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When you pray— No. 1
The Lord’s Prayer
By Stanley M. Horton
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray. …’ ” (Luke 11:1,2, NIV).
What an experience it must have been to be in the presence of Jesus as He communed with His Father in heaven. Observing Jesus must have made His disciples feel how inadequate they were in their own prayers. One of them remembered that the disciples of John the Baptist also felt the same inadequacy in the presence of their teacher. John taught them to pray. Would Jesus now teach His disciples to pray? The word “disciple” means “learner,” and these disciples felt the need to learn from the Master Teacher who had just demonstrated that He knew how to pray.
Jesus began by saying, ‘When you pray. …” He did not say “If you pray.” Not only did Jesus pray, He expected all who follow Him to pray. When Jesus laid aside His glory, “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7, NIV), He was truly God as well as truly man, yet He accepted the limitations that came with being human; thus His communion with the Father was through prayer, just as ours must be.
Not only did Jesus expect us to pray, He commanded us to pray (Matthew 5:44; 9:38; Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36) and taught His disciples “that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:l). An additional command is given in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray continually.” The Bible is full of examples of prayer. It surely lets us know that prayer is essential to Christian life. It is necessary to keep us from falling into temptation (Matthew 26:41). It will help to keep us in a state of readiness for our Lord’s return.
Sin brought a resistance to prayer. Self-exaltation refused to recognize the greatness of God. People wanted to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). Prayer is meaningless unless it recognizes the greatness and power of God and our human weakness and dependence on Him.
This does not mean, however, that we wait for times of trouble, difficulty, or tragedy before we pray. Someone has said prayer is not a crutch that we use only when we are too weak or disabled to walk on our own. Rather, prayer is the very breath of life to us.
“But,” someone may say, “Did not Jesus tell us,‘your Father knows what you need before you ask him’? (Matthew 6:8). Why then do we need to pray?” In fact, some today say that there is no place for petition in prayer, only meditation and contemplation.
The Bible shows, however, that in doing as He pleases, God has chosen to give us a measure of free will. As part of His goodness and His love, He treats us as persons, not as things or machines. Even more amazing, He gives us the privilege of becoming His “fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9). This means that as we work together with Him in the accomplishment of His great purpose in His plan of redemption, there must be communication through prayer, His Word, and His Spirit.
An important part of that communication is petition. We are commanded to ask, and the Greek of “ask … seek … knock” (Matthew 7:7) is in a continuous present tense that means “keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.” We have a wonderful Heavenly Father who knows how to “give good gifts to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11). We are exhorted further, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6,7).
We tend to be anxious, for we often feel unable to cope with the circumstances and needs that face us. Prayer recognizes that God is able, that God is in control, that God is faithful. Prayer recognizes that God has done wonders in the past, and He has not changed. Prayer becomes the avenue by which God gives us His peace in the midst of the troublesome circumstances. This peace is literally “thrown beyond” all understanding. It makes it possible for us to go out and do the work God has given us to do with our hearts and minds centered in Christ Jesus, kept and guarded by such peace that all fear is gone. We do not need to understand it. We just need to pray.
This peace, too, is God’s greatest answer to prayer. He answers our requests, gives us answers that encourage our faith, but He also wants us to trust Him. He knows what is best. He knows what we really need. He knows how to give us peace when He is answering our prayers by making a way through our tests and trials, even though our petitions may be to have them removed. Then, when we come to the end of life’s road we can say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7,8).
Stanley M. Horton is distinguished professor emeritus of Bible and theology at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.