Prayer Should Begin with God, Not Our Needs

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One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
(Luke 11:1–4 ESV)

The disciples lived life with Jesus. They walked with him. They ate with him. They certainly laughed with him. They also saw Jesus pray, and they saw him pray regularly. Jesus’ life of prayer made such an impression that these disciples/observers were intrigued and challenged. Apparently the same had been true of John the Baptist and his disciples. So Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray.

What resulted was one of the best-known passages in all of Scripture, what we know as the “Lord’s Prayer.” These words have been recited by God’s people for nearly two millennia. That’s fine, but I don’t think Jesus intended us to simply recite these words as much as he meant for us to use them as a guide for how to pray. Let’s look at how he does that in the first phrases of the prayer, “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.”

Before launching into these words, note that Jesus didn’t intend for us to pray however we so choose. He instructed his disciples with a specific pattern in mind, “When you pray, say . . .” When we pray as Jesus instructed us to pray, we choose wisely.

“Father . . .” Jesus lived his life largely among the sick, the possessed, the outcasts—among those for whom life isn’t working. Much of his ministry involved healing and restoring just such people. But notice where he began when he prayed. He didn’t begin with needs or with people. Rather he began with God the Father. How unlike the way we normally pray! We’re often prompted to pray because of known needs such as sickness or financial problems. Jesus taught us to begin with God.

Jesus was saying that we must first properly orient ourselves toward God before anything else. That happens through a laser-like focus on God alone. Doing so means any needs we have become framed in proper perspective.

“Hallowed be your name.” The “name” stands for the person designated by it. In mentioning God’s name, Jesus continued his emphasis on the personal, relational element of prayer. But Jesus’ point lays in the fact that God deserves to be worshiped. In worshiping God as we pray, we acknowledge God’s rule over (and for) all things. In fact, for followers of Jesus, worship is an all-of-life activity. We live all of life in the light of God, God’s goodness, and God’s mission. God is honored as a result. Prayer simply becomes one more arena of life where we acknowledge God. That may sound intimidating, but worship in word and life is a learned art, a practice and orientation for life into which we grow. Jesus taught us to pray in such a way that enhances that growth.

Worshiping God in prayer also takes our eyes off ourselves. Prayer isn’t about us. It’s about God, God’s goodness, and God’s mission. Beginning with worship becomes part of a proper orientation toward God that I mentioned previously.

“Your kingdom come.” Life isn’t just lived in the presence. By pleading for the kingdom of God to come, we express deep longing for God to end sin and its consequences. In the midst of a world of brokenness, we engage in the mission of God by asking God to make all things right.

Questions for Reflection

  1. When you pray, with what concerns do you usually begin?
  2. How could you begin a time of prayer today with worship?

Jesus sums up the entire biblical message as follows: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 NRSV). But what does that love look like where we live? Where we work? With the people we do life with everyday?

In answer to such questions, Jim Miller draws practical lessons from Luke’s Gospel in order to help us live a life modeled after the example of Jesus Christ. This involves his pattern of prayer, relating to others, establishing holy priorities, and a host of day-to-day issues that together establish what Jesus himself called the abundant life. Get the Bible study from our store here.

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Dr. Jim Miller is Professor of Inductive Biblical Studies and New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and Director of the Center for the Study of World Christian Revitalization Movements.

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