Growing up in the church, I’ve been lead in a great many corporate prayers and have attended numerous prayer meetings. I’ve experienced a wide range of prayer styles and methodologies. I have an affinity for language and communication. I’m one who enjoys the music, but not apart from its lyric. The words being used matter a great deal to me. Whenever I hear someone lead a congregation or gathering in prayer, I’m not listening for impressive or colorful language, my first concern is the message of the prayer so that I know if it is something I can indeed say “Amen” to. Have you ever been part of a corporate prayer that left you wondering if it was a prayer or a lecture? Or worse, if it left you wondering exactly who was supposedly in charge of Creation? I’ve heard some prayers that went so outside of Biblical foundation that I caught myself repenting for my involvment, asking for forgiveness and protection in the middle of the prayer.
We’ve discussed prayer here before. The standard for any “How-To” for prayer is Matthew 6 and Luke 11. When God the Son is asked, “Lord, teach us to pray…” we would be foolish to presume that any other standard exists for prayer. Clearly the safest prayer is to repeat what we call the Lord’s Prayer and place all of our trust, hope, and faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. While this instruction is the preeminent instruction/standard for prayer, it is not the only instruction we find in Scriptures. We will look at some of the other prayers in Scripture, but I first want to make one thing absolutely clear. The Written Word of God is the ONLY source of Truth. There nothing, NOTHING we can learn about prayer from any other source. Not from paganism, not from mysticism (eastern or western), not from new age, not from the occult. Nothing.
2 Timothy 3:10-17 (ESV) 10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
So, now that is out of the way, let us continue with looking at prayer in the Word of God.
For whom and to whom are your praying?
Throughout scripture, we have prayers written down and preserved for our benefit, for our training. As is the case in the aforementioned Luke 11, the Disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray after He had finished praying. He taught them to pray to “Our Father in Heaven” to “give us this day our daily bread… forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…” Jesus often prayed in a quiet or secluded place. I believe that what His disciples were asking of Him was for how they were supposed to pray when they, too, were praying in secret. But let’s take a look at how He prayed before calling Lazarus to come out of the grave:
John 11:38-44 (ESV) 38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
This audible prayer, was to God the Father, but it was for the people standing around, the witnesses, so that they may believe that God the Father had indeed sent His Son. This prayer, is also an example of “Holy is your Name“. In the very next chapter, we see a similar instance of prayer to God the Father for the benefit of the witnesses:
John 12:27-36 (ESV) 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
In the previous example, we have the prayer of God the Son made audible for the benefit of the witnesses, and here we have the response of God the Father being made audible for the benefit of the witnesses not for God the Son. Again, all of this, points to “Holy is your Name“. It also points to “Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven“. Jesus knows what the Will of the Father is, and as the time draws near, His soul is troubled. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be hell. But it is for this purpose that God the Son came to Earth, to do the Will of the Father. We see it again in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Matthew 26:36-46 (ESV) 36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Jesus wrestled with what He knew was coming. His flesh was not defiled, He was a pure and spotless Lamb of God, and still the flesh is tempted (Temptation isn’t sin, yielding to it would have been). Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven… I want to look at one more beautiful prayer uttered by God the Son.
John 17 (ESV) | The High Priestly Prayer
17 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Throughout this prayer, you can hear echos of, ” Our Father in Heaven, Holy is your Name. Your Kingdom come, your Will be done, on 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” Whenever we pray, we must be certain that our right to approach the throne of God in prayer does not rest within ourselves; rather, in that we have believed in God the Son through the Gospel recorded in Scriptures. That we know that God the Son was sent by God the Father to save us by taking upon Himself the full punishment of sin. There for our “I” isn’t truly the same as Christ’s “I”, but He stands as our advocate, so that while we remain in Him, we have an audience with God.
So then we have our standard for the “to whom” and “for whom” prayers (for ourselves and for others). We will explore these concepts more, I’m sure, but I want to take a moment to caution what happens when we lose sight of to whom and for whom we are praying. In Matthew 6, Jesus pointed out 2 errors before giving instructions. First the error of the hypocrite (contextually the Pharisee, but we have many hypocrites by many names):
Matthew 6:5-6 (ESV) 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:7-8 (ESV) 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
The Gentiles covers all who are not Jews. Their phrases are empty because they do not know the One True God… their prayers are not heard because they do not know God. Why is Jesus warning the Jews not to pray like the Gentiles? Because they are and will continue to be guilty of being conformed to the world around them, a world that Hates God. If you look back at my introduction, I feel the same way… why am I warning against taking lessons on prayer from anything outside of scriptures if my target audience is Christians? Because we have fallen in the same trap. These are not the only pitfalls to prayer, as we will explore in the next post, but they are significant.
There is a lot of bad theology, false doctrine out there invading the church today. Labyrinth prayer, contemplative prayer, theophostic ministry, lectio divina,… some others less dangerous but no less out-of-focus. If you keep your focus on honoring God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in your prayers, to Glorify His name and to invite His Will to be done in your life regardless of the consequences, you will never need any so-called “new way to pray”. Make your requests to God, but do so without losing sight of to whom it is you are Praying. We will talk more about this final point in a later blog post.
In closing, I’d like to borrow from the Apostle Paul’s introduction to his letter to the Philippians:
Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV) 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.