“We hear it said that a man will suffer in his life is he does not pray; I question it. What will suffer is the life of the Son of God within him, which is nourished not by food but by prayer…Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished.” –Oswald Chambers
If prayer then is not primarily to get our God to work on our behalf, then how do we pray? If the Lord’s prayer is an indicator, we can spend much more time focused upon our God, His person and glory, and His work in us and in the world. We could spend several posts unpacking the Lord’s prayer but notice just a few basic observations.
- More than half of that prayer is focused upon our God.
- It is a primarily a prayer of submission to our God
- It begins and ends with a clear focus upon Him and not upon our needs.
I believe that the more our praying focuses on our God and His life lived in place of us, the more mindful we will be of His presence. The more our fixation shifts to our God, the more our fixation will gravitate away from us. A self-oriented prayer life holds us back in our spiritual life. Shifting our prayer focus to our God and away from us will open new perspectives and new communion experiences with our God.
The truth is, we cannot fully shift our focus to our God in life or in prayer on our own. Such changes are part of the New Covenant work our God desires to do in us, on our behalf. Our minds and our wills must be renewed by the Holy Spirit in us. This is not a work of learning more facts and principles, then working harder at applying those facts. The old covenant, with its laws and rules, proved that we cannot do this.
The Lord’s Prayer is a clear model for how we can pray with greater focus upon our God, and less of a focus upon ourselves. The prayer opens and closes with worship for our God. It includes statements of submission to His will and purposes on earth, which includes in us individually. It also includes statements of submission to our god for His supply for us, for the application of forgiveness in relation to our forgiving of others, and for guidance away from the influences of evil. It ends with further statements of worship to Him.
If we simply repeat the words of this prayer without considering what they actually mean to us, it will likely become just another expression of rote religiosity and will have little weight with our God and little influence on our living. The key to praying this prayer as it is written (as with any written prayer) is to remember and be thoughtful regarding the words and their meanings.
Some people will use this as a kind of catch-all prayer in addition to other more specific prayer expressions. Again, if we are mindful of the meanings and intentions, this is good. Our God is not hard of hearing. We need to avoid “vain repetitions” in prayer, or thinking that our God will hears us because of our repetition or because of our fervency. Fervent praying is a good thing, but let us never forget that it is Jesus who makes intercession for us, and the Holy Spirit who interprets our prayers to our God for us “with groaning too deep for words.”
We need not convince our God of anything. He knows our situations and our needs far more deeply and well than we can ever hope to know them. We have no business telling Him how to do His will for us. We are better off to ask in submission to His will, with a sense of yieldedness to whatever answer He will bring. Prayer is about our God’s thoughts and will, not about our opinions or will.
It was Aldous Huxley, hardly a friend of the Kingdom of God, who recognized this tendency in us and stated, “The Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done,” is repeated daily by millions who have not the slightest intention of letting anyone’s will be done but their own.” How many believers pray with only their will and opinion in mind? How many pray with clearly self-serving motives? How many times do we pray for things that, if we could see behind the curtain to what our God sees about our requests, we would drop those requests like hot rocks?
Our prayers so often expose our self-dependence, our preoccupation with our own thinking, our limited insight, and our ignorance of the ways of our God. Yet we persist in praying them. We have little interest in God’s will being done, in part because we do not consider His will first and foremost in most of how we live. If our God answered our prayers according to our wills, with their blindness and self-absorbed motivations, we would likely never grow in our faith.
The Lord’s Prayer is a useful New Covenant framework for our praying. It is God-focused, and it is based upon our submission to His will and work. If we will remember to pray with that same God-focused submission in place of our own attitudes, opinions, and wills driving the praying, we will find it to be a good prayer on its own, and a good outline or framework for our prayer relationship with our God.
“Obedience is the burial of the will and the resurrection of humility.” – John Climacus