I don't know about you, but I have the tendency to get myself into ruts. Same restaurants. Same websites. Oh, and the snooze button—that's probably my most problematic one.
These kind of ruts can also develop in our prayer lives, too. I create a list of things I'm praying for and it grows over time, until I de-clutter and refocus on what I think God is showing me and asking me to connect with in my times of prayer.
When I'm at a place where I need to refocus, I do something I think is pretty smart: I listen to Jesus.
Matthew, a tax man who was invited to follow Jesus, records Jesus teaching us how to pray. Sometimes we use the exact words of Jesus as we pray “The Lord's Prayer,” but I believe that when we look at the structure Jesus uses, it can help us to reframe and refocus our prayers so we avoid ruts that can keep us from connecting with God.
Let's break it down.
Who am I?
Starting with the word “our” rather than “my” reminds us that we are a people in community. We are not alone. We have many brothers and sisters in this life and need to recognize that God loves all of us.
Father in Heaven
Who are you?
As Anne Lamott says in Help, Thanks, Wow, God is way beyond us and deep inside us. It is always good for us to have some perspective on this. We are not praying to a God who doesn't care or doesn't know. We are praying to a Father who exists on a higher plane of reality than we exist on.
We connect to Him, to be sure, but we live within limitations that do not apply to Him. God is not worrying about what is happening to us. He has promised that He will care for us, and we must remember that He is fully capable of fulfilling His promises.
Hallowed Be Your Name
I'm not only in the relationship for what I can get out of it.
If you had a friend who only ever came your way when they needed you to serve their needs, you would start screening their calls pretty quickly. I'm not saying God will ignore prayer when we are being selfish—if that was true, I'd be in pretty big trouble. I'm saying that a in a healthy relationship, both sides care about the other.
Your Kingdom Come.
Your Will Be Done on Earth, as It Is in Heaven
Why are we here?
In the midst of whatever need is going to come up in prayer, let's keep the bigger picture in mind. I have been given a mission. If I forget that, it will change how I view any needs I feel.
We've all gone into a store or restaurant and had an employee act like us walking in was the biggest inconvenience in the world. They have forgotten that customers are not an interruption to their work, but instead the reason for it.
Our purpose is not to live a problem free existence, but instead to invite the Kingdom of God to continually impact the world around us through our engagement with it.
Give Us Today Our Daily Bread
What do I need?
Only after all that effort in having a healthy perspective are we able to ask for things we need. Notice that Jesus leads us to ask for true needs rather than wants. I want more money and a bigger house; but perhaps I need to recognize that I have clothes to wear, food to eat and a roof on my head.
I want guidance on what I'm supposed to do next in my life, but I also need to be grateful for the gift of salvation that has changed my life.
This reminds us to place our faith in God to provide what's really necessary in our lives.
In fact, the very verse before Matthew records this example prayer, Jesus specifically says God knows what our needs are. He is leading us to understand that we need to get on God's playbook rather than try to get God onto ours.
And Forgive Us Our Sins, as We Have Forgiven Those Who Sin Against Us
This isn't about just me or just you, it's about us.
God isn't a butler, who lives to fulfill our every wish. God also isn't a dictator who does what He wants regardless of us.
God is a loving Father teaching us healthy ways to engage in life so that we may have more abundance than we would naturally choose for ourselves. He has chosen to work in and through us.
We must be willing to understand that need for our effort to be included. The best way for this to happen is by linking our own personal benefit with the benefit we give to others.
Jesus doesn't let us walk away from this prayer dusting off our hands, proclaiming that it's all in His hands and we have nothing further to do. We always have further opportunity for engagement.
And Don’t Let Us Yield to Temptation, but Rescue Us From the Evil One
I'm not in the driver's seat.
With the final line, Jesus reaffirms to us that we exist based on God's grace. It is in God that we must place our hope. If we start to believe that we are able to handle things on our own, or that we are in fact doing God favors with our efforts, things will surely end badly for us. When we end our prayer by stating our continued need for God, it keeps us in a state of mind wherein we seek to maintain a disposition of faithfulness toward the one whose benevolence guides us to abundant life.
Jesus gives us some valuable principles we can incorporate into our times of prayer. We're not simply providing God with a to-do list. We're actually seeking to orient ourselves around Gods activity in our lives and in our world. So goes the famous quote: "Prayer doesn't change God. It changes me.”
God doesn't need me to pray. I need to pray.
Seek to center your prayer on the identity and purpose of God, which gives you identity and purpose, as well. Such prayer will bring about growth and maturity in your life and is well worth your time.
Adapted from Thomas Christianson
December 8, 2015