This post is by Cheryl Gilbert.
Dear God, thank you for this day. Please help me do well on my math test tomorrow. Please help me not get much homework, and if I do get a lot please make it easy so I can hang out with friends after school. And please let this weekend be relaxing. In Jesus’ name, amen.
As I listened to my child’s simple prayer, three things occurred to me. First, it was honest, authentic, and driven by an earnest desire to seek God. Second, while well-intentioned, it was a Santa Claus prayer. You know, the kind where we sit with God just long enough to tell Him all the things we want. Third, there were two crucial elements missing: praises and pauses.
One of the most well-known and oft-quoted passages of scripture, commonly referred to as The Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:9-15 has become largely rote. It is important for us to remember that Jesus intends it as a model for us; it is not merely a prayer to recite (although it is that), but also a pattern to follow. So where in this model do we find the praises and pauses?
Jesus teaches us to “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9 ESV). He begins the prayer with praise. Jesus’ first priority when speaking with his Father is to glorify Him. When Jesus begins his prayer by extolling God’s name, He’s indicating that we too should “offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Hebrews 13:15 ESV).
Think for a moment about how you begin conversations with the people you love. After watching a child’s game you probably lead with something like, “You did such a great job! I’m so impressed by what you did today.” When you meet a girlfriend for coffee, maybe you begin the chat with, “Thanks for meeting me. I'm so thankful for this time together!” If we launch into conversations with ordinary people by sharing what we love, admire, or appreciate about them, how much more then should our communication with the Almighty God begin the same way?
God is holy, mighty, and worthy of praise. He is kind, loving, merciful, gracious, faithful, just, and righteous. Reminding ourselves of all of this, proclaiming His virtues at the outset of our prayer time, brings us into a heart posture of worship and humility that will guide our prayers and from which we will be better positioned to hear from God.
Another easily omitted element of prayer is the pause - the listening. As Jesus continues to model prayer for us, he says in Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day our daily bread,” which at first glance might be mistaken for an ask - an “I want.” If Jesus meant only physical sustenance, that would be a reasonable conclusion. However, the Bible repeatedly uses the imagery of bread to represent the word of God; it is His supernatural provision for our spiritual hunger. When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew 4, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The model here is not only asking God to provide for our physical needs, but also for our spiritual needs. When asking God to speak or act, we must necessarily await His response. He is faithful to answer, and we should be ready to receive. “Listen, listen to me,” God pleads in Isaiah 55:2-3 (NIV), “and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.”
We easily fall into the pattern of prayer being a monologue when it is meant to be a dialogue. Thinking again of conversations with the people in your life; ponder the effect it would have on your relationships if you did all of the talking and never stopped to listen. Those relationships would not be healthy, nor is our relationship with God if we do not leave room for Him to speak into our lives.
Listening during prayer may not come easily. We are a culture of “do-ers” who may feel uncomfortable or unproductive being still and quiet. Our minds tend to wander when we pause to listen; our busy brains, used to constant stimulation, fill with thoughts of appointments to schedule and grocery lists to make and phone calls to return and...and...and. You don’t have to sit in silence for extended periods of time waiting to hear God’s voice, but do pause. Take a deep breath. Give Him space and time to move and speak.
There’s a reason why prayer is a discipline; it requires practice and development and self-control. It requires a genuine desire to seek God and a willingness to “draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). It also requires time, energy, and thought. It requires sacrifice...another thing that Jesus modeled for us perfectly.
Cheryl Gilbert is a loving wife, proud mom, cancer survivor, really loud laugher, sun-seeker, and - most important - Jesus follower, living in the Pacific Northwest. Cheryl feels closest to God and most grounded when near the water, much to her sweet little dog’s chagrin.
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