Imagine that there is a major national event and two people are asked to pray. The first person prays the Lord’s Prayer while the second prays by using sophisticated language interspersed with several Bible quotations, hymns, ands songs. Which of the two persons would most people consider as offering a better prayer? Most people would probably choose the second one.
The reason is that many people believe that the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer you recite when you do not know how to pray well. They believe that if you are a strong or matured Christian, you should graduate from the Lord’s Prayer to those prayers with high-sounding and sophisticated words that appear to be more powerful. However, if Christians pray to God through Jesus Christ, and an effective prayer is the one that receives God’s attention, we should be rest assured that, all things being equal, Jesus will stand by and advocate for the prayer he specifically taught us. As many students have found out, those who follow what their teacher has taught them are more likely to score higher on exams graded by the teacher than those who deviate from it.
Prayer is communion or fellowship with God. It should not be a one-sided affair where we occasionally communicate our wish lists of problems, wants, and needs to God and expect Him to grant them. It should be one where we build a lasting personal relationship with our Maker, even when we do not need anything in particular. For example, if you had a friend who came to you only when he or she needed something from you, you would not be too happy with that friend. That would not be good for a personal relationship.
In other words, prayer is about God and us, not just us. In fact, Jesus spoke more about God than he did about us in the Lord’s Prayer. Take a closer look at the full, Revised Standard Version of the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Matthew 6:9-13, and footnote n:
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen
The full version of the Lord’s Prayer contains 67 words. Out of these, 36 words are about God, 30 words are about us (in italics), and 1 word – “Amen”- is probably about both God and us.
How many of us spend more time in our prayers praising, magnifying, glorifying, and hallowing our awesome God than we do presenting our own problems, wants, and needs to Him? Usually in our prayer sessions, we cannot wait to dump our problems, wants, and needs on God. When we are done, we do not even wait a little to know if God would speak or somehow reveal Himself to us there and then.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Jesus started the prayer with the phrase, “Our Father who art in heaven,” to convey the message that God is the Universal God and the Father of all, including those who deny His existence or power, and that the seat of His kingdom is heaven. We are also to recognize, honor, and respect the fact that God is holy and His name must be hallowed. Since God is “Our Father,” we are members of the same extended family, and so we should love and treat each other as brothers and sisters; and pray for others.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Inviting God’s kingdom to come and for His will to be done is acknowledging the sovereignty of the Almighty God and our total submission to His will. One of the main reasons why we should pray constantly is to seek to know the plan, purpose, and perfect will of God for our lives and how we should conform our lives to them.
Give us this day our daily bread. For most people, this is probably the most fun part of the Lord’s Prayer. Almost all of us will agree that food is very important. It is the first item on the list of our needs in the Lord’s Prayer. “Daily bread” may also symbolize all the basic provisions and necessities for our daily sustenance, including the means to acquire them. The focus is on food for the day, not for the week, month or year; on the necessities, not on luxuries like cake or steak; and on everyone, not just ourselves. In effect, Jesus wants all of us to trust in and depend on God for our sustenance on a daily basis. Therefore, we need to reconcile this and Jesus’ own modest lifestyle with over emphasis on prosperity messages, and tone down the latter.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Forgiveness is difficult and painful, but very important and necessary. It is so important that after Jesus finished teaching the Lord’s Prayer, he immediately followed up with a special emphasis on the need for forgiveness by summarizing it as follows: if we forgive, God will forgive us; if we do not forgive, God will not forgive us (Matthew6:14-15).
For this reason, there is no room for praying for something terrible to happen to those who have wronged us. Those who invoke curses on their perceived enemies in their prayers (sometimes wishing they die), despite the Lord’s expectation that we forgive others, should note that they may be operating outside the Jesus framework. According to Jesus, we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44); and our brother Paul says we should bless, but we should not curse (Romans 12:14). Therefore, if you have been cursing and getting desired results, you may need to rethink the “god” to whom you have been praying.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. This is where we pray against all the bad things like temptations, sins, illnesses, sicknesses, diseases, accidents, premature deaths, and many others. We learn from Jesus’ own experience that temptations need not lead to sin, and that we can overcome them by following God’s lead. It is partly due to our insatiable desires for the excesses and luxuries of life at the expense of the kingdom goals that lead us into temptations, sins, and other troubles. We pray to God to deliver us from all of them and from the evil one.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen. The Lord’s Prayer begins and ends with emphasis on God. While earliest manuscripts of the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke do not contain this portion (see, for example, Matthew 6:13, footnote n), the doxology praises and acknowledges the majesty and dominion of God Almighty.
In short, here are a few lessons we can learn from Jesus about prayer: Go to your room; close the door; God sees you in secret places; pray to your Father in secret; do not use many words like the pagans do; God knows your needs before you ask him; put more emphasis on God and the Kingdom; pray for others; and pray for yourself.
We should never underestimate the power of prayer or make prayer the last resort after we have exhausted all our other means; it should be the first. We should pray for all things big or small. The Bible says Elijah was a man just like us, yet he prayed that there should be no rain and there was no rain for three years, and he prayed that there should be rain and there was rain (James 5:17-18). However, note that since prayer is a spiritual activity, we must expect spiritual answers that may not always manifest themselves physically, or at our own chosen time.
Prayer is the key. May God grant us the grace to seek Him daily through our prayers. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Columnist: Daniel Gyebi