Learning how to pray...all over again

Photo by  Simon Migaj

Photo by Simon Migaj

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name.
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who have sinned against us. 
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 
For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, 
For ever and ever. 

Prayer can be a tricky thing.

I’ve certainly questioned the value of it many times. In sadness, a friend of mine commented the other day that Christians so often treat prayer as a last resort. She’s heard many people say, “Well, I suppose all we can do now is pray.”

Subconsciously or not, this mindset says that prayer won’t really change anything. We know Jesus tells us to pray, so we do a half-ass job of it, and then complain when nothing happens.

So what needs to change?

Last month I went to a prayer conference that reminded me of several very crucial aspects of talking to God. Here are a few of them:

  1. We don’t have to keep stumbling around in the dark. By giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us exactly how we can interact with the Father. This prayer gives us a framework for how we view God, ourselves and the world around us.
  2. According to the conference’s main speaker, Sara Maynard, this prayer teaches us to pray for the right things, and with the right focus. We pray the Lord’s Prayer because it is answered. How simple is that? If we pray for God’s own desires, and in the manner that Jesus himself taught us to pray, then of course we will witness his response.
  3. We are taught to seek God repeatedly and faithfully. He cares deeply about building relationships with us, and he does so through regular conversation (Matthew 7:7-12).

The Lord’s Prayer is a valuable tool because it bridges the gaps between different church denominations and creates common ground. By praying this prayer together as a global Church, we foster unity and point our collective attention towards Christ.

I can only scratch the surface of what Sara covered in her seminar. If you're interested in pursuing this in more detail, you could start by listening to her podcast series on the Lord’s Prayer.

Okay, now let's get to the prayer itself.

The opening of the prayer positions us as children coming to our Father. It is a deep, intimate place. We are invited to come to him with all the privileges a child can expect from good earthly parents (Ephesians 1:3-14).

This is the fullness of God’s love for us: he shows us the same favour he shows to Jesus.

Whatever wounds we’ve received from our earthly parents can be completely healed when we grasp hold of the relationship the Father extends to us.

We get to be dependent. The Father wants us to rely on him. As sons and daughters, we don’t have to protect our earthly reputations or store up wealth for ourselves, because we know we have a place in heaven (Romans 8:14-17).

We don’t come to him in fear or guilt; we can come in confidence and joy because of God’s enthusiastic love and affirmation for his children. He offers us security, hope, unlimited access to himself, correction, provision, teaching, acceptance, support and identity.

We pray the Lord’s prayer through the lens of being his sons and daughters. From that place, we can look outward to others who also need the Father’s love.

We exalt God first; this puts our needs into perspective. From that vantage point, our worries shrink and our faith increases.

This is intended as a petition that we would treat God’s name as holy in our lives, families, churches, cities and world. Here we ask that God’s name would fill us with awe and cause us to explode with whole-hearted praise and worship.

We pray that others will see what God has done in us so that they too may praise him. Thus, we ask for an increase of our own holiness, since that mirrors God’s holiness.

God’s kingdom is a place of joy, peace, justice, unity, love and acceptance. This prayer is a call for the church to rise up and care for the emotionally and materially poor.

Where there are violence, pain and lack, we pray that God will work powerfully in these situations—healing and restoring them to resemble the beauty, peace and security of heaven.

It’s an invitation for us to live in confidence of God’s ultimate plan and to share the hope of the gospel with the world.

We're calling for fuller, deeper surrender to God’s will. We’re asking that our lives be aligned with and obedient to the Lord’s kingship.

It's also a reminder that Jesus will return one day to fully restore his earth. When our present circumstances overwhelm us, we can rest in the promise of this greater reality that extends beyond our own.

We are surrendering our lives to his direction and timing, and asking not just to submit, but to delight in doing his will.

This focus and surrender points us to Christ and prompts us to become more like him. We become more teachable because we know we need God to provide the mindset, energy and focus to live as he intends.

And as we do so, we begin to see glimpses of heaven on earth in the fruit of our actions.

Our Father actually raises us to increased dependence on him. He will surely give us what we need if we ask him.

There is no “if” or “maybe” when it comes to his provision. He will absolutely and completely care for us.

The word “daily” indicates that we’re meant to ask God for what we need every day.

But what is this bread?

Well, Jesus himself is “the bread of heaven. ” We are asking to have Jesus at our side—talking with us, encouraging us, guiding us, and revealing to us opportunities to love people (John 6:25-59).

We’re also asking for the Word of God, which feeds our souls. We are asking for the wisdom of Scripture to direct our decisions and remain at the forefront of our minds.

Bread is also a part of the Eucharist, and an important element of remembering Christ’s death; when we participate in communion we praise Jesus and show our gratitude for what he did for us.

We’re also asking for practical provision of everything we need to thrive and live out our calling. This asking does not come from a sense of entitlement; we simply ask after God’s desires, in order to carry out his will.

The Father sees everything. He knows exactly how sinful we are in our deepest hearts, and yet he accepts us and extends to us condition-free grace to cover all our wrongs. It’s not performance-based love.

His expectations of us are perfectly matched to our abilities and his empowerment.

The clear assumption here is that we’ve already sinned. We’re starting from a place where God knows we’ve already screwed up, which makes it easier for us to be honest with him.

Here is where our hearts get to be cleaned up. When we pray this daily, we keep a short account list with God. He can uproot sins regularly. Then, we learn to love holiness and hate sin.

In the same way that we have been forgiven, so we are to forgive. This means complete forgiveness—holding no grudges, bitterness or resentment.

No matter the depth of pain and betrayal we’ve experienced, we are capable of both giving and receiving this level of forgiveness through the grace and strength of Christ.

Satan is the tempter who is trying to cause us to stumble. We can ask God to lead us so we don’t fall. He does allow us to be tested because our faith grows when it is tried.

We can survive temptation by leaning on Jesus and asking him to lead us to victory. It is also good to acknowledge our own weaknesses. We need God to help us through.

Demonic forces are real; Satan truly is the enemy of our spirits. This section is put last—after we’ve been reminded of God’s great power and love—which paints a clear picture of God’s supremacy over Satan.

However, Jesus doesn’t treat Satan as a non-factor. We don’t need to fear Satan, but we do need to take him seriously. We are called to resist the devil and can actively pray against evil.

Finally, the prayer moves away from ourselves and back to God as a declaration of victory. We get to take our eyes off the enemy and put them back on Jesus. 

We can end our prayers in bold confidence, assurance and hope in God's goodness and might.