- Keith Harris
Jesus Teaches About Prayer, Part 3
So what’s different because I pray? We often hear, “If God wants me to have it, I will get it. If it doesn’t happen, he didn’t want me to have it.” Is this true? Are there things that God will give us if we ask him, but we will not receive without asking? Sometimes we may limit what God does in our lives simply because we fail to ask. It may be that we do not want to “bother” God with the things that concern us, or with the hopes we have regarding our life and ministry. But God gave us the avenue of prayer for this very reason. He is concerned about us. He desires to use us in his kingdom, and for us to recognize his power at work within us. We have but to ask. There was a woman who told a story about her son and his prayer. She said, “As my five-year-old son and I were headed to McDonald's one day, we passed a car accident. Usually, when we see something terrible like that we say a prayer for those who might be hurt. So I pointed and said to my son, ‘We should pray.’ From the back seat, I heard his earnest request: ‘Please, God, don't let those cars block the entrance to McDonald's.’”
For whatever reason, our prayers tend toward the selfish. We seem to approach God when we are faced with difficulties…and rightfully so. When life is grand, we may not call on him as often. Sometimes we use prayer to inform God of our righteousness. Maybe I should say that our prayers are often self-centered. Maybe like the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18. We pray, but not with a humble heart. When Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray, he seems to be addressing the attitude with which we should approach the throne of God. Humbly. Do we ever truly offer the prayer of the tax collector, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Not those exact words, though fitting they are. But with that attitude. This prayer is not seeking to pass along information to God. This prayer is acknowledging that God is God and we are not. This is the prayer of humility. One major truth is that prayer is about what I need to say, not what God needs to learn. And prayer should not be about getting my will done in heaven, but getting God’s will done on earth.
As Jesus continues providing his disciples with a model prayer, he says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). What is it that Jesus conveys with this statement? This is really the only phrase in the prayer that is debated. Many debate whether we should continue expressing this sentiment in our prayers. Some see it nearly blasphemous to utter the words, “Your kingdom come.” Others see simply an altered message of the passage past Pentecost, i.e. “Your kingdom coming to completion and your will being done in the hearts and lives of your people.” Because it is believed the kingdom has come, some suggest we should refrain from speaking any words which hint at our desire for God’s kingdom to come. Truly, the kingdom has come! In Acts 2, we read about the beginning of the church. This is the coming of the kingdom. Paul says God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom (Colossians 1:13). But there is a now and not yet aspect to the kingdom. As the church, we are the kingdom of God. But we look forward and await the heavenly kingdom where we shall always be with the Lord. So to utter the words “Your kingdom come,” in no way detracts from the reality that we are part of his kingdom now.
What about the other portion of this particular phrase in Jesus’ prayer, “Your will be done…”? The context of this phrase is God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. These words of Christ imply that God’s will is in fact done in heaven. Some may ask, “But what about the angels that sinned?” Because they did not heed the will of God, they did not remain with God. Another implication of this phrase from Jesus’ prayer is that God’s will is apparently not always done on earth. Otherwise the gap would not exist. It is not because God lacks the power to make his will be done on earth; it is because God made a choice to give us a choice. We have been given free-will, the choice to follow or not follow God’s will. This truth should correct some misconceptions. One misconception is that everything that happens is God’s will or desire. I have heard so many Christians, in response to some tragedy, say, “Apparently, it was God’s will.” Try saying that to a family who has tragically lost a child in an automobile accident, or in some natural disaster, or from some terrible disease. Honestly, this statement flies in the face of Jesus and ignores the teaching of this model prayer. Not everything that happens in this life is God’s will. Jesus’ prayer is that God’s will will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. This ought to be our prayer as well.
Two important realities are clear: 1) There are blessings available if we ask that we may not receive if we do not ask, and 2) What God would have happen does not always happen on earth. Both of these truths suggest that prayer matters. Prayer reminds us of who God is. Prayer reminds us of who we are in light of who God is. Prayer reminds us how much we need God. The nineteenth century Danish Philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Jesus calls us to pray with the posture of a humble servant saying to God, “not my will, but yours be done.” In praying that God’s will be done we commit ourselves to doing His will. So Jesus teaches us to pray,