Sunday, June 19, 2022

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (2)

If applied, the pattern the Lord gave his disciples in answer to the request “Teach us to pray” would breathe life into those times when two believers come together to pray, and to group situations when a local fellowship or church gathers for that purpose. The “Our” in “Our Father” slams the door on anything petty, personal or partisan.

We should be asking together that God’s will be done, not something based on sectarian interest, personal preference or private concern only.

Details of my personal or family needs should not normally be aired in a group; they easily become fuel for speculation or gossip. I prefer to keep those things behind a closed door and speak to my Father in secret.

Informed Prayer

Everyone participating in prayer should be alerted to the situation that calls for it. The “Our” in Christ’s teaching requires this; otherwise the ill-informed are being coerced to serve a cause they have not had opportunity to consider. In Acts 4 the apostles had reported “all that the chief priests and elders had said” in threatening them. The group could then pray “with one accord”.

Contrast this to “prayer dumping”, in which an individual is harried by a project they have taken on, or perhaps a close relative of theirs is near death. They know that you and your friends gather regularly to pray, and ask that your group or church pray for the success of their project or loved one’s restoration to health etc., etc. You see their anxiety; this is no time to give them a sermon, but how should you respond?

By requesting your help, your contact has given you an opportunity to show genuine sympathy, inoffensively share the gospel, and teach something about prayer all at the same time. Does the following answer, or something like it, appeal to you?

“I can sense that this is weighing you down. I will be praying for you as you face this trial. I have found these verses in 1 Timothy 2:1-7 a help in praying.” (Have a card with that reference on it in your purse or wallet to give to your contact.)

Mentioning People in Prayer

In reality, you have no authority to commit a church to pray for circumstances of which its members have little knowledge. Unloading scraps of information amounts to nothing more than a listing of names before God, and has little support in scripture. Those who make such requests may be under the impression that the more people they can get to plead regarding something they consider undesirable, the more likely it is to be answered as they wish. The element of submission to God’s will in the matter is often lacking.

But neither in Luke 11 nor in Acts 4 does this view of God and prayer find support. I once heard a respected teacher uphold the idea of just “mentioning” names to God; he said it was a practice spoken of in scripture. It sent me home to search for the use of the word “mention” in the NT, especially in connection with prayer. I respect this man for his good work, but on this point I could not find biblical support. In every place where the word “mention” is used, the context states why it was done — because of the past faithfulness of the subject(s), for instance — or clearly states what was desired for them in the future. “Mentioning” therefore should include more than merely citing names: “Lord, we pray for [_____] and for [_____] and for [_____].”

Give Us?

From this prayerful commitment to seek first the kingdom of God and the righteousness he desires, we come now to the variety of wants and needs his disciples would experience in promoting his kingdom. Daily bread, the need to be forgiven (reminding us we must forgive those who have become debtors to us), deliverance from trials and temptations, and from the evil one; these are ongoing requirements for the most spiritually focused follower. They are not to be taken for granted.

The Lord’s promise to supply is intended to free us from worry but not from waiting upon him; “Ask ... seek ... knock” are words found in the Luke 11 context. The exercise will remind us that God is indeed our Father, and as Henry Francis Lyte’s hymn puts it: “Father-like he tends and spares us / Well our feeble frame he knows.” Some present situation may cause us to pray either for bread or for boldness. We need both in order to further his interests, but the temporal human needs we experience should never eclipse God’s eternal purpose; that must always be the priority.

Check the next prayer session you attend to see whether this is the case and, if it is not, how will you express yourself if you lead? Young men can help in this by noting and applying the emphasis in Luke 11 and Acts 4 and, for good measure, the references to praying in Ephesians. If you do this sincerely and humbly you will learn how to be praying in the Holy Spirit even while you may stumble for words.

Those of us who are much older may also benefit — that is, if we are prepared to change.

— Colin Anderson, May 2016

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