In Sydney, Australia, churches have the opportunity to have representatives teach the Christian faith in schools. There’s a story of a boy who came home from school one day and told his mother that the Scripture Teacher had asked each the class quietly to pray to God. Knowing that she had never taught her children to pray, never taught them about God, let alone prayed in their presence, she asked him what he did. ‘I didn’t know what to say,’ he said, ‘so I told God a joke.’
“When you pray”, Jesus said, “Say, ‘Father …” (Luke 11:2).
In his book, Knowing God, Dr. JI Packer asks, ‘What is a Christian?’ Answering his own question he says, ‘…the richest answer I know is one who has God as his/her Father’.
‘Not everyone can say this,’ he points out – only ‘those who, knowing themselves to be sinners, put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their divine sin-bearer and master,…’ No one comes to the Father except by me, Jesus says. In other words, Packer writes, no one is acknowledged by God as a son/daughter, except by the supernatural work of God’s grace through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus gives us this model prayer showing us that we can confidently express our privileged, personal relationship with God: we can call him, ‘Father’. Indeed, what makes our prayer, prayer, is the fact that we speak to the living, personal God. He is not some distant deity, nor the impersonal force of Star Wars. We can be bold and call him ‘Father’. It is a personal prayer.
Furthermore, the prayer is a simple prayer. There are no complex sentence structures or difficult language. It suggests God is not impressed by complicated words or ideas. He appreciates simplicity. It is also a restrained prayer: there are no wild extravagances. It’s coherent: it makes sense, and is rather matter-of-fact. It serves as a warning to anyone who feels they need to work themselves up into a frenzy, calling out, thinking that God will hear all the better because of it. God is not distant. He’s not even hard of hearing.
It is also a balanced prayer. The first three statements focus on God. Our first concern in prayer should not be ourselves, but God. Like Moses and Daniel in their prayers, we are to be concerned for the honour of God’s name, the triumph of his cause. It looks to the great day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is a big, exciting prayer.
But there is also the recognition that we have needs now. So the next statements concern us – food for our physical bodies each day and food for our spiritual needs. We also need the food of God’s Word. There are also sins to be owned up to and forgiveness sought; linked with this petition is our need to forgive those who have wronged us. As we read in Matthew 6, how can we expect God to forgive us if we ourselves are unwilling to hold out forgiveness to those who have sinned against us? And, there is also a petition to overcome the temptations that inevitably come our way.
Prayer is conversation with God. It makes sense that when we pray we let God begin the conversation. As we noted last Wednesday, we need to listen to God’s voice found in his Word. This way we need to get to know who he is, what he is like, how he thinks, and what he expects of us. Once we start listening we will want to talk with God, ask him questions, and make requests.
Prayer is a precious privilege. It brings us into the very presence of the God who is at the heart of the universe. Yet so often our prayer life is dead. Why don’t we pray more consistently than we do?
We are privileged to address God as ‘Father’: he is a person to be known, a Father to be honored. Our prayers should be simple. We should pray for the victory of God. We can pray for big things and for the little things— our fears and joys, our personal sins and the temptations we face.
The starting point is knowing God as Father. The question is, do we really know him as our ‘Father’?
© John G. Mason
Note 1: During August, my Word on Wednesday is adapted from my commentary, Reading Luke Today: An Unexpected God (Aquila: 2012), pp.161-167.