On Sunday I started a brand-new series on the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) entitled, "Teach Us to Pray." Let's remember that this is not a prayer Jesus prays, but that a prayer He offers for his disciples to pray. One of the things that really strikes me about Jesus' model prayer is just how God-centered this prayer is. The Lord's Prayer contains six humble requests, the first three are God-directed and the last three involve human needs. This is very similar to the structure of the Ten Commandments, which first begin with our vertical relationship to God and then end with our horizontal relationship with our fellow man. It's similar to the way Paul constructed his letters to the churches: he often began with who we are in Christ before fleshing out how that affects the way we live.
A.W. Tozer said this (and I paraphrase), "The first thing that comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you." I hear a lot of Christian says things like, "I don't worry about theology." Well, yes you do. Everybody has a theology, whether flawed or otherwise. Sadly, most of our theology begins with me. We start our prayers with what we think we need and then, if we have time, throw in a few God cliques. But the most healthy theology begins where the Bible begins: with God. You will notice that the first words of the very first book of the Bible begin like this, "In the beginning, God."
It's easy to subtly devalue God by our prayers and our life. We say things like, "I don't imagine God is like this." Or "The God I worship doesn't do this." But if God is truly God--that is to say if God is sovereign, powerful, holy, compassionate, just--then it behooves us not to define God on our terms, but to bow before the God who is already there.
How does this affect our prayer life? Why did Jesus say to start our supplications with God? Because the way we view God affects the way we live. How much we reverence God informs the respect we have for our fellow man. And beginning with God in our prayers filters out the frivolous. It considers prayer as an act of worship, an acknowledgment that we are, in deed, not God. That God is God.
It means our prayers are in God's will. It keeps us from destructive theology. It prevents us from saying foolish things like, "God told me to (fill in the blank)" when really it was our own fleshly desires that spoke. I once had a person tell me, with a straight and somber face, that God was telling her to divorce her husband of 15 years and go marry a convicted felon. Um, God won't tell you to do something against His sovereign will.
Praying God-centered prayers takes some discipline and practice. I'll admit that this is a struggle for me. I often want to begin what I think are my own needs rather than letting my Father in Heaven shape my them. But there is something refreshing about beginning with God. It reminds us of the awesome miracle of access to the throne room of Heaven, purchased at great price by Christ on the cross. It reminds me that God takes great delight in hearing my prayers and meeting my needs, needs he knows well before I know them. It comforts me to realize that I do, indeed, have a Father in Heaven with a hallowed name.