Once Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he stopped praying, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.”
Jesus told them, “When you pray, say this . . . (Luke 11:1-2)
I don’t think I am stretching it much to say that we were created to pray; that prayer is the most natural thing for us to do; and, in the eyes of our Father, prayer is the perfect measure of a man. As Murray McChene used to say, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is — and no more.”
In those verses above, I always wondered if Jesus was rather happy that they asked. But like any good teacher, he controlled his feelings and gave them a matter-of-fact answer: “When you pray, say . . .” — and then presented what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.
“Say . . .” Did Jesus simply want them to repeat those words whenever they prayed, like little parrots? Growing up, that’s my memory of it. Every night before we ate our dinner, my dad would place his thumb and index finger on the bridge of his nose and mumble out that prayer (King Jim’s version). Also, every Sunday in church, in unison, the whole congregation chanted the prayer (but when they changed the version of prayer from KJV to RSV, my dad was upset and for a long time, quit going).
But when Jesus said, “Say . . .” did He intend for us to simply parrot them back to Him? Personally, I don’t think so. I see it as a pattern. A pattern that we should enter into the sense, “Say,” we might say, means “mean!” That Jesus was teaching us that the proper form of prayer is when we demonstrate the attitudes, thoughts, and desires as shown in His prayer. What I mean is that, maybe, our prayers should be similar to His prayer in some shape or form.
I have always liked the acronym ACTS! Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication! But as one of my High School teachers taught us, “Experience can’t be taught!” Well, that is certainly true about our prayers. Just like singing, praying is something you learn to do, not by reading books (or even reading messages like mine), but by actually doing it; and it is so natural and spontaneous that you can become quite proficient without ever reading about it!
However, that being said, in the same way that voice training certainly helps you to sing better, so the experience and advice that others share, can help us pray. So, if you search the Scriptures you will find all kinds of patterns of praise, petition, devotion and intercession.
But don’t be content to simply repeat the prayers of other people, because that would never satisfy our Father. Imagine if one of your kids simply spoke to you in quotations? How would that make you feel?
On the other hand, I am told that one musician’s interpretation of a piece of music can be helpful for a new musician to learn from. As they listen, they learn how they can best play it. Well, in the same way, we are helped to find our own way in prayer by seeing how others have prayed, and even by praying with them! And, along with that, we have the Lord’s Prayer as a guide!
I gave you the ACTS of prayer. Well, according to one writer, the prayer that the Lord taught us presents seven activities:
- approaching our God in adoration and trust;
- acknowledging his work and his worth, in praise and worship;
- admitting our sin, and asking for forgiveness;
- asking that needs be met, for ourselves and others;
- arguing with God for blessings as wrestling as Jacob did in Genesis 32 (our Father loves to wrestle with us)
- accepting from God our situation as he has shaped it
- adhering to God in faithfulness through thick and thin
I believe that together, these seven activities make up a pretty sound basis of our prayers because the prayer the Lord taught us contains each of them.
So, as Paul taught the church in Thessalonica, “. . . pray continually . . .” (I Thessalonians 5:17), and we can put the Lord’s Prayer to service by using it as a pattern. As Clark’s Commentary on The Bible states:
Ye are dependent on God for every good; without him ye can do nothing; feel that dependence at all times, and ye will always be in the spirit of prayer; and those who feel this spirit will, as frequently as possible, be found in the exercise of prayer.
Using the pattern taught in the Lord’s Prayer is a sure way of keeping our prayers with our Father’s will; to pray through it, expanding the clauses as you go along, is a perfect way to “prime the pump” when prayer dries up and you are stuck. You know, I just realized that we never really get beyond this prayer! Not only is it the Lord’s first lesson in praying it is all the other lessons too! Lord, teach us to pray.
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I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.