I love to listen to the prayers of others. I listen to how they pray and what they say. The language they use reflects their understanding of God. Some refer to God as “Father” in their communication with Him reflecting a profound sense of intimacy. Others approach Him as “Sovereign God” or “Lord,” titles which suggest a healthy dose of reverence or awe. The depth of some believer’s relationship with God saturates their prayers and lifts you up to heaven with them.
Unfortunately, the prayers of others often reveal how little they know about the God to whom they pray. Their prayers betray an understanding of God that renders the Creator of the universe subservient to their temporal needs and concerns. Their God is often little more than the Big Guy in the Sky. He’s the heavenly Santa Claus who’s keeping score, trying to find out who’s been naughty or nice, so that he can determine the magnitude of His generosity before He answers. With such a low view of God, is it any wonder so few Christians experience the joy of having their prayers answered?
Jesus recognized this tendency of the human heart to bring God down to our level rather than to raise ourselves up to His. Thus, when He taught his disciples how to pray (and, yes, He taught them; they didn’t do it intuitively as so many pastors hope their people will), He taught them to pray with God as the central focus of their prayers. This, He intimated, was to be the norm, not the exception. “Pray, then, in this way” (Mt 5:9). The remainder of the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” provides a guide, a model to be followed of true God-centered prayer.
The prayer begins in verse 9 with a recognition of God’s supremacy and a concern for His glory. “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Prayer is not about us. It’s about God. With this in mind, prayer becomes a matter of worship rather than an opportunity to update God on our needs. If we were to keep this fundamental truth in mind, perhaps more of us would be faithful in keeping prayer a central part of our Christian walk.
Jesus continued in verse 10 by pointing His disciples to the realization that God’s will, both on earth and in heaven, trumps our human desires and needs. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done,” He said. What a tragedy it is that so few prayer meetings begin with a concern for God’s will and work. Instead of the advancement of the kingdom and the promotion of God’s renown, we settle for prayers that seek our health and promote our well-being.
Only after placing God’s name and will before ours should we then bring forth our petitions. Even then, however, Christ made it clear that these too should be God-centered. The requests “Give us this day,” “forgive us our debts,” and “protect from evil reveal that the pray-er is wholly dependent upon the grace of the glorious and sovereign God rightly acknowledged at the beginning of the prayer. As J. I. Packer rightly argues in his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, it is in prayer that all believers, Calvinists and Arminians alike, admit, demand, and depend upon the gracious sovereignty of God. If the God to Whom we pray is not the God of verses 9 and 10, we have no legitimate hope of the petitions in verses 11-13 ever being answered.
The God of the “Lord’s Prayer” is not the man upstairs. He is not to be trifled with. His grace is not to be presumed upon. He is to be approached with confidence because of the work of Christ (Heb 10:19). But, He is to be approached “reverence and awe” (Heb 12:28-29). Prayer is to be God-centered. The prayer that isn’t, isn’t a prayer at all.The next time you pray, thank God that Jesus taught us how to pray.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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