The Lord’s Prayer
The disciples had witnessed Jesus preaching, healing, working other miracles, and praying, and it is noteworthy that it is His praying that they asked Him to teach them. It is as if they understood that the power for everything else He did (and they would be called to do) flowed out of His prayer life.
Prayer is one of God’s great mysteries. It is not a strange thing that we, as frail, fallible, dependent children, would need to call upon our Almighty, sovereign Father in our times of need, but it is a mystery why He has ordained prayer as a major part of His kingdom strategy, even saying that we have not because we ask not. It is a wonder that He has put so much power in the hands of a people who seem to little know how to use it. When the disciples failed in releasing the boy from demonic possession, Jesus inferred that they had not been fervent enough in prayer. It makes us wonder what blessings or fruit we may have missed because we have not prayed, not been fervent enough, or have given up too soon.
Jesus told a parable about a persistent widow who would not let up in her appeals to a judge until he heard her case. The point Jesus was making was not that we have to browbeat God or harangue Him into giving us what we want, but whether or not Jesus would find persistent, insistent faith when He returned to the earth. He often spoke of those who would be found faithfully at work when the master returned, and the implication was that purposeful prayer is part of the faithful work the Master would be looking for.
Jesus said that the Father knew what we needed before we asked, yet He still wanted us to pray. Here, too, is a sort of mystery. If God knows what we need, why not just give it to us? While I believe He does give us what we need unbidden more often than not (or we’d have precious little, given the state of most of our prayer lives), there are several reasons we could see for His waiting for us to ask.
One reason is it demonstrates that we know He is our Source. When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, He was perfectly capable of turning the stones into bread, but He submitted His power and needs to the Father to be His Source and waited for God to provide. Abraham is an example of failure in this regard, as he didn’t wait on God to source his son, but worked in his own strength in the matter of Ishmael—something for which the world is still paying today.
Besides seeing Him as the Source for things we could claim on our own, there are many things, too, for which we ask Him because we have no hope for help apart from Him. In either case, looking to God as our Source is humbling for us. It acknowledges His sovereignty and His sovereign rights over us. In recognizing our neediness and His sufficiency we are seeing our rightful place as His creatures and His beloved children, and seeing Him as our Creator and Father. Whenever we humble ourselves we draw nearer to Him, because He declares that He is close to the humble and contrite.
Prayer gives us the opportunity to grow in our faith. Whether we are asking for something miraculous or long-term, whether we are pleading a promise of God’s or crying out for something in desperation not knowing if it is His will or not; we then wait to see how God will answer. Sometimes our faith is grown as much in those times He answers differently than we’d hoped, as when He does a miracle at our request.
Effective prayer also teaches us patience and perseverance. Sometimes we have to pray for things for years before God will answer. How many things we’ve prayed for and to which we haven’t seen the answers could be caused because we gave up praying too soon? How many prayers do we need to renew our energies in so that God can give us our heart’s desire? I think especially of unsaved or prodigal loved ones. It is said that Moody had a list of people he prayed for, many of which came to faith in Christ before Moody died. But the rest on that list came to faith after Moody died! Each of us needs to be praying prayers which outlive us!
Even though God knows our needs before we ask, He wants us to ask because prayer, at its core, is about relationship. This is why Jesus’ model prayer begins with that foundation: Our Father. Everything we ask of God is granted on behalf of our relationship to Him, and every answer He gives flows from His Father-love. Jesus tells us that just as a human father knows what is good for his children, God, the Divine Father, knows how to give the right thing to His beloved children. He won’t give us what will hurt us, no matter how attractive it seems to us at that moment. He is both wise and loving in all His answers.
Although we often pray this prayer by rote in a group setting, Jesus designed it to be used alone with the Father. Its familiarity often makes us pass it by with less consideration that it is due. There are many books out on this prayer, but the best one I’ve read is by R.T. Kendall, The Lord’s Prayer. Whether you read a book or just meditate on it yourself, I invite you to take a fresh look at this prayer.