He [Jesus] said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
As we set out on this 4-week journey looking at Jesus’ model prayer for us, I’m reminded of the one about two boys who were staying at their grandma’s place for the weekend. Just before bed, they kneeled next to their beds and began doing their nightly prayers. The first boy quietly said, “Lord, if you could find a way to give me a puppy, I’d take real good care of it. I’d feed it and walk it and give it a lot of love.” When the boy finished up, the second boy shouted, “PLEASE LORD, LET ME HAVE A NEW BIKE!” The first boy said to the other boy, “You know, you don’t need to yell. I’m sure God can hear you just fine.” The second boy sheepishly responded, “I know He can, but grandma doesn’t hear too well!”
Ahhh, if God can’t do it, grandma surely will! It’s good to have a loving grandma on your side as a child. She’ll work her darndest to get whatever it is your heart desires. It’s in her job description to spoil her grandkids rotten! From a child’s perspective, she more reliably delivers on your requests than God does. It’s not that God doesn’t want to give a kid what they want but rather that He’s more focused on giving adults what they want. After all, it’s through adults that kids get what they want! They’re the ones that actually buy the puppy or the bike! It’s only right and fair that God would focus more on the needs and wants of adults…but don’t tell that to a kid! Besides, God does answer the prayers of kids with or without the help of adults in their lives. Sometimes puppies and bikes just mysteriously appear so don’t give up on the prayers, kids.
As a child, we tend to believe that prayer serves a very specific purpose: to make demands on God. Give me this, do this for me, or take away this pain. We present God with a sort of wish list, much like those two boys. Sometimes God delivers on the requests but most of the time He doesn’t. And we are left with an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction and frustration with God. Some of us even go so far as to write God off altogether. “If He can’t give me what I want then He serves no purpose in my life!” Sadly, far too many people have abandoned God for feeling like He has abandoned them in their time of want. But God isn’t a genie! God isn’t this one-dimensional wish-granter…put a quarter in and get your wish granted. No, our God is a God of relationship. Our God is a God who wants us to come to him not only when we want something or need something. Our God is a God who wants our praise and thanksgiving for all his many blessings. Our God is a God who wants to reveal mysteries to us but only when He feels we are ready to receive such wisdom. Our God is a God who wants us to grow in our faith and trust in him. Giving us everything we want right when we want it doesn’t help us grow in faith and trust. Neither does giving us what we want sometimes. Sometimes God knows what’s better for us than what we want. I’ve always been suspicious of those who make the claim that God is more interested in giving us what we need than what we want. I think that minimizes the joy God feels in giving us what we want sometimes. Our God wants us to know joy just as much as He does and you can’t know full joy by living only on what you need. There’s a reason why God wants us not only to survive but thrive. God wants us to know abundance…the joy found in abundance. I realize this is borderline prosperity gospel preaching but beneath all that material wealth there is a possible joy to be found. God wants us to know joy. For some of us, that means having a lot of material wealth. But if the testimonies of many of those who obtain material wealth are true, the joy found in material wealth is very temporary and fleeting. No, God wants us to know lasting joy and contentment and peace in this world. And a sure way of finding such everlasting joy and contentment and peace is through a lifelong relationship with God. Such a relationship is formed and nurtured by prayer.
The older we get, the more we realize this about prayer. Just look at Jesus’ prayer, the so-called Lord’s Prayer. Sure, there are parts that make requests on God (i.e. give us our daily, forgive us our sins, don’t bring us to the time of trial) but there are also non-requests (i.e. hallowed be your name, your kingdom come). Jesus taught us to not only make requests but also to exalt our God. In his own prayer life, Jesus taught us how to be in relationship with God. And not just relationship but right relationship. He is our Lord and Master, we are his servants. Always have been, always will be. We’d be fools to believe otherwise. God deserves to be treated as more than a mere wish-granter. God deserves our utmost respect and love and prayer is a means through which we can offer that. God wants to love us in an ongoing relationship, not just in occasional encounters. We cheapen God by coming to him only to grant our wishes.
I was recently talking with someone who suggested that we have the ability to influence God and God’s actions. Certainly there are instances in Scripture when people have changed God’s mind or behavior. But does this apply to prayer? Can we influence God through prayer? The more I pondered this, the more I realized the complexity of prayer. If prayer is about creating and sustaining a relationship with God, then it’s less about influencing God and more about revealing God’s purpose. Relationships are about revelation. Events unfold how they are meant to unfold and it is only in relationship that we can understand why they unfold the way they do. I would argue the events in Scripture that appear to suggest we can influence God are illusory. God is all-knowing and all-powerful and nothing we do can change God. The power of prayer isn’t found in its ability to change or influence God but rather in its ability to allow God to reveal greater understanding and bestow blessings. We come to prayer to receive, not to make demands or force God’s hand so to speak. True prayer is simply opening oneself to receive.
No, our God is an unchanging rock of grace and mercy. He bestows his blessings whenever and however He pleases. Prayer simply helps us to receive, nothing more. God bestows with or without our prayer. Prayer helps us to live by faith. It helps know who is the Lord and Master of our lives. Jesus says in Matthew, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.” (21:22) That wasn’t “whatever you ask for in prayer” but “whatever you ask for in prayer with faith.” You have to be open to receive in order to receive! Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Chris Jesus.” (4:6-7) Notice he didn’t say you’ll receive what you ask for. Instead, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Friends, Paul offers something greater than anything we could ask for. He offers peace found in a relationship with God. That is the power of prayer-it’s ability to create and sustain a relationship with God. Nothing more and nothing less!
Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at how God’s kingdom is made present through prayer and how God wants to provide for and lead us through prayer. Let us use this time to be open to receive. Let us reimagine the purpose of not only Jesus’ prayer but prayer in general in our lives. There is a great power in prayer! So let us give thanks for the gift of prayer. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.