By: Dr. W.P. “Ab” Abercrombie
The spiritual discipline of prayer is a wonderful and unique aspect of the Christian life in that, we are afforded access to the Throne of God. We have the scriptural mandate to pray. But more than that, we have the privilege of communicating with our Heavenly Father in a way that is personal, powerful, and promise-filled!
But as much as prayer is central to the spiritual life, the Body of Christ often struggles with misaligned expectations and misunderstanding about it’s potential and it’s purpose. In Luke, the disciples had the great opportunity to ask Jesus about prayer:
It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'”
I know this is a passage familiar to most of us; one we have read many times. But in examining the text several riveting points are made evident:
Lord teach us to pray…
First, the question, “Teach us to pray…” illustrates that prayer is the design of God not man. We are to approach our Creator with focus on His desires through which our petitions are shaped into accordance with His sovereign will.
Other scriptures confirm this truth:
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Communication with God is not complicated, but it is mysterious. He knows our need, our affliction, and our weakness before we kneel down. Yet He sees beyond what we see; He knows more than we can conceive. As the Scripture states, “He searches the hearts…” and “…intercedes for us” with a communication “too deep for words.” This of course speaks to the limitations of human language and our incapacity to see and describe our true spiritual need.
Often we are seeking an answer for what we know, while God is answering what we do not know. And even though His agenda is deeper and greater, “all things work together for good…according to His purpose.” When we consider this passage from Romans, it is incredible indeed that the Spirit of God reinterprets our need, helping us to pray in agreement with the intent of God.
Continuing in Luke 11 verse 2, Jesus begins His instruction on prayer this way: “Father, hallowed be Your name.” Don’t overlook the magnitude of this opening statement… “Father.” This single pronoun, this personal title of God, signifies this time of prayer is intimate and exclusive to the child of salvation. He is the Creator of all, but only born-again believers are His children. Paul wrote:
“Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba ! Father !” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”
In His instruction, Jesus confirms this truth. We are sons and daughters of the great Abba Father! We are heirs of His bountiful grace and no longer bound by the limitations and elemental features of this world. We are not restricted to human wisdom, reasoning, and care…we have full access to the Kingdom and it’s endless economy!
This is an empowering truth, but it should also be a humbling reality. God’s adoption of the Saints through the gift of salvation, radically changes everything concerning the potential of our lives and the security of our eternity. But with regard to prayer, it welcomes us into the inner family, the house of God, where our interactions are uniquely intimate and unlike any others.
In the Book of John, this very element was questioned by one of the disciples:
Judas (not Iscariot ) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.
In other words, “Lord, what will be different or unique about your revelations to the believer?” To disclose means to “make known new or secret information…” In our communication with the Lord, there will be things revealed that are unknown in the world.
The answer is found in His Word and His love. We will know and recognize the truth because the Father and the Son will make their “abode” (home) with us. The indwelling Spirit literally lives within the believer and syncs the language of our hearts with the language of Heaven. And in this intimate exchange, the mysteries and “secret information” are made manifest.
Knowing this, how important is this regular relational exchange? It is critical to our walk and sanctification and goes far beyond having our requests answered and our needs served.
Hallowed be Your name…
Continuing in Luke 11, the distinction between human and God is illustrated in the worship of His holiness: “Hallowed be Your name.” This truth further defines the posture of one in prayer. God is not our servant. His provision is not at our command. Yet our love and reverence for Him, along with His all-knowing nature, makes for perfect care and perfect response. This reverence also calls us to growth:
1 Peter 1:14-16
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
As we approach the Throne with reverence, knowing His perfection, we have a deeper awareness of our sinfulness, the greatness of our spiritual need, and the unbounded scope of His grace. No matter the issue on our hearts and minds when we pray, we each know that the greatest and most pressing needs we have are spiritual. Even when facing disease, injury, painful relationships, financial need, etc., our plea is for the spiritual fiber to sustain us through victory.
Christians of course, are not immune to the toxic hazards of this world. We surely will be affected by the deleterious impact of the sin, crime, stress, and turmoil of a fallen world. We seek relief: and often God answers our request. But the pressures of this corrupt environment also provide a template for His magnification.
At times He is glorified through a healing or provision He elects to bestow. Other times He will allow time and challenge to continue, so that the character of the servant may be enhanced. In our response, empowered by His Word and Spirit, He is glorified as we confront and deal with the rigors of life.
While it is difficult at times, whatever His answer, we must be fixed upon Him. Our frame is weak and our perseverance is uneven. But He hears and knows the struggle of our flesh and He is waiting to demonstrate His grace and power in such a way, His response cannot be confused with any other source.
As we focus upon the spiritual need; as we attend to His will; and as we state our petition as best we can; He is always calling us into agreement with His design. Every action the Lord initiates is for our good and His glory. Trusting and knowing this honors His position and sustains us even when the timing of His answer is not as we wish.
In the Book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks to Judah regarding their earthly dependency on human strength, and calls the nation to repentance and restoration stating:
“Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.”
In this passage, God’s people were in great need. They felt vulnerable to other nations and in their fear, were seeking safety in Egypt as their remedy. Their terror was real; the need was great; yet the Lord rebuked their earthly and selfish focus, calling them to repent and return to His sovereign care.
Notice the last line of verse 18: “How blessed are all those who long for HIM…” Without regard to the present physical threat or need, we are called to seek HIM, as our solution.
In His holiness, in His majesty, in His person; we are blessed, sustained, answered, comforted, and provided. Again we see the importance of relationship. We do not enter prayer to execute a trade. We enter prayer to be in the presence of our Creator and Savior. Like children incapable of self-management, we are soothed in the presence and provision of our all-powerful Father.
Your Kingdom come…
As we go further into this passage in Luke, the next expression of prayer is: “Your Kingdom come.” Have we really thought the exact meaning of this request? In Matthew, Jesus taught a variation of this prayer which reads: “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt. 6:9).
This prayerful request for the Kingdom in Luke reflects the same intent. We are to seek the rule of Heaven on earth, and in our hearts, just as it is in Heaven. Have you ever speculated about how God’s will is carried out in Heaven? I don’t imagine it is much the way it is here. I doubt there is struggle, rebellion, delay, or disobedience. No, I am sure His will is clearly known and immediately answered.
It should be no different on earth. His expressed will, always will have its way and complete it’s intent. The difference is the gyrations we humans go through in resisting what is already ordained. You see when God exercises His will, He is not waiting for us to answer “Amen” and comply, before He proceeds. When His will is expressed…it is already done. The question is only: “When and how will we respond to what has already been placed in motion.”
So then, prayer is the searching and seeking of God’s will. It is a request for earthly submission and obedience in response to His actions. In the midst of pain or confusion, need or desire, we are not to seek our determined remedy, but rather look for God’s purpose, plan, and process.
Yes we are to make specific requests. The Bible is clear that we are to “ask, seek, and knock” (Luke 11:9-10). In the parable of the unrighteous judge, we are told to “pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). We are assured that in our persistence, God will “bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night” (Luke 18:7).
But again, the provision of Heaven is not an action, it is a Person; the Lord Jesus Christ. The nature of God is to love, save, heal, provide, discipline, and judge. The actions of Heaven are simply an extension of our Savior Himself. When we are abiding in Him instead of making requests only, we are empowered by that very nature, and our remedy is at hand.
Give us each day, our daily bread…
In speaking of requests, we are encouraged to ask for the Lord’s provision: “Give us each day, our daily bread.” Literally this means, “give us day-by-day” our daily bread. It is a request of perpetual supply. We are instructed to not only answer our present hunger, but to be filled continually by His Person. After feeding the 5,000 with endless bread and fish, Jesus described Himself this way:
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”
Jesus never taught the benefits of earthly provision alone. Everything of this world is temporal, and the need once satisfied by earthly supply, will only surface again. Rather He taught of the permanent, enduring provision of Himself as the transforming eternal answer. So the perpetual supply of bread, day-by-day, is the Person of Christ who answers any and every physical and spiritual concern.
We know that Abraham was provided a ram in the thicket, a substitution for the sacrifice of his son Isaac. Following the sacrifice, Abraham named the place “The Lord will Provide” (Gen. 22:14), which is translated from the Hebrew: “Yahweh Jireh.” The term Jireh is an expression of God’s capacity to see what is needed in advance. So His provision is preordained, knowing our need even before we ask.
This is affirmed in the New Testament as Jesus was teaching His followers about prayer. He said:
“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
He knows EVERYTHING we need. He even knows if our request is right or beneficial. He responds to TRUE need, not desire. Often Christians quote, in part, the Scripture found in Psalm 37 stating: “The Lord will give me the desires of my heart.” But in truth, the Scripture reads:
Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Big difference isn’t it? The prerequisite, “Delight yourself in the LORD…” affirms again the importance of seeking the fullness of Christ. Our delight, comfort, and provision is in Him and through Him. He is our delight because He cares for us perfectly and without bias.
To delight in the Lord is to be as He is, to desire His desire. When our desires are obedient to His preordained will, we are given ALL we need. The relationship with Christ is our aim!. This is the core of our prayer life, and the core of our existence as Christians.
Forgive us our sins…
In our requests, we need a clear pathway of communication. We are told in verse 4 to ask: “Forgive us our sins.” This is so fundamental we cannot dare overlook its importance. Repentance of sin sustains our union with Christ. Without godly sorrow and recognition of sin, there is no vibrant relationship.
Unrepented sin stifles our access to God. It impedes our communication. No matter our physical need, we must be attentive of sin and disobedience, moment-by-moment. The Book of Isaiah makes this point extremely clear. The prophet states:
“Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short
That it cannot save;
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear.
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”
The Lord can reach ANYWHERE He chooses. He hears and knows ALL. But the Scripture is clear; our sin divides us from God. In response to unrepented sin, God turns away. He will not hear or respond to our requests.
Clearly the Lord does not leave nor forsake His elect (Heb. 13:5). But He does suspend His comfort and response in order to correct and discipline His children toward correct awareness and submission. When sinning willfully and without regret, the Lord will leave us often to the naturally occurring consequences of this world, until we repent and return to Him.
Our sins create disharmony with Christ. Our relationship, the cornerstone of prayer, is injured. Remember, we are only a repentant prayer away from a restored relationship with Christ! Searching our hearts and seeking His illumination of sin, is critical to the ongoing interchange we call prayer. If prayer is to be “unceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), we must tend to this matter often and with humility, knowing it is fundamental to our spiritual empowerment.
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us…
Continuing in verse 4, the next statement is connected to our request for forgiveness. We seek forgiveness: “For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Under grace and as followers of Jesus, we are forgiven for Christ’s sake, and exhorted to forgive because we have been forgiven.
When this prayer is taught in Matthew 6, it is followed by the following instruction of the Lord:
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
Here Christ states strongly the importance of having the mind or attitude of Christ (Phil. 2:5). Again the relational aspect of prayer comes to the foreground as we seek to impart His character and likeness in all we do. Through Paul we are reminded of grace we have been given and then challenged to extend this gift to others, rather than judge or condemn:
“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
Christ is the source of our capacity to forgive injury and injustice. Through the unmerited grace and mercy of God, we are empowered to do what is unnatural to the flesh. We must remember, the pursuit of this truth is inextricably tied to the request we make for mercy.
If we defile our hearts with anger, bitterness, and wrath, we are in sin. Even when we have been victimized by the actions of another, this toxic root quenches the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19) and again, undermines our connectedness to Christ. This is in part, the reason Christ calls us to forgive—it maintains our unity with His Spirit and His divine nature.
And lead us not into temptation…
Continuing in Luke 11, verse 4, the believer is taught this final request: “And lead us not into temptation.” This is a petition for protection, wisdom, discernment, and power. It is a prayer of deliverance. This request is expanded in the Matthew 6 text:
“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” [‘For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
God is not the tempter. He does test and He does allow trial…but He does not entice or induce us to sin. The Scriptures validate this:
“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God “; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
Temptation is grounded in our flesh; it is endemic to the human condition. We are “carried away” by our own lust…and if unfettered, sin leads to death. The deception and enticement is from Satan himself! Jesus referred to the devil in this way:
“He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Because of this, the additional line in Matthew is all important: “Deliver us from evil” In the New King James Version, it is translated: “Deliver us from the evil one.”
Thus the petition for protection is a request for Christ’s presence in the face of evil. Christ and Satan, God and sin, cannot coexist. If we are abiding in the presence and power of Christ, there is no measure of access given the devil. In a repentant, submitted, and humble position, we are “exalted” (James 4:10) and strengthened with capacities we do not have in the physical. Because of the presence of the Spirit, we are transformed, and our potential and ability is forever changed!
The greater our obedience and the closer our walk with Christ, the greater the challenge of evil. Satan seeks to “devour” the Christian like a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8). But when we are close to the Shepherd, traveling His path, we are protected from all predators throughout eternity. The Bible states in Isaiah 35, that we are traveling a roadway that is unique indeed:
“A highway will be there, a roadway,
And it will be called the Highway of Holiness.
The unclean will not travel on it,
But it will be for him who walks that way,
And fools will not wander on it.
No lion will be there,
Nor will any vicious beast go up on it;
These will not be found there.
But the redeemed will walk there…”
Be aware that temptation will come. Satan wants us to leave the companionship of Christ long enough to do damage. He cannot have the believer’s eternity, but He can and will create suffering and pain whenever possible. But be encouraged and remember the promise of the Lord:
1 Corinthians 10:13
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
How great is our Father’s provision! How many are His thoughts toward us! As King David wrote:
If I would declare and speak of them,
They would be too numerous to count.”
The Father’s thoughts and concern for us are evident in Jesus’ instruction on prayer. In these few lines of Scripture, the Lord highlights His desire for us and undergirds us with instruction so we are able to come to Him in every need and in all times. In summary He teaches us:
- Prayer is His design. We are to approach our Creator with focus on His desires, through which our petitions are shaped into accordance with His sovereign will. By this, He calls us into His presence and teaches us our true need.
- Prayer is communication with our “Abba Father.” Abba, is a very personal, pronoun best translated as “Daddy.” It is a safe and intimate interchange, so unique, it can occur only between family members.
- Prayer is worship. It is the praise of His holiness. In His presence we are convicted of sin and reacquainted with the poignancy of His grace.
- Prayer establishes our focus on the objectives of the Kingdom. It prompts our submission to His sovereign will, and challenges our adherence to His purposes, even when we lack understanding.
- Prayer gives us a framework through which we make our requests. We seek His provision for all things spiritual and physical. In seeking the perpetual nourishment of the Lord we are reminded, He is the “bread of life.” He is our supply. In Him and through Him, we are given ALL we need.
- Prayer maintains our connection through the repentance of sin. Sin separates us from God and leaves us the natural consequences of our actions. Repentance restores our communion as we are also called to emulate His divine nature through the extension of grace and forgiveness to others.
- Finally, prayer is our petition for heavenly power; for deliverance from the evil one. It is our petition for strength through the presence of Christ that our discernment and resolve are under guard. In His company, we have no fear because He is the “Shepherd and Guardian of our souls…” (1 Peter 2:25).
“ Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me…”
Prayer is our merger with the Savior. It is perpetual, penetrating, and sustaining. It is not His answer we seek but His presence. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Under His yoke, we are saved, sanctified, and shaped into His likeness. And in Him…all things are possible, Amen!