LEARNING TO PRAY

Did someone teach you to pray? Were you taught a prayer to say at bedtime or meal time when you were going up? Many of us can still repeat the prayers we learned as a child. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I’ve heard in adulthood that there are more phrases to this prayer, but that is all that I learned. At the table I learned to say, “God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for the food.” In the time when Jesus was a little boy growing up in the Jewish family of Mary and Joseph they taught him and the other children prayer. When the Jewish child went to bed a part of that nightly prayers was “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus returned to this childhood prayer as he was hanging on the cross.

The disciples of Jesus would have grown up hearing the same kinds of prayers that they were to say to the Father. But when they heard and saw Jesus pray it was like nothing they had ever seen before. They had learned to say prayers, different prayers for different occasions. These prayers were ready made for use in given circumstances. But when Jesus prayed it wasn’t just something he said on the right occasion. He prayed to the Father as one would talk with a dearly loved friend or to one’s dad. There was a familiarity in Jesus prayers that lost all sense of formality. It seemed like a child crawling up into a father’s lap to talk, to share and to feel the closeness of his hug. When the disciples listened as Jesus prayed it was natural that they would ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” I suspect whatever Jesus did as a matter of faith and devotion to the Father seemed so different that what they were doing even what they had observed in others that they wanted him to teach them how to do all of them. Can’t you imagine them listening to him teach the word of God and in their amazement of him teaching like no one they had ever heard, wanting him to tell them how to teach.

When Jesus heard their request He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” These disciples had grown up with a formal understanding of God. He was one you approached with all the right forms and standards. Yet Jesus the one who prayed like no one they had ever heard pray, didn’t follow the code they had learned. He spoke with intimacy with the Father and He challenged us to have that same familiarity. He used the word “Abba” in referring to God which is the child’s word for their father, but not the formal word used in public. It was the word used by the child first learning to call on their father. It was used as we would hear a young child say, “Da Da” or “Daddy”. The picture Jesus painted was of a small child lovingly climbing onto the Father’s lap to look up into his eyes and call on their Daddy with love.

“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” Just as a child lovingly reaches up to their dad, Jesus is teaching us to have the closeness with God that we call him by the intimate name “Abba” but speak with honor and respect as we say, “Hallowed” or “holy” is your name. It is the word for “Set apart” or “Sanctified.” We honor the name of the Lord but feel a close bond of love for Him. When we pray, “Your kingdom come” we plead for Him to rule our lives. He is king and we are his kingdom. It isn’t so much about the kingdom being established as it is for his rule to spread among us. He rules our thinking, our feeling and our actions. If he is king of our lives, we go to him for our daily bread. Daily bread involves not just what we eat each day, but all the fundamental needs of our life each day. Our daily bread involves the air we breath, the water we drink, the exercise we need and the food we eat. We lean on God as our Father for all the daily, regular needs of life.

The Father who gives us our daily bread is also the Father who freely forgives us for all our sins. No sin that we commit is beyond the graceful forgiveness of God. He wants so much to forgive our sins that He gave his only son to die to pay the price of our sins so we can be forgiven. When God forgives he fully and completely forgives. But our forgiveness from God must lead to our being ones who freely forgive others who wrong us. If we won’t let go of a grudge we cut off the forgiveness of God for us. The more we realize the need for forgiveness from God the more we should be moved to forgive others who sin against us. The final aspect of this prayer instruction is, “And lead us not into temptation.” It isn’t enough just to ask God to forgive our wrong. We go deeper as we plead with Him to guide and direct us so that we don’t fall into further sin. The all powerful God who is our father loves and cares for us and helps us to avoid temptations that lead to sin. God wants to help us stay clean and pure as God’s children.

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About leoninlittlerock

Preaching minister for Central church of Christ in Little Rock. Author of over 20 books including: When a Loved one Dies, Spiritual Development, Skid Marks on the Family Drive, Challenges in the church, To Know Christ and A Drink of Living Water.
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