Jesus On Prayer
By Dave Butts
It is not just the content of a teaching or a quote that is important. Sometimes who is speaking makes all the difference. I could read a sentence from a book and enjoy it until I realize that it was written by someone whose views or lifestyle I find abhorrent. That dramatically changes my view of the content.
This principle holds true in a positive way also. For example, if I read a sentence from a book and then realize that its author is someone I greatly admire, the sentence takes on added importance to me. This would especially be true if the author is Jesus.
In many editions of the Scriptures, the importance of the words of Jesus are emphasized and identified by being printed in red letters. If words are spoken by Jesus, for me that adds to the weight and importance of a passage. Because I teach on prayer as my profession, I also read and study much on this topic. Of all the books and materials I study on prayer, none is as important as the teachings of Jesus. For example, let us look at the essential teaching on prayer given by the Lord in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount:
"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come, Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but
deliver us from the evil one’"
Jesus knows more about prayer than any person who has ever lived, because He is the only One who has been on both sides of intercession. Not only did He pray to the Father while here on earth, He continues to intercede on our behalf even now (read Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25). Jesus prays, but is also prayed to by millions. So it is critical to our prayer lives to understand that He is the Authority on prayer in the passage quoted above.
The Matthew 6 passage, part of the Sermon on the Mount, is devoted to what I would call "corrective" teaching. He is correcting the false teaching and example of the current religious leaders among the Jews – the Pharisees. In three areas of the spiritual life, the Pharisees got it wrong by focusing on externals rather than on relationship with God. In prayer, fasting, and giving, the problem and the solution are the same: don’t just do outward religious acts to be thought highly of by others. Focus on God and honor Him through your prayers, fasting and giving.
Some have misunderstood this teaching of Jesus by failing to see how He was correcting a problem. Consequently, this passage is improperly used to teach against public prayer or praying for long periods of time. A simple look at the prayer life of Jesus shows how this cannot be. Jesus often prayed in public and would never do anything to violate His own teaching. He also at times spent the entire night in prayer. That certainly does not fit with an attempt to make His teaching here be against longer prayers. Again, He is correcting a problem with prayers that were merely "for show" rather than communicating with the living God.
It is in this context that we also see the first instance of what we often call "The Lord’s Prayer," probably more accurately called "The Model Prayer." Rather than viewing this incredible prayer as a liturgical form intended to be repeated through the years, the best understanding of this wonderful prayer is that of an outline for topics that should be prayed about. After Jesus exposed the self-centered style of prayer as practiced by the Pharisees, He pointed the way to proper prayer.
Proper prayer according to Jesus begins by focusing on God: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed (holy) be Your name." All true prayer begins with God. When we begin with us and our needs, prayer easily becomes self-centered, and often inaccurate in what is requested. When the nature of God and His character is our focus, prayer becomes more about His will than ours. As we begin to contemplate the vastness of God and His holiness, it becomes apparent that prayer is not so much about us getting things from God, as about God accomplishing His purposes through our asking.
Such God-focused praying carries over into the next phrase: "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Jesus gave us a very clear order for our prayers. Focus on who God is and then on His kingdom. Kingdom praying is key to seeing answered prayers, even if we are dealing with our own needs. Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God and then other things would be provided (Matthew 6:33). His kingdom must be the priority.
In this great corrective teaching on prayer, Jesus insists that we get this right. Prayer is not about us figuring out how to get God to give us what we want. Nor is it a way to impress others with our spirituality. Prayer is about God, His nature and purposes as they intersect with humanity.
Only after we have recognized the holy God who is listening and have prayed for His will to be done, does Jesus open the door for us to bring our needs to God. Daily provision, forgiveness and spiritual protection are all areas that Jesus would have us bring to the Father. Issues of spirit, soul, and body can and should be brought to God in prayer. But even these requests are brought in the context of God’s will being done in our lives.
Such a simple model is the reverse of what most people practice. Rather than listing our wants and bringing them to God, Jesus has us begin with God. As we worship and draw near, the issues relating to His kingdom and His will take precedence. After we have dealt with the grand issues that are close to the heart of God, we can then turn to the personal issues that still must be brought to the Lord. Praying as Jesus has taught us will catch the ear of the Father and bring His power to bear upon the issues of our day.