How to Pray
The king of the savannah loved all the creatures of the grasslands, He wanted to know all about their concerns, their hopes, their joys and their daily affairs, so he invited representatives from a number of different species to talk to him.
First came the gazelle. "I'M SORRY! I'M SORRY!" shouted the gazelle. "PLEASE DON'T EAT ME! I'LL BE GOOD! I PROMISE NOT TO BE WEAK OR SICKLY AND SLOW UP THE HERD ANYMORE!" The king moved closer to try to speak words of comfort, but as soon as he moved, the gazelle bolted.
Next was the baboon. "Oh great and mighty lion!" said the obsequious monkey. "How kind of you to take pity on me, a lowly monkey! No, I am less than a monkey! I am a worm! I am a filthy thing that eats dirt! Look, I'm eating dirt right now! It tastes good because you have walked on it. But oh, woe! I am not worthy to eat the dirt you have trodden on!" The king could not take this foor long, and called for the baboon to be removed.
Next came the packrat. "I want a big basket of fruit!" said the rat. "And a berry bush. And some nuts. Some soft hay to sleep on would be good, and a big water bowl." The king wondered if the rat had mistaken him for Santa Claus.
The zebra, when she arrived, could not keep her eyes open. "I'm just so tired." she said. "I'm sorry. I wanrt to talk, but I'm just so tired." She fell asleep before the king. Feeling sorry for her, he called for her to be carried out.
The meerkat strode in with great pomp and began prattling in latin. "Rex regis, Ego sum sic bonus! Indulgeo illud scelestus quod bardus bestia quisnam es non ut sanctus ut mihi. nos es non totus perficio. succurro mihi communico meus excellens penitus decor per illud minor fortunatus, quod beatus mihi per ultum viaticus." The king scratched his head in confusion as the meerkat strode away.
The rest of the day went like that, and the king, sad and frustrated, was ready to call it a day when a young hippo walked in. "Hi." said the hippo. "My daddy couldn't come, so he sent me to talk to you." The king was annoyed that the hippo ambassador had not shown up himself, but he sat down and spoke with the child. There was no pretense, no groveling, no pomp or ceremony. The hippo boy told him animatedly about everything that had been happening in and around the river. The two spoke about water quality, about the local fish, the plants that grew along the riverbank and about how the crocodiles had been overhunting. As the king said good night to his last visitor, he decided it was the most satisfying conversation he had ever had.
I don't think that anyone here fails to understand why all of those other meetings the king had were unfulfilling. We are created in God's image. If we find such poor communication frustrates us, would it not also frustrate the one after whom our spirits are designed?
First of all, I would like to start off by saying that there is wrong way to pray, as long as your prayer is loving and sincere. There are no rules to prayer, just as there are no rules to having a coversation. However, following a few simple guidelines may help to make your time speaking with God more fulfilling.
First of all, a little organization can work wonders. A prayer list of journal can work wonders in helping to keep your thoughts straight, to remember what you need to say and keep track of which requests have been fulfilled.
There is a very simple accrostic to help us remember the basic elements for a normal prayer. ACTS. Acclaimation, confession, thanks and supplication. To understand what this means, let's look at the prayer we just read once again.
"Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in Earth, as it is in Heaven."
Jesus acknowledges the Father and in short, calls Him holy. I find it interesting that Jesus starts with the words "Our Father". In a letter, a first century Hebrew began by giving their own identity. Paul and Peter started their letters with their names. John began his with "the elder". Beginning this way demonstrates that Jesus is focussing on Yaweh, not on Himself. "The Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done" is not merely well-wishing, but a statement of submission to God's will. Wen we say "Thy will be done", what we really mean is "Tell me what to do, and I'll do it." In this part of His prayer, Jesus praises and acclaims Yaweh. This is the A in ACTS.
"Give us this day our daily bread."
This supplication is very simple. He doesn't go into detail on what He and His disciples need, because He knows He can trust the Father to take care of them. It's not that there's anything wrong with stating your needs, but it is important to trust God to deliver. Jesus has promised that anything we ask in His name, He will do for us. If we ask Him to take care of our needs, that is what He will do.
What does it mean to ask for something in Jesus' name? Does it mean tacking the phrase "In Jesus' name we pray" onto the end of your prayer? Some think so, as if Jesus' name is a magic credit card that lets us name and claim anything we want. When you act in someone else's name, you are taking on their role in their absence and acting in their interests. In Batman, for example, when Terry McGuiness replaces Bruce Wayne as batman, he acts in the name of batman and BECOMES Batman. When Joe Blo buts on a red suit to play Santa, he is acting in the name of Saint Nick. That means he'd better not do anything Saint Nick wouldn't do. If someone caught him using dirty language while acting in the name of St. Nick, he'd get in very serious trouble. When you pray in Jesus' name, you are acting in His stead while He is physically absent from the Earth. The word Christian means "Little Christ". As a little Christ, you are responsible to represent Jesus' interests and act as he would act. That's why a prayer for a new X-box probably isn't going to get approved. Praying for His own pleasure is not something Jesus would do.
"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."
Of course, Jesus has no debts to confess, but the others did, and He was giving them a template to use. The important thing to note here is that Jesus links being forgiven with forgiving others. As we have been repeatedly pointing out in Bible study, one cannot have a relationship with God while living in rebellion against Him. To expect forgiveness from Him without forgiving those He loves (And that covers a LOT of people), how can we not think that to be hypocrisy? How can we be surprised if such a request bounces off of the ceiling?
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"
A little more supplication. A request for protection. In this sentence, "Evil" can actually be more acurately translated as "The Evil One". He is referring to Satan. But consider what I said earlier about supplication. You are a little Christ, and you have the authority to act in Jesus' stead, as long as you are representing His interests. Jesus exorcized even the most powerful demons with a command. You have the authority to rebuke Satan. Just make sure you do it out loud because demons can't read minds. God hears the prayers you pray in your mind because with Him, there is an intimacy of the soul. That is something Satan will never have, and thank goodness. Be sure, though, that you don't go back later and say "All right, satan, just tell me what you were going to say." It's pointless to ask God not to lead us into temptation if we're going to go and find it ourselves.
"For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen"
Some say that this phrase is not in the original texts, but that's okay. Sometimes things are included in the bible purely on the basis of being good, sound doctrine. The entire book of Hebrews, for example. It is okay to include this final accolation because it acknowledges God's Lordship, which is a good thing to bear in mind.
What 'Amen' mean? I used to think it meant "the end". For about a week in first grade, I used to end my schoolwork that way. What it actually means is "so be it." It can be used as a signal to others to say "I am done", but what we're actually saying is "...And I really mean it!" The second person to say it is saying "And I second it!"
It's good to follow a prayer with a few moments of silence. You've spoken to God. Give Him a chance to speak back to you. As the whale said to the selkie who was swimming to fast to pick up his own sonar pings, "When you ask a question, you must wait for the answer."
One thing you'll notice about the Lord's prayer is that it contains no thanks. There's a reason for that. Jesus was constantly giving thanks. Every time He ate, He thanked His Father for what He received. He did not include that in His template prayer because we should be doing the same.
A few things to keep in mind while praying: You are acting as God's ambassador. You have the authority of Christ because you are acting in His name. You have every right to go boldly to the throne because that's an integral part of your job. It is good to be humble. It is not good to grovel. You may have been a wretched sinner at one time, but now you are covered with the blood of Jesus. Your sins are forgiven and you are now a holy saint. There is no need to cower or put yourself down before God. Neither is their any need for pomp or ceremony or formality. Just be respectful and speak with meekness and love.
I'd also like to throw in a few guidelines for praying as a group. Remember that your fellow saints are not God, and they can't read your mind. Show them common courtesy. Pray in a language that they understand, or else go home and pray in private. We pray in English here because it's what everyone understands, and so we can go to God's throne as a family. The JAM no doubt prays in Spanish at home, Benny may pray in Welsh, and that's fine for intimate one-on-one communication with God. Among people who cannot understand those languages, it is rude. It would be like me delivering a sermon in Islandish. I might learn something, but the rest of you would be left in the cold. Not a Christian thing for me to do.
Remember also that you can bring your needs to God at any time. You should do so as often as they come to mind. when we assemble as a group, though, our purpose is to support one another, and our group prayers should reflect that. Jesus' prayer contained "we's" and "us's". No "I's". That was for His private prayers. Let us also concentrate on one another, lifting each others needs above our own when we come together.
For anyone who has not accepted Christ as savior, you'll notice that I have spoken a lot about being Christ's ambassador and acting in His name. that's the reason prayer works. If you want prayer to work for you, there's on prayer you have to pray before any other, and that is to accept Christ as your personal savior.
Today's reading: Matthew 6:5-13
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.