Teach Us to Pray...
Prayer is a spiritual discipline which is, in equal measure, both difficult and rewarding. Our struggles are surpassed by the blessings we derive from God’s love in answering our prayers. Yet prayer remains difficult. Perhaps it is difficult because we do not view it as an act of worship, and even less so, communion with God. Here are seven principles derived from the Lord’s prayer which are meant to assist us in prayer, worship and communion with our Father in heaven:
First, there is the obligation to pray. In Matt. 6:5, our Lord says, “and when you pray.” He does not leave the matter to chance or choice; rather, he assumes the practice in the Christian life. It is an expectation and obligation of the Christian life, and yet we ought to see it as more than that. Perhaps it is even the greatest privilege of the Christian life, that we are brought into such a close communion with the Triune God when we pray. Perhaps if we thought of that privilege, the duty of prayer would become more like the delight of prayer.
Second, there is the importance of prayer. Prayer is of such importance that our Lord instructs his disciples in the matter on at least two occasions: once at the beginning of his ministry (Matthew) and then later (in Luke) at the request of his disciples. If our Lord saw fit to train us through explicit instruction (not mention the abundance of implicit instruction in Scripture) we can be certain the practice of prayer is, indeed, important. It deserves our study, energy and zeal.
Third, we are taught how to pray. We do not know how to pray naturally. “How should we pray?” is quite a good question for us to ask. Given our Lord’s instruction, we ought to take stock of our natural inabilities or inherent spiritual laziness and understand the Jesus here, gives us a seminar on how to pray to God. Thomas Watson wrote, “Our souls lie at stake, eternity is before us; and to entreat with God on the business of eternity, is business that needs direction"1
Fourth, we witness in the Lord’s Prayer, the heart of prayer. While it is called our Lord’s Prayer, it could equally be called, “How not to pray like the hypocrites and Gentiles.” The prayer is a prayer of contrast, between the faithless hypocrite and the Gentile without knowledge. Neither knows God – they think they can earn righteousness or be heard by their mode of outward expression. Christians pray to “our Father in Heaven.” That sets this prayer on another plane altogether. It is a prayer to the Most-High God, the Eternally Righteous Judge, who we can call our Father. Faith in Christ grants us that access. Let us never forget such.
Fifth, who is to pray? Jesus says “when you pray go into room.” The you here is singular. Christians are to pray as individuals. Christians, as individuals are to commune with God in prayer. Yet our Lord also says we are to pray “Our Father in heaven.” Clearly Christ has in mind corporate prayer, whether in the assembly of the saints or in smaller groups. Families, friends, Christians are expected to pray, with and for each other.
Sixth, the pattern and from of the prayer. Is the Lord’s prayer a pattern or a set form? It appears to be both, if you look at the corresponding accounts in Matthew and Luke. However, does the prayer provides us with insight into how we should pray? Look at the division of petitions: the first three pertain to the glory of God, the second three to our needs. That ought to be the ordinary order in which we approach God - concern for his name and glory then for our own needs. Perhaps an over-emphasis on our own needs impoverishes our prayer lives?
Seventh, the content of Prayer. A cursory glance at the petitions will reveal that they are all petitions found in Scripture. The glory of God’s name, the growth and coming of the kingdom, God’s will being done etc. are all biblical petitions. Christ is teaching us to preach Scripture, for then we are certain to be praying according to the will of God.
1. Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 2, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 2 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 556.