Jesus himself taught us how to pray. He gave us a model which we call "The Lord's Prayer." I prayed his prayer almost every evening for one year of my life, kneeling by my bed before sleeping. I tried to pray it and mean each line. That was a few years ago, but in that year his prayer changed some of my perspectives.
I learned that our prayers should not only be about our personal concerns and desires, but about God's concerns and desires. In the ancient Jewish language, the word prayer symbolized turning the head toward God. It means turning our hearts and minds to face him. Prayer means talking with God and learning to think about our life as God thinks about it.
The Lord's Prayer is a prime example. It lifts up our faces to God and to some extent makes us forget ourselves. But there's a big problem many people have when they pray the Lord's prayer. They pray the prayer quickly, like a magic formula, or like mindless propaganda that everyone simply parrots. Instead when we pray, we should think about each sentence and speak it to God with all our hearts.
This is the prayer Jesus gave us, as recorded in Matthew chapter 6 (there's another version of it in Luke 11). Here it's translated into English in the New Living Translation. It is quite short and powerful. It is almost an outline of topics we could delve into, and yet it is a personal prayer to our Father.
Our Father in heaven,
May your name be honored.
May your kingdom come soon,
May your will be done here on earth just as it is in heaven.
Give us our food for today,
And forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.
And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen!
Here are a few simple thoughts to help us dig a little deeper into his model prayer.
Our Father in heaven -- We must remember that God is real, and that he exists in a place of light very different from the darkness of the world we see. And as we pray this we remember that He is our Father, who greatly cares for us and closely relates to us as His children.
May your name be honored -- Because He is our perfect parent, we desire that God should get all the respect He deserves. We feel upset when Christians smear his name with their actions, or when we do it ourselves. We want His name to be respected by all people, for who is as great and righteous and wise and strong and loving as God? We want His name to be honored first in our own heart and life.
May your kingdom come soon -- God is the heavenly power in a higher dimension. This tiny earth is in many ways a dark place full of selfish actions and harsh reality. So we ask God to bring His kingdom from His higher realms here to the earth. One day God will in fact come back to rule the earth directly. But even now we want all people to obey our true King. It begins in our own hearts of course. Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is within you." And, "The kingdom of heaven is like a little seed that grows into a great tree."
May your will be done here on earth just as it is in heaven -- In heaven, there is justice. There is great joy and compassion. In heaven there are no people hungry or miserable or angry with each other. In heaven when God gives a command, all the angels and others hurry to obey it. Now we ask God that His will would be done here on our rebellious earth as it is in heaven. We ask that the poor would be cared for, that orphans would be loved, that people would be humble and forgive each other and stop fighting, that workers would be responsible and bosses would be honest. And that we personally would do God's will.
Give us our food for today -- What do we really need? Our needs are actually very few. (Luke 10:42: "There are only a few things we need, really only one.") We are allowed to ask the Lord of heaven to provide us with the things we really need. Thankfully, He knows what we need even before we ask him, but when we ask him he is pleased to give it to us. We may wonder sometimes why He doesn't give us what we need always at the moment we expect it, but instead chooses to wait for His own strange times and ways. But later we clearly see His wise plan and great care for us.
And forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us -- This is an urgent part of being a disciple of Jesus. It is very important because it is one of the hardest things we must do to be like Jesus. When he was dying on the cross he prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." It is extremely difficult to forgive someone who steps on our toes, cheats us, or hurts us deeply. Why should we forgive these miscreants? (Jesus tells an important story about that in Matthew 18:21-35.) Here within this prayer itself Jesus wants us to remember that if we do not forgive those who wrong us, God will not forgive us. Although we don't always realize it, our wrongs against God are a great mountain. Our Father's strong desire is that we will forgive even our enemies. He wants all his true children to learn to act like their older brother, Jesus. It's my belief this act of forgiving others to be forgiven is something like a natural law, like the fact that you cannot look down and look up at the same time. So pray for grace to forgive!
And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one -- Jesus elsewhere warned his disciples, "Pray lest you enter into temptation." Many translations also put this line of the prayer this way: "And lead us not into temptation." The older I get the more I think we really are like sheep. We go astray so easily. I had a chance to ponder that the same year I prayed the Lord's Prayer in the evening, as I often prayed Psalm 23 in the morning to comfort me and give me strength to face the day. We do need the Lord as our shepherd to guide our feet in the good way.
Although we often worry and pray about our physical health and safety, actually the much greater dangers are the temptations and evil that can enter our soul. "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Jesus asked. The devil is like a lion or wolf always searching for ways to trick us away from God. He may bring a good-looking or charming friend into our life who draws us away from Christ. He may distract us with worries and problems or teach us to value career and family more than God. But in the end God is greater than all of these. God Himself made our heart and he knows us more deeply than our family ever will, and He can care for us better than we can care for ourselves. We need to be like sheep and call to the shepherd to guide us safely into the way of life. And notice that Jesus' prayer has only one short line praying for our bodily health and prosperity (daily bread) and two long lines praying for the health of our souls.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and glory forever! -- Early Christians often added these last words, drawn from other parts of the Bible, at the end of Jesus' prayer. God's kingdom is not yet visible, but it is already powerful. By His power God has made all things, and He lives forever in glorious and unapproachable light. All who come near him fall on their faces and cry aloud, and even His enemies will kiss his feet. All honor and praise belongs to the only true God, our dear Father in heaven!
Amen -- Amen is an ancient Hebrew word that means "I agree, it is true."
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In summary, Jesus teaches us in this prayer that we can use few words, but we should mean the words we say. He shows us that our eyes should be lifted up to God, putting him first, learning to think about our life from God's perspective, not our own. Jesus' prayer is quite worthwhile to pray if we take the time to ponder it and mean every word we say.