Prayer


In the Model Prayer (whether you call it “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father”) Jesus taught His followers to recognize the nature and direction of prayer. We pray to God—the One who is able to respond to and fulfill our prayers in the manner that is best for us (regardless of what it is we ask for). We open our prayer by acknowledging Him and setting the stage that we desire for His will to be the paramount desire of our lives. This is how we are instructed to put first things first: God’s will.

My desire is a waste desire if it is for anything less than God’s best. Sometimes my wishes, and therefore my hopes and prayers, fall short of the best. It does not really matter what I think I want. If I am truly honest with myself, I must admit that in my selfishness, I often desire something that is not really in my best interest—often because I haven’t encountered yet what would really be best for me.

One of the great things about prayer is that, even when I am shortsighted about my own situation, God always sees and knows what is best for me and in my best interest. He constantly holds in His hand the very best gifts for me—opportunities that have nothing to do with what I had in mind, friendships that I would not have made, and service places that build me up more than the recreational setting I would have chosen on my own.

So, what then is the place to start my directionally proper prayer (the one that I am addressing to God, the Mighty Creator)? It is to turn over my will to Him, to ask Him to do what it is He wants. I do this at the outset of my prayer to let God know that I am ready to encounter His desire—just like it always happens in Heaven—right here in my world, in the neighborhood where I live. Doing this serves also as a reminder to me that God has a better plan than all the plans of mankind rolled up into one big ball. His plans are better than my preferences. His plans are better than my prejudices. His plans are better than my politics. His plans are better than my religious practices. Let’s face it, God’s plan is miles better than anything thought up by me, or even by the most brilliant man who has ever or will ever live. Why wouldn’t I want His plan to take precedence over mine?

And so, let’s start again our prayer:

Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. –Matthew 6:9-10

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From time to time people consider the best way to pray. It has long been my contention that the most productive prayer is that which is addressed to the right Person. Just as a letter is delivered most efficiently when the address on the envelope is correct, prayer is most effective when it heads in the right direction.

Most people in this modern culture understand that even the smallest of discrepancies in addressing an email message will keep the message from going through. It may do us well to remember this when aiming our prayers in the direction we want them to go. For instance, when the prophet Daniel learned that all prayers for a certain time were to be addressed only to the Babylonian king, the old prophet returned to his home and continued praying to the only King who might be able to truly answer prayer—that is, the one true God. If you read the sixth chapter of the book of Daniel, you will discover that addressing his prayers to God (rather than to King Darius) resulted in not only the miraculous delivery of the prophet from death, but to the demise of his enemies in the very punishment assigned to Daniel.

Certainly not all of our prayers will have such dramatic results, but God is in the habit of hearing and answering our prayers when we address them to Him.

Over the next few weeks, in our study of prayer during this year, we will consider the model prayer that Jesus offered to His disciples. (You can find this prayer recorded in Matthew 6, and in Luke 11—we will focus on Matthew’s record.)

In order to properly address your prayer, pray to God recognizing who He is and understanding His place and power in the lives of His creation. He is God. He is holy. He is King above all kings or political systems. He is Father to those who have become His children through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And so we begin our prayer with this address of recognition:

Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. –Matthew 6:9-10

Welcome to 2019. As we look forward to this year, and as I consider what direction I want to go with this devotional blog, I think it’s time to focus on prayer. So, with your permission, dear reader (and even without it, because I am the one who decides what I add here), we will set our 2019 attention on prayer each week for the few minutes that you visit my site. I sincerely hope to be an encouragement to you and that you will not decide to skip these weekly visits.

So, to begin, I want to set up the criteria for this study of prayer.

I believe that prayer is important. It is an important part of life and an important part of each day. Prayer is a powerful part of the life of the Christ-follower (of which tribe I have chosen). Some people, who don’t espouse religious beliefs to the extent of other, more structured faiths, still appreciate the prayers of believers (almost regardless of the faith represented). At times the reference is made to “positive thoughts” as opposed to prayers. The crux of the matter is that in all kinds of communities and societies worldwide, great stock is put into the practice known as prayer. Maybe this is because of the power of knowing that someone is thinking about you and your need. Whatever the reason is, prayer is an important part of life.

Prayer is also effective. Not in reference to any magical mantra or feel-good mental exercise, but as a personal connection with our Maker. Prayer is an opportunity to draw closer to the One who made you, who loves you, and who really wants to build relationship with you.

Since this is my philosophy, I think that it is worth our while to spend the year studying and practicing prayer. Not only is it good practice, but it is also a scriptural pattern. The ancient Fathers of the Faith–Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel (to name a few)–were men of prayer. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, offered a pattern of prayerfulness for His followers. Hopefully, over the year we can discover some prayer patterns that will be helpful, some scriptural mandates that will encourage us in our prayer life, and some practical application that will lead us all into a deeper, more meaningful lifestyle that centers on Christ through prayer. Won’t you join me?

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Effective, active prayer concludes where most people like to begin—with Supplication (bringing your requests before God). Like many of the other areas of our lives, we have a tendency to focus on the things that come later while we should be building the foundation. This is one of the reasons that I think that the ACTS model for prayer is a good “best practice”. Approaching prayer in this manner guides us into approaching God at His doorstep and not our ego. So often we start our prayers with pleas to the Almighty to address our needs, expecting Him to answer those requests as we see fit and sulking or blaming Him or claiming He just didn’t answer when He responds as He knows best.

Instead, of starting with our list of demands—which when not aligning with our personal ego proves that either God doesn’t exist or just doesn’t care—I propose that we wait until after we have been worshipful, respectful, and thankful to be “requestful.” In so doing we discover that our requests are less selfish and more Christ-like. Rather than asking for God to do, give, or honor my personal desires, I find that my requests fall more in line with what God wants, sees, and knows is best not only in my life but for all those in my life who might be affected by my prayer.

Is it okay to ask the Master for things? Absolutely. He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him. He loves it when we voice the needs around us and in our lives. He invites us to make our queries to Him. Making those requests, though, should be in keeping with His will and His ways. It is not for insignificance’s sake that He tells us to let the mind of Christ be in us (see Philippians 2). Repeatedly, when we are told to bring petitions before God, we are reminded to ask “in Jesus’ name.” Asking in such a manner does not mean adding a magical formula as a tag-line to our prayers, but means that when we ask we do so with the understanding of the kinds of requests that Jesus would make. We are—by asking in Jesus’ name—making ourselves His representative at the Father’s feet. Just as I would want my agent to ask for the things that I would desire, as an agent of Christ, I make my requests for the things that He would want. For me. And for those around me.

Yes, bring your petitions before God. Bring them sincerely. Bring them regularly. But bring them with the proper attitude, the proper response, and the proper placement.

 

“You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” –James 4:3

As we begin the month of Thanksgiving, it is appropriate that we have reached the third stage in effective, active prayer – Thanks. As you will recall we have Adored God for who He is; we have Confessed our sin because of who we are; and now we turn our attention to giving thanks to God for all He has done.

Thanksgiving is more than just a feast and football day on the third Thursday in November. It is a continual attitude that expresses gratitude to One who always merits it. So for all the things that God has done, all the things that He is doing now, and all the things He ever will do, may we be forever grateful.

Instead of making thanksgiving an exercise in research (looking for those events and gifts that seem to elude us while they are happening), let us begin to live in a daily determined deluge of delivering gratitude to God. An old chorus that was popular in the 1970s version of the church was called “Love Him in the Morning.” This particular song was one of those that had a number of verses that simply changed a word in each line so that you could express an attitude toward God that was appropriate. For today’s topic let’s sing the verse about gratefulness:

Thank Him in the morning when you see the sun arisin’

Thank Him in the evening ‘cause He took you through the day

And in the in between times when you feel the pressure comin’

Remember that He loves you and He promises to stay.

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

It is good for the soul. Confession that is. Especially when we confess our sins to the One who made us. As we pray, and if we desire our prayers and prayer life to be filled with meaning and actively working in our life, we should follow up our Adoration of God with Confession to Him.

Confession is not only good for our soul, it is necessary if we are to grow in our relationship with God. He already knows when, where, and how we have fallen short of His desire for us. So to confess is not really for His sake but our development. Etymologists are fond of reminding us that to confess comes from Latin origins that combine con– (with) and –feture (to declare), indicating that we “declare with” someone (in this case, God) what is already true.

When we confess our sin, we own it. We agree with the Maker that we have missed His best for our lives. What this allows is for us to clear the slate and re-start in our relationship with Him. In Isaiah chapter 6, we have a prime example of what makes prayer life work and what turns our everyday prayer experience into true worship. The first thing that Isaiah does in the presence of the Almighty is to acknowledge Him for who He is—to Adore Him. Immediately, the prophet realizes that, in such Presence, he is a “man of unclean lips.” Confession allows the person praying to recognize, in the presence of Perfection, how imperfect we truly are.

Building your prayer with a foundation of acknowledging God through Adoration and owning up to yourself through Confession brings you to the place of being able to receive one of the most magnificent gifts known to man—forgiveness. God wants to forgive us, and He wants us to know that we have been forgiven. For all of this to happen, confession is the right and only step. Confession is good for the soul.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” –1 John 1:9

[Note: The next few weeks are taken from my sermon series entitled Pray Like You Mean It. The principle of ACTS praying is not original with me, but it can be helpful in one’s prayer life.]

Yes, I believe in prayer. I think that it is the beginning of the ultimate relationship of a person’s life. It is also the very lifeblood of that relationship—helping it to grow and mature. So, the question that constantly niggles at me is: Why aren’t we as Christians more actively involved in the activity of prayer? The best answer that I can arrive at (through cursory observation, not scientific polling) is that, like Jesus’ disciples of New Testament days (see Luke 11:1-13), we don’t know what to say. Perhaps we don’t even know how to start.

I am not the ultimate expert on prayer (let me point you to the likes of E. M. Bounds, A.W. Tozer, or T.W. Hunt for the really deep thinking on the topic of prayer), but over the years I have stumbled upon some principles that might be helpful in getting our prayer life beyond saying grace at mealtime, asking sleep protection at bedtime, and blankly repeating “Our Father.” (All of these are good things, and I don’t think you should give those basic, and sometimes memorized prayers up. I just desire to see Christ’s church dive into a meaningful pool of prayer in which to swim.)

The acronym ACTS has been helpful to me for years when I don’t know exactly what to pray for or how to start. I don’t settle on this outline for prayer as a steadfast rule, but when I need or want to pray, and I’m struggling with the way to begin, I find this pattern to be a good springboard for diving into a conversation with the Almighty. So, over the next few weeks (as I focus on prayer here), let’s take each aspect of active prayer in turn.

A perfect and proper place to start in your prayer is with A – Adoration. As we address God, inviting Him into the living rooms of our hearts for a few moments of coffee and conversation, it is good to say aloud the things about God that you admire. Certainly, He does not need me to butter Him up with flowery words and empty adulation, but I often need to remember and recognize who He is in the world and in my life. He is God, and I am not.

To begin my time with God, I want to acknowledge to Him, in His presence, that I love and adore Him. I want to offer up praises to Him that are due Him and no other being in all of the universe. Is it any wonder that when Jesus answered the disciples’ request for instruction into prayer He said, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be your name.”

So as you pray today (maybe even before you make your way to your house of worship), start by praising God—for what He’s done, for how He provides, but mainly because of who He is: God of the universe who deserves praise regardless of our sense of Him and His presence.

I praise Your name, Lord Almighty,

You are the source of life itself.

I love You, God, the True Sustainer,

You saved me from eternal Hell.

I hold you, Christ, above all others

You gave for me Your everything.

I lift you Lord, before all others

You are the Why I shout and sing.

Therefore, you should pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,
your name be honored as holy.”
–Matthew 6:9

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