Without a doubt, a faithful & fulfilling prayer-life is the singular greatest topic that Christians I encounter confess to struggling with in their walk with Christ. Why is that? You may have many opinions and thoughts on that (as most people do) but it is consistently at the top of the charts in studies and polls, as well.
Praise God, though, that the Twelve (Luke 11:1-13) were honest with the Lord about their struggles in prayer. For by their honesty and humility, we have the Greatest Teacher instructing on one of the greatest topics, and it has been given to and preserved for us.
The practice of prayer is, arguably, one of the two most important practices of a Christian’s life (see Don Whitney’s ‘Spiritual Disciplines for a Christian’s Life); and I believe that to be true. After having been saved by God through faith in Jesus Christ, you will never participate in anything more impactful than applying the words/instructions of our Savior in Luke 11:1-13. Everything in your Christian life flows and is fed from the unfathomable privilege and practice of prayer.
Your intimacy with the Lord, your hunger for His Word & Righteousness, your spiritual growth, evangelism, worship, your thought life & actions as a spouse, parent, covenant member of a Local Body, friend, employee, student are all radically changed by a healthy and robust prayer life.
On the contrary, however, when prayer is neglected or takes a back seat to “the really important and necessary tasks of the day, the Christian will find him/herself dry, disconnected, and often times desperately out of sync.
J.I. Packer: “I ask whether you prayer, because diligence in prayer is the secret of eminent holiness. Without controversy there is a vast difference among true Christians…I believe the difference in 19 cases out of 20 arises from different habits about private prayer. I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much.”
Drawing from what many, perhaps most, call the Lord’s Prayer I hope to provide you with a format or skeletal structure for prayer that the Lord teaches His Disciples. I recently taught our congregation this format using the acronym REAPS (1,2,3)
“Our Father” recognizes two fundamental realities of profound blessing: (1) That we have been saved into a community of believers, a family. We are not in this alone. Indeed, God chose to save you but you are not an island. When you read the Lord’s Prayer notice the plural pronouns. We are a family and as a family we praise God together and petition the Lord for and with one another. (2) God has adopted each believer, both Jew and Gentile, into one family with He as our Father; as our Daddy (Romans 8:15). God the Father is not absent or aloof but rather present and intimate with His children. Consider the great expense at which God has made you, and your new family, His own!
Lest we become too familiar with the Incomprehensibly Glorious One, the Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that He is “in Heaven.” I am always reminded of the magnificent communication skills of RC Sproul who taught on the Imminence of God (His nearness to us) without ever compromising the Transcendence of God (His “otherness” if you will). “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts…” the seraphim cried out (Isaiah 6:3). Our culture, even our Christian culture would do well to remember to revere Him who sits enthroned above the heavens with the earth as His footstool. The Almighty is not your “homeboy” or the “little 6lb 5oz baby Jesus” but the King of Creation, The Eternally Existent and Self-sufficient One, who is worthy of our utmost reverence.
The hallowing of God’s name goes beyond setting apart the name of YHWH in our speech. Al Mohler demonstrates the profound nature of this request when he writes, “By asking that the name of God be hallowed, Jesus is asking God to so move and act in the world that people value His glory, esteem His holiness, and treasure His character above all else. We must not miss this: Jesus’ first request is not that His personal needs be met, but that God’s glory and holiness be known and loved as it deserves. What a remarkably God-centered prayer.” In short, we adore the name, fame, and glory of God so highly that we ask God to move/act in history in such a way that the whole world sees His glory; regardless of personal costs associated with such a prayer. We would do well to focus first on His glory before our own desires!
When praying “your kingdom come and your will be done,” Believers align themselves with an agenda far beyond their comprehension. Jesus also summarized this type of attitude when He taught on the Mount that His followers would “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). This prayer, when genuinely prayed, has catastrophic consequences for personal and political agendas. God’s Kingdom/Will is not a matter of earthly or materialistic advancement but “of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17); it’s about His reign and His design for life to be our earthly reality. Therefore, to pray for God’s Kingdom and God’s Will to be accomplished we should first ensure that when He consummates the Kingdom (the Second Coming) we personally are prepared, and secondly ensure that our hold on this world not be so tight that when the Lord brings the Kingdom to this world we wouldn’t find ourselves disappointed by some perceived loss. In other words, do your priorities in life lead you to an Eternal Kingdom or when the Eternal Kingdom is ushered in would you find your priorities leaving you empty handed?
Finally, the Lord gets to where many Christians begin; asking the Lord to supply our needs. But, pay special attention to these needs: (1) Give us, (2) Forgive us, and (3) Lead us. “Give us” points the believer to his/her dependence upon the Lord for their daily sustenance. In spite of the fact that our pantries and closets are full, we should still be confessing our dependence upon the One who gave it and we know could take it if it brought Him the greatest glory and us our greatest good (see Job). “Forgive us” points the believer to the spiritual reality of our dependence upon Him to take away that which we cannot undo; namely, our sin. We are desperately in need of the Father’s forgiveness daily and we can praise our Merciful Father that He is pleased to oblige through Calvary (Isaiah 53:10). Lastly, “Lead us” points the believer to our ongoing need for the Good Shepherd to “lead us beside still waters” and to “lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” How desperately we need the leading of the Good Shepherd and how lovely it is to hear His voice and follow Him (John 10) away from the Evil One. Our supplications cover our physical, spiritual, and shepherding needs!
I’ll leave you with one parting thought on prayer from the Prince of Preachers as he mulled over the promises of the Lord contained in “ask, seek, and knock” from Luke 11:1-13—“Ask, therefore, after a God-like fashion, for great things, for you are before a great throne…The right spirit in which to approach the throne of grace is that of unstaggering confidence… Shame on us if we are unbelieving before the throne of the King of Heaven & Earth. With our God before us in all His glory, sitting on the throne of grace, will our hearts dare to say we mistrust Him? Shall we imagine either that He cannot—or will not—keep His promise?” Far be it from us, brothers.
May the Lord be glorified as we learn to pray at the feet of the Master.