The need to improve our prayer life. I believe all of us need the encouragement to pray more and to pray better. We may be active our prayer lives but wonder if we are doing it right. Prayer is something that we need training in, as the disciples even asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Unfortunately, the prayer life of many looks like the fire extinguisher behind the breakable glass that reads: in case of emergency. We are not regular in our prayer. We pray only in cases of emergency. So I want us to grow deeper in prayer. I believe we want deeper prayer lives. I think we are told to pray more often, but we don’t know what to do. We do not know if we are praying right. It may even feel silly to us because we are in the quiet of our room and we speaking to no one we can see.
Jesus is a terrific example of prayer. We read about Jesus praying regularly throughout the gospels. Notice just a handful of those times.
Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
Luke 6:12 One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.
Matt. 14:23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.
We know that we need to pray more. We know we need to stop our schedules to pray. We know we need to have time alone with God. But how? Where can we get the desire to do it? We will study the prayers of Jesus and learn how to have the godly prayer life.
Matthew 6:5-13 will be the reference of our study.
Jesus begins by teaching that prayer is simple. I hope that you see that. Prayer is simple.
(1) Prayer is not about a show (6:5-6). Jesus instructs his disciples to not pray in such a way to be heard and seen by other people. Prayer is simply a conversation between you and God. You do not need an audience. Prayer is simply. Talking to God, telling him what is on your heart and on your mind.
(2) Prayer is not formal (6:7). God does not demand that you say certain words to get his attention. This is the idea behind the “empty phrases” the Gentiles were heaping upon themselves. God does not need long speeches for him to hear. He does not need certain code words for God to know that we have started our prayer or ended our prayer. We do not have to speak flowery words when we pray (and we will talk more about that in a moment). We are not trying to impress God with our words.
(3) We don’t say things to God as if He does not know what we need (6:8). Prayer is about changing our heart, not to be an informant to God about the things that are happening, as if we do not know. He’s God. It is not like he is saying, “Oh, thank you for telling me. I had no idea that was going on down there.” Prayer is for our benefit, not for God’s benefit. Prayer is to help me get aligned with God, not to get God aligned with me. That is how prayer is typically treated. “I am going to get God to do what I want.” Again, he as used as the fire extinguisher, breaking the glass in case of emergency. Prayer is to settle us so that we can get in tune with God and his will. God knows our sins, so it is not like we are hiding anything from him. Openness is for your benefit. Prayer is how we are going to build our relationship with God.
In verse 9, Jesus said, “Pray, then, like this.” Jesus did not say to pray these words. Jesus did not say to recite these words. He did not say to repeat these words. We already made the point previously that prayer is not to be formal and not to be filled with empty phrases. Yet so many then turn around and turn this prayer into mindless, empty phrases. This is not to be recited. We are to be having a conversation with God. “Pray like this” is what Jesus said. Prayer needs to be along these lines.
This may be the most moving part of the prayer right here. Yet we can easily pass by it. And we easily begin our prayers with “our Father” without realizing the gravity of these two simple words. The Jews did not begin their prayers this way. There is no evidence that God was ever directly referenced as Father in prayer by the Jews. Scholar D.A. Carson says, “The overwhelming tendency in Jewish circles was to multiply titles ascribing sovereignty, lordship, glory, grace, and the like to God” (Divine Sovereignty, p. 45). Therefore, this model prayer begins with a couple shocking words, “Our Father.” Now, I think we could brush this off because Jesus is addressing the Father and so he had the right to call God, “Father,” but certainly not us. Except then Jesus makes this prayer incorporate the disciples with the word, “our.” Jesus does not say, “my Father,” but “our Father.” He is our Father also and we have the right to address him as Father.
This ought to rattle our minds. We do not have to address God as all-powerful, all-knowing, holy, glorious God. We do not have to address God as someone far away and in non-intimate terms. No, when we talk to God we are addressing him like he is our dad. These first two words teach us volumes that we so easily pass by. Talk to God like he is your dad. Now, unfortunately there may be some who did not have good relationships with their father and so this imagery does not resonate as strongly. If that is the case with you, then think about God as the father you always wish you had, but did not have. Speak to him like that figure, because your dad ruined the beautiful title of father.
Some take the picture a little too far. You may have heard that argument that the Aramaic word “Abba” basically means “daddy,” like a little child speaking to his or her daddy. Some propose that we should begin our prayers, “dear daddy.” But this is misleading. While this was a word that was used by Jewish children for their earthly fathers, it was also a term used by adults to address their fathers. The claim that “Abba” means “daddy” is misleading and runs the risk of irreverence. So let’s not fly to this other extreme. But do not let that cause us to miss the point Jesus is making here. The Jews never would have considered addressing God as Father. Jesus teaches his disciples to address God as Father. This clearly conveys the authority, warmth, and intimacy of a loving father’s care. He is to be our dad, with all the respect and authority that a dad carries.
Jesus is teaching us to not be formal, but still be respectful. My children do not talk to me by saying, “Dear gracious father, we beseech thee to play games with us.” That is formal and rigid. My children respect me but they do not talk to me like that. Their tone conveys respect. Their attitude shows respect. How they ask of me reveals their appreciation of who I am as father, not flowery language. They just come up to be and say “dad.” I think this is truly the force of what Jesus is doing when we comprehend how the Jews typically addressed God in prayer. Respectful, not formal. He is our father.
This helps us understand the dynamic that is taking place in prayer. God answers our prayers but he does what is in our best interests, just as parents do for their children. One of my girls will ask me for a banana for a snack. My answer: yes. One of my girls might ask me for cookies for a snack. My answer: no. Then I get those requests: can we go to Disney World? My answer: not now, but later we will go. Fathers give their answers this way to the requests of our children. Our Father does the same thing.
As Father, it also means that God wants us to talk to him. I love when my children come back and ask me things. The other night when my wife was sick, the kids asked if we could go to Bud’s to eat. Sure. I love that they asked. God wants us to ask. As our Father, God is not upset when we ask him. He is not angered when we try to talk to him. We are not bugging him. Just talk to him. Just ask of him.
The words “our Father” teach us something else that is important. We do not pray to the creator of the universe as “our Mother.” There is an increase of this going on. Mother Earth seems to be growing into being God. We are not praying to a goddess. Jesus taught us to pray to God as our Father.
When we understand God to be Father, prayer becomes easy. When we see God as our dad then we will want to go and talk to him. We will want to have conversations with him. We will want to be pleasing to him. We will want to talk about what is going on in our lives. We will turn to him in times of crisis. We will turn to him when things are good. We will seek out his advice. We will follow his counsel. God is Father.