Other times, however, are so much sweeter. Unexpected joys and blessings rain down upon us. God's goodness and life's best blessings seem to fall at our feet. We relish these moments of abundant grace and abounding joy. We want these times to last so much that we are afraid to talk about them. At the same time, we don't want to take our blessings, and the giver of these gifts of grace, for granted. We want to be thankful and appreciative for the ways God has showered his gifts into our lives.
We also encounter "dry in spirit" times. The "real us" somewhere down deep inside is out of phase with God. Spiritual practices are lifeless. We feel only a little stirring in our souls when we seek God. All of life feels out of tune and without meaning. Something within us feels empty, or worse, withered and dry. We long to cry out to God and connect, but we don't know the words or the practices to help us. We fight a nagging cynicism that whispers to us, "Prayer is not going to make any difference, today."
Those of us who love Jesus yearn to know how we should speak to God. This yearning cuts across all layers of circumstance:
- Our abounding joy.
- Our overwhelming despair.
- Our out of phase, dry-souled, stupors.
- Our day-to-day monotony of the in-between times.
We want to know how we can break through to God in all of these times. We want to know how we can sustain our spiritual connection through the highs and lows of our journeys. We want to know, as Jesus put it, how we can "always… pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1 ESV).
In the middle of a bone-wearying time of hard ministry and personal challenges, I stumbled across Luke1 Corinthians 6:21 Corinthians 6:21 Corinthians 6:21 Corinthians 6:2's description of Jesus' similar time and his spiritual solution:
[T]he news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:15—16).
Last week, we noticed how Jesus' life could be defined by prayer. A careful student of Luke could outline nearly all the major events of the Lord's ministry by Jesus' times of prayer and teaching about prayer. But when I looked at my own prayer life, it felt anemic, pitiful, unfulfilling, and inconsistent. I yearned to know how to pray like Jesus! My guess? You share some of this yearning, too!
So, I don't think we should be surprised that Jesus' closest disciples asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). Nor should we be caught off guard when the centerpiece of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29) is his teaching on prayer (Matthew 6:5-13). Those who knew Jesus best were just as hungry to learn to pray like the Lord as you and I are, today. Something inside of us feels a beckoning for a connection to the divine, to feel the gentle breezes of Eden blow in our faces as we walk with God in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). In our quieter moments, our soul cries out to us that God made us for this fellowship with him, and we miss this connection with the LORD's divine and gentle goodness in our lives.
Those first disciples had reason to ask the Lord to train them in prayer. Rabbis in Jesus' day taught their students to pray. John the Baptizer had taught his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1). So, let's join our voices to those of Jesus' first disciples and ask, "Lord, teach us to pray!"
When we listen to him, he comes to us and says:
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
"This, then, is how you should pray:'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'"
Over the next several weeks, we will unpack The Prayer of our Lord — the second part of Jesus' teaching. Today, I want us to focus on two things:
- Ask the Lord to teach us:
Begin a regular practice each day of not only praying but also of asking the Lord to teach us to pray. Below, you will find a plea for the Lord to help us know how to pray. (My friend, Chad Higgins wrote it.) I encourage you to use this written prayer as a prompt, a guide, each day next week as together we ask the Lord to teach us to pray. Don't rush through it. Linger in the places the Holy Spirit invites you to pause, think, seek, and dwell. We want to tune our hearts to listen and wait on the Lord in anticipation that he will do what we ask as we spend time in The Prayer for the next several weeks.
- Be encouraged by the power of the Holy SPirit in a simple, childlike, approach to prayer in faith.:
Jesus' teaching on personal prayer is paralleled by what Paul would later teach in the book of Romans. Notice the two teachings on prayer below, along with their highlighted words, and see the beautiful affirmation of the truth that God will hear your prayers as you accept his invitation to draw near.
Jesus' teaching on personal prayer (Matthew 6:5-8):
Paul's emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer (Romans 8:14-17, 26-27):
I believe you are perfectly capable of spending time with both the Lord's teaching and Paul's teaching, then coming to some powerful conclusions of your own. I encourage you to get with another believer and talk together about what you can find together in this teaching on personal prayer. I also want to point to a couple of reassuring reminders that have blessed my life in these words about personal prayer.
- Personal prayer is not about impressing others or showing that I'm more spiritual than someone else.
- My focus in personal prayer is on coming to God personally, honestly, and privately as his beloved child.
- Personal prayer is not about getting stuff I want or making God into my superpower gopher to be at my beck and call.
- My focus in prayer is on God as my Abba Father and being in his tender presence.
- Personal prayer is not about saying the right things perfectly, as if there were some magical formula or some power in special words, to get what I want.
- My focus on prayer is on intimate dependency upon my Abba Father through the Holy Spirit: I rely on the Holy Spirit to carry my deepest yearnings to God.
Growing in prayer, feeling a connection with the Father, and being formed to be a useful vessel for Jesus to use to bless others is a life-long journey. If we seek him, he has promised to draw near (Matthew 7:7-8). The more we seek Him, the more we recognize that his presence is real in our lives. That's why we say: "Lord, teach us to pray!"
This week's spiritual exercise of prayer is to read through this prayer daily as a plea to the Lord Jesus to teach us to pray.
by Chad Higgins
Most holy Christ,
"the one and only Son, who
is himself God and is
in closest relationship
with the Father":
We have seen you
in the sanctuary of
the raucous dining room
and the lonely mountain.
And we have beheld your power and glory in
the touching of the blind
the healing of the lame
the chiding of the righteous
and the restoration of the broken.
For, time and time again, Lord Jesus,
You have shown us what it's like to be
human and divine
master and servant
tender and fearless
present and withdrawn.
As we sit at your feet once again,
absorbing your nourishing words
and penetrating gaze,
Teach us what it's like to
walk in your footsteps
with a purposefulness that is paused
only by an immediate need.
Teach us what it feels like to
step into uncertainty with a confidence
that comes from being in constant communion
with the One who sends us on our way.
what it is to pray, and
to open our hearts in
with a God who is ever mighty
to save us and love us.
And so, as we begin to learn this loving life of prayer, strengthen us as we are bold to say:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed by Your Name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts
as we have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom
and the power
and the glory
[NOTE] Chad Higgins is a beloved friend with a deep passion for leading others into worship as a lifestyle. Chad says, "My passion is leading God's people in His praises. There are very few events in life as 'centering' as congregational worship. In those moments, the worshiper is moved to deeper devotion to God. My goal is to allow every worshiper an opportunity to find themselves in the presence of the Almighty God; just as they are, just as He is. In that transparency, only then can true discipleship take place." Chad enjoys cooking, building, and spending time with his wife Rhesa and their children. Chad has been involved in many worship renewal and retreat events, including ministry to international church leaders through the men's Come Before Winter renewals and has blessed many who love Jesus.