The Priority of Prayer

Even though most people believe in prayer, I would remind us that it is not a natural instinct. Rather, it is a spiritual need. It is as much a need for a born-again Christian as it is for a newly-born baby to cry for milk.

Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who came from Heaven to become one of us—the Son of God becoming the Son of Man—is our example for prayer. Even though He was the Son of God, He needed to pray to His Father in Heaven. Although He never sinned and was absolutely holy, He needed to pray to His Father and give thanks. In His humanity, He needed strength for His earthly mission. Jesus’ main purpose in coming to earth was to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins—it was His assignment by the Father; and in His human needs, He must pray for His needs — wisdom and strength.

Jesus selected twelve men whom He called His disciples, who would become His apostles, to be trained and sent forth to proclaim the Gospel, the good news that anyone who would believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord would be forgiven of sin and receive eternal life. These believers would not be lost eternally, but they would be redeemed, regenerated, reclaimed as children of God.

These twelve apostles became greatly interested in the way Jesus prayed. They knew that He often slipped away to be alone in prayer with the Father. But at times they would overhear His praying. They listened carefully to His prayers.

Once, when Jesus was apart praying, they grew interested and moved closer to hear how He was praying. They were impressed with His worship of the Father, His trust in the Father to hear Him, how intent and fervent He grew in His praying at times. So, on this occasion, they made the request, “Lord, teach us to pray!”

Now Jesus knew that some of these twelve had been followers of John the Baptist, His forerunner. And He knew that John had taught them about prayer. But Jesus also knew that He wanted to teach His disciples a way to pray in which, when He and the Father, send them the Holy Spirit to indwell them, they would be enabled to pray with power—be inspired to pray, enlightened to pray, energized to pray, and emboldened in praying.

So Jesus laid out a model prayer for them. He also wanted to teach them how to pray with confidence and persistence. In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 11:2-4, Jesus answers their request in brief, simple, and comprehensive form. There are seven petitions:

1. “Our Father … in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

These words carry with them praise, worship, respect, and honor. For Jesus, the Fatherhood of God was not a mere theological commonplace, but an intimate and intensely personal relationship—not only just for Him, but also for all who would believe in Jesus as Savior. He wanted all His followers to share the same trusting familiarity that He knew in His praying. Yes, He wanted each believer—then and now—to reflect their understanding something of the Father’s character as personal, loving, and ready to relate to them. He wanted them to know that to call upon God was to identify with His character and to claim His promises for loving and caring for them.

To “hallow” the name of God, whether addressing the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit, means to reverence Him with our words, our worship, and our own personal way to live and relate to Him. The Scriptures remind us that His Name is a strong tower to which the righteous may run and be safe (Proverbs 18:10).

2. And the second request is “Thy kingdom come.” 

The kingdom of God references His omnipotent rule as Creator, who has jurisdiction over all nations. The world and the Church are under His command. and they are accountable to the Eternal One. Yes, God is sovereign, but His sovereignty is not yet recognized in all nations and certainly not in all individual human hearts. God has not yet destroyed “the Prince of the power of the air,” whose spirit of evil is still loose on the world since the time of Adam’s rebellion against God. But for all those who have trusted in Jesus Christ the Son of God, who died for our sins, God places in our hearts the strength to overcome evil. The Scriptures remind us that “He who dwells in you is greater than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4). This is a reference to the indwelling Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you …” (Acts 1:8). The power of the Holy Spirit brings kingdom power to the believer for prayer, worship, witnessing, and works of righteousness.

3. The third request is, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” 

I hear a lot of Christians complaining about their great problem in living the Christian life is in knowing what the will of God is —what mate to choose, what university to attend, what course to pursue, what vocation to decide on, where to live, what theology to embrace, what Church to join, and on and on.

To help all of us, I have found a passage in Romans 12:1-2 to be a reliable guide in learning the will of God:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service [“your spiritual worship,” in several translations]. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:1-2

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I don’t think any of us should pretend that we never have a problem in determining God’s will. After all, we live in a fallen world. And one of the best definitions I’ve found of “the world” is “a society organized apart from consideration of our Creator’s purpose and power.”

Yes, this world has a prince, a ruler. He is “the prince of darkness.” He was once an archangel by the name of Lucifer. He rebelled against God and was cast out of Heaven with all those fallen angels who had joined in his conspiracy and received swift judgment along with him. And he has organized this present world in such a manner as to oppose and operate against a Holy God and all who would believe in Him and in His Son Jesus Christ. This evil kingdom seems to impinge upon all humans, especially Christian believers, in every phase of our existence here on earth. It’s little wonder that the apostle John wrote:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world —the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever

1 John 2:15-17

Of course, we are to understand that the order to “love not the world or anything in it” is not a command to ignore the beauty of creation and to reject participation in that which is wholesome and good on this planet. The world that the Apostle John refers to here is not the divinely created cosmos, but it is creation separated and rebellious against God, a world that has fallen through the disobedience of Adam and Eve from the beginning, and one in which we have all participated.

This world is good when it fulfills the purpose for which it was made. But mankind is not to love the world in the sense of preferring it to worshipping its Creator. This world is controlled by the evil one. To love it is to turn our back on our Creator.

4. The fourth request is, “Give us this day our daily bread.” 

God created us in such a way that we are creatures of dependence. We have needs, needs that vary in nature. We are physical and need food. We are social and need relationships. We are spiritual and need strength for our inner being.

Yes, we need bread both for our stomach and we need the Bread of life for our souls. And we who know Christ as Savior learn to deeply depend on the faithfulness and abundance of our Heavenly Father for all of our needs.

And as Christians, we are commanded to share both of these kinds of bread. We share our literal bread with the hungry, and we share the Bread of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, with those who are hungry for eternal life.

Are we faithful in passing the bread, both at the table and in our Christian witness? Neither of these breads is to be hoarded, hidden, and consumed alone. No, we are creatures of relationships, and we must reach out to those who have no bread for their stomachs and to those who have no hope of eternal life.

Our Heavenly Father has ordained that we work for and earn our physical bread. But He provides without cost to us the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. No, this is not earned. We all deserved eternal destruction, but our loving God went to the extremes to lavish His love upon us and send His One and Only Son, the Righteous One, to die on Calvary’s Cross for our salvation. Anyone who places his or her faith in Jesus Christ, confesses sin, and truly believes in Him is saved and given eternal life and an eternal Home with Him.

Thank God for the privilege of looking to our Heavenly Father every day and asking, Give us this day our daily bread.

5. The fifth request is, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

It seems that in Jesus’ mind, forgiveness is as important as bread. The unfed will die. The unforgiving are lost. So we Christians who have the bread of life are hopeless debtors! We must pass the bread. As God’s gracious forgiveness is poured down to us, we are to pass it on to others—reaching out, forgiving, and releasing and blessing them with the love so generously poured out to us.

Now, Christian friends, we must not just pray this prayer. Yes, we do need to pray it, but then we need to go where our life’s acquaintances are and share the good news that a God of love offered His Son to provide eternal life, the Bread of life, to whoever will believe and partake and find eternal life and rest for their soul right here in this world.

But let us not ignore the other warning with this command—if there’s anyone we are holding a grudge against, anyone we resent and feel bitter toward, we are in a dangerous state with God, spiritually speaking. Jesus made it clear that there are only two reasons we cannot be forgiven for our sins: either we will not believe in His Son Jesus as our Savior, or there is someone we will not forgive. Be assured we are not forgiven by a gracious loving God if we will not forgive someone. It means that we are walking in condemnation.

Oh, how free and blessed we are when we forgive those whom we have held something against, for we are also forgiven by our Heavenly Father when we release others and ourselves by our forgiveness. What peace! What joy! What love!

6. The sixth request is, “Lead us not into temptation.”

In these instructions on temptation, Jesus is actually giving us the freedom to ask Him to help us prevent temptation. There are temptations of the flesh and there are temptations of the spirit (spelling ‘spirit’ here with a small s), meaning no reference to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, or of Christ.

We really do need the help of the Holy Spirit in all kinds of temptation. We need His help to keep us from sin. Of course, we are to remember that the temptation itself is not sin, but the temptation can lead to sin. But with the help of the Holy Spirit living within the believer, we can resort to His indwelling presence to strengthen our will to please God instead of self or someone else. When we ask, He is ready to strengthen our wills and help us get our minds and hearts back to the truth and the reality of His presence. So we need not yield to temptation. But the good news is—and this is a wonderful emergency clause in our New Testament—If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).

7. And the seventh and final request in the Lord’s prayer is, “Deliver us from the evil one.” 

Our enemy, Satan, is behind every temptation, no matter the circumstances. These may involve loved ones, those whom we consider enemies, the people we work with, or even our fellow church members and possibly business situations. But we should all expect that somewhere and sometime in life we are going to meet temptation; it is inevitable. It’s something we can’t avoid. But when we do, I think we ought to pray something like this:

Lord, keep me true to You in this time of being tested. Save me from falling into the devil’s trap and denying my Lord. I may not be able to please others or even myself, but help me to please you and do and say nothing that would grieve your Spirit.

There is a promise in the Word of God in our New Testament that we should all know about when it comes to temptation:

Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

1 Chronicles 10:12-13

In closing this message on prayer, I must remind us that Jesus placed emphasis on prayer as being basic and essential in order to maintain our relationship with His Holy Spirit.

The emphasis that the Holy Spirit makes on prayer throughout both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures is amazing! There’s no other subject that gets more attention. There’s no other demand on Christian believers more emphatic than prayer. Speaking with divine inspiration, the apostle Paul required of the Thessalonians to Pray without ceasing! (I Thessalonians 5:19). Moffat would translate this

Never give up praying. In other words, don’t stop praying! Be faithful in prayer!

Why? Because it is basic in our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ as His disciples. This is one reason the Holy Spirit is given in our new-birth experience—that we may have this inner sense of assistance to live for Christ from the very beginning of our Christian faith. The Spirit Himself helps us pray! To praise God, search our hearts and see if there are sins to confess, relationships to mend, certain Scriptures to read, and shortfalls to confess. We must pour our hearts out in praise and thanksgiving! We must cast all of our earthly cares on the Lord and trust Him to meet every need! We need to pray for others. We need to learn to pray about everything!

Friends, let’s learn to enjoy praying! While we need to discipline ourselves for prayer, let us not miss the joy of telling God all that is in our hearts whether in the forms of praise, confession, petition, or intercession. May God help each one of us to make prayer the priority of our daily living!

Lord, teach us to pray!

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