(October 10, 1990)
The old fashioned midweek church prayer meeting isn’t a sold-out event these days. People still pray but it seems many are reluctant to get together to do it. Busy life styles, maybe less faith, any number of things could contribute to the empty chairs, but one other thing could have something to do with it: inexperienced pray-ers feeling intimidated by those who obviously have been practicing for years.
I remember how I felt as a new Christian at prayer time. I could pour my heart out to God when alone, but in a group, my tongue tied itself in knots and ALL words escaped me, never mind words that sounded right. I felt like the disciples must have felt the day they heard Jesus praying. (Luke 11)
While not too many of His prayers are recorded in the Bible, we can conclude from those that are, this one was communication par excellence. When He was finished, it is no surprise that one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray...”
Who wouldn’t want to pray like Jesus prayed? Maybe the disciples thought if they could say it like He did, they would be more apt to be heard. Or maybe they believed if they just could memorize those beautiful words, their prayer life would be more dynamic.
But saying the right thing is only part of it. The prayers of Jesus had two other important qualities. First, they were entirely within the will of God. Secondly, they were delivered in complete faith. With those two distinctives, the importance of saying the right words lines up a weak third, if that.
In all graciousness, Jesus did tell the disciples the words to pray: “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”
I remember praying those words every day as a school child. All twenty-five of us learned them by rote and I doubt any of us understood what we were saying. I can’t recall myself ever thinking God heard me or that I was saying anything that fit in with His plans. They were only words.
Teaching someone how to say the right words is easy. My grade school teachers did it by repetition. Teaching someone to believe in the God to whom those words are directed is another matter. Jesus used two illustrations to explain what He is like. The first was the persistent request of one who keeps on asking because he knows his friend will come through. The second was about a son who can ask his father for bread and fish with confidence, knowing he won’t get a stone or a scorpion. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand that it makes no sense saying the right words to God if you don’t know what He is like and don’t really believe He will answer.
Praying is not mere ritual nor is it oratory requiring great skill. It is simply talking to God about what is on our hearts, giving Him the honor due Him, expressing praise and thanksgiving, and making requests regarding our needs. Prayer is also the avenue by which God gives us the qualities we need to overcome sin and deal with problems in relationships.
Thank God eloquence isn’t the issue. He is interested in our hearts --and the reasons why we pray (or fail to pray) to Him.