Prayer is a common human experience. Every theist, agnostic, and atheist alike has prayed in one form or another at times. Prayer is a common topic. It’s been the focus of clinical studies, heard in the halls of Congress and at Presidential inaugurations. It pops up on bumper stickers, sells books, and is mentioned in songs.
However, there is often bad information on prayer. We have all heard “Prayer changes things” or “There is power in prayer.” However, it is God who changes things and who alone is all-powerful.
Our understanding of prayer needs to come from scripture. Often people pray in order to get God to do what they believe He should do. This type of praying assumes we know what needs to happen. Its focus is on us. Being at the center of the universe, we determine what we want and then pray to have God go get it for us. This is a primary reason our prayers seem ineffective and we become disappointed with God. We are attempting to move God from inaction to action. This means that God’s sovereignty (His freedom and power to do whatever He wants) is limited by us, and by our choice of whether or not to pray.
Here is how we tend to view prayer:
- We initiate
- God listens to us
- God makes happen what we asked
With this perspective, God is seen as a “celestial Santa” or “cosmic bellboy”. If this is your concept of prayer, you will pray for your will to be done rather than God’s.
The Biblical view of prayer is quite different. First, God initiates prayer. He speaks to us by revealing Himself and His will to us. Much of our praying should begin with adoration and listening to God’s revelation to us. God longs to speak to us and convey His plans. In this way He is initiating what and how we pray.
Second, we respond to what God has revealed to us through the Bible and the voice of His Spirit. Jesus often said to those with whom he was speaking, “He who has ears let him hear what the Spirit is saying.” Jesus displayed this type of relationship with the Father as he did and said what he saw the Father doing and saying. Prayer is not moving God from inaction to action, it is partnering with God in what He has already begun to do.
In our prayer life, God is central, not us. His plan and purpose is the focus. The Biblical understanding of prayer is about God’s revealed will. People get angry because they don’t understand this principle, which becomes evident when God doesn’t do what they wanted Him to do.
Praying is not something we do in order to get God to act. Prayer is something God does in and through us so that His purposes are fulfilled in and through us. Prayer is thinking God’s thoughts after Him. We are praying for His purposes to be accomplished and actively playing a role in that fulfillment.
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus’ answer is a model of Kingdom prayer that is effective as we partner with God. It’s normally called “The Lord’s Prayer” (see Matt. 6:7-15) when in fact it is meant to be the disciple’s prayer.
A few points from Jesus’ model:
- Our Father: We address God from the platform of our family relationship with Him.
- Holy is Your name: Worship is a vital part of prayer and includes a sense of mission. This can be interpreted, “Make Your name holy so the entire earth may recognize You.”
- Your Kingdom come: This phrase involves the active reign of God through which people are restored to relationship with Him. We are to pray that His Kingdom spreads; that His reign and rule continue to come.
- Your will be done on earth: We pray, “God accomplish Your will on earth… be glorified and save people.” God invites us to partner with Him in this and play a significant role by proclaiming the gospel and praying for its fulfillment!
- Our daily bread: We are told to make specific requests for our daily needs, recognizing that all we have is a result of God’s grace. We look to God for our provision. We ask Him to supply what we need so we can continue proclaiming the Good News.
- Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors: We recognize our right standing comes from God as He gives grace and mercy. This, in turn, elicits a gracious response from us toward those who do or say things against us. As we spend time with God, we grasp that we have received mercy and can now extend mercy to others.
- Do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. God gives grace and protection from things that would overcome us.
This prayer is about the gospel; it is about God the King, His Kingdom and its expansion. This is the focus and aim of all true prayer. Let’s not just be a people who pray, but a praying people, focused on our King and His kingdom activity all around us.