A crucial part of our new life in Jesus is prayer.
The focus verse for this lesson comes from Matthew 6:8:
“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
As the language of this verse makes clear . . .
Prayer comes from our new relationship with God
Because of what Jesus has done, now God is our “Father” (Matthew 6:9), and we are a child of God (Matthew 7:11). And prayer flows out of this relationship.
- As God’s children, we want God’s purposes to be fulfilled. We have repented in order to do God’s will and we want God’s will to be done in the lives of others.
- And as our Father, God wants to care for our needs. As Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:11, God is better than any earthly parent and gives us what we need.
So this leads us to ask for God’s will to be done and for our needs to be met, as well as the needs of others.
Lets look at prayer and what Jesus has to say about it. First of all . . .
Jesus teaches us to pray
Jesus said, in Matthew 6:9, “Pray, then, like this . . .,” and then he goes on to give the Lord’s prayer. But the point is that he teaches us how to pray, because Jesus wants us to be praying. As Luke says in Luke 18:1, “And Jesus told them . . . that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Jesus emphasized the importance of prayer through his teaching.
But we also have . . .
The example of Jesus’ prayer life
Luke highlights for us that Jesus prayed often:
Luke 3:21 – “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened . . ..” Jesus prayed at the beginning of his ministry.
Luke 5:16 – “Jesus would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” This was his characteristic pattern.
Luke 6:12 – “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” Jesus engaged in intense, all night prayer.
Luke 9:18 – “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
Luke 9:28 – “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.”
Luke 11:1 – “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’” They wanted to learn from him, having seen him pray.
Luke 22:41 – “And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed.” Right before the cross, when he was facing his most difficult situation, he prayed fervently.
We can take at least two lessons for Jesus’ example of prayer:
1. Jesus practiced the Jewish pattern of daily prayers. He offered prayer in the morning and the evening. This comes out a little more clearly in Mark’s references to Jesus’ pattern of prayer:
Mark 1:35 – morning prayers
Mark 6:46-47 – evening prayers
His example commends this as a pattern for us to follow as well. We too should have regular, set times of prayer each day. We need both a disciplined routine as well as spontaneous times of prayer, as there is need.
2. If Jesus needed to pray so much, how much more do we? As followers of Jesus we should have an active and regular prayer life. This, then raises the question . . .
What should we pray for?
In a typically Jewish fashion, Jesus taught his disciples a “set prayer” which we now call the Lord’s prayer or the prayer of Jesus. In other words, we are to pray for these specific things in our times of prayer. It is a kind of prayer template.
As you can see, there are five requests that Jesus highlights. (In Matthew the second and the fifth are expanded, but they are the same request). What is most important, God’s agenda, comes first (above the line), and then come our most important needs, out of the hundreds that we could pray about. Lets look at these five requests briefly, to get the basic sense:
1. “Hallowed be your name.” Hallowed means set apart as special; as amazing. God’s name refers to God’ reputation. The basic idea is, “God, show who you are so that people come to know you and thus honor you.” We are asking that God act in the world and work in people’s lives. And that they will come to know who God is and praise him.
2. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The basic idea is, “God, let your transforming power, set in motion by Jesus, spread to all people. Bring forth your salvation, new life, righteousness, peace and joy in this world.”
Now these first two requests also can have a ‘last day’ focus:
- “Hallowed be your name” – we can pray for the full revelation of who God is on the final day when all will kneel and acknowledge who God is and glorify God’s name.
- “Your Kingdom come” – we can pray for the coming of the kingdom in its fullness on earth, with the return of Jesus, the resurrection, the rule of God and the end of all evil.
3. “Give us each /this day our daily bread.” The basic idea is, “God, provide for our daily material needs of food, clothing and shelter.” And notice that it is not just for you as an individual. We pray give “us” our needs. This refers to the whole Christian community throughout the world (and, of course, we can pray for others as well).
4. “Forgive us our sins /debts.” This is pretty straightforward, “Give us your mercy of forgiveness and restored relationship when we fail.”
5. “And do not lead us into testing, but deliver us from the evil one.” A little background here:
- God allows us to be tested, that is, to go through difficult times in our lives. He uses these to train us and make us stronger.
- But Satan, who is the one who actually tests us, hopes that in our weakness we will give up, or take the easy way out that leads us to sin.
- So, because we are weak and might fail, Jesus teaches us to pray to be spared testing, even though God allows it.
The basic idea is, “Spare us difficult situations that test our faithfulness to you. Deliver us from the evil one who tests us.” We will talk more about testing in another lesson.
There are other requests that Jesus refers to. We are to pray:
- for relief from injustice – Luke 18:1-8
- for those who abuse and persecute you – Luke 6:28; Matthew 5:4
- for kingdom workers, to do God’s work in the world – Matthew 9:37-38
- for the Spirit in your life; that the Spirit might continue to be powerfully present – Luke 11:9-13
Some things to remember when you pray
1. When you pray, be to the point. Jesus said, “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.
2. Don’t pray in order to be seen by others. Jesus said, “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. 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 6:5-6.
3. When you pray, forgive others. Just as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” – Luke 11:4. Jesus also says in Mark 11:25, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
4. When you pray, be persistent. Jesus said, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a fiend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will now get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” – Luke 11:5-8.
5. When you pray, have faith in God. Jesus said, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” – Matthew 21:22. When we pray for God to accomplish his purposes, we must actually believe that he will, and not doubt.
A powerful prayer promise
Jesus said in Luke 11:9-10, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” This assumes, as always, that we are praying according to God’s will. But the promise is powerful. God will hear us and God will provide for us.
Finally, just a note to say that . . .
God also speaks to us
There is something called listening prayer; where we listen for what God says back. But also, even if we aren’t praying, maybe we are reading the Scriptures, or doing something else – God will at times speak to us, most often in the depths of our heart.
But whatever we hear must always be tested against what we find in the Scriptures. This is the definitive voice of God. It is easy to get things wrong and so we check everything against what Scripture has to say.