May 6, 2021

Prayer 101

More than two thousand years ago Jesus’ disciples heard their Master pray—and longed to pray like He did. “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1),1 they asked. Jesus gave them an example of how to pray, something we now know as the Lord’s Prayer (see Matt. 6:9-13). 

Prayer is always the special gift of communication God gives to us. We need to be careful not to make prayer a mere one-way information transfer, but rather a commitment to sustain a strong relationship with our Creator. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that prayer is not the mumbling of empty phrases to impress ourselves or others, nor is it a ticking-off of our needs list to God.  God already knows what we need before being asked. 

I can see seven key elements in the Lord’s Prayer:

1. Keeping the Focus on God

Praying starts by reminding ourselves of just who God is. Jesus told us to start by saying, “Our Father.” The word “our” is all-inclusive, not making God just my Father or Jesus’ Father. Our Father binds us all together into one big family. What a humbling and yet exhilarating thought this is. 

The next two words in Jesus’s model prayer tell us about the status of our Father. He is “in heaven.” This aligns our thoughts heavenward, away from ourselves and our plans to His plans for us. Prayer is always a dynamic conversation with God that draws us up to where He is and doesn’t drag God down to our level. Ellen White puts it this way: “Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.”2

Isaiah 6 describes the prophet’s experience, of when he was caught up into God’s presence and what a humbling yet life-changing experience this was for Isaiah. We don’t need to be afraid, for Paul reminds us that we can approach God boldly: “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him” (Eph. 3:12). Similarly we read in Hebrews 10:19: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus.

Prayer is always a dynamic conversation with God that draws us up to where He is and doesn’t drag God down to our level.

2. Realigning Our Will

“Hallowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9). Although we address Him as Father, we still need to acknowledge Him as God, Creator, King of kings, and Lord of lords. God is also our Friend and Comforter, but He’s not a “buddy” to be thought of and treated as an equal. There needs to be an awesome respect for His holiness. It is His kingdom we are called to, His plan of grace for us to accept and cherish, and His commandments for us to obey.

3. Liberating Our Concerns

 “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (verse 10). This realigns our will to actively seek His kingdom. It’s here where faith must come to the fore. We need a promise to encourage our faith and ground us in hope. Jeremiah’s message to the exiles in Babylon offers a window into God’s dreams for His people: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). It’s in God’s fertile promises where faith finds root and grows. Our souls’ perplexities can sigh with contented relief.

4. Relinquishing Our Independence to Fully Trust God’s Provisions

“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Like the manna that fell to feed Israel for 40 years without fail, so is God’s mercy and grace toward us. How easy it is to feast on the bread we eat, yet we fast almost to our peril of the spiritual bread of life God wants to give in abundance. The “must-have drives” are sometimes so strong that we tend to hoard things, literally or spiritually. When Israel tried to collect more manna than they needed, it just rotted away, leaving them hungry. Are we sharing the bread of life, or are we hoarding it?

5. Remembering the Condition to Be Forgiven

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (verse 12). Forgiving others makes room for God to pour out forgiveness on us. Jesus reiterated that later: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).

6. The Purification Process

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). We do well to remember God’s faithfulness as He offers us a way out of temptation. Paul put it this way in1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” We become cut, shaped, and made fit to become a child of God.

7. Confirming Our Full Allegiance to God

“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” (Matt. 6:13). Jesus reminds us that prayer is not about us, but about God. He needs to be in and stay in the driver’s seat in our lives. Every time we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, we confirm our allegiance to Him.

Robert Ross, a native of South Africa, recently retired from pastoral ministry and lives with his wife, Esmé, in Northern California. They continue to serve as prayer coordinators for the Northern California Conference.

1 All Scripture quotations have been taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ã 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2 Ellen G. White, Prayer (Nampa, Idaho.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2002), p. 8.