Lord, Teach Us To Pray

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites
are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in
the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.
Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou,
when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou
hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and
thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen
do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much
speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your
Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye
ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye:

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever. Amen.
(Matthew 6:5-13)

Prayer was a powerful factor in the life of Jesus. His strength and power came from His constant communication with His Father. His disciples recognized this, as well as their own lack in this area. Now, make no mistake about it, they were Jews, and the Jews had prayers for everything. But those prayers were more rituals, routinely performed and powerless. They recognized the need for praying like Jesus did.

Do you ever feel like your prayers are routine and powerless? When we examine our own prayer life, we find we often come up short, just as the disciples did. They asked Jesus to teach them to pray.

Teach them to pray. Not teach them to perform miracles, although they had seen Jesus do plenty of miracles already. Not teach them to preach or teach, though they had been learning so much from His teaching and preaching. They had witnessed the power of His words in their lives and in the lives of many others. Yet what they asked Jesus was "Teach us to pray".

Jesus taught them how to pray as He himself prayed. There are four vital elements to powerful praying. These elements can be categorized as the four A's: Approach, Aim, Attitude, and Atmosphere.

  • APPROACH: We must approach God in light of our relationship with Him. We are His children, not poor wretched beggars. If we are indeed born again, we are a beloved child, and as such we can freely approach Him as our loving Father, knowing He loves us and wants the best for us.
    For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they
    are the sons of God. For you have not received the
    spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received
    the Spirit of adoption, by which we cry, Abba, Father.
    (Romans 8:14-15)

    The very first thing we must do, therefore, to make our prayers "fervent and effectual", as James said, Is make sure we are, in fact, a child of God. We have to make certain we are born again, not of flesh and blood, but of the Holy Spirit. It is possible to go through the motions, say and do all the right things, be very faithful in practicing our "religion", and still not be born again. Make no mistake about this: God created us all in His image, but we are not ALL God's children. Only those who have been born again can claim that distinction.

  • AIM: It is of vital importance that we pray with the right goal in mind. Our aim in prayer must always be the same as that of Jesus: for our Father's will to be done. God's children can always come boldly before the throne, as the writer of Hebrews says (Heb. 4:16). Yet, even though we are God's beloved child, we do not want to be like spoiled brats, making demands and expecting Him to grant our every single request. God is not our fairy godfather, granting every desire of our hearts. He is not a vending machine, in which we put in the right amount of prayer and get whatever we choose.

    No, our aim in prayer must always be the same as that of Jesus: for our Father's will to be done. Certainly we can let Him know our desires, our requests, our needs; God wants us to bring all those to Him. But in the end, rather than telling God what we want Him to do, we must be willing to say, as Jesus did: "Not my will, but thine be done."

    And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast,
    and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if you
    be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not
    my will, but yours, be done. (Luke 22:41-42)

    When we pray for only our own selfish desires, God is not under any obligation to fulfil them, especially when He knows those things are not in our best interests. It's been said, "When we ask amiss, we're sure to miss". James wrote:

    Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and covet, and cannot obtain:
    ye fight and war; ye have not, because ye ask not.
    Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that
    ye may spend it in your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)

    What is James saying here? All too often we look only at what we want, and put our desires above all else. This obsession with our own wants leads us to sin; we begin by coveting, which will lead to plotting and fighting to get what we want, rather than relying on our loving Heavenly Father to give us exactly what we need. We ask for purely selfish or carnal reasons, and this should not be our purpose of prayer. This was never Jesus' purpose in prayer. His prayers were not selfish ones, based on His own desires. Instead, His prayers were always for God's will to be done. To do this, we must draw closer to God, aligning our own hearts and minds ever more fully to God's plans and purposes.

  • ATTITUDE: Our attitude when we pray is important too. Once again, looking to Jesus as our guide, we can see that Jesus had the attitude of humility: He came to serve, trather than be served, and in all things, He was obedient to the will of His Father. We therefore must also develop an attitude of humble servanthood and obedience in order for our prayers to be pleasing to God.
    Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
    who, existing in the form of God, counted not the
    being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped,
    but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,
    being made in the likeness of men; and being found
    in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming
    obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.

    Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave
    unto him the name which is above every name;
    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    of things in heaven and things on earth and things
    under the earth, and that every tongue should
    confesst hat Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of
    God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

    God's kingdom is an upside-down one: the things we tend to value are not the things God values, and the things we think are important are worthless to God. In our prayer life we have to seek the mind of God, and the will of God, rather than what we think we want or need. God exalts those who humble themselves in obedience to His Word. And He humbles those who exalt themselves. Scripture is clear: God resists those who are prideful.

    And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased;
    and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
    (Matthew  23:12)

    But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God
    resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble.
    (James 4:6)

  • ATMOSPHERE: What kind of atmosphere surrounds us when we pray? Is it an atmosphere of peace and love, or do we often pray with unconfessed sin in our hearts? Do we harbor anger, envy, bitterness, or any other negative emotions in our hearts? Are we secretly holding a grudge against someone? Have we hurt someone and failed to apologize? Any of these thing create an atmosphere of negativity and sin that hinder our prayers. Jesus had this to say about the proper atmosphere in which we should worship and pray:
    Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and
    there rememberest that thy brother hath ought
    against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar,
    and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother,
    and then come and offer thy gift. (Matt. 5:23-24)

    In this life we cannot escape negative emotions, but we can choose what we do about them. When we bring them to our Father, and confess them before Him, we create an atmosphere of humility and faith, wherein God can unleash His power in our behalf. Confessing these things to God puts them all in His divine hands. In essence, we are saying, "God, I know these things are not good for me, and that is not Your will for me to harbor these feelings, because they will lead me to sin. I give them to You, Lord, and trust that You will take care of this."

    Far too often, however, we give these things to God in prayer but then take them back. We feel justified in our anger or bitterness, we rationalize holding a grudge. When we stubbornly cling to our negative emotions, we are in effect saying, "God, You know I have good reasons to feel the way I do. And I'm afraid You will not deal with this the way I want You to. Therefore, I'm going to continue to hang onto this." Our prayer life will remain weak and inneffective as long as we cling to our sin. It causes a separation between God and us, and makes Him hide His face from us.

    But your iniquities have separated between
    you and your God, and your sins have hid
    His face from you, that He will not hear.
    (Isaiah 59:2)

In addition to confessing to God, we are instructed to confess to one another. Whoa, say what? Why do we have to confess to one another? James wrote:

Confess your faults one to another, and
pray for one another, that ye may be
healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a
righteous man availeth much. (James 5:16)

There are times when it is our duty to confess our sins, not only to God, but to one another. There are two reasons why this is important. First, because only by our confession can we be healed. We must be willing to confess directly to anyone we have wronged or sinned against, whether in word or deed. We must confess to those that may have been led to sin by our example, for leading them astray. We've all heard it said that "confession is good for the soul". That is so true. Our healing comes in the form of forgiveness and freedom from the burden of our sins.

Second, for accountability: we confess our sin to a trusted Christian friend, mentor, or minister in order for them to pray for us to overcome our sin and walk in victory. It is both the duty and the privilege for those who are strong to intercede in prayer for those who are weak - and all of us have our weaknesses. One may be weak in this area, another in that one, but we all have some area of weakness. We all need to be held accountable for our actions, because all of our actions affect others. Our actions reflect not just on ourselves, but on our families, our churches, and our relationship with God. We all fall far short of Jesus' standard of perfection, therefore, we all need the prayers of others.

When we begin to pray with the right approach, the right aim, the right attitude, and in the right atmosphere, and when we learn to confess our faults to both God and others, we will become far more fervent in praying, and will see our prayers become far more effective. Instead of feeling like our prayers are routine and powerless, we will see God working in ways we never dreamed possible!

And this is the confidence that we have in Him,
that, if we ask anything according to His will,
He hears us: And if we know that He hears us,
whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the
requests that we desired of Him. (1 John 5:14-15)

Adapted from
"Prayer, The Holy Spirit,
And Christian Living"

by William K. McComas

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