(By Rachel Joyce)
So that we would understand the essentiality of prayer in every aspect of our lives, our Lord Jesus Christ left us His example. As we read the gospels, we see how prayer characterized His life. After He performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish, He “dismissed the crowds” and “went up on the mountain by Himself to pray” (Mat 14:23). In His weariness, Jesus chose to rest in prayer. He consistently took time out to spend the alone in prayer with His Father. Our Lord was known as a man of prayer and of power. On one occasion, mothers brought their children to Jesus so that He would lay His hands on them and pray. They knew that His blessing on their children would make all the difference in their lives. He prayed when He had decisions to make. Before choosing the twelve disciples, He spent all night in prayer with His Father. Later, taking Peter, James, and John up a mountain, Jesus prayed and while praying, He was “transfigured” before their eyes and “His face shone like the sun” (Luk 9:28, Mat 17:2). In Gethsemane when His soul was “in an agony” He “prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luk 22:44). While He was enduring the horrific sufferings of the cross, He prayed. In every situation, whether it was in weariness, before making decisions, in “mountain top” experiences, when sorrow overwhelmed Him (contemplating Calvary), and even while suffering on the cross, our Lord Jesus prayed.
As His disciples witnessed the value and priority our Lord placed on prayer, they wanted to learn how to really pray. After Jesus finished praying on the Mount of Olives, one of His disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luk 11:1). They had witnessed the role of prayer in His life and they wanted to make it a part of their own, so He gave them a pattern for prayer. Each sentence covered truth that was vital to their (and our) prayer lives. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” God is our loving Father, who is sovereign over all and we, His children, come before Him with our praises for who He is. We reverence and worship Him, who alone deserves the highest place. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This expresses submission to Him; it is an acknowledgment of our need and His ability to meet that need. The next line, “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” reveals the absolute necessity of confession and forgiveness if we are to commune with God. Not only must our sin be confessed and forgiven, but we also must forgive those who have sinned against us. (In Luke 7, our Lord Jesus tells the parable the two debtors as an illustration of the importance of forgiving so that we are able to live in the good of being forgiven.) In the next phrase, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” our dependence on God is highlighted. It is through His strength and power alone that we will be kept from sin. The pattern ends with praise, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.” From this pattern prayer, our Lord Jesus taught us the essentials of prayer. We learn to begin with praise and an acknowledgment of His preeminence. We bow in submission to His plan and will. We pour out our hearts before Him and tell Him of all our needs, holding nothing back. Then, when we have placed these burdens in His hands, we trust Him to be sufficient for us. In His presence, we forgive others, confess our sins to Him, and accept His forgiveness. Daily we seek His preservation and rely on His strength to deliver us from sin. In the light of all of this, praise flows from our hearts to the One who alone is worthy.
But before our Lord taught His disciples how to pray, He warned them not to be like the hypocrites who prayed, “That they might be seen of others,” or like the Gentiles who used “empty phrases” and thought they would be heard because of their “many words” (Mat 6:5, 7-8). Prayer is not about impressing others or making ourselves look spiritual. Prayer is about drawing near to God in faith. Our Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to have faith when they prayed (Mar 11:22-24). In Romans we learn that our “faith is counted as righteousness” and in James, we discover “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (Rom 4:5, Jas 5:16). If our prayer life is going to be powerful, it must be rooted in faith. The more time we spend in His presence, reading His Word, and communicating with Him in prayer, the more we come to know Him and the more we come to know Him, the more we will trust Him because He is fully worthy of our trust. Satan knows this and works at keeping us so busy that we don’t spend the time with God that we need. Then, when the difficulties come, we don’t have our roots deep enough in the truths that will give us the stability and strength we need to be victorious. God’s presence and His Word are essential so that we can live out the “fullness of life” that our Lord intended for us. He wants to richly bless us; He wants us to draw near and spend time with Him “that our joy may be full” (Joh 16:24). He has loved us with an everlasting love and wants us to “abide” in His love (Joh 15:9). True joy and satisfaction come from spending time in His presence and our faith increases. As we pray in faith and pour out our hearts to Him, we rest confident that our heavenly Father hears and will respond to our prayers in accordance with His sovereign will and plan.
There are times of extreme trial when the agony of the heart is such that fear and sorrow steal our peace and make it almost impossible to rest confidently in God. Instead of allowing guilt or shame to overwhelm us, we can remember how Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow as He contemplated the cross while prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death” (Mat 26:38). We can take comfort knowing that the One who suffered so intensely for us is the same One who is interceding for us in heaven (Rom 8:34). Not one prayer of ours goes unheard. He will meet our needs. He will strengthen our faith. And one day soon, we will be able to speak with Him face to face. O glorious day!