When I was in the Army, I struggled at times with PCI, Pre-Combat Inspection. PCI meant that I would review a packing list with the training or the deployment to discern whether I had the required equipment. I would also check cleanliness and working status of the equipment or clothing. Then I had to pack the equipment into the prescribed number of duffel bags (This was what challenged me most; There always was required equipment outside the bags when I had packed all I could push into the bags). I struggled also because I tend to procrastinate, so I risked not having time to correct a deficiency. As the year passed, I became more proficient at PCI. I learned how to fold clothing and pack equipment more efficiently. Eventually, I had room for extra supplies that I wanted to pack. Practice and discipline made the difference.
Regular readers of this blog know that there are numerous biblical passages where we can learn to pray by reading the prayer of someone like Nehemiah or by reviewing what Paul wrote concerning his prayers for various churches. Several of the Psalms are prayers that teach clearly that not all prayers are alike. Jeremiah’s prayers of protest and Hezekiah’s prayers for guidance and healing also teach us much about prayer and the God to whom we pray.
In Matthew chapter 6, a teacher instructs his students about prayer. He is the Master Teacher, Jesus himself. Jesus sets out some principles that can guide us as we prepare our armor for spiritual combat and prepare to call for fire.
Pray to God, not for praise from others. The instruction of Matthew 6 applies most specifically for personal prayers, but also has relevance when leading others in prayer. When having prayers as part of your personal devotion to God, seek a quiet private place to pray. Jesus says to go into your room and shut the door. Your personal prayers are for conversation with God, not for gaining attention from others. When leading others in prayer, prayers like that found in Acts 4 beginning at verse 23 teach us that such prayers include praise for God and attention to the needs of others.
Pray with purpose. Jesus gives the disciples a model prayer in Matthew 6. Sometimes it is called the Lord’ prayer, but it really was more a prayer template for the disciples. Again, other biblical prayers give us insight as to what we may pray. This prayer includes praise for God, gratitude for what God has given, a petition for the coming (or growth) of his kingdom, a statement of hope that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (foreshadowing Jesus’ later statement in prayer, “Not my will, but yours be done.). Jesus includes a request for basic needs like food and asks that God will protect from temptation.
Pray with a forgiving spirit. The most jarring request in this prayer for me has always begin the petition that requests that God forgive us as we forgive others. Do we really want God to forgive us as we forgive other people? Much of the tension and unrest in societies around the world exists because people hesitate, or even refuse, to forgive. This prayer for forgiveness then is a prayer for unity, between God and believer, between the person who prays and others.
Jesus provides a prayer combat inspection checklist that reminds us what we need as we prepare for spiritual warfare. He calls us to humility, to intentionality, and to willingness to forgive others as we prepare to pray. He did not, and does not, intend for this prayer in Matthew 6 to serve as a magical formula to be recited word for word in every circumstance. There may be times when the words of this prayer match what we need to pray, especially when we pray together. However, the attention to praying with purpose reminds us that we may need to adapt this template to meet our circumstances, much as the Pre-Combat Inspection checklist for a Field Artillery unit will differ from the checklist for an Infantry unit. With practice and with discipline, we will mature as disciples of Jesus in the content and regularity of prayer.
Help us to glorify your name, O God, by the decisions that we make and the words that we speak. In a world filled with angry confrontation and holding of ancient grudges, we plead that you will turn our hearts to you and teach us to forgive as we pray that you will forgive us. Remind us that what we want is often more than we need, and provide what we need as we go forward. Rescue us when we are surrounded by temptation. Give us wisdom so that we choose paths that will help us to avoid evil even while we work for the achievement of your will and the advancing of your cause. In Jesus’ name, amen.