How Should I Pray (Part 2)

Though Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer with an overarching concern for God’s glory, he remains deeply invested in the lives of his children. Through prayer, Jesus provides us with our daily needs, grants us forgiveness, and protects us from temptation and evil. Godly prayer is not devoid of personal concerns. It is filled with them. To pray well, we must take our troubles to God, beginning with our daily needs. 

Daily Bread

Though Christians sail through this world under the presumptuous banner of self-assurance, the world proves to be anything but certain. As James the brother of Jesus notes, “you do not know what tomorrow will bring (Jm 4:14).” The prayer for one’s daily bread captures this reality. Jesus’s original audience depended upon the daily production of bread which could be interrupted by floods, droughts, and bandits. They had ample reason to take their concerns about lunch to heaven’s throne.

Though we have pantries filled with five different kinds of bread and a few boxes of Lucky Charms, the fragileness of life remains. For example, the very technologies that make food so readily available such as gas-engines can be the source of our downfall as car crashes make clear. Moreover, finances can quickly crumble, jobs can disappear, and college plans can disintegrate overnight. Despite our perceptions of self-sufficiency, we cannot determine the destiny of our life. We cannot even guarantee that we will be on earth tomorrow much less five years from now.

Because our lives our fragile, Jesus tells us to take our needs to him. The wise soul will ask God for her daily bread for, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (Jm. 1:17).”. We should pray to God for our daily needs.

When we experience loneliness, we should pray for friends. When our bank account runs low, we should pray for the means to pay our electric bills. And when we need a new home to care for our family, we pray for the extra bedroom. We do not pray for the imaginary needs of next year. But we are to pray for the needs of today regardless of their size or importance. God cares for us and delights in providing us with good gifts.

Forgive us Our Debts

He also tells us to daily ask for our debts to be forgiven because he cares about our spiritual well-being. Though some branches of Christianity teach that Christians can achieve perfection this side of heaven, Jesus prepares us for the opposite reality. He teaches us to regularly pray for forgiveness because perfection comes only once we reach heaven and not before. According to Jesus, our spiritual life is fraught with peril and struggles. Instead of being surprised by our need to repent of the evil with have done today, we should make repentance a regular part of our prayer life.

Though the asking of forgiveness proves important, the Christian must also know that he has received forgiveness to rest easy at night. To experience the assurance of salvation, Christian’s must grant their enemies forgiveness. Jesus notes, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven others (Mt 6:11).” Jesus makes our forgiveness contingent upon our ability to forgive others not because Jesus wants us to earn our salvation. Rather, he is teaching us that all who have been forgiven will in-turn extend forgiveness to others. We ask for help to forgive others because this is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Those who can forgive have been forgiven. In other words, Jesus longs for his followers to rest in the knowledge that they have been forgiven.

Deliver us From Evil

Lastly, Jesus tells us to pray for deliverance from temptation and evil. Though we fashion ourselves as the devil’s equal, we are not. Satan is the lion, and we are the gazelles. If we hope to survive in the open, we must appeal to God for help, dwelling in the shadow of the all mighty.

When we ask God to lead us away from temptation, we are not insinuating that God tempts us. The Scriptures flatly deny this idea stating, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one (Jm. 1:13).” Though God places us in situations that test the character of our faith, he never desires us to sin or to respond to our circumstances with anger. God may ordain that we get cancer, but he does not tempt us to respond to that diagnosis with a tirade of expletives. The temptation towards those thoughts of hate come from our flesh, the world, and even Satan. However, the ability to resists those urges towards sin come from the Lord. God promises to make a away of escape for those who ask. Those who struggle with alcohol, pornography, coveting clothes, or being lazy should ask God for help. Often we struggle with sins and are consumed by evil because we refuse to pray. We like the apostle Peter trust in our devotion and will power.  We promise that we will never let God down and wisely manage our money. Though everyone else my go into credit card debt at Christmas, I will not. We do everything but pray. Then the shoes we always wanted, the car we needed, or the dream vacation pops up within reach, and we buy it. The next morning, we awake to a world of debt and regrets. Like Peter, we fall because of our pride. To steer clear of sin, we must get on our knees.

Final Thoughts

Though we assume our heavenly Father is like some of those T.V. Dad’s who simply nod along without any awareness of the situation, Jesus presents his heavenly Father in a different light. According to Jesus, God is deeply interested in our well-being. He tells us to take our material and spiritual concerns to him in prayer. Through prayer, we find relief from the troubles of this world and the doubts and sins that plague our lives. Jesus is never too busy for our prayers. We should never be too busy to pray. When we bump into daily needs, questions of forgiveness, and to enticing temptations we heed the old hymn and “take it to the Lord in prayer.”

How Should I Pray? (Part 1)

If your prayer life became your Sunday school’s prayer list, what would people find? Would most of the content focus upon uncle Jimmy’s cancer, Aunt Susie’s arthritis, or cousin Sally’s job hunt? Would your classmates find pleas for Bobby’s salvation or for Lashanda to love her enemies at the office? What would comprise that list?

Our answer to this question proves insightful. As Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Seminary, noted, “If we really want to know what a person believes, we should listen to them pray.” In other words, our faith is only as deep as the prayers we pray.

At this point, we should not all become self-conscience and begin praying in slow mumbles so that no one can hear us. According to Jesus, God hears in secret. Even if others do not hear us God does. He takes no delight in the mindless, repetitive prayers of unbelief. To pray well, we must pray as God would have us pray.

Our need for prayer help should not surprise us. According to the Scriptures, we do not naturally drift towards goodness. Jesus declared our hearts to be garbage dumps that produce among other things, “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” We come to faith because God mercifully reveals himself to us in his Word through his spirit. He accomplishes our spiritual growth and sanctification in the same manner. We grow in our ability to love God and others through the study of his word. We should not be surprised by our need for help in the spiritual disciplines.

What Do We Say?

When Jesus teaches us to pray, he does not begin with Aunt Judy’s broken leg. He begins with his glory. Jesus said, “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:7-10).” It is good an appropriate to ask God to provide us with our daily needs. But we must not do so to the exclusion of God’s glory. Our prayers should be filled with a concern for the glory of God.

Hallowed Be Your Name

To accomplish this goal, our prayers should focus on the Hallowing of God’s name. To hallow God is to honor him. The apostle Peter tosses out the term when he wrote, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy (1 Peter 3:15).” To honor the name of God, we must know his name. In other words, we must hollow God as he reveals himself to us in the Scripture. Our salvation depends upon our ability to recognize the name of God. The apostle Peter reminds us, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven among men by which we must be saved.” The soul that prays to the great She God or to Mohamed does not know Jesus. To honor God, we must pray to the Father, Son, and Spirit as God commands. We cannot pray to the God of our imagination.

Practical prayers for honor should concern our hearts and the hearts of those around us. We should pray that God would teach us to revere and worship him with greater sincerity. We should pray that our quiet times and family devotions will make much of God. We should pray that our churches would hallow God’s name when they meet to pray, preach, give, and fellowship as the collected body of Christ.

Lastly, we should pray that God’s name will be glorified among the nations. When we enter this world, we arrive with no intention of honoring God. According to Psalm 53:1, we do not even acknowledge his existence. “The fool says in his heart, ‘“There is no God.”’ When we pray for God’s name to be glorified, we are praying that those at war with God would come to love him. As the retired pastor John Piper noted, “[Worship] is the goal and fuel of mission.” To pray for God’s honor is to pray for missions.

Your Kingdom Come

Next, Jesus instructs us to pray for the coming of his kingdom. As Saint Augustine noted long ago, two kingdoms exist: the kingdom of man whose dominate ethic is selfishness and the kingdom of God whose dominate ethic is love as defined in the beatitudes. When Christians pray for Jesus’s kingdom to come, they pray for Jesus to overthrow the kingdom of darkness with the kingdom of light.

This occurs in two ways. First, we pray for Jesus’s kingdom ethic to take root in our world. We pray for our hearts to become more meek, merciful, and sensitive to sin. We pray for our rules to be just and ask for help to pursue righteousness. And then we beseech Jesus to come back on his white horse. With this phrase, we affirm our desire to see Jesus overthrow the world of death and to fully establish his kingdom which will ensure that every fiber of abuse, sickness, and hatred is vanquished forever to the pits of hell. Our longings for eternity should find expressions in our prayers.

Such prayers of hope also reveal that we correctly understand that Jesus alone can establish perfect justice and mercy. When we pray for Jesus’s kingdom, we affirm that neither human charity nor human political parties can heal this broken world. Our hope is not the next benefit ball nor the next election. It is the coming kingdom of Jesus. For this we should pray.

Your Will Be Done

Lastly, we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven, God’s moral will is accomplished perfectly. Heaven is glorious because there neither angel nor saint questions the goodness of God. They know him, love him, and obey him. When we pray, we should pray for such perfect obedience to be found on this earth. When we struggle with pornography, greed, cursing, a biting tongue, or vengeful heart, we should ask God to bring our will into agreement with his. Our prayers should be filled with petitions that seek to unshackle our hearts from the pains of sin.

Similarly, we should pray that the same would be true of our spouses, kids, coworkers, and fellow church members. Instead of attempting to force them to change through the withholding of intimacy for example, we should pray that they will do God’s will do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. We should take our concerns about our husband, our wife, and that annoying guy on the third floor to Jesus, imploring him to do what we cannot. We should long for God’s will to be done in our life and the life of everyone on earth as it is done in heaven.

So You Struggle to Pray

A few weeks ago, I did an informal social media poll on prayer. The number one challenged faced by the respondents concerned a lack of focus. As they begin to pray, their minds begin to wonder. Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer in-part for this very reason. He provided us not with the ultimate prayer to pray but with a framework by which we can focus our prayers. The next time, we find our minds struggling to pray, we should begin with the glory of God. We should pray for his name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, and for his will to be done. We should pray as Jesus taught us.

And now we have gotten back to those prayers lists. Does the prayer list of your life resemble the Lord’s prayer? If not, let’s begin today to pray for God’s glory today.

Does God Like My Worship?

Our audience profoundly shapes what we do and say. When junior accidentally smashes the lamp with his baseball bat, we react one way when its just the family at the house and another when the nice lady from church is visiting. Similarly, texts sent to our spouse often contain content that does not belong in our company’s email chain. When we confuse the two audiences, Joe in the cubical next door feels a touch awkward. He’s happy that you like him, but he never thought of you in that way. Audience shapes our expectations and our actions.

Our audience also shapes our spiritual lives. The object of our religiosity will shape how we go about praying, giving, and fasting. According to Jesus, our religious actions should have an audience of one. We are to worship with God and God alone in mind. If we have another audience in view, our worship will explode at take-off and plumet into the waters of uselessness. Jesus bluntly says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 6:1).” In other words if we perform religious deeds for someone other than God, we will miss God completely and tumble into the fiery rivers of hell. When we give, pray, and fast, God alone should be our audience.

What About the City on a Hill?

Despite appearances, Jesus’s statement in Matthew 6:1 which advocates for a private faith does not contradict the sentiment of Matthew 5:16 where Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works.” The sentiments of the two passages support each other. As the believer follows Christ, he loves his enemies with such intentionality that his coworkers cannot help but ask him his secret. But instead of praising his three-point, personal growth strategy, the believer points to Jesus. He testifies of God’s saving grace, hoping to lead the guy working next to him to Jesus. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:16, the goal of our good works is to inspire others to “give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” In other words, we live for the glory of God. As we privately make much of Jesus, others will notice our humility, joy, love, kindness, and justice. Our actions should prompt others to ask questions about the hope within us. At that point, we happily tell them about our God, but we do not practice the fruits of the spirit for this moment. We obey because we love God with all our heart soul mind and strength irrespective of what those around us think. This obedience should shape our giving, prayers, and fasting.

Sincere vs. Insincere Giving

To give with an audience of one in view, we must give in secret. When we give loudly so that everyone will notice our generosity, we have the wrong audience in mind. Jesus equates the practitioners of people-centered worship with the trumpeters of old. Those who worship to earn the admiration of their neighbors loudly put out press releases, nail up plaques, and drop hints about how they are the anonymous donor who bought the church its new bus. They give so “that they may be seen by others (Matt 6:2).”

Though people love such loud gifts, Jesus takes no notice of them. Rather he delights in private gifts because “your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matt 6:3-4).” Sincere giving does not require a press release or a plaque. The left hand shouldn’t know what the right had is doing. The knowledge of God’s pleasure is enough for the believer. She gives because she loves God. She is content with the knowledge of his recognition.

Sincere vs. Insincere Prayer

Jesus tells us to pray in private for God is our audience. People who pray with other people in mind love public prayer. They pray loudly in church and “at the street corners, that they may be seen by others (Mt 6:5).” Hypocrites compose passionate and well-written prayers so that those in the pew next to them or sitting across the table from them will be in awe of their words.

Though people are impressed with public displays of elegance and passion, Jesus prefers us to pray in secret for “your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matt 6:6).” When we pray, we should long to be alone with God. This is not to say that Jesus is not opposed to public prayer. He encourages the church to pray together in Matthew 18:19-20. Rather Jesus opposes public prayer that is done so that the guy standing, “may be seen by others (Matt 6:5).” A prayer that ends with people admiring the one who prays instead of the one prayed to is severely misguided prayer. Rather, public prayer should flow out of private, secret prayer.

Sincere vs. Insincere Fasting

Lastly, Jesus calls us to fast in private for God is our audience. When fasting, a believer will abstain from food for the purpose of securing deliverance. For example, Queen Esther calls for a fast after learning of a plot to annihilate her Jewish people. She asks her relative Modecai and his community to stop eating for three days as she prepares to enter the king’s throne room to petition him for help (Est 5:12-17). God grants Easter her requests. When done well, fasting is a good and proper exercise for the believer.

But as with giving and praying, hypocrites can turn fasting into a people-centered charade. When hypocrites fast, they refuse to wash their faces and look all sad and forlorn as their tummies grumbled. When the fasting hypocrite walked by, their neighbors would remark on the faster’s piety and devotion. All would assume that the hypocrites loved God dearly. After all, their religiosity had extended well beyond the bounds of typical westerner’s religiosity.

But as giving and prayer, fasting done with God in mind occurs in secret. The sincere believer fasts privately. Her coworkers have no clue that her stomach is churning on empty. She never mentions her hunger pains. She takes a shower. She avoids letting little comments slip out on social media about what she is doing. She appeals privately to God for deliverance from her trials for she knows that her “Father who sees in secret will reward” her (Matt 6:18).

The Essence of True Religion

Like many people today, Jesus takes issue with religious hypocrites. But in contrast to those who leave the church because of its flawed members, Jesus says the proper response to hypocritical worship is pure worship. Jesus does not call us to abandon giving, praying, and fasting because the bimbos at the local church do all those things insincerely. He calls us to do them sincerely. He calls us to worship with an audience of one in mind.

Who is your audience?