I had just pulled a series of practical jokes on my roommate and came back to my room to learn that he had been at his desk praying for 45 minutes. I stood in the doorway as I watched my roommate, Dieter Wolski, continue to pray for another 45 minutes as he was on his knees with his hands folded and his head down. There were tears streaming down his face as he prayed. And after he prayed for an hour and a half in that kind of posture, he hyperventilated. I had to call the school nurse who gave him a brown paper bag. He held it up to his mouth until his breathing returned to normal. After the nurse left, I asked, “Dieter, what were you praying about for an hour and a half with such fervency that tears were streaming on your face, and you hyperventilated?”
He said, “George, when the buckets of water that you put in the closet came down on me and my new suit, I became angry. But quickly God convicted me that my anger was sin. So, I’ve been praying for the last hour and a half that God would make me more like Jesus Christ.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the presence of a true prayer warrior. I certainly was in the presence of one that day. And it reminded me of Luke 11, where we see for the second time in Scripture that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. In this setting, the disciples of Jesus Christ saw Jesus praying from some distance, much like I was witnessing Dieter at a distance praying. By the way he prayed, they could say, “there is something about the prayer life of the Master we don’t match.” So, they said, “Jesus, teach us to pray. We want the power and the relationship and the fervency that we see in your prayer life.”
Conservative New Testament scholars agree that in Luke 11 Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer for the second time. We can look at this and say from the disciples’ perspective, “time out, Master, we know the words. You’ve given us this prayer before.” And by implication Jesus is saying, “you may know the words, but you still don’t know the meaning or the significance of prayer.”
So, Jesus reinforces his desire for his disciples to pray according to a particular pattern. Furthermore, clearly the Lord knows his followers will struggle in our prayer life. He knows that on occasion we will pray and not get what God is doing.
The Apostle Paul, according to Galatians 4:14, had a protracted illness. That illness apparently marred Paul’s appearance so much that Paul worried that even his friends might be repulsed by him. Many New Testament scholars believe that, in fact, was Paul’s thorn in the flesh that he mentions in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. On three separate occasions, he asked God to remove the thorn in the flesh. But God’s response to Paul was, “no, Paul, my grace is sufficient for you.”
So, whatever we make of those two accounts, we know that Paul had a protracted illness for an extended period of time that he knew would be upsetting to the Galatians. We know that he had a thorn in the flesh, if not this physical illness, that he had something else that he asked God to remove. But despite his prayers, God didn’t remove it.
Many of us know that frustration. Perhaps, we prayed about an illness, or a job loss or a relationship problem. All of us have prayed about something only to see that nothing has much changed. So, when we conclude our prayers make no difference, we say, “why do we even pray?”
Adding to this confusion, in verse eight, it’s Jesus himself who says, “the Father knows what you need before you pray.”
We can stop right there and say, “if that’s the case, why bother to pray? If he knows I don’t have a job; if he knows I’m sick, if he knows I’m struggling in some relationship; why do I even need to pray? What am I accomplishing when I pray?
The answer to our question is that the purpose of prayer is not to make our requests known to God. That’s implicit as we look at this prayer that Jesus taught his disciples and us to pray. Prayer for Jesus is about relationships.
I have a Missouri Synod Lutheran background, which means I went to catechism for two years, every Tuesday night and every Saturday morning. Among the things that we learned in Catechism was the Lord’s Prayer. We memorized the Lord’s Prayer. We learned about the six petitions in the Lord’s Prayer and knew that the Lord’s Prayer can be equally divided into two halves. The first half of the Lord’s Prayer is where we pray to the Father about the Father. We pray about the person of the Father, “hallowed be thy name.” And we pray about the plan of the Father, “Thy Kingdom come.” And we pray about the purpose of the Father, “Thy will be done.” And then in the second half of the prayer, we pray to the Father about the family. We pray about the provision for the family, “give us this day our daily bread.” Then we pray about the pardon for the family, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Finally, we pray about the protection of the family, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” So, as we look at this prayer that Jesus Christ taught us to pray, we can say, it’s about relationships. We can pause already and say, “Okay, maybe that’s what I’m missing. That when I pray, God’s great desire for me is to enter into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him and develop a greater concern and compassion for His family.
C. S. Lewis, in his outstanding book, Letters to Malcolm, makes this observation that when we pray, our tendency is to pray, “Give me this day my daily bread.” But in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus says pray “give us this day our daily bread.” When we pray, our focus tends to be on our immediate needs, our health needs, our financial needs, our family needs. Jesus, however, seems to be warning us of the danger of having merely that selfish perspective. Until we understand the relationship that we have with our Heavenly Father, we’re not even ready to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” So, we start our prayers by focusing on the person, plan and purpose of the Father. Then, we don’t focus on just my needs, my bread. We become intercessors. We encourage the family and support them emotionally, physically, and spiritually. That’s the essence and the heart of prayer.
*Excerpt taken from a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer by Dr. George Kenworthy. More prayer resources and pdf versions of the entire Lord’s Prayer series can be found at www.2restored.com/prayer/