The prayers of Jesus reveal his relationship with God; they remind us that prayer requires courage. Jesus, like other dynamic leaders, faced choices as to how he would spend his time. He set priorities. Prayer kept him focused. When distracted by directions in which others wanted him to go, Jesus often withdrew into an isolated place to pray alone. On at least one occasion, he sent his disciples away before doing so, perhaps so they would not interfere. The times at which Jesus prayed alone, when compared with the temptations he received from Satan, suggest that Jesus used prayer as a weapon to combat temptations that threatened to disrupt his concentration on his mission. He “called for fire” when it seemed he might turn down a wrong path. The temptations Jesus encountered in the desert after his baptism included his physical appetite, popularity, and political power. Remarkably, the events which prompted him to pray alone often echoed those temptations. Other prayers revealed a humble leader concerned for his disciples; he prayed for the filling of their needs and that God would receive the glory.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray with a prayer that gives us a simple template for communication with God. He addresses God with the intimate salutation “Our Father.” He prays that God’s name be praised, that his sovereignty be recognized, that his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. He prays for the food that is necessary for survival. He builds the prayer upon a foundation of a request for forgiveness, one which bears the challenging caveat: Forgive as I forgive.
The prayers of Jesus inspire disciples to greater self-awareness. Like him, we must learn the threats which endanger us most before we may truly mature spiritually.
How do you picture God when you pray? When we talk to God, our ideas about God shape our prayers. If we harbor doubts about God, we do not ask much. If we fear him, we hesitate. Does that not make sense? Our attitude toward other people molds our interpersonal relationships. Have you ever trembled and chosen your words so very carefully as you spoke to someone of whom you were deathly afraid? Don’t’ your words flow so much more feely when you talk to some one you love and respect? We bubble with enthusiasm as we shout out our news and our questions. How do we talk to one whom we do not know well? Here is shaky ground. We nervously explore unfamiliar terrain as we search for a similar experience, a shared acquaintance, a common belief that will bond us together. When one finds that link, often conversation becomes quite animated. But if we do not discover something that bridges the gap, the silence is awkward, the statements perfunctory: “Isn’t this wonderful weather we’re having?” “Actually, it is murderous for my allergy.” “Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Of course, sometimes it is difficult to talk with one’s closest friends. Depression, disappointment, or disagreement builds walls between us. But a friend will not allow that wall to stand forever. How do you picture God – a white-bearded, flowing-haired person of power as in the painting on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling? – Someone much like your own Dad? – A large-framed African-American woman as in the novel The Shack? – An ATM? How do we talk to God? How did Jesus talke to God? The pictures within our minds, our concepts of God, inform the words we choose as we build our prayers. Prayer is, at its most basic level, conversation with God. What do your prayers say about your relationship with God? Perhaps you do not know what to say. You may question whether anyone is actually listening. This is where our picture of God becomes highly relevant. What kind of person do we think God is? Stern and unbending? Sympathetic but powerless? Angry and unkind? Loving and generous? When I perceive someone as hostile, it is very difficult for me to open up to that person. I fear that he will tell me to get lost, or shut up, using creative, angrily expressed, possibly obscene verbiage to do so. Is that way when you pray to God? Do you take care to wear rubber-soled shoes in case of divinely launched lightning strikes?
Jesus teaches us to pray to a Father who loves and forgives, yet has moral expectations for his children. In the verses immediately following the model prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus says that God will forgive us in the same way that we forgive others. Perhaps we might want to consider those rubber-soled shoes after all. Seriously, the God to who we pray loves us and forgives us, yet deserves our respect and our love. That may be hard for you to imagine. If it is, I pray that you will find a family of God’s people (a church) who will show you through their love and actions what God looks like when his Spirit resides in people. Like Jesus, we should pray when we are tempted. Like him, we should pray when we need wisdom. Jesus courageously called for fire when under spiritual attack. Will you?