What’s your prayer life like?
Do you primarily pray in arrows?
You know what I mean. It’s like Nehemiah before approaching the king for permission to return to Jerusalem to inspect the city (Neh. 1). He thought he would lose his job—or worse, his life—so he prays a quick prayer and submits to his destiny.
Or, is your prayer life mostly like approaching Santa at Christmas? “Dear Santa (I mean God), I know I haven’t been perfect, but I know you give good gifts and are merciful. So here’s what I could really use…”
Learning to pray from Jesus
When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, I suspect they were looking for something different. If they were like me, they wanted a lesson on prayer methods and mechanics. Perhaps a lesson like, “Five things to say when praying for the sick.”
Instead, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for long and empty prayers. He said they would receive their reward before the prayer is finished – recognition for being so “spiritual.”
In contrast, Jesus modeled a prayer that is beautiful in its simplicity and intimacy. The prayer assumes relationship and quickly rises above the petty stuff we tend to pray about (you know the organ recital and fundraising prayer meeting—Aunt Sally’s kidneys and Jonny’s car wash).
Over the next several months I’m going to explore a few phrases from the Lord’s Prayer to help us pray more like Jesus—I should say I hope this helps me pray more like Him.
These two words immediately confront our Western individualistic approach to spirituality.
First, it communicates that prayer is communal. We pray to a Triune God who lives in eternal community. We also pray as part of a community of faith—a community that spans many generations, many nations and many cultures. Prayer unites our hearts and minds. When you pray like Jesus, you find we all have similar needs and requests: daily bread, forgiveness, protection from temptation and so forth.
The second thing Jesus demonstrates is that prayer is intimate dialogue with our father, not a distant king, ruler or deity. Prayer, in other words, happens in family.
Fernando Ortega offers an amazing reminder of the Father’s love for us, a love that fuels our lives and prayers:
It’s a sad family where the children fear the father so much they won’t approach him freely. I know it pains my children to hear me say I’m too busy to play, cuddle or talk to them when they come to my office. God never does that. While he’s busier than a billion fathers, God always makes time for his children.
3 Implications of Praying As Part of God’s Family.
#1 – We can pray openly, honestly and without flowery speeches.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their public prayer life since they only prayed when they could be seen. Public prayer not fueled by private prayer results in empty praise and little promise.
Family members have a freedom to communicate more openly and in shorthand. We don’t need to prepare longwinded speeches to get our points across.
#2 – We can say what’s on our minds
Our family status allows us to say what’s on our minds, even when it doesn’t come across right.
God can handle whatever we say or do. I remember Becky Pippert talking about a new Christian who wondered if God would mind if she smoked while studying the Bible. As much as it upsets some of our sensibilities, the answer is, “Of course not!”
A child has many privileges with her father. She can approach him most anytime and in any place without fear of rejection. Her father might be busy, but he’s not going to deny knowing her. God gives us immediate access so we can approach him without an appointment.
If we have constant access to God, we don’t have to say everything now. We can also come back later to correct, amend or append our prayers. How freeing!
#3 – There doesn’t have to be so much structure
While strong families will sometimes have family meetings and organized family devotions, they generally don’t need an agenda for meals, game night or vacations.
Young children especially understand that hanging out with dad is just something to enjoy. I remember my children sitting next to me while I read and they played. They wanted to be with me and would occasionally interrupt me to show me a picture or ask a question.
Only when I’m not spending enough time with my kids do they start demanding my attention when I am around. Then they will talk non-stop, ask a thousand questions in a minute and make a dozen requests. Many prayer meetings become like this. Someone organizes a list of prayer requests and then we start detailing our petitions to our Divine Patron.
I tend to think God prefers we approach him like the small child who crawls on his lap and promptly falls asleep.
Our Father’s Invitation to Pray
Are you tired and weary? “Come to me and rest,” says the Father. “We’ll have time for what’s on your mind later. Let’s just enjoy being together.”
Does that sound inviting? It does to me. I get so busy that most of my prayers come from a demanding and distracted spirit. Prayer is meant to come from an unhurried relationship with our all-knowing Father.
The song Father I Adore You reflects the simplicity of a child’s relationship with his father. The words are easy to remember.
Father I adore You
Lay my life before You
How I love You
While our Father is the creator and ruler, we approach him as children not as subjects. Our communication should be easy and natural. Certainly there’s a place for more formal language when we come to him as king, but Jesus breaks down the walls and says it’s okay to approach God as intimate children.
How does the image of sitting next to God in the family room change your vision of prayer?
Forgetting that this picture is only a metaphor, I would love to hear how this helps you pray more naturally and personally. Share your thoughts below…