Prayer is one of the simplest disciplines for the Christian. Yet, it can also be the most misused and misguided. Aside from an improper view of God and Scripture, an improper prayer life can hinder fellowship with Christ. Furthermore, an improper prayer life is often rooted in an improper view of God along with an improper view of Scripture. A deep prayer life will begin with a deep understanding of the Biblical model of prayer and lead to a deeper examination of motives in prayer.
THE MODEL OF PRAYER
Jesus Christ modeled prayer and communication to God the Father in several different settings. This list is not exhaustive but gives an idea of some ways in which He prayed:
- Privately (Luke 9:18)
- With others (Luke 9:28)
- Through crying out (Matthew 27:46)
- Through all night petition (Luke 6:12)
- Through tears (Hebrews 5:7)
Along with varied settings, the words and details of Christ’s prayer were also varied. This list is not exhaustive but gives insight into what Jesus prayed for:
- Protection for those whom He had called (John 17:15)
- For the Father to be glorified through Him (John 17:1)
- Eternal security for His disciples (John 17:11)
- Before a great trial (Luke 22:39-46),
- Submission to the will of the Father above His own (Luke 22:42)
- Praising the Father for His plan (Matthew 11:25-26)
- For those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34)
- That others would believe (John 11:41-42)
Jesus prayed in complete submission to the will of the Father. Not once did He act upon His own agenda though He was and is fully God. Paul explains this mindset further in 1 Corinthians 11:3 when he writes, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of every wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” This clearly shows that though fully a spiritual equal to God, Jesus took the position of submission in order to fulfill His purpose and role as the Son of Man. Similar to Christ, in order for us to have a proper prayer life, submission to God’s will above own is mandatory. To further examine the Biblical model of prayer, let us examine the prayers of the Apostle Paul. This list will not be exhaustive but will provide a clear picture of what and how he prayed:
- Unceasing prayer for others above himself (Ephesians 1:16, Colossians 1:9-12)
- For wisdom, revelation/knowledge of God, the enlightenment of the saints to the hope of eternity (Ephesians 1:17)
- Spiritual wisdom, to bear fruit, growth in knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-12)
- With thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6)
- Praise for those who partnered with him for the sake of the Gospel (Philippians 1:3-5)
- Boasting in God’s will above his own even in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
- For the worthiness, fulfillment, and service of the saints for God’s glory (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)
Countless more examples exist in the New Testament, but this examination of the model ought to bring clarity to every believer. Upon first glance, this model seems suffice but eventually the Christian will question: “What about the things I really want to pray for?” And, this leads us to analyze the motive behind prayer.
THE MOTIVE OF PRAYER
James 4:3 describes the wicked motives of the depraved human heart. James writes, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions.” This statement sums up the average human heart. Most people, believers included, run to “God” in times of great need, but neglect truly humble, pure, and consistent fellowship with Him in times of plenty. Does God want to know His children and help His children in times of great need? Of course He does! (1 Peter 5:7). But the sobering reality is that our motives must be examined before we petition God regarding those needs.
Jesus outlined this perfectly at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9 by placing a built-in clause in the contract of prayer. Let’s examine this together: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” This one statement beginning prayer governs all following statements of the prayer. Jesus lays down the most important foundational element to every prayer – Namely, that the Father’s name be “hallowed,” or in the Greek rendering: Holy. This means that God the Father is to be addressed with honor, as a Holy God, and His glory is to be the ultimate purpose of every prayer.
Does this impact what we pray? Absolutely! Next time we ask Him to provide a raise for the bigger house, or for a nicer car, or to get us out from under our poor credit card choices, let us try adding, “For your Glory and honor my Holy God” to the end of each request. We may quickly realize the absurdity of our request. Can we ask God for help when it comes to provision? Of course! Will He answer if the motives are His own? Yes. Will He certainly slow us and redirect us if the motives are our own? Yes. Prayer and obedience go hand in hand.
For further insight on how the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer impacts all prayer, consider John 14:13-14, where Jesus delegated His authority and declared, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” Maybe you have asked for something? Yet, the answer wasn’t what was expected. If this has happened, examine the Lord’s prayer and examine your personal motives. Often, we find that what we were asking for in word, comes from a very improper heart, a heart not focused on His glory, nor under His authority. It helps to remember Proverbs 16:2 which says, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives.”
God is not a genie in a magic lamp, He is not a means to an end, and He is not a man-made formula to be used to produce health and wealth. He is a Holy God and is to be addressed as such. We must think clearly about the implications when we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Those words beg God to put His power, His grace, and all His perfect holiness on display in our lives. One way He will do this is by answering our prayers. And, when He does answer, we each must be prepared for what that might mean… If we pray for pride to be eradicated, should we not expect Him to expose our sin? If our prayer is for “Greater faith” might we not presume trials coming which strengthen our resolve? Would it not be pure arrogance to presume we know the tools in the infinite Master’s mighty belt?
If prayers are expressions of submission to His will rather than self-willed requests of desire, let us be prepared to be blessed by His master plan, a plan always better than our own, a plan which works our life to His glory.