One of the most important acts we can do for someone is to pray for them. Why? Because that is how we express our faith in our heavenly Father and how we express our love for others. The hope of all this is bound up in our confidence that God will answer our prayers for our good, and his will.
Jesus taught us how to prayer in what we call the Lord’s Prayer.
First, we direct out thought to our heavenly Father. Ephesians 3:14 said that ‘he bows his knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named.’ In other words, the very concept of a loving, caring father originates from the nature of the one who wants us to ‘cast all our cares upon him.’
Second, as we approach the throne of grace, let us remember who we are talking to; ‘Hallowed be your name.’
Third, Jesus directs our desires to be informed by what God wants: ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Again Jesus is the model; in the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed, ‘if it is your will, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.’
Our Father is not some Santa Claus figure who will give us what we want, as if we know what is best. He is better than even the best father we can imagine in that he always wants our good, even when we don’t.
However, sometimes he gives us what we want even though he knows it is not the best thing so that we might grow wise. For example, the Israelites wanted to have a king. This was not the best option, but God granted it so that they might learn to trust in him and not earthly kings.
All our prayers should express a desire that what we want will accord with what he wants. However, we do not always know what he wants and what we want is not something wrong in itself. When my late wife was dying of cancer, my heart’s desire was that she might live, and that is what I prayed for. For reasons unknown to me then, he had other plans. Despite the pain, God helped me bear that loss; ‘your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ where my late wife is, now.
‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Of course our loving heavenly Father wants us to cast all our cares on him and he is rich in mercy and often gives us more than we need or deserve. How good is that?
‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ This is a tricky prayer. Literally it is saying, ‘treat me the way I treat others.’ If we have an unforgiving heart, how dare we ask God to forgive us?
‘Lead us not into temptation, or testing.’ This is possibly the most difficult part of the prayer to understand. Why would God lead us into temptation? Are we not told in James that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness? Was not Jesus led into a time of trial?
I think the clue to this conundrum might be in Paul’s words to the Corinthians: ‘No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but will with the temptation, also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.’
In our prayers, let us be faithful, constant, trusting and generous, knowing that our heavenly Father know our weaknesses and loves us all the same.