If I’m a magnificently created yet small creature (which I am, and you are, too) and my magnificent Creator wants me to communicate with Him (which He does, and that very fact should stupefy us), then I should sit up and notice if He decides to give me a magnificent, yet simple, communication template to follow. And He has done so.
Jesus, right in the middle of explaining that material possessions can suffocate us, and encouraging us to trust God instead of our own capabilities (which leads to anxiety), and warning us not to put on a religious act to gain approval from others, tells us this: He says we’re to pray to our magnificent Creator (Matthew 6).
But He doesn’t just leave us there, confused and wondering. He actually tells us how to pray: He says not to heap up empty-phrased, meant-to-impress prayers because we want other people to think highly of us, or because we think that God will be coerced. Rather, we’re to confidently pour out our hearts to our personal God, sure that He, even though invisible to the human eye, hears our every word.
Jesus says that God is not distant or disinterested or cold. No, God actually wants us to call Him Father. Father? The Omnipotent One, who created and sustains all we see and know, who rules the universe — we’re to call Him Father?
Yes. We are. Jesus says that we’re to pray like this:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)
You know those verses. You may have prayed them for years. But do you, even though given both the staggering permission and the form to follow, tend to pray this prayer with your brain turned off, repeating the words mechanically? Has your heart become dull to the magnificence of Jesus’ words?
If so, stop and think through the example, and then pray Jesus’ prayer with your brain switched on. Pray His words for yourself. Pray His words for others. Explain His words to your children and pray His words with them.
Pray (and pause and think) with each phrase. Don’t pass past even Jesus’ first words. For the words Our Father in heaven put us in our correct place (as a child of God) and God in His place (as sovereign ruler in heaven.)
He’s our good Father: so we’re to pray to Him with intimacy. He’s also our Father in heaven: so we bow to His wise control. We glory in His preeminence in both the universe and in our own life.
And then, because we worship our Father in heaven, we yearn that His name be hallowed: We want Him to be revered by all. We pray that He will do whatever it takes for His name to be seen as holy and right and glorious. We want others to bow the knee to His rule. We pray He’d be honored as perfect and preeminent.
We yearn for His kingdom to come. So we pray for the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers: recreating us into the image of Christ, convicting us of sin, growing in us a consuming desire that Jesus be magnified in our own lives and in His church the world over. We pray for specific people we know (Christians and not), that He’d bring His kingdom in their life (by the reign of Christ in their heart.)
And we yearn for His will to be done on earth in the same way it already is in heaven. We pray for specific ways that God’s revealed will (what scripture tells us pleases Him) could be more fully obeyed on earth (by people we know … and by we ourselves.)
We then turn to our daily needs. God cares for each need, and He also knows the future. So, as we pray that He’d give us today’s bread, we ask for His wise provision in all things. We pray for the needs of Christians throughout the world (and we also pray for the lost — that He’d give them saving repentance and the honor of becoming His child — the true bread they need.)
We ask Him to forgive us our debts, as we don’t want sin to hinder sweet fellowship with Him. Salvation is by grace, and He never forsakes His redeemed child. But we never want to cheapen or treat lightly the faith given us. We don’t want to grieve the Holy Spirit. So we ask Him to convict us, and bring us to daily repentance. And then, when we confess and He forgives us, we’re re-amazed at His great mercy toward us.
And because of His great mercy granted us, we want to forgive others, just as He’s forgiven us. As you pray, if you’re harboring unforgiveness, ask Him to give you a softened, forgiving heart.
We look to God to keep us from evil, and to lead us in paths of righteousness. We ask Him to keep us from any temptation that would lead us to sin against Him, for we’re in a battle: We fight old sin patterns, the world tempts with substitute gods, and Satan schemes to turn us away from the true God. So we ask Him for help. And when we ask, we find that it’s help He delights to give.
For He’s our good Father. He provides for our daily needs, forgives our sin, and protects and keeps us. We in turn are filled with gratitude. We want His name to be seen as holy. We want His kingdom to come. We want His will to be done — in our lives and throughout the earth!
Painting: The Prayer (1865), by Adolphe Bouguereau
Painting: A Bedtime Prayer, by Auguste Toulmouche (1829-1890)