“One of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ and he said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
(Luke 11:1b-4, ESV)
“Start praying” and “Read your Bible” are two phrases which have long been the mantra for spiritual growth. I have been taught, and unfortunately at times have taught others, that to grow as a believer, one must simply pray. End of story. The problem with such a simplistic and limited view is manifested in the question, “Why does it matter if I pray?” If prayer is an act just to say “I prayed this morning,” then it quickly becomes irrelevant. Prayer is a wonderful and necessary aspect of one’s spiritual life. If I am honest, the shallow teaching on prayer I mentioned reveals there has been a lack of discipleship in teaching others to pray.
In Luke 11, Jesus’ disciples ask Him to show them how to pray. Jesus did not leave His disciples to figure it out for themselves; instead, He immediately showed them how they should pray. He didn’t give them a list of rules or requirements to have a meaningful prayer. He prayed with them. If Jesus’ original disciples needed to learn how to pray, is it any different for us today?
I recently concluded a sermon series on prayer. In my preparing for Sunday and studying of the Word, I consistently saw the Bible describing prayer, not as individuals presenting their wish list to God, but as a continual seeking of God’s will, provision, and forgiveness for the entire fellowship of believers. In the current culture, individuals have been taught to look out for themselves. As believers are saturated in the modern attitude of self-satisfaction, we must fight the urge to pray for ourselves and begin praying for another’s needs and their cries for help. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says that before sacrifices are acceptable in God’s sight, one must be reconciled to others. If we are praying for a concern and are capable of fulfilling that need for someone else, we must be people of action and reconcile that need before continuing our prayers. St. Francis begins his famous prayer in this idea of thought, “Make me an instrument of Your peace.” We are not intended to meet with God alone. We are meant to bring the peace of God to others.
Prayer develops within each believer the ability to trust in God and in His ability to provide for every need. In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, Jesus tells them to ask, “Give us each day our daily bread.” There is a dependence of the disciples upon God to provide for the entire community each day what it needs to survive. Daily bread not only refers to physical sustenance, but to all needs of the community of believers, including the spiritual needs. It would be easy to say one should just sit and wait for God to provide, but this is not what Jesus intended. If anything, Jesus intends for his believers to be prayerfully moved in such fashion as to provide for the needs of others.
Luke describes how Jesus would go by Himself to pray at different times, and he leaves no room to question the invaluable influence prayer had upon Jesus’ ministry and all He accomplished. Prayer is not an incantation, whereby we obtain control over a mystical being who dispenses blessings at our pleasure. It is the foundational way of communication between us and God, Who is completely holy and perfect. For Jesus, prayer kept Him constantly connected with His Father and faithful to His purpose.
In teaching His disciples about prayer, Jesus often used the word “when,” as in “When you pray…” Jesus realized that His followers must pray; it was not optional or occasional. It is absolutely necessary. If there is anything Jesus demonstrates in His own prayers, it is that He had to go out by Himself and spend time with the Father. He was grounded in His Father’s will and constantly communicated with Him. How are you doing when it comes to taking time to communicate with God? Do you make time to be alone and speak with your Heavenly Father?
After preaching on prayer, a topic I thought I understood so well, it has been a blessing to see with fresh eyes what we have been given, which is the opportunity and privilege to approach the throne of God and be present before Him. Stop trying to pray someone else’s prayer, or use their prayer habits. You have to figure out what is right for you in your unique situation. If you get only one thing from this, may it be that you need to find a way to make prayer a part of your life. Do not pray just to say you have prayed, but pray in such a way that you will meet with God daily!
May your prayers connect you with God and His plans of redemption for your life, and also move you to act upon those plans for the sanctification of yourself and others.
Andrew Needham has served as Youth Pastor and currently serves as Pastor of South Fork Friends Church in Snow Camp, NC. He graduated with a B.A. in Religion from Campbell University in 2007, and is married to his wonderful wife, Mary Needham. He loves gardening and how it displays all things growing into their intended mature image.