October 18, 2017

The Proper Content of Our Prayers

By Mark Mayberry

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets forth a model prayer (Matt. 6:9-13). Luke records that when Jesus had finished praying, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” Again, he offered a model for prayer (Luke 11:1-4). These passages become a starting point as we consider the appropriate focus for our prayer. Significantly, Jesus shows that prayer should have a threefold focus. We should pray for the things of God. We should pray for the things of others. We should pray for the things of self.

We Should Pray For The 
Things Of God
1. Praise To His Name. Our prayers should express praise for God’s name. Jesus began the model prayer by saying, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2). Strong defines the Greek word hagiazo, which is translated “hallowed,” as “to make holy, i.e. (ceremonially) purify or consecrate; (mentally) to venerate.” Normally it is used in Scripture to indicate that we must become holy, pure, and separate from sin. Here it indicates that God is holy, pure, and separate from sin. When Jesus ended the model prayer, he returned to the theme of praise: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:13). We must give unto the Lord the glory that is due his name and worship him in holy array (1 Chron. 16:28-29; Pss. 29:1-2; 96:7-9). The importance of treating God as holy and giving him proper honor cannot be overstated (Lev. 10:1-3).

2. Furtherance Of His Kingdom. We should pray for the furtherance of God’s kingdom. Jesus prayed, “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2). During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the kingdom of God was at hand (Matt. 4:17). However, he affirmed that the kingdom would soon be established (Mark 9:1). This occurred on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:6-8; 2:1-4). Thereafter, as the gospel message was proclaimed, the kingdom of God was treated as a present reality (Acts 8:12; 14:21-22). Significantly, in writing to the Colossians, Paul affirmed that God had delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son (Col. 1:13-14). The Hebrew writer said that his readers were in the process of receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28). John also spoke of the kingdom as a present reality (Rev. 1:6, 9). Therefore, since this prayer of Jesus has already been fulfilled, what relevance does it have for today? Well, it is always appropriate for Christians to pray that the borders of God’s kingdom will be enlarged (2 Thess. 3:1-2).

3. God’s Will Be Done. We should pray that God’s will be done. Jesus prayed, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). The will of God should be practiced by society as a whole, and the local church in particular. However, we must not forget that it has application in our own private lives. Jesus manifested this attitude in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39, 42). Those who think otherwise have no hope of reaching heaven (Matt. 7:21-23). Only those who do the will of God will live forever (1 John 2:15-17).

4. Thanksgiving For His Blessings. When we pray, we should be thankful for God’s many blessings. The Psalmist said, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving. Give thanks to him. Bless his name” (Ps. 100:1-4). Christians should not act like spoiled brats in the toy section at Wal-Mart, saying, “Give me, give me, give me!” Rather, we should manifest a spirit of thanksgiving as we make our requests known to God (Phil. 4:6-7). In writing to the Colossians, Paul said, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). Addressing the disciples in Macedonia, he said, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). 

We Should Pray 
For the Things of  Others
1. World Leaders. We should pray for world leaders. Paul urged Timothy to pray for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Cyrus, king of Persia, issued a decree that the Jews could return home, rebuild the temple, re-institute sacrifice and offerings, and also pray for the king and his sons (Ezra 6:9-10). In one of the two Psalms attributed to his name, Solomon prayed that God would endow the king with wisdom and bless his sons with righteousness (Ps. 72:1-2). The importance of reverencing God and his word cannot be overstated, especially as in application to rulers (Prov. 8:13-16). The Lord establishes kings and removes kings (Dan. 2:21). The Most High still rules in the kingdoms of men (Dan. 5:21). Righteousness still exalts a nation, and sin is still a reproach and disgrace to any people (Prov. 14:34). The Lord will turn a fruitful land into a barren wasteland because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it (Ps. 107:33-34). Therefore, let us pray for leaders, that they will do what is right, and continue to permit us to do what is right.

2. Fellow Christians. We should pray for our fellow-Christians. Paul continually prayed for the disciples at Ephesus, that God would grant them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him (Eph. 1:15-17). Concerning the Philippians, Paul prayed that their love would abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that they may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (Phil. 1:8-11). Concerning Philemon, Paul was  thankful for his love and faith, and prayed that he would promote the knowledge of all that is good in Christ Jesus (Phile. 1:4-6). 

3. Ministers Of The Gospel. We should pray for ministers of the gospel. Paul commended the Corinthian disciples by saying, “You also joined in helping us through your prayers” (2 Cor. 1:11). He asked the Ephesians to pray for him that he might open his mouth with boldness in proclaiming the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 6:18-20). In a similar vein, he also asked the Colossians to pray that he would speak the truth clearly (Col. 4:2-4). As an evangelist, I solicit your prayers. Along with the inspired apostle, I would say, “Brethren, pray for us” (1 Thess. 5:25). 

4. Lost Sinners. We should also pray for lost sinners. When Jesus saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Recognizing the great work that lay ahead, he asked the disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into his harvest (Matt. 9:36-38). Paul manifested a similar attitude toward his countrymen when he said, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1-3). In fact, if it would have changed their lost condition, Paul could have wished himself accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his brethren, my kinsmen by race (Rom. 9:1-3). Alas, we stand or fall as individuals: The soul that sins shall die (Ezek. 18:20). Each one must bear his own load (Gal. 6:5). Nevertheless, one way we can bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) is by praying for the lost, that they will realize their undone condition, that they will respond to God’s grace and obey the gospel while there is time and opportunity (2 Pet. 3:9-11).

5. Our Enemies. We should also pray for our enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly challenged traditional concepts of goodness. After addressing the subjects of murder (Matt. 5:21-22), adultery (Matt. 5:27-28), false vows (Matt. 5:33-37), and vengeance (Matt. 5:38-42), the Lord focused on the attitude we should manifest toward our enemies. Instead of hating them, we should love our enemies, even to the point of praying for those who would persecute us (Matt. 5:43-48). In this regard, as in every area of life, Jesus practiced what he preached. Hanging on the cross, he looked down at his tormentors, and said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:33-34). When Stephen became the first Christian martyr, he manifested a similarly forgiving attitude toward those who stoned him (Acts 7:59-60). In like manner, we should pray for our enemies. God must inevitably take vengeance on wicked men (2 Thess. 1:7-10; Heb. 10:30-31). However, we must not waste our time by focusing on such things. Rather, let us do good to our enemies, even to the point of prayer. By following such a course, we will avoid being overcome by evil, but will hopefully overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:19-21). 

6. The Sick. We should also pray for the sick. The Psalmist said, “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears” (Ps. 18:6). Again, David said, “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you healed me” (Ps. 30:2). We also should turn to God in times of sickness, distress, and dread. In the New Testament, we repeatedly read of men of God praying for the physically and spiritually sick. In this regard, Peter prayed for Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:18-24), and Paul prayed for the father of Publius (Acts 28:7-8). While we recognize that the age of miracles has ended, we should still pray for those who are sick and suffering (Jas. 5:13-16). 

We Should Pray For The Things Of Self
1. The Necessities Of Life. We should pray for the necessities of life. In Matthew’s account of the model prayer, Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Luke says, “Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3). Note the emphasis is on the present, not the future. When God fed the Israelites with manna in the wilderness, they were allowed to collect only what they could eat in a day, and any food that was hoarded until the morrow spoiled (Exod. 16:16-21). Thus they were taught to rely upon God for their daily provisions. 

Since abundance and want tempt us, though in different ways, we should ask for only what is needful (Prov. 30:8-9). While covetousness will consume our souls, godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6-11). Therefore, we should not worry about the morrow regarding food, clothing, or shelter. Instead, let us trust God to provide our needs from day to day (Matt. 6:24-33). 

2. The Forgiveness Of Sins. We should pray for the forgiveness of sins. In Matthew’s account of the model prayer, Jesus said, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). Luke records, “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). The burden of guilt is more than we can bear, while the blessings of forgiveness are beyond compare (Ps. 32:1-5). How wonderful it is that the Lord God is compassionate, gracious, and forgiving (Exod. 34:6-7; Ps. 103:2-3). If you will approach God on his terms, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool” (Isa. 1:18). Redemption was made possible through the blood of Christ (Eph. 1:7). We contact his blood through baptism (Rom. 6:3-4). Having been cleansed with the washing of water by the word (Eph. 5:26), let us confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, that we might be healed (Jas. 5:16).

3. Help In Time Of Temptation. We should pray for help in time of temptation. Jesus said, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13; Luke 11:4). Strong defines the Greek word peirasmos as “a putting to proof by experience of good or experience of evil.” Thayer says it refers to “an experiment, an attempt, a trial, a proving.” Temptations can be good or bad. Certain temptations come from Satan as he would cause us to stumble and entice us to sin (Luke 22:31-34, 40). Other temptations come from the Lord as he tests our faith and proves our character (Jas. 1:2-3; Rom. 8:28). Yet, God is faithful to the faithful. He will not let his children be tempted beyond their strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that they may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13). Therefore, let us pray in time of temptation, and diligently look for that promised way of escape, knowing that the spirit is often willing but the flesh is often weak (Matt. 26:41).

4. Spiritual Growth and Maturity. We should pray for spiritual growth and maturity. Concerning the saints at Ephesians, Paul prayed that they might be strengthened spiritually and filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:14-19). Concerning the brethren in Macedonia, Paul prayed that they might increase and abound in love and holiness (1 Thess. 3:11-13). If we lack wisdom, James indicated that we should pray that God will fill up this deficiency (Jas. 1:5). Notwithstanding, the realization of this prayer is not a one-way street. God will generously bestow this gift if we diligently search after it (Prov. 2:1-5). 

5. All Things. We should pray for all things that concern us. Paul said, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6-7). We should approach God with our wants and wishes, our sins and sorrows, our cares and concerns. Hannah fervently prayed for a son (1 Sam. 1:10-18). David prayed to God when he fled from Absalom, his son (Ps. 3:1-4). After having fled from God and forsaken his duty, Jonah prayed from the stomach of the great fish (Jon. 2:1-2). Before choosing the apostles, he went off to the mountain to pray, and he spent the whole night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12-13). Before his betrayal, Jesus poured out his heart to God in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-39). 
Therefore, let us cast our burdens upon the Lord, and pour out our heart before him, fully trusting that he will sustain us (Pss. 55:22; 62:8). However, the blessed avenue of prayer also carries in implicit warning: If we cannot conscientiously ask God to bless us in a certain area, then we should avoid the matter. If we cannot ask God’s help in a given activity, they we better leave it alone.

Conclusion
In conclusion, let freely entreat God’s blessings through prayers and supplications (Matt. 7:7-11). However, as we pray, let us not focus exclusively on our personal needs. Remember to pray for the things of God, and the issues that are of concern to other people. God will answer our prayers if we ask in the name of Christ (John 14:13-14), abide in the words of Christ (John 15:7), keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight (1 John 3:21-22). 
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