“Our Father, who art in Heaven….” (Matthew 6:9)
The Lord’s Prayer is a praise sandwich. Okay, maybe a “praise parenthesis.” Envelope? (I’m searching for the best metaphor. Anyone got a good one?)
This prayer begins and ends with praise. In between are the personal requests we make for ourselves.
The Lord’s Prayer begins with a concern for Thy Name, Thy Kingdom, and Thy Will.
It ends with Thy Kingdom, Thy Power, and Thy Glory.
In between, we have Give us, Forgive us, Lead us, and Deliver us.
What could be simpler?
The simplest lesson we should ever learn about prayer and teach others about praying is to begin and end with praise.
–The Lord’s Name be honored and hallowed.
–The Lord’s Kingdom to come and be established in the hearts and lives of people and in the institutions of this world.
–The Lord’s Will to be done–in me, in my family, my home, my neighborhood, city, state, nation, and world.
Then, when all is said and done, the Kingdom is His, the Power is His, and the Glory belongs to Him.
Those, I submit, are eternal concepts every bit as universal and extensive as the farthest galaxy, as true and foundational to all creation as anything could possibly be.
In between, is little us. Nestled among our praise to the Father for His amazing attributes we may insert our tiny requests:
–Give us what we need to live for this day.
–Forgive us for all the times we have been out of sync with Thy will.
–Lead us in paths of righteousness, and away from temptation.
–Deliver us from anything and everything that does not praise Thee, will not honor Thee, and cannot serve Thy purposes.
How could we miss something so simple and so obvious?
We treat the Lord’s prayer as a talisman, an omen, a good luck chant. On the battlefield, we’re told that as soldiers die, a colleague might lead them to pray this prayer as though it contained magic words to transport people to Heaven.
We recite it by rote in worship services, in classrooms, and in a thousand other venues.
But the prayer had another purpose altogether.
Jesus was giving us a form, a pattern, a guide. “Pray this way, in this manner,” He said (Matthew 6:9).
Now, I’m one who prays the Lord’s prayer daily. When I step outside my house to walk the neighborhood early in the morning, while trying to awaken my spirit and prime the pump, so to speak, I will pray the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes, I’ll pray it two or three times until my mind is sufficiently awake to pay attention to the meaning.
It’s important to note that Jesus did not say, “Pray this prayer.” He said, “In this manner pray.”
Start and end with praise. In between, tell the Father what you need. After all, He said, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).
The question always arises: If God already knows, why should we ask?
The answer that works best for me is this: The question is not ‘does God know,’ but do we know?
Do we know what we need?
Blind Bartimaeus was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing his way. Immediately, he began calling out, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”
When our Lord came within earshot, He stopped and commanded that the blind beggar be brought to Him. Then, He said to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”
You and I might take issue with that question. “Lord, anyone can see what the man needs! He’s a blind beggar, for pity’s sake. He needs healing.”
But the question is not whether we know the man’s needs. The question is not even whether Jesus knew his needs; clearly He did. The issue is whether Bartimaeus himself knows what he needs. After all, he has been clamoring for Jesus to “have mercy on me.”
Mercy is a broad category. It might encompass a host of blessings. Bartimaeus could easily have said, “Lord, do you have any money?” A gift of money could constitute an act of mercy to a hungry beggar.
He could have said, “Lord, make these people be nice to me.” “Help me find a better begging place.” “Can we get a training program for the blind?” A hundred such prayers would have all come under the subject of “have mercy on me.”
But Bartimaeus got it right.
“Lord, I want to receive my sight.” And the Lord answered that prayer. (Luke 18:35-43)
There is no magic formula for prayer.
The fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much, said James (5:16). That’s one man’s take on effective prayer.
My favorite comes from the 40th Psalm. “I waited patiently on the Lord and He inclined unto me and heard my cry.” That’s it: “my cry.”
Earlier, David had said, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:15).
So, go ahead, friend. Cry unto the Lord. Tell Him what’s going on. Ask Him for your needs to be met.
But believers who take their discipleship seriously should take a hint from Scripture: Begin and end with praise and commitment.
It’s worth noting that all the songs in the Revelation seem to be of praise. They are all variations on the theme of the seraphim back in Isaiah 6. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory!”
“Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).
Amen and amen.