Bringing Home the Faith: a Pastor writes to her teenage son about Christian belief is a series of ten letters I wrote for my son addressing his doubts about Christian faith and answering his questions about what Christians believe and why. Each letter is preceded by an Introduction which introduces its particular topic.
Please share these weekly installments of Bringing Home the Faith with someone in your life, whether young or old, who wants uncomplicated and honest answers to their questions and concerns about Christian faith.
Last week in Letter No. 2: How to pray, I wrote that prayer is ‘hanging out with God all day long, all life long.’ King David’s psalms are a great example of ongoing and honest communication with God through prayer. This week and next I am writing about the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples and what a great model it is for our prayers:
In the New Testament we see how Jesus, God’s Son (and King David’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great-grandson) also prayed to God. Like us, he couldn’t see God because he was bound by the same human constraints as you and me while he was living on earth. But we know from what the gospel writers tell us about him that he was hanging out with God through prayer all the time.
Luke writes in Chapter 6 of his gospel that before Jesus picked out his twelve apostles he spent the night praying to God (6:12-16). I bet he was asking God for advice about whom to pick and what to do next. Jesus never made a move without consulting with God. He wanted only to do God’s will in all things and he knew he could not do this unless he was in constant contact with his Father.
One day, after Jesus had finished praying, one of his disciples asked Jesus to teach them all how to pray (Luke 11:1-13). The prayer Jesus taught them, which we call, “The Lord’s Prayer” is one you say every night. It goes like this:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen. (See Matthew 6:9-13 as well as Luke 11:2-4.)
This prayer is a great example for how to construct your prayers so that you’re comfortable hanging out with God. When I started modeling my prayers on it I began to enjoy praying. I now want to pray throughout the day and, whenever I have a bit of free time, read from the Psalms, the prayers of King David.
To help you understand how to construct your prayers along the lines of the Lord’s Prayer, I’m going to divide it into four categories: praise, thanksgiving, confession and petition and give a brief description of each. Then I’ll say more about how I use these categories in my prayers.
The first category is praise. Praise is about recognizing how awesome God is. The first sentence of the Lord’s Prayer begins with a statement of praise: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name.” Praise also concludes the Lord’s Prayer: “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.” In effect it means, “You are totally awesome, God. You are in charge and that’s the way it should be.”
The second category, confession, is about telling God the truth – being honest before Him about our sins. In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There’s no need to feel ashamed before God (he already knows all about what you’ve done, anyway) and it’s important not to hold anything back. Being truthful brings us closer to God. So just be honest.
The third category, thanksgiving, is about expressing our gratitude for all that God does for us: His gifts and provisions, as well as His answers to our petitions. We can also be thankful for what God promises to do in the future. In fact, in the Lord’s Prayer we are expressing thanks for something that is on its way, but isn’t fully a part of our lives, yet. When Jesus instructs us to say, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we’re declaring and giving thanks for what God is in the process of making real in our lives.
It’s a good thing to be hopeful and expectant about what God is in the midst of doing. When I give thanks for something I can’t yet see I’m reminding myself that I can count on what God promises, even if I don’t see evidence of it yet. God always delivers on what He promises.
The final category, petition, is about asking for things we, or other people, need. There are several petitions in The Lord’s Prayer. One is about daily necessities: “Give us this day our daily bread”. Another is about protection: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Jesus instructs us to petition God for all that we need. God is our Father and He wants us to talk over our needs, concerns and hopes with Him, just like any earthly father, who truly loves his children, would want. This is what Jesus did with God.
The Lord’s Prayer is a terrific prayer to recite. I often recite it as a conclusion to my own prayers or as a conclusion to a time of prayer with others, like you and Dad and I do when we pray before bedtime. And I think using the categories of praise, confession, thanksgiving and petition, which we find in the Lord’s Prayer, is the best way to frame our own prayers…
Next week: Letter #2: How to pray continues.
Discussion Questions for Fifth Installment: How to Pray
- What kinds of things do you think Jesus was praying about with his Father in heaven?
- Are you in the habit of praising God? Why or Why not?
- Do you feel you can be totally honest with God about your sins? Why or Why not?
- What kinds of things to you give thanks for? How often do you do this?