Prayer? What's That?

"Lord, teach us to pray." Luke 11:1
Opening Prayer: Father, I don't understand why my prayers have been so lukewarm and ineffective lately. Please bring me to a fresh understanding of the privilege of prayer.

Notice anything funny about the Scripture verse at the top of this page?

Now that you mention it, yeah -- why were these guys asking such a basic question? After all, they were our Lord's hand-picked disciples. Why, then, did these men -- whose greatness has been confirmed by history -- feel the need to ask Jesus how to pray?

Maybe because prayer is difficult for us human beings.

So is prayer a highly technical process, to be mastered only after a long and scholarly process of learning?

Obviously not. Don't let the snobs fool you. Our Lord said we were to come to Him as children, in simplicity of heart. So whatever prayer is, it MUST be an activity that all believers can participate in, regardless of age or IQ or theological education.

If prayer is simple, then why are you writing this lesson?

Because most of us underachieve badly in our prayer lives. Much of what the Lord would like to accomplish through our prayers does NOT get done. Because we don't get it. We're missing the point somehow. And your teacher has underachieved worse than most.

Let's start by looking at Jesus' answer, in Luke 11:2-4:

2 And He said unto them, When you pray, say, Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your Name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
3 Give us day by day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

This prayer should look very familiar to you. Many of us grew up reciting this prayer, with slight wording variations. In fact, most of us let its familiarity blind us to its profound truth.

Notice that Jesus has structured this prayer according to the pattern expressed in Matthew 6:33:

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

This is very counter-intuitive. It doesn't FEEL right to us. We get driven to our knees by our pressing physical and emotional needs, and we want to immediately start praying for relief. Why should we stop and pray for all this spiritual stuff first?

Because it is NOT just "spiritual stuff." It's the key element in the prayer itself. We can (and do) talk endlessly about ourselves and our wants and needs, but that's not prayer. Prayer is dialogue with God Himself, to achieve purposes unattainable in our own strength. Since He IS God, He has a right to establish the terms. Fortunately for us, He has made the terms fairly simple.

Remember, too, that this prayer represents God's will for our life. Whatever He asks us to pray for MUST be something He wants us to have.

So let's take the prayer, phrase by phrase, and see how it forms the outline of all effective prayers.

Our Father in heaven...

First, prayer must be directed to a specific Recipient. Our Lord makes it clear that we are to pray to God the Father. Sure, we can occasionally say devotional prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But we are commanded to direct our normal prayer to God the Father.

Please note that Jesus could have called Him "God-the-Boss" or "God-the-Only-One-Whose-Opinion-Matters." Instead, we are to call Him Father -- the One Who knows and cares about us more than anyone else.

Second, the Recipient has a specific address: in heaven. Wherever heaven is, it's quite different from here. And God the Father is completely and visibly and wonderfully in charge. There are no theological debates in heaven. There is only one God, and His presence is real and unmistakeable. Our Father in heaven is all powerful and capable of doing whatever He wills.

Hallowed be Your Name.

Everyone in the Scriptures who encountered God had the same reaction: overwhelmed by the majesty and power and holiness of God. And the "Name" of God represents all of that.

So after we identify the proper Recipient of prayer, we focus on His character and His Name. We begin with praise for our Father. Like the Psalm writers, we praise God for His power, His wisdom, His love, His mercy and His grace. We thank God for the many blessings we receive each day, and for the incredible beauty of His creation.

Hint: Reading the Psalms out loud is a good way to get started.

Your kingdom come

If we've done it right so far, we become conscious of the vast difference between God and us. As we remember and praise God for the ways He has provided for us, we see what a good and gracious King He really is.

Now let's remember that a kingdom is an area ruled by a king. Have I ever submitted to God and surrendered authority over my life to Him? Have I ever made a conscious decision to acknowledge His Son -- Jesus, Yeshua -- as my Lord and Savior? Have I taken up my cross daily and opened my heart in submission to the gentle leading of the Holy Spirit in my life? Or am I governed by my passions, self will, family and friends? God has a Kingdom and exactly one simple plan for qualifying to participate in that Kingdom.

If you have any doubts in this area, please click here to read through the four lessons on Genesis 1-3, especially the "Bad News" and "Good News" lessons.

Your will be done, as in heaven so on earth.

If you've gotten this far, congratulations. You've acknowledged the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God of your life, and you've surrendered to the Lordship of His Son and the daily infilling and leading of the Holy Spirit. Now comes the most difficult part: YOUR will be done.

Please don't underestimate this part. God has a wonderful plan for our lives. Like a television drama, there are horrible problems and obstacles -- but the Good Guy will win. And some of us will live happily forever after with Him. Certainly nothing we've experienced on earth can compare to the glory of God, and no earthly mansion can compare to where you and I will live for eternity. The question is, will we trust Him and cooperate with His plan?

This is not the relatively simple matter of giving up bad stuff. The question is whether we're willing to give up OUR stuff. Two wills cannot exist in the same body. We cannot serve God and self.

Self can lead us to do great and wonderful things in the name of God -- things that God didn't ask us to do. Self can teach and preach and build churches that God didn't ask us to build. Self can appear to conform to written Word of God -- without submitting to the Spirit of God. Self can be as subtle and beguiling as the serpent in the Garden, and just as harmful. Self is an enemy of God. Don't listen to its pitiful cries; it must go to the cross.

When we pray, "Your will be done,..." we acknowledge that God's plan might be different from ours. It might inconvenience us terribly. It might cost us time and money. It might cost us our lives. But we are willing to LISTEN to God's plan and to move -- in faith -- in that direction.

Give us day by day our daily bread,

Finally we get to familiar ground. We've never seen heaven, but we know all about bread.

Now we can pray about what WE want. And look at the irony of the situation: we've just asked God for HIS will to be done. We've given away the store! We've given away all our negotiating leverage! Now all we can possibly get is what God WANTS to give us!

Is that a bad thing?

Remember: there is nothing in this prayer except what God wants us to have. So notice how the first thing the Lord wants us to have is enough. We are commanded to pray for our necessities, with the understanding that we will receive them -- day by day. As we saw in Psalm 23, verse 2:

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.

God promises to give us enough to eat and drink. Green pastures, not barns full of hay.

And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.

Here's another biggie. How many people do you know that suffer from their own unforgiveness? They've been hurt. They have a right to be angry, and they are. And this resentment (often buried deep and disguised as something else) is ruining their lives and health.

Unforgiveness is a dangerous form of heart disease. Undiagnosed and uncorrected, it will cause physical and emotional disability. Worse, it can disqualify us from heaven.

Some folks wonder whether we should pray "Forgive us our tresspasses" or "Forgive us our debts." Why waste time wondering, since both are valid? Confess your sins, confess your unforgiveness, learn of God's grace and forgiveness, and receive peace and forgiveness for yourself.

And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

Does God tempt us to sin? Obviously not. He doesn't need to: we have more temptation than we can handle from just our flesh and from the Enemy of our souls.

God has a special blessing in view. When we become "born again" (see above) the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts and give us new life. God's Holy Spirit can give us the strength to endure times of trial and testing. He can give us power and wisdom to be delivered from the crushing desires of our own flesh. He can give us power and wisdom to avoid the traps of the evil one. He will even give us the wisdom to pray as we should.

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.

Matthew's account of the model prayer (apparently given on a different occasion) ends with this doxology. It illustrates an important point: Prayer should begin and end with praise to God. Not because God is insecure and needs affirmation. We should praise God because WE NEED to do so. If we can sincerely praise God in the midst of great difficulty, it's an act of faith that can open the gates of heaven on our behalf. Praising God is acknowledging that we trust Him regardless of our circumstances. It drives away fear and makes the Enemy cover his ears and flee.

In case you have any doubts about the power of praise, try a science experiment: spend an hour alone, praising God with all your heart for everything you can think of. It will change your life.


These words of Jesus are simple enough for a child to remember. But please don't settle for just the words. Open your heart to the Lord, and spend quality time with Him. Seek His presence, and settle for nothing less.

Closing Prayer: Our Father in heaven, forgive us of our prayerlessness. Show us what it means to be Your children, walking in obedience to Your will, living in the peace and joy that can only come from Your hand. Amen.

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