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What reactions are stirred within you when you hear the word “prayer”? Do you feel apathy, guilt, fear (especially of praying aloud), confusion, discouragement? Or do you feel comfort and assurance? I’ve experienced them all.
Of that list, one major hindrance to my prayer is confusion. What exactly is prayer? How should I pray? Am I just mouthing words to an invisible being? Is it a waste of time – God will accomplish his purposes anyway, won’t he?
Don’t be too discouraged if you’re confused! Luke tells us in his Gospel that the disciples of Jesus had seen his miracles, had heard him teach, and had embarked on two missionary endeavours in which they did miracles, and then finally said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray”.
In answer to the disciples’ question, Jesus gave his model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. This however must be the most “babbled” prayer in all time. I recently attended another church where this prayer was recited so quickly, I had to stop praying to breathe. Yet prayed meaningfully, it is the most profound request we can ever make and indeed has enlightened my whole understanding of what prayer is.
So what are we praying in the Lord’s Prayer? We are praying that God would be honoured, that he would rule, that his ways would be followed in our world; we are praying for our provision, our spiritual health and protection from the evil one so that we might serve him. The prayer is concise, all encompassing, and rich in meaning.
Note the order of the prayer. I must admit it was a huge confrontation for me when it was suggested I should pray for God’s agenda for the world before mine. Most of my Christian life my prayers would begin with ME – my needs, my concerns, my plans for my day. Over the past several years I have tried to change and focus my prayers on God first. It is still a challenging exercise. Thank God that I am forgiven for my basic self-centredness. But the evil one is close at hand so I need to keep at it.
The order of the prayer is closely related to its goal. We seek God’s glory and honour in our world and in us. It gives God’s purpose for our very being. I know this prayer is right because it is the LORD’s prayer. I no longer feel confused.
So what is prayer? Prayer is a calling upon God to bring in his kingdom for his glory. By prayer we change the world. Be encouraged. It is difficult to imagine anything more powerful.