For many years, I learned how to pray by watching and emulating other people.
Now frequently, learning from others is valuable: as a knitter, I have sat side by side with novices and walked them through what to do with two little sticks and a length of yarn. I guide, I suggest, they practice, we laugh gently at the initial efforts and rejoice as the novice gains experience.
But the key thing is this: I know how to knit. Quite well, actually, because I learned the basics from experts myself — people or books — and invested a lot of time practicing.
There’s One Expert
When it comes to prayer, the same caveats apply: you want to learn from an expert, and you get “better” the more you do it, providing, of course, that the basics you learned are sound. Unfortunately, because most of us learn by watching other people, we haven’t learned from the true expert, and that expert is Jesus:
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11: 20)
Jesus answers with the Lord’s prayer, so familiar to all of us that we recite it from memory, but it’s worth looking up in Luke 11: 2-4 and Matthew 6: 9 – 13 and reviewing before we invest in yet another book, or seminar, from a prominent Christian — or pseudo-Christian — leader, speaker, evangelist, author, or teacher who tells us how to get what we want.
It’s More Than What We Want
Because that’s what prayer is all about, isn’t it? Getting what we want?
Let’s go back to the Lord’s prayer, which starts,
“Father, hallowed by your name.”
It’s intimate, it’s direct, and it’s addressed to a Person — not a force, not a field, not a power, not a collective consciousness — but God, the Father, who is holy, good, compassionate, and worthy of worshiping. Reflecting upon His holiness — “hallowed by your name” — gets us in a good place to start with: humbly acknowledging our Creator, Father, and God.
What He Wants, Trumps
“. . . your kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:10 adds, “your will be done.”)
His will, not ours. Many mis-guided Christians believe (because they are frequently told and taught this) that if they say the right words in the right way, then God, because He is obligated to follow specific spiritual laws that we have generally observed and rigidly identify, must answer. In effect, we are saying that God must obey our laws as opposed to it being the other way around. Proverbs 16: 4: 1-2, 4 says,
“To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.
“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.
“The Lord works out everything for his own ends.”
I know that’s hard. We ask God for things because we want them, frequently desperately, and it’s agonizing to trust that He knows what we need more than we do. But Jesus Himself prayed,
” . . . not my will, but yours be done,” (Luke 22: 42). He wasn’t praying for a car.
God Knows, and Meets, Our Needs
“Give us each day our daily bread.”
God knows we need to eat — He created our bodies, after all — and He also knows about taxes, utility payments, shoes for the kids, mortgage or rent, and insurance. As much as we enjoy, and prefer, the security of all these things being taken care of easily, God seeks to teach us to depend upon Him, for everything. He can, will, and does provide.
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
Forgiving people is an important theme with God, and He sent His dearly beloved Son down to earth, among us, to do what we can’t do: pay the price for the damage and pain we inflict upon others, but more importantly, on God. We screw up, all the time, and it’s not such a bad thing to reflect upon our inabilities and compare them to the infinite ability of God: we can be mean, selfish, grasping, spiteful, jealous, bitter — go on, admit it, you can be a creep.
But mercifully, God loves us so much that He arranged for His own son, Jesus (who is both man and God) to pay for the evil we do, because He knows that we can’t possibly bear that charge ourselves. Reflecting upon this gift of grace enables us to give that grace to others: He forgave us: teach us, God, how to forgive others.
Not Done Yet
“And lead us not into temptation.”
Last but not least. Generally, when we get to this part, we run over it pretty fast to say the amen, but we are tempted by a lot of things — fear, anxiety, despair, discouragement, doubt, greed, a desire for power, control issues. The list is endless, but God’s strength and guidance are infinite, and the only way we will overcome our problems is to submit to the Person who has overcome them (John 16: 33).
Prayer is a conversation, not a technique. It’s not something you can fully explain in a blog article, a book, or a sermon, but it’s something that we all can do, right now, using Jesus’s words as our example.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I seek to separate God’s truth (the wheat) from the misinformation and disinformation with which we are regularly assaulted (the chaff). This is the constant call on all of us, and the only way we can successfully do it is to spend a lot of time reading and reflecting upon Scripture, and praying — simply and directly — to the Author of it.
Don’t believe everything you’re told or taught. Be a Berean (Acts 17: 10 -11), who “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
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