In the previous weeks we have talked about what we pray for, who we pray for, when we should pray, where we should pray, and why we should pray. These are the five W's, the questions that every journalist asks when putting an investigative story together. But there is also an "H" question which is How?.
When we buy a new product we often need a set of written instructions that tell us how to use it or how to assemble it. There is a lucrative market for How-to Books that teach us what steps must be followed to learn to do something. In essence the Holy Bible is a vast source of reference on how to live, how to be healthy, how to treat others, as well as many other how to's.
Some people feel inadequate when it comes to regular prayer. They are afraid that perhaps they cannot pray as eloquently as others, or they won't pray for the right things, or they just don't know the right way to pray. For this reason, Jesus gave all of us a very distinct outline of how we should pray. Many of us know this prayer outline as The Lord's Prayer. In church The Lord's Prayer is often recited much as it appears in Matthew 6:9-13. But more than just a rote set of verses to be memorized and recited, I think Jesus was giving us the prayer model--the example of the structure of our prayer to God, the way we should talk to God, and what we should ask God for.
I will be breaking this prayer down to explain what the prayer means. I will be using the King James Version, which is the version with which many of us are familiar. [Matthew 6:9-13 (King James Version)]
Jesus spoke the following : After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
The prayer starts with a greeting and an acknowledgment of who is being greeted. When we call somebody on the phone or meet with someone face to face, we normally don't just immediately start talking or asking questions as soon as the encounter is initiated. Instead we typically begin with a hello, an inquiry as to how they are, and when unsure we confirm the other person's identity. The same should apply when we approach God.
We are all contstantly thinking and may even at times talk to ourselves or enact conversation with someone who is not there. Our act of prayer should be clearly distinguishable from our normal thought or rehearsed speech in specifically addressing these thoughts or words of prayer to God. This act serves to put us in the right frame of mind and demonstrates to God our obediance and reverence to him. We should begin our address to God with a title that is special to God alone and a recognition that He is Holy, or Hallowed to us. In addressing the greater and more reverent Being of God in a special way, we are symbolically prostrating ourselves mentally to our caring creator.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
We are essentiallly helpless on the grander scheme of things. We can't control weather, upheavals within the Earth, or the movements of the universe. Sure we might have influence over certain outcomes in our lives, but we never know when something unexpected may change the route we are taking. We are in God's hands whether we want to admit it or not.
In the prayer model, we are told to acknowledge God's sovereignty over this world and in the world that is to come. We are to humble ourselves before our Lord and give our lives over to him. We are to let God know that we understand that He is in control and that we trust in Him.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Once we have established who we are talking to and what His relationship to us means, we can ask Him to hear our requests. It's the same as making a phone call for a specific purpose. Once you have gotten the person that you need to talk to on the line and greeted that person, then you address the issue that you called for. It works much the same way in prayer. You get God on the line and greet Him with your utmost respect and now you are ready to bring up the purpose for your call.
Bread is a basic need of life. We come before God to ask that he provide us with all of our needs. Remember that this a model prayer. Jesus doesn't give us a whole laundry list of what we can ask for, but he does tell us elsewhere that we can ask for anything. God will let us know if we have asked correctly and if we have asked for the right things. By continually talking to God about our needs and wants and about what we want for others we will begin to have a better relationship with God, understand his Word more clearly, and be able to accept what comes our way.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
To receive God's blessings we must follow God's way. We are sinners and God forgives us when we approach him with contrition. Arrogance before God will not bring answer to prayer. When we are asking him to give us something we should likewise let him know that we are sorry for our shortcomings and our wrongdoings. At the same time we must be mindful that just as God forgives us, we are to forgive others who have failed us. Forgiveness is one of the main themes of the man-God relationship. If we don't forgive others, then our hearts are not in the right place. And when our hearts are not right, we are praying incorrectly.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
God does not tempt us and does not allow us to be tempted beyond our abililty to resist. If we have a strong relationship with God through prayer and wisdom acquired from knowing his Word, we are armed to withstand any assault by evil forces. In this part of the prayer we are asking God for his help in resisting the forces of evil and temptation that may come our way. We are asking God to help us avoid encounters with sin, but to be protected when we are confronted by sin. We are imploring God for His protection.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
God wants us to praise Him. This closing statement is the mighty declaration that expresses our love and absolute faith in our God. Praising God is good for us. Think about how you might feel at a sporting event when you are cheering your favorite team. If you go to a concert or to see an artist whom you greatly admire, you cheer and afterwards feel uplifted because you basked in the presence of that celebrity. An inspiring movie may cause you to leave a theater feeling happy and excited. Doesn't God deserve so much more than any of those things? When you finish your prayer it should be with praise, thanks, and awe of the mighty, loving, eternal God who deserves total adulation. When you have finished your prayer you should be happy and lifted up.
"Amen" is the closing to that prayer, but you should walk away feeling so good that you remain in a prayerful attitude throughout the day. You don't have to recite the above prayer word for word, but adapt the structure to your own words and feelings. It can be simple or poetic or formal, so long as it is sincere. Follow the basic formula: recognize who God is, acknowledge the power that He has, tell Him what you need, humble yourself before Him in obediance, ask Hm to be with you always, and lift Him in worship and praise.