Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. --Psalm 86:11

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

We humans have a tendency to turn our religious beliefs and practices into something about us. Things meant to be God-focused and God-exalting, we make self-centered and self-serving.
This is sometimes true of prayer. Something meant to nurture relationship with God, we turn into a laundry list of requests. Something meant to change our hearts, we use to try to change God’s plan.

Jesus’ disciples saw something different about the way he prayed. It was not about him. In Luke 11, they asked him to teach them to pray. Why? They had seen amazing things happen when Jesus prayed. While praying at his baptism, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended and God affirmed Jesus messianic identity. While praying on the mountain, Jesus inner circle of disciples saw him transfigured and God spoke confirming Jesus as his Son. The disciples saw Jesus pray before miraculously multiplying bread and fish. They knew that when he prayed, God acted. They knew Jesus’ prayers were about his God-given mission, not his self-driven program. They wanted to learn. So Jesus taught them to pray.

To teach them, he gave them what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer. The longer and more familiar version is in Matthew 6:9-13. It starts with God, intimate (Father) yet transcendent (in the heavens). It’s about God’s reputation, God’s name being sanctified, that is, cleansed of all the grime smeared upon it by fallen people. It’s about seeing God as he truly is: holy and glorious. It’s about God’s kingdom, his rule and reign over his creation. Implication: we are dethroned and we submit. It’s about God’s will, not ours. How often we pray for our own will “in Jesus’ name,” and give no thought to whether our agenda has any resemblance to his. We say things like:

Please heal
No complications
Relieve his stress, pain
Fast recovery
Return to what she loves
And so on

There is rarely any acknowledgment in prayer of what we know to be true upon reflection: God has a purpose in our pain and does his best character-forming work during our toughest tests and darkest days.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for help, relief or provision. Indeed, the Lord’s Prayer goes on to request daily bread, forgiveness, preservation from trial and salvation from evil. But all these requests come from the position of humility established by the former, God-focused lines of the prayer.

Jesus is again our example. In his darkest hour, alone and in anguish, he prayed, “Father, take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.” And in that act of submission – and suffering – God’s kingdom came.

Let’s learn from our Lord’s life and his prayer. Let’s praise first. Let’s make it about God more than us. Let’s follow Jesus in denying our self-sovereignty and praying, “May your kingdom to come and your will be done.”

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