Summary: Jesus’ model prayer teaches TO pray and WHAT TO pray for.
What to Pray For
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Introduction: Is it right to ask from God when we pray? That’s real question for many people. On one hand some folk turn prayer into a Christmas wish list. They define prayer as nothing more than asking and wanting from God. But others tilt to the other extreme. To them asking makes prayer seem too greedy or maybe too personal. To some whatever asking takes place must be broad and general. After all, isn’t God too busy to be bothered with the likes of us?
In a secular minded world like ours, especially, asking in prayer can be a problem. The worldview that dominates many has convinced us that a wall of separation exists between God and the real world. The spiritual, the supernatural, anything involving a personal God only exists on the other side of the wall. On this side is real life. Like or not, we are taught, we must learn to get along on our own on this side.
Jesus taught us that God expects us to ask and pray. He commands it. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt. 7:7-11). Prayer is more than asking, but it is never less.
The Lord’s Prayer divides into two halves. The first concentrates on worship or acknowledge-ment of God—our Father—thy kingdom come, they will be done. The second half turns to petition. In three different petitions, Jesus teaches us how to pray for three spheres of our lives. In this second half of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus provides a check list for the kinds of concerns that revival seeking people pray about. We can do no better than to begin to pray in this same way, for these same things. We can be assured that this is what God desires because Jesus taught us to pray this way. Marty Lloyd Jones, the great British preacher and Bible expositor, notes in this study of the Sermon on the Mount, “Our whole life is found in those three petitions. And that is what makes this prayer so utterly amazing. In such a small comparison, our Lord has covered the whole of life of the believer in every respect.” (SM, II, 67-68).
The context of the prayer is important. Prior to providing the model for praying, Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matt. 6:5-8).
Prayer is not a performance for God’s benefit. It is not a magic formula like that of the pagans who thought that the right ritual could over-power the reluctance of heaven. Jesus said prayer is not even informing God of something he doesn’t already know. Rather prayer is all about our relationship with the Living God who already knows, already cares, already wants to provide, and already wants—more than we can understand—to have a personal intimate daily relationship with us like a Father to his children. It is little wonder that most genuine spiritual revival and awakenings have started with prayer. Every time God has shaken a city or turned a church into spiritual powerhouse, it began with prayer. It always starts with a small handful of people who truly want to know God more and who want more than anything for him to be known by others in the same powerful way they have come to know him.
Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for physical needs. The wording of the petition is telling: give us this day our daily bread. Bread is the staff of life. Every civilization builds its diet around some form of bread. We have it in abundance and in a variety of forms—from corn bread to sweet rolls. I will take whole wheat any day. Rose loves biscuits. Why, I will never understand. My father despised corn bread. He said that corn bread was all he ate as a child and he didn’t care if never saw another piece as long as he lived. We probably put less emphasis on bread than previous generations. Rose tells how her father always expected a plate of bread on the table for every meal. If her mother failed to have it ready, her Dad was sure to ask, with a smile, “Is the baker on strike?”