(This is an article I wrote back in June 2011)
While in Seminary, one of my professors, Elmer Towns, taught a class on called “Spiritual Foundations of Church Growth.” In that class, we studied the Lord’s Prayer. He’s written a book called, “Praying the Lord’s Prayer for Spiritual Breakthrough.” While taking that class, one of the things he wanted us to do was to spend a solid hour in prayer. It was through learning how to pray the Lord’s Prayer that I found my prayer life explode.
Jesus wanted His disciples to experience the joy, power, and peace of prayer. When they asked, He gave them the skeleton of a prayer. I timed it one day while preaching. In a congregational setting, with everyone praying together, it takes 32 seconds to pray the prayer. But what is interesting is that He says, “Pray like this (emphasis mine):” Mt 6:9-13. This prayer, when expanded, becomes a powerful prayer and it can drastically change your prayer life. There are eight sections to the Lord’s Prayer (Towns breaks it down into 7). Praying this way can help you stay on track, not find yourself repeating things you’ve already said, and it will keep you interested and focused so that you can listen.
The first section of the prayer begins with praise. “Our Father Who is in heaven, Holy is your name.” When you begin to pray, start out with a time of praise. This can be in song, prayer, or both. This section of the prayer is saying, “You are our Father. You unify us and we see You as the most special Person in our lives. We set you apart and bow to You on the throne of our lives, because of what You have done for us and the love You have for us.” Take the time here to really thank Him for the things He has done in your life. Trust me, if you start praying for all the blessings, all the times He’s stood by you and carried you, all of the prayers He has answered, all of the times He has revealed sin in your life so that you can grow closer to Him, and all of the special moments that He has shared with you, your prayer can easily stretch on for a long time. More important, though, is that this will bring your spirit into a place where you are focused entirely on Him. It will place your heart in a place of thanksgiving, joy, and humility.
The second section of the prayer is for guidance and evangelism. “Your kingdom come.” First, we’re praying that we come into alignment with God’s kingdom principles. We must remember that not only is He our Father, He’s our King. He wants us to live in a way that acknowledges and honors His kingship and to have a life that is marked by willing obedience and submission. Second, He wants us to work on sharing His kingdom. We are deputized in Matthew 28:18-20 to go out into the world, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey the commands He’s given us. Because of that, we should be praying that God will make us available. That He will motivate us to share and that we will have the courage to open our lives to build the relationships that will allow us to share His word with our neighbors, family, enemies, and the whole world. This is an excellent time to pray for those people to whom you are reaching out or even to pray for the courage to reach out. A great place to start is with your family or the people who live right next door to you.
The third section of the prayer is seeking and surrendering to His will. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” One of the hardest things for me in my walk has been learning to listen for God’s will and then to surrender to it, especially when His will and my own don’t agree. In heaven, God’s will is done enthusiastically, willingly, and perfectly. We’re praying that His will work in us the same way. That’s one of the reasons we need the Holy Spirit so desperately in our lives! He is the only one who can give us the strength to even attempt to do God’s will! When we pray this part of the prayer, especially if we’re praying for a specific situation, we should be listening for His answer. Bring your Bible to your prayer. Search out the areas of scripture that have the principles that deal with the situation about which you’re praying. Listen for that still small voice. You can even pray for confirmation. This is when you can test God’s will. No, I’m not saying put the Lord your God to the test. That’s different. That’s when you’re praying in such a way that you’re challenging God to meet your will. “God if you do this, then I’ll do this!” That’s a terrible prayer to pray. What I’m talking about is a prayer like the one Gideon prays and that Ahaz is encouraged to pray in Isaiah and refuses. It’s when you pray, “God, I believe that you’re wanting me to do this, and I want to make sure that I am in your will. If it is your will, please give me this sign.” Be specific so that you’ll recognize His answer. It takes a while, but the more you step out in faith on His leading, the easier it becomes to learn to do his will. This is also when you yield to His will. Let’s face it. We’re all put in situations where we want something that He does not. In fact, sometimes we’re praying for something we want when He’s wanting to give us something that we need. The two aren’t always the same. God’s will should always supersede our own and we should willingly surrender. This comes much easier when you’ve already entered into His presence with praise in your heart.
Fourth, Jesus encourages his disciples to pray for their needs to be met. We all have needs. Our most basic necessities are food, clothing, and shelter. We have health needs, things that we want to pray for when we think of others. This is the time to lift those needs to God. By lifting them to Him, you are surrendering those things to His care. This is why it’s so important to be yielded to Him, to be seeking His guidance, and to be coming to Him with praise in your heart. With the praise, you’re already focused on how God has provided in the past. You’re seeking His guidance in your life, and you’ve yielded to His will in your life. With those things in mind, you’re saying that you’re going to let go of your needs and place them at His feet with the faith that He will meet your needs. God enjoys meeting our needs. It allows us to grow in our faith as we see how faithful He is in His care for us. In fact, he often goes beyond just meeting our needs and gives us our wants or, sometimes, surprises us by bringing something or someone into our lives that we didn’t even know we needed OR wanted. This is the point where you’re truly learning to surrender.
The fifth section of the prayer deals with forgiveness. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Why did Jesus place this here in the prayer instead of sooner? I believe it is because we’ve been focused through praise, we’ve sought His guidance and asked to be brought in line with His heart for evangelism, we’ve asked Him to reveal His will for us and have yielded to that will and we’ve surrendered our needs to Him. If we’re in the process of surrendering, if we truly want to fulfill His will, if we’re opening our lives so that those who do not know God can see His work in our lives and if we’re honoring Him as our King, and if we’re truly thankful for all he has done for us, then how can we not forgive others the way He forgives us? His forgiveness is absolute, it looks past our sin to see the person, it releases the sin so that the person can grow. Forgiveness frees us from bondage. When you are holding a grudge, then you are in bondage to the person against whom you are holding the grudge AND you’re in bondage to sin. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you allow a person to continue to mistreat you. You can remove yourself from a situation like that. However, it does mean that you’re willing to look past the wrong done you and love in spite of it. You are forgiving because God forgives. In forgiveness, you find freedom, joy, and peace. The person you are forgiving may or may not respond to that forgiveness, but you will grow because of it. Remember, not everyone responds to forgiveness. God loved the world so much that He sent His son Jesus. Whoever believes in Him receives eternal life. Whoever does not believe does not receive that life. Also, when praying this portion of the prayer, be aware that God may well reveal to you someone from whom YOU need to seek forgiveness. If He does, be sure to do so!
Next, we’re told to pray for victory! “Lead us not into temptation.” We’ve been led through a time of praise, guidance, yielding, surrender, and forgiveness. Now it is time to seek victory in our lives! As Christians, we will face temptation in our lives. God does allow us to be tempted. It is how we learn to realize the danger of sin and the signs for which we should be constantly vigilant. As Christians, we can fall to sin. I’m sure you can think of times when you have. I know I can. In fact, I often find myself jokingly praying at this point, “Lead me not into temptation, ’cause I can find enough of it on my own!” When we are saved, we suddenly find ourselves caught in a constant struggle. Our spirit has been brought to new life through Christ. We have received a new heart, new life, and new record. Our spirit desperately wants to live for him. We have a problem, though. Our flesh is still fatally infected by sin. It still craves what is bad for it and for us. Compound that with the fact that Satan and his angels want us to fail as Christians. He knows that our salvation is secured through Christ. He can’t separate us from the love of Christ. But, he does want to make us ineffective. So, this is where we put on our underwear (1 Cor 3:12-17) and our armor (Eph 6:10-18). This is where we pray for the strength and courage to stand firm on the ground that God has won for us. It is where we make sure that we are writing on our hearts the Word God has given us (Josh 1:6-9). In this way and through the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, we can avoid temptation and sin and find victory.
And, as we’re praying for victory over sin and temptation, we pray the next section of the prayer. We pray for protection from Satan and his evil. As I mentioned above, Satan is very active in trying to disable Christians. He wants nothing more than to see us become ineffective in our ministries to our families, friends, neighbors, enemies, churches, and the world. In fact, everything for which we pray in this prayer, he wants the opposite. He wants to do us harm, to fall to temptation and be disabled through sin, to bicker, fight, and hold grudges, to seek our wants to the exclusion of our needs or the needs of others, to be willfully opposed to God’s will and to refuse to seek Him out, to refuse His guidance and attempt to place ourselves upon the throne of our lives and deny the Kingship of our Lord and King, and to take for granted all of the things God has done for us as if we are entitled to those things rather than that we have received a bounty from our loving Father. In this part, we are praying for God’s protection and willingly accepting that protection. We need to be constantly aware that we are involved in spiritual warfare. We take fire from all directions, even those that should seem like our strengths. It is through surrender and reading His Word that we are prepared. But, He acts as our cover, our fortress, our stronghold, our shield, and our rock (Psalm 18). In Him, we find refuge, protection, care, and healing. We need to be aware of our enemy and seek shelter in our God.
Finally, we close the prayer with praise. “For Yours is the power, kingdom, and glory forever.” This is an excellent time to find peace in the fact that God does listen to our prayers. It is the time to bask in the joy of His presence and to find comfort in the nearness of Him. It is the time to read your scripture, perhaps listen or sing a thoughtful song of praise, or maybe even just to sit and listen quietly.
I hope that you take the time to really pray the Lord’s Prayer. Take the skeleton of a prayer that Jesus gives and really flesh it out. I truly hope that learning to pray His prayer will help to change your prayer life the way it has mine and is continuing to do so!