Prayer - Week 3: "Learning To Pray Like Jesus"
One of the many things I've learned about prayer is that most of us are fairly self-centered about our prayer life.
When I was a kid we attended a church that held "watch night" services on New Year's Eve. Basically, it was a fundamentalist Baptist New Year's Eve party spent singing hymns, listening to a really long sermon, maybe watching an evangelistic family film like The Burning Hell, and then spend an hour or so "praying in the New Year."
I remember hearing people at the watch night service praying for Jesus to return that moment. They begged God to start the Rapture presumably so that they would be discovered in church when Jesus came back. They would also spend a lot of time praying for friends and family members who weren't saved, and for God to punish the wicked, unrepentant and unchurched masses.
I sort of prayed that God would wait to start the Rapture until after I had learned to drive and kissed an actual girl.
I remember attending Wednesday night prayer meetings when I was a kid. Prayer meetings in the Baptist tradition were basically like Sunday morning, only you didn't have to wear a tie.
And we would spend about thirty to forty-five minutes actually praying for things. People would share their prayer requests about things they needed prayer for--health concerns, wayward relatives, job issues and the like. Sometimes in the ladies prayer circles they would offer prayer for people they wanted to gossip about, but since they were asking for prayer it wasn't really gossip.
Maybe some of you have similar experiences with prayer and prayer meetings at church. It can often feel really good to gather with fellow believers and pray about stuff.
But if we're being honest, our prayer life tends to focus on our priorities--for us and the world. We kind of see everything through our own lens. We pray for ourselves, the people we love, the things we care about, the stuff that is important to us. And on the surface there doesn't seem to be anything at all wrong with that.
In fact, we teach our kids to pray in the same way. I remember praying at night with our kids when they were little. They would list all of the people in their life, and some of the animals, too. I probably did the same thing with my parents when I was small.
What we don't realize, though, is that when we were children we were subtly being taught over and over again to place our priorities ahead of God's. And then we teach the same thing to our kids, and so on and so on.
This is the point in the sermon where you start to say, "Dude, you are seriously the biggest buzz kill of all time. How could you be hating on praying for things that are personal? What's wrong with you, man?"
Hear me out. It's a bit more complicated than that.
Let me ask you a question. What are your daily conversations with God like? What type of things do you regularly pray for?
I think that most of us pray for three different kinds of things. This sort of fits with the earlier sermon I preached in this series where I talked about the three different kinds of prayers that we pray: Help! Thanks! & Wow! So this would fall under the "Help!" category of prayer.
The first category of things we pray for most often is what I call Parking Space Prayers. These are the kinds of things that most people take for granted. But some of us pray for these kinds of things. We pull up to the mall or the supermarket and pray for a parking space, for example. Or we pray that all of the stoplights on our route to work will be green, since we're running late. You get the picture.
The second category of things we pray for are Other People--at least the ones we like. We have no problem offering prayers for loved ones, friends, extended family, co-workers we care about, the list goes on. It feels good to offer up prayers for the people who are in our sphere of influence or who are connected to us by less than a couple of degrees of separation.
The final category of things we pray for are the Big Things That Bother Me. This could be the conflict in the Middle East, child hunger, poverty, anxiety over the culture wars and so on. If it bothers me, makes me worry, causes me sadness or anger, then I want to lift that up to God.
Can you see a pattern here?
For the most part all of the things that we are praying for are centered on... us.
We need a chance of perspective when it comes to the way we pray. We need a Jesus-shaped perspective, in fact. A vibrant prayer life is possible when we learn to pray like Jesus.
Today our conversation will be guided by Matthew 6:9-13. Let's read:
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
In one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' sharing this prayer with his disciples, he gives them this prayer after they ask him, "Teach us to pray." What they meant was they wanted him to give them his special "rabbi" prayer. Every rabbi had a particular prayer that he would pray more often than any other. This prayer was the rabbi's signature, so to speak. You could always tell the disciples of particular rabbi by the way the prayed. So the disciples wanted Jesus to teach them a prayer of their own.
It was common for 1st century Jews to pray 3 times a day. They would pray privately, but they would also pray in groups of ten men--called a minyan. But the end of the first century, Christians had adopted the same kind of schedule.
Jesus began his signature prayer with "Our Father," which was a popular wayto begin a prayer, most commonly used in a series of prayers known as the 18 Benedictions, which would have been widely disseminated in the Galilee regions where Jesus taught and preached.
This prayer, which we know as the Lord's Prayer, has a lot in common with an Aramaic Prayer known as the Qaddish, a prayer that was most often prayed as a prayer of mourning for the dead.
Jesus proclaims at the beginning of the prayer that God's name should be hallowed, or made holy. The implication here in this prayer as it was in all of the other ancient prayers where it appeared is that God's name is hallowed when you live rightly. If you don't, then God's name is not hallowed.
Why am telling you all of this? Well, I want to make it clear that Jesus wasn't inventing something new when he gave his disciples this prayer. What he was doing was giving language to the experience of his disciples. In other words, he was giving them a way to speak that would reflect what they were experiencing as they followed him more completely.
The structure of this prayer, it's emphasis right off the bat on God, and God's sovereignty, power and glory, it's focus on the kingdom of God... all of these things give us clues as to how Jesus prayed, and wants us to pray.
This prayer was meant to help us align our priorities with God's.
Because when our priorities are God's priorities--we begin to see our priorities differently. And it changes the way we pray.
Jesus goes on in this chapter to give his followers a bit more information on what it means to put God's priorities at the top of your own list. He tells his disciples that God knows what they need. And God wants them to have good things. "But," he said, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all [the things you need] will be added to you as well."
What this means is that if we pray for and seek the things of God, if we are living our lives in such a way that we want to bring about the kingdom of God here on earth, to show the world what it looks like when God gets what God wants, we soon find that all of the things we need, the things we are praying for are in line with God's kingdom, too.
You could say that when you are constantly seeking the kingdom of God, you find that you might even be the answer to your own prayers. For example, you find yourself praying for healing, praying for a better job, praying for peace of mind...
But then you make a shift in your thinking and with your life, your actions, your thoughts you seek to see God in the world, and to help facilitate the in breaking of God's kingdom. And suddenly those things that you thought were so important, so desperate don't seem to be any longer. And sometimes you discover new ways to see those issues, those problems--and to find a solution you never thought of before.
Sometimes letting go of what you think you want, helps you to take hold of what you really need. When your priorities get realigned to God's priorities, your prayer life can be transformed.
Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden, who won 10 national championships at UCLA, would always start the first day of practice for a new season in the same way. He would gather all of his players--even the veterans--in the locker room and he would teach them how to properly tie their shoes. Every single one of those players came to UCLA because they wanted to win a national title. Wooden wanted them to put on their shoes the right way first.
Grantland Rice, a sportswriter and poet, wrote about these Wooden-coached teams in his poem "How To Be A Champion." He wrote: "You wonder how they do it, You look to see the knack. You watch the foot in action, Or the shoulder of the back. But when you spot the answer, Where the higher glamours lurk, You'll find in moving higher, Up the laurel-covered spire, That most of it is practice, And the rest of it is work."
Wooden knew that in order to win, his players had to realign their priorities. They needed to learn to focus on the details, the fundamentals of their game. They needed to rely on one another. And they needed to put the glamorous stuff out of their heads. When his teams realigned their priorities with his, they won.
When you have a kingdom mind set your prayer life reflects it. You might very well continue to pray for the things that are near and dear to you, but you do so with a different perspective. You might even still pray for the same things--parking space prayers, other people, big things that bother you---but you do so with a kingdom mindset.
You might say, "God give me good health, so I can better serve you and your kingdom." or "I pray for my friend who is in pain, O God, give them peace so that they will more clearly see you in their life." "God, prosper me in my life and work so that I can be more generous and share the love of Christ through my gifts."
This is the modern equivalent of saying, "THY kingdom come THY will be done ON EARTH as it is in HEAVEN."
Are you willing to try this? Are you willing to truly learn to pray with a kingdom mindset?
Because a vibrant life is possible when we learn to pray like Jesus.