Whether it’s a traffic jam or a true disaster, people feel an inclination to cry out to God for relief. When we feel powerless and there’s nothing left to do, it’s necessary to ask for help.
So is it ok to pray a short, frantic prayer? Absolutely.
However, when it’s sunny outside, if an application is accepted, a relationship deepened, or a problem resolved, many people also feel an innate desire to turn their focus to God and say, “Thanks.”
But prayer is more than a default mode for finding help or saying thanks. Prayer is the expression of the desire to communicate with God, yet many times it’s hard to know what to say beyond the basics. Luckily Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, and He gave them an example:
“[Jesus] said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.'” (Luke 11: 2-4, NIV).
Let’s walk through Jesus’ prayer and try to understand more about talking to God:
Hallowed Be Your Name
The act of prayer can be intimidating if we’re unclear about who God is or what God is like. Yet Jesus taught that God is unlike any other: He is hallowed, or sacred, and is to be valued and respected above all else.
Famous speaker and writer A.W. Tozer wrote, “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.” Idolatry is the act of worshipping something that is not the one, true God. Yet Tozer says that having a low view of God is also idolatrous.
God created the universe out of nothing, and He is not confined by time or space. Jesus said, “No one is good–except God alone” (Luke 18:19). In telling us to declare God’s holiness at the outset of our prayers, Jesus is teaching us to have true and high thoughts about God, understanding first that He is much larger and more beautiful than we can imagine.
Your Kingdom Come, On Earth
Jesus taught that heaven is not the only place where we can see God’s kingdom because people have the ability to live out kingdom principles while on earth.
The Bible says, “Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you.'” (Luke 17:21-22).
Prophets foretold that God’s kingdom is a time when people will live at peace with each other and when evil will not have control over the workings of the world.
Ask God to help you hunger for His justice as the Psalmist did: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).
If we desire His righteousness, surely the world will begin to look a little more like His kingdom because our actions will be consistent with our request.
Give Us Each Day Our Daily Bread
This statement seems to claim dependence on God for daily food. To many people who have plenty of money, this request is bogus. Why ask God for daily bread when we already know we’ll have it?
People drift away from God when they become self-dependent. It’s easy for those with money to stop depending on God; after all, it seems that they are earning their own meals. Jesus is teaching us that whether or not we know where our next meal is coming from, all good things truly come from God.
Billy Graham says, “The rich young ruler who came to Jesus was so filled with his piety, his riches, and his greed that … he found it impossible to become ‘poor in spirit’ [as Jesus asked] because he had such a lofty estimate of his own importance.”
Requesting our “daily bread” from God humbles us and acknowledges our dependence on God. Recognize that you are dependent on God for everything, and then watch your relationship with Him grow.
Forgive Us Our Sins
Sins are sticky things, and it’s hard to let go of feelings of bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and the desire to get even. But Jesus is teaching us to admit those sins, to let them go, and to ask for God’s forgiveness.
We can pray for each other’s relief too. The Bible says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Aside from the more obvious sins, Jesus also told us not to fear or to be anxious and weighed down. Clinging to fears is easy, but Jesus said to give them to Him in deed and prayer.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus said, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-29).
Asking forgiveness allows us to let go of our control and allow God to handle our problems. Ask His forgiveness today, give Him your burdens, and start anew.
We Forgive Everyone
Wait. If we’re going to tell God that we forgive everyone, then that means – we’re going to have to forgive everyone.
In His prayer, Jesus is not giving us much room for exceptions. “When you stand praying,” Jesus said, “if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:22-25).
Above all, Jesus cares about building up and encouraging His church. Except for the witness of other people, no one would know Christ. We need each other and should be willing to forgive sacrificially.
Jesus did that, too. He sacrificed Himself and asked God to forgive those who crucified Him, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
This will be a powerful prayer to pray when it’s done: “Hey, God. Today I forgave everyone.”
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Prideful, threatened, defensive, vain… We’re all susceptible to these traits because we’re weak. But the Bible says that those who trust in Christ’s perfect sacrifice are recipients of grace. Not only can we be forgiven, but also we can receive the fullness of life because of God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ.
While we are still weak, Jesus taught us that we could ask for God’s help: Please don’t let us fall prey to the usual stuff, God.
Finally, Jesus taught some very straightforward things about prayer, namely that we should speak openly and honestly to God, and not pray to be seen by others.
“And when you pray,” Jesus said, “do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. … But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).
And Jesus did just that. The Bible says, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Through His life, Jesus showed that prayer is one of the most important gifts we’ve been given. The Bible says, “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12).
Although May 1, 2008 is the National Day of Prayer and you may be praying with others or in a public place, you also may want to withdraw to a private place, “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” and pray as He taught us, with persistence, dependence, sincerity and hope (Hebrews 4:16).
- Our pastor is always praying for world peace and for our nation, but frankly I don’t see what good it does to pray for very general things like this, do you?
Read Billy Graham’s answer »
- How do I know God answers prayers, even if nothing happens? I’ve asked God to give me a sign that He is hearing me, but He hasn’t. Sometimes I even wonder if it’s worth it to keep on praying.
Read Billy Graham’s answer »