Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” – Matthew 6:9-13
The Bible has a lot to say about the topic of prayer.
“…pray without ceasing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 ESV
“Yet Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.” – Luke 5:16 NET
“…pray for those who abuse you.” – Luke 6:28 ESV
“…pray at all times in the Spirit.” – Ephesians 6:18 NASB
“When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard.” – Matthew 6:7 NET
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” – James 5:13 ESV
“Continue steadfastly in prayer…” – Colossians 4:2 ESV
But while there is no shortage of advice and admonitions regarding prayer in the Scriptures, it’s far easier to read about than actually put into practice. And even when we do actually pray, we can find ourselves doing it for the wrong reasons. James rather bluntly reminds us, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3 ESV). For many, prayer is nothing more than an attempt to get from God what we want or desire. But Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as child to Father. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants and desires within His will. Which is why Jesus placed early within His model prayer the words, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” The goal of our relationship with God should be a growing sense of intimacy and familiarity. We should desire to know Him better and better. But if God becomes little more than a source for seeking our self-prescribed satisfaction and comfort, we miss the whole point. God really does want to give us what we desire, but He prefers that He be what we desire. More than money. More than popularity. More than a trouble-free life. More than pleasure. More than health. More than anything or anyone else. When writing to the believers in Ephesus, John wrapped up his letter with these words: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ESV). John is telling his readers that, because of their belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior, they have been given a relationship with God. He is the true God and eternal life. Jesus Himself declared, “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). To know Jesus is to know God. Jesus knew God well. He knew His Father intimately and with the loving familiarity of a son toward a dad. He loved talking with His Father. He prayed regularly to His Father. The gospel of Luke tells us, “Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NET). He longed to hear from His Father. He shared His heart with His Father.
But I find it interesting that right after John reminded his readers of their relationship with the one true God, he warned them, “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21 ESV). That is the last line of his entire letter. But why did he choose to end his letter that way? I think it was because he knew that men will always struggle with replacing the one true God with false gods. Timothy Keller describes idols in these sobering and somewhat convicting terms: “What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living“ (Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods). Prayer should be seen as an ongoing, unhindered opportunity to spend time and get to know better the one true God. Yes, we can bring Him our needs. We can even share with Him our desires. But as we grow to know Him better and better, we will see that much of what we wanted was outside of His will – not necessarily wrong or sinful – but simply not what He had in mind for us. In His prayer, Jesus keeps the content short and simple. It has just the right blend of adoration, submission, intimacy, awe, dependency, and responsibility for maintaining relationships with others. It acknowledges our need for God. It provides expression of our love for and adoration of God. The whole prayer is really about God. And at the end of the day, that is what the focus of our lives as believers should be about. Again, as Jesus said, “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). Knowing God because we know Jesus. Having an intimate and familiar relationship with the Father because we have believed in His Son. That is the essence of eternal life. The goal of salvation is not heaven – it’s God. Eternal life is not about a destination – it’s about a relationship with God. Getting saved isn’t to stay out of hell – it’s about knowing God.