prayer. I believe God hears my prayers. I also believe prayer is more about me being conformed to the person God wants me to be than me getting what I want. Sometimes God answers my prayers with “yes;” sometimes the answer is “no.” And sometimes the answer is “wait.” (Those are the toughest ones).

Some people are afraid to pray, especially in public. That’s never bothered me. I’m comfortable standing in front of a crowd and I’ve prayed in public many times. I see it as just me, talking to God, and the others are either listening or praying their own prayers.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how they should pray, He said: “Pray like this. Our Father who art in heaven…” and you probably know the rest. He didn’t mean we have to pray that same prayer every time. He was just giving an example, i.e. “here’s the nuts and bolts; you build on this.” So how should we pray?

“Our Father in heaven…” First of all, I think we have to acknowledge the obvious. God is in heaven; we are not. God is God; we are not. It is by God’s grace we are here and it is by that same grace we were able to get out of bed this morning and  draw a breath. God is the God of heaven and earth. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth…” (Gen 1:1) He is worthy of our praise, adoration, and our prayers. He is above all other gods. “For all the gods of the peoples are idols…” (1Chr 16:26)

He is not only the Supreme Creator, but He is also Father. He is our protector, provider, sustainer. A father loves his children and cares for them. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

Because He is our Father in heaven, we can confidently come to Him with our requests, our hurts,  and our fears knowing He is able to intervene on our behalf. He will never leave us or forsake us (Rom 8:28). We should pray, acknowledging God as the Creator, worthy of praise. We should also pray acknowledging our dependence upon Him.

“Hallowed be your name…”  The Old Testament uses many names for God, all of which point to His character. For example, He is called Elohim, the Creator God; El Elyon, “possessor of heaven and earth”; Jehovah-Jireh, “the Lord will provide”; Jehovah-Shalom,  “the Lord our peace”; and many others. Each of these names not only tell who God is, but also what He is like.

God’s name is to be revered. “Do not take my name in vain.” (Ex 20:7). In other words, don’t use it as a curse, don’t use it flippantly. God’s name is hallowed or “holy.” He is not the “man upstairs” or your “homeboy” or “the big guy in the sky.” His name is “I am!” He is constant, unchanging, and unwavering and to “hallow His name” means to pray with honor and reverence.

“Your kingdom come…”  There’s nothing wrong with asking God for things, i.e. health, provision, safety for our families, etc. but we should ask in light of GOD’S WILL being done. As Christians, that should be our desire, that God’s will, His plan would be accomplished. Is there a chance that won’t happen. No. “Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘ My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; ” (Isaiah 46:10) It’s more of adjusting our mindset to pray: “God, make my desires match your divine plan.”

When we pray “your kingdom come,” we are praying for the same thing Jesus preached while he was here on earth (Luke 4:43). The kingdom encompasses those who will be saved, so we pray for the salvation of others. But the prayer for the kingdom also looks forward to the day Jesus will return. “Lord Jesus come quickly.” (Rev 22:20) We should pray for/look forward to Jesus’ second coming when He will put an end to all evil, gather His church and take us to be with Him for all eternity.

“Your will be done…”  God WILL see His plan/desires to completion. We are to pray that God will mold–and change when necessary–our desires to line up with His. We also pray that His will prevails over all the earth, just as it does in heaven. And again, it’s not a matter of questioning whether God’s will is or will be accomplish. It’s more an affirmation that God is sovereign in ALL things. “Your will be done” is a praise, acknowledging God’s power to accomplish ALL He has determined.

“Give us this day…” Bread is not only our food, but all of our physical needs. Clothing, shelter, rain, health, etc; everything necessary for life. All of this things have their beginning with God and we are to acknowledge and thank Him for his provision. It is God who cases to rain to fall on the crops that are harvested and ultimately end up on our tables. It is God who gives us the ability to work, have the talents we have, to earn a living that buys our clothes, our home, etc. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth…He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;” (Acts 17:24-25)

“Forgive us our debts (sins)…” Let’s face it–none of us are perfect. When God saves us, he saves us completely, but that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to struggle with some areas of sin in our lives. Jesus’ example of how to pray calls us to confess those sins, acknowledging our falliness and our dependence on Him to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Obviously, God already knows what we have done/what we do. It’s not a matter of us revealing anything unknown to Him already. It goes back to what I said earlier–it’s a matter of acknowledging God’s absolute holiness and confessing our failure to meet His standard. We can/will sin less when we focus our thoughts, actions, desires on the things that please God.

Coupled with the confession of our own sin, is the command to forgive others. How can we expect God to forgive us if we aren’t willing to forgive people who have offended or hurt us? “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;” (Psalm 66:18). The Apostle Paul also instructs us: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph 4:32) The good news is, as we pray and confess our sins and live in obedience to God’s Word, He empowers us to forgive–to overlook the offenses that divide us and cause strife. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was that the Apostles and all believers “would be one, even as We are [one]” (John 17:11).

“Lead not into temptation…”  God doesn’t cause people to sin. The heart of what Jesus is calling us to pray is that God would guide us by His Holy Spirit in a way we would avoid danger/temptation/trouble that sin creates. That said, there will still be times we get caught in temptation to sin, to waiver from what we know is right in God’s eyes.  When that happens, the proper reaction is prayer. God has empowered believers to overcome temptation/sin. Paul outlined the tools available to us to overcome sin in Ephesians 6:10-18–

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

God has not left us alone in this world. He saves us and equips us to live a sanctified life, i.e a life set apart from the world and all it’s temptations/destructive lifestyles/selfish ambitions/evil intents, etc.

So there you have it. Jesus’ instructions on prayer; His outline of what we should pray. But HOW do we pray? You can pray out loud, driving down the road in your car, silently, quietly, long prayers, and short prayers. You can pray laying down, standing up, sitting at your desk, or walking in the woods. You can pray anytime–in the morning, afternoon, before meals, after meals, or before you go to sleep. You don’t have to sound like James Earl Jones or speak in perfect “King James English.” (Why do people who don’t normally use words like “thee”, “thou”, “hast”, and “thine” insist on using those words when the pray?) Prayer is a conversation between you and God. You talk–He listens.

You don’t need an appointment; He is always available. Just do it. “…you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” (Jeremiah 29:12)

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