Some Thoughts On Prayer (4)
Prayer is one of the great privileges granted to the children of God. I know of none greater so far as this life is concerned - we can talk to God through Jesus, our Mediator, in prayer. Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you." Paul wrote, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men . . . . I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting . . . . Pray without ceasing" (Matt. 7:7; 1 Tim. 2:1, 8; 1 Thess. 5:17). There can be no question rightfully given to reflect upon the duty or privilege of prayer to the believer. Paul's instructions are applicable today.
Jesus not only taught His disciples to pray, He prayed much: at his baptism (Luke 3:21); in the deserts (Luke 6:16); in the mountain just before selecting His apostles (Luke 9:18); at His transfiguration (Luke 9:27-28). These are a few occasions mentioned by Luke. The apostles of Jesus prayed much and taught all to pray. Surely this impresses each Christian with the importance of prayer. It should also cause each of us to appreciate the privilege of prayer and build within us the incentive to pray.
"Lord, Teach Us To Pray"
Luke gives another occasion of Jesus praying and one of His "disciples, when he ceased, said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples" (Luke 11:1-13).
Prayer, to me, is a much neglected subject - and especially their request, "Teach us to pray." We have asked to be taught so many different things, but how many have asked how to pray? Is it because we feel that prayer is automatic or spontaneous? Or could it be that we just do not feel any compulsion or desire to pray? Or, maybe, it is that we accept prayer but have no appreciation for the importance of praying properly, scripturally and acceptably to God. It appears, by observation, that some of us have fallen into the denominational way of thinking regarding prayer: Just so one is honest and sincere, however and for whatever he prays, his prayer will be heard and answered. Search your own heart for the reason we never ask or request - "Teach us how to pray."
There Are Some Nots To Prayer
(1) Not to be seen and heard of men. The hypocrites liked to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners to be seen of men. Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, they have their reward" (Matt. 6:5).
(2) Not for fleshly lust. James said, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (Jas. 4:3).
(3) Not much speaking (multitude of words). "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking" (Matt. 6:7). This seems to be a weakness among us. It also hinders some from leading in prayer. They say, "I cannot pray as well as some others." This means, "I do not have the proper and dignified words." Remember, one is not heard for his "much speaking." This suggests that we need to be taught how to pray.
(4) Not self-exaltation. "And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others" (Luke 18:9). This attitude leads one to trust himself. This self-righteous person flatteringly induces himself to set aside God's commandments for his own. He then looks contemptuously upon anyone who refuses to accept his "self-willed religion." Is there any greater sin than the sin of presumptuously forming our own will in matters of religion and binding that "human will" upon others?
Humble obedience to God is very fundamental to being a Christian. This requires submission, committing oneself to God for guidance. "Speak, Lord, thy- servant heareth. Command and I will obey." Samuel told Saul, "Hath the Lord so great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king" (1 Sam. 15:22-23).
David said, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins: let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression" (Psa. 19:13). Self-exaltation, self-righteousness has no place in the plan of God for man's salvation. James said, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (Jas. 4:6). Self-exaltation is opposed to what Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . they that mourn . . . the meek" (Matt. 5:3, 4, 5). The proud, self centered and self-righteous man must be taught humility, faith and obedience (Jas. 4:6-10), 13-17; Col. 2:23).
Prayer must be offered in harmony with God's will. This is understandable, since one must be a doer of God's commandments to pray acceptably (1 Jn. 3:22; Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 3:7, 10; Psa. 119:172). Jesus taught His disciples to pray, "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth" (Matt. 6:10). For one to say this is a quibble to evade God's failure to answer, seems to reflect upon the very first recognition of God's own prerogative to act within the realm of His own will. To say that God must respond in agreement to any person's prayer is to subjugate God to man rather than man to God. When a child requests a favor of this father, he does not demand. His father complies with the request as he deems wise. Cannot we allow our Heavenly Father at least this right? He knows what is best and will give it. Our faith in Him bids us to accept that and desirously pray, "Thy will be done, and not mine."
(5) Not just a set form nor fixed expression. A study of Matthew's and Luke's account of Jesus teaching His disciples to pray will prove this (Matt. 6:9-15; Luke 11:2-4). Jesus did not give a set form but rather taught His disciples the "manner" in which to pray. I repeat, it is an example of prayer. The Lord's prayer is recorded in John 17. Other occasions of Jesus praying are given, but this prayer is offered for all. It is indeed the prayer that should touch our hearts and move us to strive to become instrumental in bringing about its answer. It should also impress upon us the need of prayer. "Lord, teach us how to pray."
"After This Manner"
This expression is given in W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary, "Houtos or houto, thus, in this way, is rendered `after this manner' in Matt. 6:9; 1 Peter 3:5; Rev. 11:5." this proves that it is not just a set form of exact words. It is a model by which His disciples were to form their prayers. It is indeed a beautiful model by which we can pattern our prayers. Note:
"Our Father which art in heaven," expresses one's reverential trust and absolute dependence upon the Father. He is the "I am that I am."
Then follows seven petitions, three with reference to God and His kingdom. "Hallowed by thy name," is the exaltation of the Father in our own hearts to His rightful place above all. "Thy kingdom come," is a pleading for the kingdom or church to be established. It was, when this was spoken, future, though "at hand," it is yet to be established. The kingdom was established on the first Pentecost after Christ's ascension (Acts 2; Col. 1:13; Heb. 12:28). Therefore, we cannot properly pray for the kingdom to come. It is already here. We can now pray for the advancement of the church, the kingdom, or for the spread of its borders.
"Thy will be done," certainly should be upon the lips of every child of God. We should first endeavor to establish God's will in our own hearts and then work to teach the gospel of Christ to every creature (Mark 16:15). God's will is to be done in His kingdom or church. This is that which characterizes God's children.
The remaining part of the model prayer deals with personal needs. "Give us this day our daily bread." Praying for daily bread implies that we may ask for temporal benefits for our physical needs. It also seems to imply that we should be content with what we need - not for pleasure nor lust, but for a livelihood. Paul learned to be content (Phil. 4:11). He also wrote to Timothy, "Having food and raiment let us be therewith content" (1 Tim. 6:8). Prayer does not take one's responsibility away from him. It is no substitute for activity. Neither does it offset God's will. It is God's will that all should work to have and to give (Eph. 4:28). But, we must understand, that our ability does not and cannot sustain us. We need God's help in all things. Therefore, Paul said, "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6). "Work and pray," is the order of the day.
"And forgive us our debts," certainly teaches that we can pray for forgiveness. But, again remember, we must apply our own faith, "as we forgive our debtors." Does not that impress the above thought - one must comply with God's will. We must do our part. Forgiving another is our responsibility. If we fail to forgive others "their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you" (Matt. 6:15). Yet we must pray, "Forgive us our trespasses."
"Lead us not into temptation," does not mean that we can expect God to take all temptation out of our life. It means that we need God's help to avoid temptation. We must "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thess. 5:22); nevertheless, we need God's strength to help us. Pray.
"Deliver us from evil." None other than God has the power to save us from sin. Our complete dependence upon God is evident. We still need to recognize that we are poor, frail human beings in everlasting need for God's help. When this is our attitude, we can then pray most sincerely, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen."
Truth Magazine XXIV: 9, pp. 149-151