Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13). First, he warns them not to use prayer as an opportunity to impress people. Instead, followers of Jesus are to pray to please God.
Jesus tells his disciples not to babble on and on like the pagan unbelievers in the first century. They apparently thought that their many words would guarantee them a hearing.
Now this is not necessarily a warning about long prayers. Some prayers recorded in Scripture are lengthy. Jesus is warning us not to use prayer as a battering ram to break down the doors of heaven.
God has already opened the door to his presence through his grace. Jesus died to pay the price of our admission and he is risen in order to bring us into the presence of God.
We need not coerce or manipulate God in prayer. After all, as Jesus goes on to say, our Father in heaven already knows what we need before we ask!
But if God already knows our needs and he already wants to bless us, then why pray? Instead of answering that question directly, Jesus goes on to give an example, a model prayer, often called the Lord’s Prayer.
He begins by telling us to address God as “our Father who is in heaven.” Consider the tension and balance in this statement. “Father” is a term of familiarity, addressing God as one who is close and personal. “In heaven” is a term of transcendence, a reminder that God is the Maker of heaven and earth and that he is high and exalted. Jesus invites us to draw near and know the majestic King of the cosmos!
“Hallowed be your Name; your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus teaches us to focus our prayers first on God and his agenda.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” After magnifying God’s person and affirming his agenda, we turn to our own need. This brings us back to our earlier question: Why pray and tell God what he already knows?
Our prayers are not intended to inform God about our needs. Instead, our prayers are expressions of acknowledgment that God is the only real source of all that we truly need, not just spiritual needs, but physical needs as well.
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus is talking about more than borrowing money. He uses “debt” as a symbol for wrongdoing, sin, transgression. As our body needs bread, our soul needs forgiveness, both forgiveness received and forgiveness given. And God both forgives us and enables us to forgive others.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.” God will test us in order to strengthen us. Satan tempts us in order to destroy us. This part of the model prayer is an acknowledgment that we are incapable of spiritual victory apart from God’s power in our lives.
So, Jesus teaches us to affirm and agree with God’s agenda, to acknowledge God as our provider for physical as well as spiritual needs, and to acknowledge God as our protector, our only hope for triumph against the forces of evil in this world.
Prayer aligns us with God’s agenda and directs us toward his provision and empowering. Any other agenda is doomed to failure. Any other provision is an illusion.
“For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen!”
May God’s Spirit inspire us to speak often with our Lord in prayer,
Brother Richard Foster