How Should We Pray? – Part 2
If you have not yet read Part 1 on the study of how the Bible teaches us to pray, I encourage you to do so here. For everyone who has read Part 1 and wants a refresher, or those who merely wish to begin the study here, let me summarize what we learned in lesson one. Two simple points can be made.
- If we wonder how best to pray, God has given us the Lord’s prayer as a template. Therefore, the topics, essence, and focus of Jesus’ prayer should serve as an example for our prayer life. As such, the Lord’s prayer is the template for this study. Each point and each post in this study on prayer will be a dissection of a portion of the Lord’s Prayer.
- God expects us to pray. While this point is intellectually understood by most, it is seldom put into actual practice. Whether we are happy, sad, passionate, indifferent, healthy, sick, or any other stage, phase, or emotion of life, God expects to be our regular companion. If we hope to live the Christian life in a manner pleasing to God, and if we hope to have a relationship with God that is worth anything, then prayer will be at the center of our lives.
With these two take away’s ingested, let us now resume our study…
The Lord’s Prayer
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Holy is Your Name
Dear God, I’ve got a lot on my plate. A family member is sick, I’m worried about losing my job, my kids are acting like monsters, they cancelled my favorite TV show, and it’d be really nice if the Rams could stay in St. Louis. – Amen
Okay, some of that was appropriate for prayer and some was not. However, I’ll point out that everything I said (including the sincere stuff) had one thing in common…it was all centered on my world.
Continuing our study of the Lord’s prayer, the next section in the prayer says, “…Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”
The first impressions made at the beginning of a relationship can often determine how the relationship will play out over its duration, and even determine if a relationship will be started, or if it will not. The same could be said for a conversation. If a person begins a conversation with me in an angry tone, a depressed tone, a happy tone, etc., then it can affect the way I respond or view the information they are about to relay to me. They can put me on my defenses, welcome me in, bring me down, or build me up, and much more. I can think of stories in movies or books that start off slow and lose my interest, so I never finish them; or stories that are so intriguing that I’m held captive until I reach the end. The beginning of any kind of communication is important because it sets the tone for the entire exchange of information.
Though mightier than the rest, prayer is, at its root, a form of communication. Since this is the case, I want you to notice that Jesus begins His prayer by doing two things: describing God – Our Father in heaven – and then praising God – Holy is your name (Hallowed means holy).
Many times we begin our prayers by saying “Dear Jesus”, “Heavenly Father”, “Father God”, or something similar to these phrases. I’m not writing to change that. As long as we are respectfully addressing the One true God, then I do not think your choice of introductory title makes much difference (excluding titles that make light of God, of course). Rather, I think the point Jesus was making goes far beyond which words we use to open our prayer with, and speaks instead about the perspective a Christian should have when they go to God in prayer.
The best way I can explain this is by looking at Psalm 100:4, which says “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise…”
This verse helps me put prayer into a literal aspect instead of the abstract. Reading this verse, I picture my conversations with God in prayer as if I were stepping into His kingdom and walking into His throne room to talk to Him. Imagine this with me. If we could literally go in front of the God of Heaven and Earth, face to face with the creator of all things, the Lord of lords and the King of kings, do you think we’d start off by focusing on us? I have a feeling we’d fall on our face and worship (Psalm 95:6). I have a feeling that the troubles of this life would pale in comparison to the majesty before us (Romans 8:18).
That all sounds great, doesn’t it? But, let’s be honest, that’s the mystical stuff that I already admitted I was not very good at. In this world, it is hard for us to think of prayer as entering into the gates of heaven and courts of our almighty king. This is another area where I believe we are going to have to apply some effort because the majesty of God is not right before me slapping me in the face with His awesomeness. Intellectually I know it is true, but is there any doubt that we are not even close to fully appreciating all that God is? He is more than I could imagine, so is it reasonable to admit that it is difficult for us to daily focus on who God is, and what He has done for us? Sure…
It’s certainly difficult…but not impossible…
With that admitted, let’s refocus. When you pray, do you spend most of your time complaining? Sometimes I do. Do you spend most of your time asking for things? Yep, I do that, too. This is why the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 100:4 teach us such an important lesson on perspective. When we go before God, we are not going before an equal and we are definitely not going before someone who owes us a debt. God gave us life, we rebelled against Him in sin, and yet, He sent His only son to save us. God owes us nothing, but that’s often how we treat Him…as if He were a genie who exists for the mere purpose of granting our wishes and hearing our complaints. Oh, He certainly cares for us and wants to help us (which we’ll cover later), but above all things, God is the sovereign creator over all things and savior of our souls (for all those who profess faith in Jesus). Only by Him do we exist and only because of Him do any of us continue to endure (Col. 1:16-17). He should be treated as such.
Psalm 100:4 tells us that when we enter the presence of God, we are to go before Him with thanksgiving and praise. If you are anything like me, I often get so caught up with the stuff that I’m worried about that I forget to thank God for the stuff He’s already taken care of. I approach prayer with such a “me” centered perspective that I forget that my life should actually be God centered.
When my sweet three year old daughter Piper prays at the dinner table, she is usually quick to thank God for our forks and spoons. Neither her mother nor I have ever thanked God for those, so that sincere prayer is entirely my daughter’s invention. I’m not suggesting that we need to pray for every utensil that God has blessed us with. However, if truth be told, I certainly am thankful for forks and spoons. I’m thankful for my very breath, my family, and the countless other blessings that God has given me. Above all, I’m thankful for my salvation, which is the gift of eternal life God has offered freely to us all. The point is, we all have things to be thankful for. When we approach God with the long list of items that we need help with, let us not forget to be thankful for everything He has already done. Even if we lost every earthly thing and are left with nothing in this world, then God has still saved the souls of all who have accepted Christ. At the very least, we can be thankful for that.
My suggestion, then, is this: begin your prayers by thanking God for what He has done for you. Even when you are in a hurry, you don’t feel like it, or you are in a bad mood, take time to truly appreciate what God has given you, and then follow up by showing gratitude to the one who gave it all to you. Will you be able to ask for other things? Sure you can, but remember your relationship with God is exactly that, a relationship. Healthy relationships demand thankfulness and gratitude.
Thanksgiving and praise go hand in hand. Beyond what God has done – which is a lot – let us also realize that true praise is recognizing God for who He IS. Praising God at the beginning of our prayers is a good way to get us thinking about exactly who we are talking to, thereby allowing us to approach Him with the proper reverence. When I begin with praise, it reminds me that I am talking to the God who holds my very breath in His hands. I am talking to the One who died for me. I am talking to the holy standard of the universe.
This is the perspective we should have when entering prayer. We should be reminded that this world is about Him, and not us. He deserves to be at the center of our attention. We were created by Him and for Him (Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16). If we began our prayers this way, then maybe, just maybe, we’d begin to pray far more like Christ, and our prayers would be both effective and God honoring. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a good goal to me.
Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say Rejoice.” This is a simple, yet difficult point. Many times when we go to God in prayer, it is because we are hurting, scared, tired, angry, or some emotion other than happy or joyous. We go to God, simply because we need Him. When I just lost a loved one, or my job feels threatened, or I suffer a big disappointment, or have a run-in with another human being that ends far less than cordially, I am NOT in the mood to rejoice.
Unless I’m mistaken, scripture says to rejoice anyway. Philippians 4:4 does not say, “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes…when you feel like it rejoice.” It says always. That word always seems pretty unrealistic, doesn’t it? A message like this on the wrong day could seem flat out annoying and insulting. However, let me ask you this. Do you trust God? Do you trust that He knows what He is doing? Do you trust that He understands more than we ever will? Then don’t you think God knows that a command like “rejoice always” will be difficult for us? Don’t you think He knows that it runs against the grain of our very nature? I’m sure that God – being omniscient and all that jazz – is perfectly aware that when I’m scared, tired, lonely, or angry, I simply do not feel like rejoicing.
Guess what? Rejoice anyway! Why? Because He told us to. I’m not saying I do this perfectly. I have no intentions of preaching from a holy mountain. I fail at this all the time. However, I know enough to understand that I would be happier and more Godly if I would do the things God tells me to, even when those things are the opposite of what I want to do. Why would rejoicing be an exception?
If God tells me to do something, then I should be smart enough to realize that He has a reason for asking me to do it. Now, God could have an infinite number of reasons for telling us to “rejoice always“, but let me give you just one…and I hope you’ll notice how consistent it is with this portion of our study. God tells us to rejoice in Him always to help us keep our minds focused on him, which gives us a proper heavenly perspective.
When I think of having a proper heavenly perspective, I am always reminded of Isaiah 6 and the year that the godly king Uzziah died. If you know anything about the Old Testament, then you are aware that the nation of Israel was GREATLY affected by the holiness of their kings. As godly kings reigned, the nation would serve God and subsequently, they would prosper. As evil kings reigned, ungodliness and judgment filled the nation.
Now, place yourself, if you can, into the shoes of a prophet such as Isaiah. If I am a prophet, and I know the woes of my country, if I have seen, heard, and read about the rises and falls of our kingdom based on the worthiness of my king, then when our godly king dies, THAT is a sad day. That is a day when I would stress out, worrying who the next king was going to be, because I KNOW that if a bad king ascends to the throne, then our country is headed toward a time of struggles, judgment, godlessness, and possibly war (not an exaggeration, this is the formula of most of the Old Testament). If I were a prophet like Isaiah and my godly king died, then I would worry, despair, etc. I would be afraid of the future. “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice” is the last thing I would want to hear…
This is why Isaiah 6:1 is such a beautiful picture, for it says, “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…”
That is perspective! In this one verse we see worldly tragedy matched with heavens sovereignty. Kingdoms come and kingdoms fall, but God is always on the throne! Trials come, tragedy besets us, but God is always on the throne! Pain will still come, frustrations, anger, loneliness and so on, but God is always on the throne! For that, I say, “rejoice in the Lord always again I say rejoice“, because God is the only thing that we will always be able to rejoice in. If we place our happiness in temporary things, then we are destined for and deserving of sadness. Only God and His kingdom are eternal.
Now, Philippians 4:4 did not say rejoice in your circumstances. God is not cruel. He understands that we hurt. However, if we go to prayer rejoicing in God, and remembering that it is He that sits on the throne of the universe…well, my problems seem just a little bit smaller and a whole lot more temporary. This is not to say they are less important or painful, but it certainly helps us view them with the proper perspective. There is never a time when God is not in control of all things. There is never a time when God cannot hear us or see us. We are never alone to face the pains and trials of this life.
And so, when we go to God in prayer, we should begin by thanking Him for what He has done, praising Him for who He is, and rejoicing that HE IS, knowing that we do not have to face this world on our own, because it is He who ultimately controls all things. Whatever you are facing in your life that might stop you from rejoicing in God, remember that those problems will look a lot less formidable if we are looking at them from the proper perspective of the secure and eternal arms of our sovereign God.
In the hurry of our day, the difficulties, pains, and sorrows of our life, taking time to thank, praise, and rejoice in God can often be the very last things we want to pray about, but I would have you consider that they might also be exactly what we need.
To Be Continued…
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