While the scene (as you can see from this YouTube video below) is hilarious, it is also sadly pathetic. Unfortunately, many prayers today sound somewhat similar. We approach God as our emergency Santa Claus and give him our prayer list of gifts that we want from him. Even in our most Bible-focused churches and groups, prayer is often much more about what we want and think we need than about surrendering our will to God to be used to bring his kingdom alive on earth.
When Jesus gave us The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) as an example of how to pray, he called us to simplicity and spiritual balance in our prayer lives:
- We pray to God as both the almighty and incomparable God who is also our always near Abba Father.
- We pray for God's will to come alive on earth through us as he brings his kingdom to us and through us.
- We pray, asking for only our most basic needs — daily food and spiritual forgiveness — not for things we can store up for ourselves.
- Even as we pray seeking forgiveness, we are also pledging to forgive others.
- We then pray for spiritual protection and deliverance from the evil one that afflicts the world with decay, destruction, and death.
Behind his example prayer, Jesus recognized our deepest needs — food and forgiveness. We do need God's help to navigate life. As we pray, we are also offering ourselves to the work of his kingdom. We are pledging to mend our fractured and fragmented world. We are committing ourselves to the work of God in bringing the kingdom of heaven alive in our world.
Jesus taught us to seek the kingdom above all other things, and God will give us the things we need (Matthew 6:33). Like the Israelites depended on God in the wilderness to sustain them each day with manna from heaven (Exodus 16:4-5), we depend on God for what we need. However, nothing in The Prayer has to do with acquiring riches or achieving gain for ourselves. Instead, we choose to rely on God to supply us with our most basic needs. Our focus is to live in our world for his glory and the dawning of his kingdom on earth.
When Jesus instructed us to ask only for the bread that we need for today, he is reminding us of our place in the world. We are not permanent. We can't store up enough to make life last longer or death feel better. Greed is not only selfish, but it is also self-destructive. A tight fist and a closed heart often go together. A lack of generosity and thankfulness show up in lives that are greedy and unforgiving. We are here to be conduits of the LORD's blessings, not miserly hoarders of accumulated wealth and possessions.
Many years ago as a boy, I had something I wanted for Christmas — an electronic football game — the image below is a much nicer version than we had back in the day. By today's standards, it would be a lame gift, but that Christmas, it was the only gift I wanted. As the gifts accumulated under the tree, my anticipation morphed into anxiety. Nothing seemed to be the right size for the gift I wanted. "Maybe," I thought to myself, "there is one wrapped gift that just might be the electric football game I want for Christmas!"
I waited until well after everyone was asleep. Then, I snuck into the den and quietly moved the packages under the tree. I found the box I wanted, then carefully cut the tape and unfolded the wrapping paper. I opened the paper just enough to peek in to read the writing on the box inside.
Argh! It wasn't what I wanted. Disappointment swept over me. Then, guilt crept in as I carefully covered the tape I had cut with new pieces so no one would know what I had done. I carefully re-arranged the boxes back to the way I had found them. Then, I just sat there, by our Christmas tree, surrounded by presents — many of which were for me. I was disappointed, ashamed, and felt guilty.
Merry Christmas, y'all.
Christmas was miserable. I couldn't enjoy the wonderful gifts I received because I was both guilty and disappointed. I had to lie and pretend the baseball game was a surprise and that I was delighted to get it. I was envious as my younger brother opened the electronic football game. I was miserable with my many gifts and my many blessings because I didn't get the one thing I thought I needed. I couldn't see my many blessings because of my selfishness and greed.
Over the years, I have worked with poor children in Africa, Asia, and South America, on mission trips, through Compassion International, and now with Rwanda Children and Shining Star School. I have often thought of that selfish boy under the tree. These children of poverty are thrilled to get rice and beans to share with their families. They are so proud of their school uniforms in their gift packages. One little boy in Rwanda even said a prayer of thanks for a toothbrush and toothpaste. For sure, we are glad to get them a simple toy, but they are as delighted to share the other things with their family as they are to receive a simple toy of their own.
When I pray, "Give us this day our daily bread...," I am humbled, convicted, and reminded. I should be content with what God has promised: food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8; cf. Luke 12:23). Anything above those simple things is an extravagance. An insatiable desire for more has squeezed the joy out of life's blessings for many of us. Our prayers often treat God as if he is the free Amazon delivery service for our every whim and want. We've become like that little boy under the tree surrounded by gifts who is disappointed because he didn't get the one thing he wanted.
Jesus made clear that the desire for things easily chokes the good news of life out of our hearts (Matthew 13:22). Selfishness causes much of the jealousy and infighting among our fellow believers. Notice how Jesus' half brother James put it:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3).
No wonder Jesus said it was nearly impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23-25). Enough is never enough. We want more. So, Jesus told us:
"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... (Matthew 6:9-11).
Jesus taught us to pray for our bread for this day. The Prayer is simple, straightforward. The Prayer helps us recognize our dependence upon God. By having "our daily bread" be the only physical blessing we seek, Jesus is re-calibrating our sense of what we need. He is calling us to put things in their rightful place.
When we pray The Lord's Prayer, Jesus reminds us of what we truly need. We need the mighty, awesome, and holy God to be our Abba Father. We need his grace. We need his protection. We need his deliverance. We need his forgiveness. We need his kingdom to come. And yes, we need our daily bread and to forgive others.
The apostle Paul knew what it was like to have times when he had a lot, and when he did not have anything. In whatever circumstance, however, he managed to be content because of Jesus (Philippians 4:12-13). As the great apostle aged, he wanted to pass along this truth to his son in the faith, Timothy. He wrote Timothy these words that sure sound a lot like Jesus:But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
One last thing. My brother's electric football set soon lost our interest. I kept that baseball game and played it with friends for years. The whole awful Christmas experience taught me many lessons, but maybe the most important was that a loving parent knows more what a child needs than the child. So, I'm learning to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread, and that with your presence is more than enough for today."O God, I realize that you have surrounded me with so many blessings that you have graciously poured into my life. Deep in my heart, however, I realize that all I need is you. Your kingdom, your grace, your protection, your deliverance, and my daily bread all come with you. Holy Spirit, please help me learn to be content and rejoice in seeking the kingdom above all other things. In Jesus' name, I ask this. Amen.
The desire for things easily chokes the good news of life out of our hearts.
Our Daily Practice of Prayer This Week
Making it Real: Praying with Scripture
by Andy Johnson
The Parable of the Rich Fool — Luke 12:13-21
You are encouraged to sit down once each day this week, clear your heart and ask the Holy Spirit to help you listen to what he wants to speak into you. The italic portions below are the scripture portions from Luke 12. Read each block slowly and silently, listening for Jesus' will for your life. Then, read the non-italicized block out loud. Then go back and read it again out loud emphasizing the words in it that you believe are most important for you to hear, believe, and live. May God bless us as we spend time together in the words of Jesus and asking for the Holy Spirit to shape us by his scriptures and his leading in our lives.
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."
O Father, your children have too long allowed money to divide families! We pray today for families — our families and those of others in our churches — which have been splintered by running after things. Let us never choose money over relationship. Particularly rebuke us when we let our jobs or our positions or our promotions take precedence over our loved ones. Today, Father, move us to show our families that we choose them over money!
Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."
Lord, guard our hearts by your Holy Spirit against greed! We know that life — true life — is not measured by the amount of stuff we have or the title we hold or the number of followers or likes we get. Reveal to us what actions or activities in our lives are actually motivated by greed, and give us the courage to do something about them today!
And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, ‘This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."
He missed it, Lord. He only saw two options — clinging to it or blowing it. Show us that third way, the way of self-emptying love. Remind us that you bless in order that we might serve. Let us be satisfied with smaller barns and well-cared-for neighbors.
"But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
"This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God."
We do not want to be fools, God! Make us wise before our lives are demanded from us! Change our hearts to want the things you want, to love in the way you love. Guide our actions so that at the end of today, we will be wealthier people than we are right now — wealthier toward you, even if poorer in this life. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
[NOTE] Andy Johnson has been a church planter in Burkina Faso and now works with Missions Resource Network blessing churches, international church leaders, and missionaries with a special focus on prayer. Andy is also a dear friend and someone whose prayer life I admire and try to emulate. Andy and his wife have three children. His language skills, his passion for authentic prayer, and his ministry to international church leaders through the men's Come Before Winter renewals have blessed many who love Jesus.
© Phil Ware. All rights reserved.
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