TEACHING - Book Excerpt
A Lesson from Jesus on Prayer
By Chris Travis
-- Excerpt from inSignificant: Why You Matter in the Surprising Way God is Changing the World by Christ Travis.
Jesus' disciples recognized they had much to learn about prayer. One day after Jesus returned from praying, one of his disciples said, "Lord, teach us to pray." Jesus did not say, "There's nothing to know. Just go talk to God." Jesus taught them how to pray. He shared an example prayer, a template that we now call "The Lord's Prayer." This prayer appears more than once in Scripture, with minor variations to the wording (which shows that it's not about getting the words right, but about concepts). Most of us can recite the words of this prayer by heart. Even if you're only just beginning to explore faith, you've probably heard it at enough weddings and funerals, and in movies and TV, to get pretty close. The version you remember might have "thy" and "thou" instead of "your," but the idea's the same.
This then, is how you should pray:
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today 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 the evil one." Matthew 6:9-13
There is too much in this prayer for us to unpack it all. Every word matters. The words Father and hallowed say so much about who we're talking to—our God is a loving Father and the Holy One. Praying for "daily" bread says something important about making these conversations a daily experience. And notice the importance Jesus places on forgiveness and on dependence upon God, rather than self, to avoid temptation. We could fill an entire book with insights from this prayer, and there are many good books that do just that. Whether you read them or not, if you begin to use this prayer as a template to think through your conversations with God, you will discover more and more meaning in these words.
For our purposes, there are two things I want to point out. The first is something that is conspicuously present in this prayer that we often ignore. The second is something that is conspicuously absent but that tends to dominate our prayers anyway.
First, what's there. Jesus taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." In other words, in prayer we first align ourselves with God's will and not the other way around. According to Jesus, prayer is not about getting God to do what we want as much as it is figuring out what he wants. Friends, I cannot overstate the importance of praying like this. When Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, Jesus said to start by recognizing who God is, praising him, and submitting to his will. Pray this way first before moving on to other things.
And praying like this takes up half the prayer! It's as if Jesus said, "Okay, if you want to know how to pray like I do, then you need to start out by praying for God's will, and that should be at least half the conversation." This is the first thing we must come to terms with if we want our lives to be significant. Trying to get God to do our will is small and lonely. Asking God to sweep us up into his will, to give us what we need so we can do what he wants—this leads to a life that matters.
In practice, you will find you know God's will a whole lot better than you think you do. Let's imagine you are praying in the morning before you start your day. Think through what you will face that day, and pray for God's will to be done first, not your own.
"Father, please help me to lead this meeting so that every voice is heard and wisdom prevails."
"Father, may your kingdom come in our home today. Help us support and encourage one another and be at peace with one another."
"Father, may your will be done today in my classroom. May it run the way it would if Jesus were teaching it. And not just my classroom, but every class in my school. And Father, may your will be done through every teacher in the NYC public school system, all thirty thousand of them. In every classroom in all the world, in every one-room schoolhouse in every remote village, may your will be done. In the hearts of every professor in every university in every nation, may your kingdom come. Move policy makers and curriculum writers and textbook publishers, school boards and administrators, all to the rhythms of your perfect will today."
We get tunnel vision as we focus on our tiny little worlds. Praying like this helps us lift our heads and see the horizon. It is only after recognizing who God is, praising him, and praying for his will and his kingdom, that Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily needs.
Instead of Praying
Second, look at what isn't there.
Reread Jesus' teaching on prayer and pay attention to the pronouns. "Our . . . your . . . your . . . your . . . us . . . our . . . we . . . our . . . us . . . us . . ." What's missing?
Here's a challenge: Try to pray every day for a month without using the words I or me. It's very difficult. I tried but couldn't do it perfectly. I had no idea how self-centered I was until I tried.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with praying for ourselves. Read through the example prayers in the Psalms and you'll find "I" all over the place. But it's noteworthy that when Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us to pray not only for ourselves but to identify with others. Give us. Forgive us. Deliver us.
There is an important principle about significance at work here. We mistakenly think that if we've got it all together and can stand on our own two feet and are truly independent, then we're powerful. But in reality, dependence is the path to power. Strength flows from a daily dependence on God and by identifying ourselves with others.
During my first year of teaching, my prayers were almost entirely self-centered. I was having such a difficult time, it was all I could manage. I prayed "please help me" and "please make this easier on me" and "please keep so-and-so home today so I don't have to deal with them." I was broken and hurting and I asked others to pray for me. I thought I mostly needed God to help me either get out of the situation or comfort me so I could handle it. I don't think God enjoyed seeing me in a difficult situation, but I think he was dreaming bigger things for me than I dared dream for myself. He actually wanted me to accomplish his will. It wasn't until the switch flipped in my mind and I began to focus my prayers on him and on others that I began to see some real power moving through me.
Before, I'd have been more likely to pray, "Lord, strengthen me so I can get through this day." Gradually, I began to pray, "Lord, strengthen me so I can accomplish what you have for me today."
Instead of praying, "Father, help me craft this lesson so they'll stay busy and not get out of hand," I began praying, "Father, help them understand. Show me how to present this so they'll get it."
Instead of, "I can't do this anymore. I need a break. Please make my kids behave," I prayed, "Father, you want my students to learn and feel safe in my room even more than I do. Show me how to lead them."
I began to pray for wisdom and the right words to break through. I began to pray that God would create opportunities for me to interact with the students about their lives. I began to pray not just for what I needed but for extra, and then some, so I'd have what it took to give and serve. I still prayed for myself, but something had shifted. I prayed less often for what I wanted and more often that God would give me what I needed to accomplish his will and to serve others well.
Praying like this is significant. If praying for your own children matters, then imagine what a difference it makes to pray for all the children in your neighborhood. Imagine how significant it is to pray not only for yourself and your dreams and your fears, but to also take some spiritual responsibility for others. If you have authority over anyone—if you are a parent, supervisor, small-group leader, board member, teacher, owner—then it is important to include in your prayers the people you oversee. But include also your church, your company, your city, your country. Why not all the churches?
Why not pray for all believers everywhere? Why not pray for every hungry child alive? Why not pray for "us"? For "we"? For God's will to be done?
We can only achieve our God-given potential through daily dependence on him. Prayers for "us" are more significant than prayers for "me." Reader, you matter in the surprising way God is changing the world. You matter, specifically. Next chapter, we're going to talk about why you matter. But we can't get to that until you understand this: We can do nothing without him, and that's where prayer comes in.
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Reprinted by arrangement from the book inSignificant: Why You Matter in the Surprising Way God is Changing the World by Chris Travis. Copyright © 2012 Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com
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