Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The What, Why, How, Purpose,and Meaning of Prayer: Part 3

Matthew 6:9-13: "This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

More on prayer. Are you excited? I certainly am. However, I have a big task in front of me. The Lord's Prayer. There is absolutely no way I can get all the way through this in the space I have so this will be a brief overview. For starters though, like my teacher Faye Chechowich said once, can you believe that 2,000 years after this prayer was first spoken, thousands, even millions, of people around the world recite this at least weekly if not daily. One little simple prayer has that impact and renown. Crazy isn't it? Yes, but we have a crazy God so it makes sense. But let's get into it shall we?

First thing I want to point out is this: Jesus did not say or command us to pray these exact words every Sunday at church. He just didn't. Read the text. He tells His disciples and the crowd listening that this is HOW they should pray. Jesus did not say, "Now, I command you all to pray this prayer at all your gatherings and services because this is the greatest of all prayers." Jesus doesn't say that. Not even close actually. I mean, I may get into trouble for saying this, but when you look at this prayer at first glance, it's really nothing special. When Jesus prays for Himself, His disciples, and all believers in John 17, THAT prayer is eloquent. That prayer tugs at the heart and probably got an enthusiastic "Oh yea," or "Amen brother," or "Yes Jesus." Read John 17 and I think you'll get what I'm talking about. So why have churches for two centuries now recited this prayer each and every Sunday? It is most certainly simple, eloquent, and straight to the point. It's easy. It's understandable. But maybe Jesus wanted us to look at the form over the content. I'm not discounting the power of this prayer at all, don't get me wrong. But I think that this prayer was supposed to be contemplated and studied for its form rather much more than its content.

Stay with me. What I'm saying is that Jesus presented this prayer to teach us HOW to pray rather than WHAT to pray. Consider the following formula I pulled out from this prayer. And no, this is not original, I stole or borrowed is probably a better term for it from my youth pastor. Perhaps, the how of prayer should be God, others, self.

This prayer starts out with Jesus' recognition and yearning desire for God's name to be renown and revered throughout the earth. He was simply throwing up praises to His Abba Father who He loved beyond our human comprehension. He wants us to think of our Abba Father first, not ourselves. Amen? And then Jesus goes on to say that He wants the Father's kingdom, the kingdom of God, to come where His will will be done on earth as it is heaven. Let me paraphrase if I can have that liberty. Jesus wanted the kingdom of God to reign on earth as it is in heaven, but He also wanted it to become a reality. Jesus wanted the Father's will to become a reality on earth as well because He knew that would be the best possible place for His people to be in. That's what I like to call the outward-ness of prayer. Jesus showed us that an outward mentality for others is as important as an inward mentality for yourselves in prayer. And finally Jesus wraps this prayer up asking, begging the Father to provide, forgive, and guide. Jesus was modeling for us that it is perfectly fine to ask God for the essentials for yourself. It's ok to come before your Heavenly Father in prayer and ask for food, forgiveness, and protection. But, it can't be the first priority during prayer. Again, God, others self.

Remember, prayer should be outward as well as inward. This, I believe, is what Jesus was getting at when He recited this prayer. He wasn't telling us to say these beautiful words in this exact order every Sunday. He was, however, showing us a formula for prayer. Why? Because prayer is one of the most confusing, mysterious gifts and tool God have given us. In a very crude sense, Jesus was dumbing it down for us so we can have a simple formula for prayer.

Think about what I've said. I will too. Read the text again. See if the Holy Spirit will awake in you a deeper understanding of this passage. I will too. Thank you Jesus. Grace and Peace.

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