“Teach us to Pray”
First Published: March 20, 1997
Last week we began a series of discussions in the First Epistle on biblical patterns for prayer. In so doing, we will study some of Paul’s great prayers, prayer requests, and prayer reports in his letter to the Ephesians (today, though, we will look at our Lord’s prayer). Our goal will be to learn to pray according to Scripture. That is, we want to pray with a biblical understanding of prayer, with a biblical motivation for prayer, with a biblical proportion in prayer, and by a biblical pattern of prayer.
This is not, however, primarily a “how to” issue. It is not a matter of technique. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He gave them a Scriptural pattern for prayer (Luke 11:1-4). He did this not because rote memorization of a set form is the secret of prevailing prayer, but because divinely inspired Scriptural patterns of prayer teach us what prayer is, why we should do it, what needs to be emphasized in it, and what ought to be included in it -- even as we pray through those patterns.
For instance, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “Our Father who is 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 do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:9-13), note what we learn just by praying this prayer.
“Our Father who is in heaven” teaches us what prayer is: spiritual conversation and fellowship with our loving heavenly Father (rather than a vehicle to get what we want). It also motivates to pray, reminding us as it does that we may approach the Lord of Heaven confidently because He is our Father (and so we approach Him not just to obtain things, but because we love Him and want to talk to Him).
The petitions “Hallowed be Your name,” “Your kingdom come,” and “Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” remind us of our priorities in prayer: we are to emphasize God’s agenda rather than our own when we engage Him in spiritual conversation (that is, His glory and our acknowledgment of His Lordship ought to manifest itself in all our prayers).
The supplications “Give us this day our daily bread,” “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” “do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” teach us that we must be dependent on the Lord for provision of our daily needs, for forgiveness our daily sins, and for protection against daily temptations. They also teach us that such intercessions are to be regularly included in our prayer (in other words, the ordinary concerns of our own lives and the lives of others are matters about which God desires us to speak with Him!).
In short, by praying through the Lord’s prayer with spiritual understanding, we learn what prayer is, why we should do it, what needs to be emphasized in it, and what ought to be included in it, even as we pray it! And this is but one example of the power and practicality of Scriptural prayer. May God grip our hearts with the prayers of Scripture and changes our lives by them.