Jesus prayed. He got up early to do it. He stayed up all night in it. His first disciples followed his example devoting days on end to prayer. Every saint throughout history who has ever done anything worth remembering has been devoted to prayer. So why do modern Christians devote so little time to this discipline? I believe that it is because they have not learned to pray.
Luke, the evangelist, highlights Jesus’ prayer life. In 5:16, Luke relays that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” It seems that Jesus did not pray with his disciples much if at all and yet they knew he was praying. Jesus told his disciples to pray and gave them specific things to pray for such as in 10:2. I’m sure they did this but when compared with the vibrance of his own experience they seemed to know their practice of prayer was lacking. So, they asked him to teach them to pray. According to Luke 11:1, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.'” Over the next twelve verses Jesus gives a perfect lesson on prayer. Beginning with this post and over the next two, I will expound some of the content of that lesson.
Jesus’ lesson on prayer comes in three movements. In the first movement, Jesus gives his disciples the very words to say to God. He does this because learning to pray is far different from learning about prayer. Learning to pray is like learning to ride a bike or learning to swim. In each case a person must engage in the activity in order to begin learning it. The disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray;” not “Teach us about prayer.” So, he had to get them actually praying.
The words he gave them had to be without fluff or flaw. They say practice makes perfect but that presumes proper technique. Really, practice makes permanent. So Jesus gave them a very short prayer that they couldn’t mess up. Each phrase of the prayer reveals the priorities of the kingdom and the heart of God. Let’s take each in turn.
“Our Father” – To address God as “Father” is to come to him in the bold humility of a child. We’re not God’s distant relatives who stammer out requests for small, short-term loans. We are his dear children who dare to bring him our every need and who quietly trust that he knows our need better than we do. God is my father but he’s not just my father, he is our father. We come to him as part of a larger family. We are to come to him together in united prayer to our father.
“Hallowed be your name” – Everyone who has come to know God as father longs for the rest of humanity to see his glory. Imagine standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon and on either side of you stands scores of people facing the desert. Wouldn’t you be compelled to get them to turn and face that breathtaking view? Everyone who has experienced God through the gospel of Jesus Christ shares that same longing for everyone to see and admire him. We instinctively loathe anything which would diminish him in the minds of others. Our purpose in life becomes to glorify him that many others will cry out with us, “Hallowed be your name.”
“Your kingdom come” – Many who have learned this prayer have no idea exactly what it is that they are asking for when they use this phrase. I would suggest that the kingdom comes first to individuals. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” As people embrace the gospel of Christ’s reign, they come under the liberating authority of God. Individual lives so changed begin to influence families and entire cultures. People will never be at peace with each other until they are at peace with themselves. People will never be at peace with themselves until they are at peace with God. Jesus has come as Christ the king, the prince of peace. He has announced peace with God to all who will lay down their arms and join the triumphal procession. The kingdom has come. It is coming. May it come!
“Give us each day our daily bread” – Those who have joined the Father’s cause can be assured that he will care for their needs. Just as soldiers on active duty need not worry over their rations so Christians on mission need not fret over their material needs. So often people want to come to Jesus for bread without taking up his cause. Jesus is not running a mission. He is on mission to bring the kingdom of God and spread the glory of God. Our job is to follow Jesus and trust that the provisions will follow.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone who sins against us” – We do not take up the cause of Christ as if we were Christ. We are first recipients of his grace and also agents of it. We do not go to fix the world but to admit to the world that we are broken and being fixed by the same One who will fix them.
“And lead us not into temptation” – As I go into the mine field of a fallen world, God knows which mines are particularly configured to my tendencies. I do not know my own heart and am prone to overestimate my strength. I need our Father to guide me through enemy territory without fatal incident.
Well, that’s the first installment. Next time I will unpack the what I believe to the be centerpiece of this section, “The Friend at Midnight.” I hope to build some discipleship material around this prayer which will become a page on this blog later on. Check back for it and the next post.