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Praying God's Priorities

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Praying God's priorities

A practical look at the Lord's prayer

 (Matthew 6:5-15; Luke 11:1-13)

By brother Michel Lankford

Look at Matthew 6:5-15 below:

Matthew 6:5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
Matthew 6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Matthew 6:8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:9 “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Matthew 6:10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:11 Give us this day our daily bread.
Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Matthew 6:13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
Matthew 6:15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
Matthew 6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
Matthew 6:18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

We "Need" to Pray

Bible studies on prayer are by far one of the most requested by Christians.  There are indeed countless books, audio/video cassette series, and workbooks on the subject.  As a young believer, I even attended a 13 week course of study on the subject.  Why is prayer such a popular study topic?  The answer to that is simple.  Prayer is the primary way that we can connect with God, and connecting with God is one of the deepest psychological needs of the human being.  We were created to live in relationship with the Creator. Much the way our physical bodies were designed to breathe oxygen, whether people understand it or not, they crave a relationship with God.  Since we were designed for it, it is both natural and supernatural that we would crave such a relationship.  Prayer is the way that our relationship with God begins, and it is the primary way that such a relationship is maintained. Although usually practiced as a monologue (meaning us talking to God in a one-way conversation), prayer is really intended to be a dialogue, which includes both our talking to God, and our listening for His direction.

"Lord Teach Us to Pray" (Luke 11:1)

In Christ's day people had the same inner craving to connect with God as we do now.  The disciples who walked with Jesus could clearly see that Jesus' prayer life was much different than what was typical in their day.  Before Jesus came along, the prayer of a God believing covenant person would sound something like this:

"Blessed are you oh Lord our God; creator of heaven and earth.  It is you who made us and not we ourselves.  Thank you oh Lord, that you did not make me a woman.  Thank you that I was born one of your people instead of an uncircumcised heathen Remember Lord, that I tithe, I fast, I gave to the blind man... " etc..  Well you get the idea. 

In any event, the disciples realized that the way they learned to pray wasn't very effective.  It didn't change lives or positively affect situations.  When Jesus prayed, blind people could see, bread was multiplied to feed thousands, and people were drawn to his warmth, love, and caring by the thousands.  Obviously, something was deeper more effective and powerful about the way Jesus connected with God.  Naturally, they wanted to enjoy such a connection with God also. 

In Luke 11:1, they asked for the beautiful favor.  "Lord, teach us to pray."  We will get into what Jesus taught them in a moment, but what I love about this whole situation is what Jesus didn't say.  He did not say, well, I'm the Son of God, so I have a connection with God you will never have.  Although that is certainly true, Jesus didn't even go there.  I love the fact that Jesus was all about elevating other people and getting them closer to God.  He wasn't about competing.  Jesus did not take a dog - eat - dog attitude.  He is all about bringing people to the Father.

Understanding The Lord's Prayer

 

If you grew up in a traditional denominational church such as Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal or Methodist, you most likely recited the words of the Lord's prayer every week.  What's unusual about approaching the Lord's prayer that way, is that if you look at verses 5-9 above, you will notice that traditionalism and reciting the same things over and over was exactly what Jesus was trying to avoid.  Jesus wanted prayer to be a heart opening conversation between us and the heavenly father not just something we recite verbatim.  Don't get me wrong, the Lord's prayer is wonderful, but Jesus intended to give us much more when he gave us these words.  I sincerely believe that Jesus intended to give us an outline of priorities when he gave us what we affectionately call the Lord's prayer.  Why do I say that?  Well, because I look carefully at Matthew 6:9.  Notice that our Lord did not say pray this....  What He said was,“Pray then in this way."  That means, that there is a method, manner, or a way of praying that he was attempting to demonstrate in the prayer that would follow.  The "our Father" was clearly intended to be a demonstration, or an outline to a method of prayer.  I believe that when Jesus gave us these glorious words he was attempting to get us to use them as an outline for prayer, not just a prayer in itself.  That's why he said, "pray then in this way."  Now, let's look at how to use the Lord's prayer as more of an outline in our prayers.

Using the Lord's Prayer as an Outline in Our Own Praying

When you were taking notes in school, they were probably teaching you how to use an outline (hopefully they did), because I will make it easier for you to visualize the Lord's prayer that way.  The "Our Father" model is really nothing more than a very important list of praying priorities.  In giving us this great prayer model, and Jesus was trying to help us get our prayer priorities in unison with God's priorities and desires.

I)       Our Father...

A)    God's first priority is having and maintaining a thriving relationship and unity between us and Himself.  Remember God is all about our relationship with Him.  This is the part of the prayer where you talk to God about your specific relationship with Him, and where you would like for things to improve.  Consider things like.

1)      How close and do I feel I am to God as my Father right now?

2)      How close do I feel to Jesus Christ as my friend and all loving Big Brother?

3)      How close do I feel to the Holy Spirit right now?  Am I able to feel or sense God's presence?  Do I sense that God is directing my steps and that I understand and can follow that direction?  Do I sense that I am better able to hear and receive God's correction? If not, these things are something we need to regularly bring before God.  (See Psalm 89:26; Psalm 32:8; Luke 11:27-28; Hebrews12:3-11)

II)    Who Is in Heaven...

A)    God’s second priority is that we recognize who He is and His position. This is important because human beings have an awful temptation toward idolatry, meaning that we have the inclination to put things ahead of God.  We don't want to do that.  This is the part of the outline prayer where you want to remember things like:

1)      God is perfect in love where I am not; therefore I can trust Him to care for me and my situations

2)      God is perfect in knowledge and wisdom where I am not; therefore I can trust Him to instruct in direct me.

3)      God is perfect in understanding; therefore I can be honest with him and myself concerning my problems.

4)      God is all-powerful and all capable, he made me and has a purpose for me; therefore I need to live for Him, not to please myself.

III) Hallowed Be Your Name

A)    God's third priority is that once we recognize and acknowledge Him and His position, we should Worship Him in spirit and in truth.  This is the part of the prayer where you deal with issues like:

1)      Lord, will you please renew my heart.  Please transform and fill me with Your love so that I will indeed be completely devoted to You and love You with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.  I really want to be the kind of worshiper that God looks for; I want to be one who worships God in spirit and truth.  (John 4:23; 1 Peter 3:15)

2)      Lord, you absolutely deserve first place and first priority in my life.  So many times I find myself putting other things or my own desires ahead of You. Please forgive me.  I don't want to do that.  Help me always to elevate You to Your rightful first place in my heart, in my desires, and in my decisions today.

3)      While I want to keep growing in closeness and intimacy with You, help me also to keep a proper reverence and respect toward You.

IV)       Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven

A)    God's fourth priority is that we would live and make our decisions according to what is good and right in His sight.  When we say, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done as it is in heaven, we are really asking God to help us so that our desires, our decisions and actions would become a wonderful reflection of Him and His love working within us.  This is the part of the prayer outline where you ask God to help you make good choices in the decisions you'll face during the coming day.  Consider things like:

1)      Lord God, Lord Jesus, and Lord Holy Spirit; I fully acknowledge that your kingdom is a kingdom and not a democracy.  You are my King as well as my Father help me to live as a loyal subject to the most worthy King.  Your kingdom is not only about what we do or do not do, but it is about living in Righteousness, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)  Please help me to grow to the point where I live entirely as a citizen of Your eternal Kingdom. 

2)      Lord, you know every decision that I will face today, help me to make the choices You would choose if You were facing those same decisions.

3)      This is also the point where you pray for others on your prayer list.

V)    Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

A)    God's fifth priority in our prayer life is to hear about our needs.  Many people mistakenly put this one first.  God wants to hear about our hunger and desires, but he wants us to keep in proper perspective. Bring your needs to the Lord and even your wants, just keep them in good boundaries:

1)      Lord, please take control of my appetites and desires: You said "blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled." (Meaning satisfied.) Therefore, if I am feeling dissatisfied in my life, it is probably an indication that I need a deeper hunger and thirst after You and Your Righteousness. (Matthew 5:6) "Lord, I know that you want to meet the deepest longings of my heart.  Please help me to get to the point where I hunger and thirst after You more than anything else.  That way you will be completely free to satisfy the longings of my heart.

2)      God's Word is the bread of life.  Ask him to help you to hunger and be open and receptive to His word and precepts.  Ask them to help You obey His word.

3)      Bring your spiritual/emotional needs and desires to the Lord

4)      Bring your mental/ physical needs and desires before the Lord

5)      Bring your financial/material needs and desires to God.

6)      Give God permission to say, "No" After all, if He's God, and He's my Father, then He has the right and responsibility to meet my means according to the way He thinks is best, which may be different than what I consider with my limited understanding.

VI)   Forgive Us Our Sins As We Forgive Those Who Sinned against Us

A)    God's next prayer priority is dealing with our sins.  Like all these other things in proper order, dealing with our sins and sinful attitudes ought to be done every time we pray. Before we go too much further, let's understand what sin is.  In the Greek, sin is an archery term.  It means to miss the mark.  In this case, it means to miss the mark of God's righteousness.  Praying about our sin should look something like this (using your own words of course).

1)      "Lord, sin is missing the mark of Your Love and Righteousness.  Any time I have failed to act in love (Luke 10:27), or I failed to trust or act in faith (Romans 14:23b), or I have failed to obey You (1 Samuel 15:22), then I have sinned. Please forgive me.  Mercifully grant me the conviction of the Holy Spirit so that I can correctly see and confess my sin.

2)      Wait on the Lord... confess any sins He brings to mind.  Ask for forgiveness.

3)      Thank God for convicting you and helping you confess.  Accept and thank him for his forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

B)    The second part of forgiveness is perhaps more important because it goes more against human nature.  While honestly confessing our sins can be difficult, knowing that forgiveness is at the other end makes a lot easier because we really want and enjoy having our debts wiped clean.  What is not as easy is forgiving the other person who has hurt or wounded us in some way.  Jesus makes it absolutely clear that unless we forgive those that sin against us, we you will not receive forgiveness (Mark 11:25-26).  Forgiving other people is not an option, it's an absolute prerequisite to having right relationship with God.  It is so important in fact, that Jesus said to do it whenever we pray.  That looks something like this.

1)      "Lord Jesus, you have rightly said that the father will not forgive my sins unless I forgive those who sin against me.  I desperately want and need forgiveness of my sins. Would you please bring to my memory anyone who has sinned against me or wounded me in anyway.  Wait on the Lord...

2)      "Lord I choose to forgive___, for_____.  Would you please forgive them also.  Please work Your forgiveness in my heart toward them.  Please do not hold their sins against them, and do not hold my sins against me.  Help me to love them as myself.

VII)          Lead Us Not into Temptation but Deliver Us from Evil

A)    God's seventh priority is that we would be protected from our two worst enemies.  One is Satan, and our other worst enemy is ourselves.  When we pray lead us not into temptation, we are basically asking that God protect us from ourselves.  God knows our weaknesses and character flaws that the enemy can use against us.  He also knows ahead of time what traps the enemy is laying for our feet so we are asking for protection.  Here's a little bit of what that looks like in prayer

1)      "Lord Jesus, I thank you for loving me and caring for me.  You know my heart and my weaknesses far better than I understand myself.  I confess that I feel especially tempted by___. There may also be other things that are temptations for me that I either can't recognize, or can't admit right now.  Please help me to see my stumbling blocks and to bring them to You.  You know every weakness I have that the enemy can take advantage of, please protect me.

2)      "Lord, you know every temptation I'll face today.  Please help me to choose the path of righteousness instead of sin.  Help me to obey your Holy Spirit instead of my flesh.  Save me from falling into sin.  Or if I should stupidly choose to sin, help me to quickly, earnestly, and sincerely repent.  At the end of my day I would like to look back and you know that I've had a successful and victorious day with you.  Please help me to cooperate with You so that together we can make that happen."

VIII)       Yours Is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory Forever

A)    I cannot speak for all people, but this is one of the prayer priorities I tend to gloss over pretty quickly, and I shouldn't.  You see, this is the part of the prayer that brings us full circle back to the beginning.  It is meant to be a reminder and an acknowledgment that God willing and able to accomplish those things that we are asking of Him.

1)      "Lord, I thank you for allowing me to have this prayer time with You.  Thank you for guiding my heart and making me both willing and able to pray to you.  Thank you for listening to me and helping You listen to You."

2)      Help me to keep an attitude of prayer and thanksgiving throughout our day together.”  I know you have the power to do far above what I can ask or imagine, so I can hardly wait to see what good things you have in store for me today (Ephesians 3:20)."

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