Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.
Walking with Jesus: “Teach us to pray?”
As Jesus began his ministry he gathered around him a group of followers referred to as disciples. In Luke 11:1, 2 the gospel writer records an interesting interaction between Jesus and his disciples. After a time of personal prayer by Jesus, one of his disciples said to him: “Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (NIV translation – used with permission). Jesus then gave them an example of prayer that has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer”. It is also recorded in Matthew 6:5-12, but in a slightly different form and a very different setting. In many denominations the Matthew translation has become a ritual in saying The Lord’s Prayer as a part of worship. Doing this is probably based on Luke 11:9: “This then is how you should pray”. While there is obviously nothing wrong with repeating the example Jesus gave, it seems doubtful that it is what he intended.
The first thing that jumps out from this passage is the fact that the disciples of Jesus needed to be taught how to pray at all. Surely as young Jewish boys, they had attended their religious school and must have learned how to pray? What about in the home as children growing up? It seems that all children must be taught at the very least by the example of their parents, how to pray, however both John the Baptist and Jesus needed to teach their followers how to pray. Perhaps the situation is very much like today when prayer has been identified as one of the so called “Acts of Worship”. It has also been handed over to the religious leaders to perform. When prayer in a special circumstance is called for, the minister, priest, preacher, pastor or elder is called in to pray. Apparently how to pray had not been taught to every Jewish boy and so the question came from a perceived need. Perhaps in the example of Jesus and previously John the Baptist, they saw a new example.
The second fact that emerged came from the answer that Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew. The example of how they should pray was far removed from the prayers we hear so many religious leaders praying today. It was certainly also so in the time of Jesus. In Matthew’s account of the prayer of Jesus, it is set in the context of warnings by Jesus of the abuse of prayer by the religious leaders of his time: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogue and street corners to be seen by men” (Mt.6:5). So the prayer is short and specific. There are no empty phrases and repetitions.
“Our Father in heaven hallowed be thy name” (Mt. 6:9). Note that Luke says simply “Father, hallowed be thy name.” In this opening statement, acknowledgement comes of two different realms, the present earthly world and the greater spiritual world. The prayer issues us into and acknowledges that we are created both physically and spiritually. Prayer then extends our human experience into the heavenly realm. Here we come closer to God and God comes closer to us. In Deuteronomy 4:7, Moses writes “...our God is near to us whenever we pray to him”.
While Luke simply says “Father”, Matthew brings us into a shared relationship with Jesus and God by writing “Our Father”. Here is not the terrifying God on Mount Sinai, but rather a loving, comforting Father God who so loved the world that he gave his son to pay the price for our sin. There is great mystery in this eternal system that is both fair and just. With the blemish of sin in our lives it is impossible to enter into the presence of a Holy God. So sin’s penalty is paid in full by Jesus on the cross, and forgiveness is made available to all who believe and accept the promise of eternal life.
“Give us this day our daily bread” speaks of a request for what we need on a day to day basis. Into a world driven by the never ending “I want”, comes a request to ask for what I really need. In this world we as humans, are driven by greed and the need to be self-sufficient. Jesus prayed later to his Father: “not my will but your will be done”. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that God will indeed take care of us, a difficult concept to understand and an even more difficult one to apply in our lives.
“Forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Promises from God come with conditions of reciprocal behaviour. You cannot receive forgiveness if you do not forgive others. You cannot receive God’s love unless your heart learns to love others. Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:7 that husbands should treat their wives with respect “so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” The challenges of a Christian life are huge, but the promises great. Prayer helps us to remember those challenges.
“Lead us not into temptation”. Temptation lurks around every corner and again it needs all the help we can get to fight off Satan. Matthew adds: “but deliver us from the evil one.”
Just a short lesson on prayer by Jesus in response to the request of the disciples: “teach us to pray”. The lesson is as relevant today as it was in the time of Jesus. It would be good for everyone to read Jesus’ answer and meditate on it regularly.
Scriptures taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright 1973,1978,1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
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