We Gather Together II
Worship (VI): Prayer (1)
Another item of worship practiced by early Christians was prayer; it was a part of their public worship and private lives (cf. Acts 2:42; 4:24-30; 1 Cor. 14:14-15). As an item of worship, we Christians should want to learn more about prayer that we might improve our prayer life. When I feel spiritually depressed or have doubts regarding whether or not my life is pleasing to God, one or both of two things is usually wrong. Either I have failed to pray as I ought or I have failed to spend as much time in studying God's word as I should. Hence, each of us has a personal need to devote himself to prayer.
The tendency for formalism to dominate our worship services is a danger which all of us must watch. No doubt, some of those who became associated with the Pentecostalism which swept through the Lord's church were disgusted with the formalism they have seen in worship. Perhaps a better understanding of the place of prayer will assist us in offering more acceptable worship to God.
Prayer in the Life of Jesus
Anyone acquainted with the gospels is aware of how important a part prayer played in the life of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews stated, "In the days of His flesh, when He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and who was heard because of His piety . . ." (5:7). Let us notice the prayers mentioned in the life of our Master.
1. In His Day-to-Day Living. He blessed His food (Mt. 15:36; Lk. 24:30). He frequently opened His day with an early morning prayer to God. Mark recorded, "And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there" (1:35; cf. Lk. 4:42, 43). "But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray" (Lk. 5:16).
2. He Requested Specific Acts. In addition to His regular prayers, Jesus often approached the Lord with specific requests. He taught the disciples that certain diseases could only be healed by prayer, even in the age of miracles (Mk. 9:29). He prayed for God to send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (Jn. 14:16). He made intercession for His disciples (Lk. 22:32). Many other specific requests for God to answer His needs could also be mentioned from the gospels.
3. Before Important Events in His life. Hence, we read that Jesus prayed when the Holy Spirit came upon Him, following His baptism by John (Lk. 3:21-22). Before selecting the Twelve Apostles, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer (Lk. 6:12-16). Immediately prior to Peter's confession that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus was praying (Lk. 9:18). When the Transfiguration occurred, Jesus had gone into the mountain to pray (Lk. 9:28).
4. When Facing Agony. As the agony of the crucifixion approached, Jesus resorted to prayer. "And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground" (Lk. 22:44). While on the cross, He uttered several prayers (cf. Lk. 23:34, 46; Mk. 15:34).
From these Scriptures, we see how important prayer was to the Son of Man. If it was important for Him to pray, how much more should we be conscious of our own spiritual needs to be met in prayer. It was for this reason that Jesus sought to teach His disciples several lessons pertaining to prayer.
The Model Prayer
With the idea of teaching His disciples how to pray, Jesus gave this model for prayer. He said, "Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed by Thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy 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 Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen."
As we analyze this prayer, we shall learn more of the manner in which we should pray. Hence, let us look at this prayer piece by piece.
1. "Our Father who art in heaven. " Jesus taught us to look upon God as our Father in heaven. Later, in this same sermon, He said, "Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" (Mt. 7:9-11). Hence, we approach God as our concerned Father. Paul later commented on our adoption as sons saying, "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, `Abba! Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God" (Gal. 4:6-7). My relationship to God is that of a son to a father.
2. "Hallowed by Thy name. " I think that in this portion of the prayer, Jesus is teaching us that we should exalt and magnify the precious name of God. Part of our prayer should be designed to worship and adore our great God for the many good things He has done for us. So frequently we hear prayers that are almost exclusively "give-me" prayers. In presenting our petitions to God, we would do well to emulate the model prayer and begin by expressing praise to God.
3. "Thy kingdom come. " Though we cannot pray for the Lord's kingdom to come, since it has already come, we should nevertheless pray about His kingdom. There are many things concerning the Lord's kingdom concerning which we should pray. I can think of several matters of a personal nature exclusively applicable to the local congregation with which I worship about which I offer prayer to God. On a broader scale, we should pray that God's kingdom might grow in every locality through the teaching of His word. We need to pray for the elders and deacons. We need to pray for the weak members, the fainthearted, the sick, etc. Surely, we could pray almost endlessly regarding matters pertaining to God's kingdom, especially in days when it is being so troubled from within by factious men and false teachers.
4. "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. " Every petitioner needs to humbly submit himself to the Lord's will even as Jesus did. When He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He dreaded the sufferings of the cross which lay before Him. Consequently, He prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (Mt. 26:39). "In the days of His flesh, when He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and who was heard because of His piety, although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Heb. 5:7-8). In our prayers, we should humbly submit our lower wills to the higher will of God. We can petition God for requests but recognize that they must be accordance with His divine will.
5. "Give us this day our daily bread. " This petition shows the propriety of presenting our physical needs before the throne of God. Our Father in heaven knows that we have need of these things (Mt. 6:32) and, therefore, realizes that we will need to be asking for our daily needs. Yet, even in this we see that we should only ask for our daily needs; God has not promised to give us a storehouse so bountifully filled that our minds will always be at ease regarding our future needs. Rather, He has taught us to trust in Him for our daily needs.
6. "And forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors. "One brother wrote to me recently telling me that this is a condition for forgiveness the same as repentance and prayer is. Indeed, a man must be willing to forgive those who sin against him in order to receive the divine forgiveness of God. This part of the Model Prayer shows us to take our pleas for remission of sins directly to God. Through our intercessor, Jesus Christ, our sins will be washed away by His precious blood.
7. "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. " This part of the Model Prayer reminds us that Satan is walking about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Pet. 5:8). Paul also taught that we should not be ignorant of his devices (2 Cor. 2:11). Knowing the cunning nature of the Devil, we should pray for the Lord to lead us out of temptation and from evil. Far too often, we enjoy the things of sin in which we engage so much that we cannot, or at least do not, pray for the Lord to lead us away from that particular temptation.
This petition also presupposes that the Lord so directs one's life that He will personally lead him in a providential way so as to watch over him. God has elsewhere promised that He will not allow us to be tempted above our ability to bear and that He will provide a way of escape with each temptation which confronts us (I Cor. 10:13). Such promises from God Almighty surely give me reassurance as I strive to walk in Christ's footsteps.
8. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. " This Model Prayer closes, just as it opened, with praise to God. We should learn a lesson from our Lord's example to spend time praising God in our prayers.
We should study this prayer which Jesus gave us to use as a model for how we should pray. Using the life of Jesus as another example, we see how devoted we should be to God in prayer. I personally need to be reminded of this. Sometimes I get so busy that I fail to take time to pray as I should. I need to learn from the Master's life to take time for prayer on a regular basis. Will you join me in resolving to be more like the Master in prayer?
Questions - Lesson VI
Truth Magazine XXIII: 44, pp. 706-707