There was no one, who lived on earth who prayed and communicated with God and was heard by God every time, like Jesus Christ, when He was on the earth as a man. So if there is anyone who can teach us how to pray and communicate with God, it is Jesus.
We were considering how we should not pray. First, Jesus cleared the ground of all the rubbish. Just like you go to an empty plot of ground where there is a lot of rubbish and you have to clear it all out and then dig the ground before you lay a foundation. In the same way Jesus cleared out all the garbage by first telling people not to pray seeking man’s honour and not to pray thinking God will hear you if you keep on repeating many words. Now that we have cleared those two things, if you have any doubt that God doesn’t know your need, get that sorted out of your mind as well.
Then He said, ‘‘When you pray begin like this, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’’’ That is the way Jesus told us to begin our prayer for this reason: Throughout the New Testament, one of the most important requirements for answered prayer is faith. In fact, the Bible says in James 1:6, 7, that when you ask God for wisdom (he is talking about wisdom there but the principle applies for any prayer), ‘‘ask in faith without any doubting, because the one who doubts is like a surfer of the sea who is driven and tossed by the waves and that man will not receive anything from the Lord.’’ So we see here that faith is such an important requirement when we pray and ask God for something. When you have a need, a burden, maybe a great longing for something, and you desperately require it, yet if you don’t have faith, the Bible says in James 1:7 that you will receive nothing, absolutely nothing from the Lord.
Yet many people don’t understand the importance of this. They think, ‘well, I have prayed, I suppose God has heard.’ The question is, did you pray with faith? Did you believe that God will hear? Or, you are not sure whether He has heard or not? Then you are like the atheist who wonders whether there is a God up there listening to us at all. The Bible says, ‘‘He who comes to God must believe that God exists and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him’’ (Heb. 11:6). This is faith. First of all, you must believe that, out there, there is a God who can hear you and, secondly, that God rewards every single person who seeks Him diligently, whoever he is.
So, in order to encourage and strengthen our faith, Jesus told us to begin our prayer by saying, ‘Our Father who art in heaven,’ because in those two statements we have two facts concerning God that will strengthen our faith. One is that, He is our Father and not the managing director of a big company, outside whose door we are waiting hoping to get an entrance. He is not some great religious leader with whom we are trying to get an audience and for which there is a big waiting list (queue). No, He is a loving Father. As a child can go and see his father and talk to his father anytime, so can you. That is what Jesus taught. Our Father is one who loves us and cares for us, is interested in us and wants to help us in every possible way. That truth must be established in your mind when you pray, that you are talking to a father. As we considered in our last study, it is not a question of just repeating these words, every time we pray, but being conscious and aware of the reality of it, when we do pray, that we are praying to a father – Our Father.
Secondly, we are praying to the One who lives in heaven. It is to God, who rules in heaven, who has authority over the whole universe, that we are praying. So it is not only somebody who loves us, but also somebody who has such fantastic power, that He runs the universe. He is in heaven! Now, because we know He loves us, our faith is strengthened and because we know He is Almighty and has all power, again our faith is strengthened. These are two things that we need to know – one is that God loves us perfectly and then the other is that God is Almighty. Both these things come forth in that first sentence in this prayer: Our Father – who loves us, who art in heaven -therefore is sovereignly in control of everything that happens. So if we don’t begin here, we will not have faith.
When you begin to talk with God or you are going to ask Him something or say something, it is good to pause and ask yourself to whom are you talking to. Once you are sure that you are talking to the One who loves you intensely and the One who has all power to do anything in this universe, i.e. once we see the greatness of God, the greatness of His power, and the greatness of His love, then we are ready to pray. Otherwise our prayers will be useless, because it will be without faith. If you talk to God as though He is a stranger or something like that, you could pray long prayers and nothing will happen. My guess is that lots and lots of prayers prayed by Christians never get answered, probably 90% of them or more, because there is no faith.
Now, when it comes to earthly things, you may imagine that you got some answers from God in prayer. But Jesus said in Matthew 5 that God is such a good God that He makes the sun to rise on the good person and the evil person equally. He makes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous equally. So those material blessings are for everybody. Even those who don’t pray get it. The atheist gets rain on his farm without praying about it. So, I am not talking about general blessings that everybody gets, but specific things that we ask God for. You can have it if you ask Him in faith; our Father who art in heaven – One who loves me perfectly and One who has all mighty power.
There are six requests in this prayer: Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our debts as we have forgiven others and don’t lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. The first three concerns God and the next three concern our needs and the needs of our fellow believers. So we see here, before we come to our needs, Jesus taught us how to pray concerning God’s glory, His kingdom and His will. Thereby He was teaching us the importance of putting God first in our lives. Even though our needs maybe desperate and very great, Jesus still taught us to put it secondary, because when you seek the kingdom of God first, all the other things will be added to you. If you don’t seek God’s kingdom first and seek those other things, you may get some of them, but that won’t be a help or a blessing.
So Jesus taught us to be centred in God in our life and also in our prayers. The trouble with the entire human race, ever since Adam’s days, is that we are centred in ourselves. One result of sin coming in to Adam’s race is that we are centred in ourselves. We always think of what we can get out of it and how is this going to benefit me and my family. Every businessman in the world lives by that principle – what profits can I get out of it? How will this benefit me? And the vast majority of Christians live by that principle too: How is it going to benefit me? Jesus has come to save us from sin. He has also come to save us from this warped, crooked, and perverted idea of Christianity, where you have a religious outward impression that you give to others of being spiritual and all that, but, in your private life, you are seeking your own gain just as much as the most worldly business man in the world. That is hypocrisy!
We need to change our way of thinking. The Bible calls it the renewing of our mind in Romans 12:2. The renewing of our minds is something that leads us to look at everything from God’s point of view first, and not our selfish, self-centred viewpoint. So, looking at it from God’s viewpoint, we say, first of all, ‘I want to pray Lord, concerning your name. Your name is dishonoured in the world and we don’t want it to be dishonoured. We want Your kingdom to come in the world, a world that is being ruled by the devil right now. We want You to come in and rule in Your Kingdom and we want Your will to be done. Lord, the world is full of people that are doing their own will and I am doing my own will too, but Lord, have mercy on us and help us to do Your will on earth, exactly like it is done in heaven. In heaven it is done joyfully, cheerfully by the angels and I want to do it exactly like that in my life.’
So concern for God’s name and His kingdom and His will should be primary. Then, we have learned to pray correctly.
This is part of the Basic Christian Teachings Series, a set of 72 short messages presented by Zac Poonen. You can download the audio mp3 files or listen to Basic Christian Teachings by clicking here.