Two Important Lessons on Prayer
– Excerpted with permission from the highly recommended book –
The Kingdom Unleashed: How Jesus’ 1st-Century Kingdom Values Are Transforming Thousands of Cultures and Awakening His Church by Jerry Trousdale & Glenn Sunshine. (Kindle Locations 701-761, from Chapter 3 “Praying Small Prayers to an Almighty God”)
There are two lessons that we have learned from our fellow believers in the Global South. First, the church in the Global North does not pray enough. Second, when we do pray, our priorities tend to not be the same as God’s priorities. Let’s consider both of those lessons in this chapter. Prayer was central to Jesus’ life and ministry. As a rabbi, Jesus prayed at least three times per day using standard liturgical prayers. But the Gospels frequently tell of Him also withdrawing into the wilderness for prayer, often spending the entire night praying, such as when He needed to make decisions about the direction of His ministry (e.g., Mark 1: 35– 39) or before appointing the Twelve. This raises the immediate observation that, if Jesus needed to spend extended times in prayer— He who was in full and unhindered communion with the Father— how much more do we need to do the same if we are going to have the Spirit’s guidance and power?
Observant Jews in Jesus’ day prayed the Amidah (also known as the Eighteen Benedictions) three times per day. They understood this to be a sacred obligation, and failure to do so was a sin. These prayers took a good amount of time, however. Rabbis and other “professionals” could be counted on to recite them regularly, but praying the entire Amidah three times per day could be a burden for the average person with a job and a family. Students thus asked rabbis for a more concise version of the prayers that would be more practical for them to say to fulfill their religious obligations.
This context helps explain what was happening in Luke 11 when Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him to teach them to pray, the way that John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray: the disciples wanted to find the core of the Amidah that they could recite three times daily. Jesus’ answer was to give them the Lord’s Prayer, which is remarkably similar to some of the shortened versions of the Amidah that survive from the period.
For Jesus, then, the Lord’s Prayer was the distilled essence of what prayer should be. He intended it to be recited, but it also reflects His priorities for prayer, making it a model for how we should pray all the time. It is also a summary of His entire ministry and message.
Many Christians often repeat the words of the Lord’s Prayer and yet, when we pray in our own words, we generally miss the prayer’s key themes. This is both remarkable and lamentable— yet a closer look at what Jesus said will help us see what He was focused on. Let’s look more closely at the Lord’s prayer in order to discover Jesus’ top three priorities concerning prayer:
- That the Father’s name would be glorified in the world around us
- That His Kingdom would be ushered in with power
- That the people of the world— and particularly His followers— would obey the Word and will of the Father.
Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name
Jesus’ first priority is God’s glory. His intent in this petition is something like: May the holiness and glory of God in heaven be manifested where I live!
Your Kingdom come
The second thing that Jesus asks us to pray for is that the Kingdom of God will advance on earth. May the reign of God in heaven be established where I live!
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
It is likely that the phrase “as it is in heaven” actually applies, not just to “your will be done,” but to all three of the preceding petitions: “Hallowed be your name, as hallowed on earth as it is in heaven. Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And may the perfect will of God be established in me as fully as it is established in heaven— and among all the peoples of the world!” Do you see a common theme in the first three petitions? Out of a heart of gratitude they are a plea that:
- God’s glory may be revealed to people where I live
- God’s Kingdom reign and authority may advance where I live
- God’s will may be established in perfect obedience where I live
Before moving to the next petitions, it is worth asking how closely our top three prayer priorities align with Jesus’. Are they God’s glory, God’s Kingdom, and God’s will, or are they more about us than about God?
Give us this day our daily bread.
May the resources of God’s Kingdom sustain our needs day by day.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
May the Lord be merciful to me, a sinner, and may I generously extend that same forgiveness to others.
And do not lead us into temptation,
May God’s Spirit keep my heart, my feet, my eyes, and my ears from places of temptation.
But deliver us from the evil one.
May the Holy Spirit enable me to resist Satan’s temptations, and empower me to be effective in redeeming people unto God from the kingdom of darkness. May the power of evil be voided where I live.
For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
This passage is almost certainly not a part of Jesus’ original prayer, but it is in keeping with the prayer’s spirit. It provides the entire reason for this prayer, and indeed all prayers. Prayer is intended to bring God glory. In modern English, this closing sentence might mean something like this: “We are asking these things because it is Your Kingdom that is being built as You answer these prayers, and it is Your power— and Your power only— which will accomplish these things, and Your answer to our prayer will bring You glory forever.”
Jesus had much more to say about prayer, of course. In fact, He taught more about prayer than about any other subject except the Kingdom of God. We also know that both He and the early church prayed the Psalms, and the great prayers that we find recorded throughout the centuries are saturated with the words of the psalter. We find profound and powerful prayers recorded elsewhere in Scripture, such as in Paul’s epistles, but in all cases they reflect the petitions and priorities of the Lord’s Prayer.