The Heart of Prayer | Part 2
The heart of prayer is learning to pray in the way that Jesus taught us to pray. For years, my prayer life was rooted mostly in guilt: “I know I am supposed to pray, so I had better do it!” Underneath guilt-driven prayer is the assumption that God (or other people) are evaluating me based upon my moral and spiritual choices. If I get them all right, God will be pleased. If I mess up too much, God will be displeased.
It has taken me many years to realize that I pray, not because I have to, but because I get to! And yes, Jesus does command us to pray, not so that we can have a fine spiritual resume to hand to God someday, but so that we can participate in the with-God life that Jesus makes available to us. Some of the prayers of Jesus’ day could be quite long and flowery, reciting over and over the names and attributes of God. Jesus tells us that when we pray, we should use one title only as we address God—“Our Father in heaven.” That one term of address contains all that we need to know about who God is and how we relate to him!
Let me make three observations about how we address God in the Lord’s prayer. First, God is our Father. The first word (in English) of our prayer reminds us that this relationship with God is not all about me. I am addressing a God who has many children, of whom I am but one. My concerns are neither more nor less important to God than the prayers of his children all over the world, high and low, rich and poor, young and old, of all races and backgrounds. This is a communal prayer. And even when I pray by myself, I am never truly alone, for billions of people have prayed it before me and are praying it with me right now around the world.
Second, Jesus tells us to pray to our father. There are other prayers from Jesus day that use the term “father” to refer to God. But this is the only term that Jesus gives us, and the writings of the New Testament infuse the term with an incredible intimacy. Paul tells us that when we are joined to Christ by faith, the Holy Spirit indwells us and adopts us as children of God—not only by creation but also by Christ’s redeeming work–Galatians 4:6 “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!’” In his earthly life, Jesus had absolute access to his Father and used simple, intimate language to express his trust (see Mark 14:36). And now, that same Spirit of Christ dwells in us, allowing us to approach our new heavenly parent in the same simple, trusting, childlike way.
Third, we are told to address our father in heaven. This simple phrase captures the two most significant attributes of God—his goodness and his greatness. God’s goodness is shown in that he invites us into a new relationship through his Son, whereby we may call him Father and address him with the same boldness with which an infant cries out to its earthly parent. Yet God is also great. He is not to be trifled with, nor his name to be used carelessly. Like C.S. Lewis’s lion Aslan, God is very good, but not safe! He will not be managed, nor will he share his unique glory with any other. He is our father in heaven, where he rules over all things. Yet he invites us into his goodness and his authority so that we can be remade by his holy love. We may now boldly pray to “our Father in heaven,” and all of who God is is now available to us!
Opening Prayer (slowly, pausing as you need along the way):
O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Come, let us bow down and bend the knee: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
Psalm and Gospel for the Day: (slowly read the Psalm, maybe 2 or 3 times, pausing if there is a word or phrase that stands out to you; then take that word or phrase and turn it into a prayer. Then read the Gospel lesson.)
Mar.5 | Psalm 96:1-6 | John 6:16-24
Mar. 6 | Psalm 78:1-7 | John 6:25-34
Mar. 7 | Psalm 82:1-4 | John 6:35-44
Mar. 8 | Psalm 86:11-13 | John 6:45-59
Mar. 9 | Psalm 91:1-7; 14-16 | John 6:60-71
Mar. 10 | Psalm 136:1-26 | John 7:1-13
Personal Prayers (If you have felt God speaking from his word, respond in prayer; ask him to work in your life in specific ways.)
This week I encourage you to spend some time with a journal, reflecting on the following questions: What things am I feeling angry about? What things am I feeling sad about? What things am I feeling anxious about? What things am I feeling glad about? Then go through these lists and pray about the things that you have written.
Prayers for Others (especially pray for one person you would like to influence for Christ)
The Lord’s Prayer (pray it slowly and thoughtfully, thinking about ways each phrase may apply to your life today.)
Come, Holy Spirit. We pray that your fruit would be in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go.