By J.R. Miller
"One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him: Lord, teach us to pray."
Our passage opens with an illustration of unconscious influence. The disciples saw their Master praying apart from them and yet within their sight, and were so impressed by something in His manner, perhaps His earnestness and fervor--that they wished to learn how to pray as He did. We never can know what the silent influence of our acts may be upon those who see us. One gentle person in a home, unconsciously impresses and influences the whole household. One quiet, restful person makes others calmer and more quiet. One faithful, consistent life in a workshop, an office, or a school--is a perpetual gospel, touching all the other lives. By simply being good--we may start in many others desires to be good also.
A young man, lodging once with a stranger at a country inn, where the two were put to sleep in the same room, by kneeling at his beside before retiring, touched the other's heart and became the means of his salvation and consecration to useful life and service. We never know how far the influence of our example may reach.
We all need to make the same request the disciples made, "Lord, teach us to pray." We do not know how to pray, and there is no one who can teach us so well as Jesus can. We will find many words of Christ on the subject of prayer, all of which it will be profitable for us to study. We do not know what things we are to ask for. We are shortsighted and are apt to plead for comfort and help in the present moment, not thinking of the years before us. We all need to pray and need to be taught how to pray. The passage we are now studying, is our Lord's answer to the request of His disciples to be taught how to pray.
The opening word of the Lord's Prayer, "Father," is really a Golden Gate through which we must enter into the temple of prayer. "When you pray, say, Our Father." We must seek to say it as a child would say it to a father. When we actually do this--we are ready to pray. God wants us always to come to Him--as little children. If we think of Him in this way as a Father, it puts us into right relations with Him. Ideal human fatherhood means a great deal, and yet in its imperfection and its sinfulness, it is only a dim reflection of the Divine Fatherhood. We can get many precious thoughts of God, however, through what we know of human fatherhood on the earth--his love, his faithfulness, his thoughtfulness, his patience, and his care. The name also suggests what our feeling and conduct toward God should be. If He is our Father--then we are His children, and we should never fail in the duty of children.
The honoring of God's name comes first among the true objects of prayer. "Hallowed be Your name," we are taught to say, as we enter God's presence. He is holy, He is glorious. The name of God stands for God's character, for all that He is. We should give Him the first place in our hearts. We should be careful that in all our life we honor Him, doing nothing that will misinterpret God to others, or dishonor Him. No lesson more sorely needs to be learned in these days--than the lesson of reverence towards God. The irreverence of people today, is something appalling. In many of our churches and Sunday schools there is a painful lack of reverence in worship.
To hallow is to make holy. We cannot add to the essential holiness of God--but we can make people see more of His holiness and have higher thoughts of Him. We can talk about His greatness and goodness and love. Then we can show a reflection of His glory in our own lives, so that all who see us--shall learn something of God from us. It was said of a noble minister, that everyone who knew him fell in love with Jesus Christ.
The second petition is a prayer for the coming of God's kingdom. We can help to answer this prayer, first--by letting Christ be our King indeed, ruling our hearts and lives, over all our feelings, dispositions, thoughts, tempers, words, and acts. We can also help to set up Christ's kingdom in this world--by influencing others to accept Him as their King. We are advancing His kingdom when we get even one person to accept Christ as Lord and Master. We can do much also by seeking to overthrow evil--and establish that which is good. The kingdom of heaven is begun on earth. Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). It must begin in our own hearts, and then extend its influence through us wherever we go.
The next petition is a prayer for the doing of God's will by us on earth--as it is done in heaven. The kingdom of heaven, is really the making of one place on earth--like heaven. If God is our Father, His children should live the heavenly life, wherever they are. A thoughtful boy wanted to know how we can get to heaven, since it is so far away. His mother said, "Heaven must come down to you; heaven must begin in your heart." Then it will not be hard to get to heaven. We must have heaven in us--before we can be ready to enter heaven.
Many people think of this petition of the Lord's Prayer as always meaning something very hard, something painful. They change their tone as they say the words and speak, "May Your will be done," in a strained, sad voice, as if a friend were dying, or as if they were passing through some great trouble. But the will of God is to be done not merely in the acceptance of crushing sorrow--but also in the acts and duties of our common days. We are to do God's will on the playground, in our schools, in our homes, in our shops, and on our farms--wherever we are. God's will is the law of heaven, and if we would help to make this earth like heaven--we must learn to do His will, while we stay here. It should be a glad and joyous prayer.
We are apt in prayer to think of our own earthy needs first. Many people never go to God, until they have some request to make, some help to ask. But in the Lord's Prayer the petition for daily bread does not come until the prayer is more than half finished. We are to pray first for the honoring of God's name, the coming of God's kingdom, the doing of God's will--and then we are to ask God to give us provision for our bodies.
We have the same lesson taught in the Sermon on the Mount: "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:31-33).
The prayer teaches us to ask for our bread only day by day; and then only enough for the day. Thus God fed Elijah for many months at the brook Cherith--but only day by day. Thus God sustained the Israelites also for forty years in the wilderness, morning by morning. We ask for "our" daily bread, thinking of others as well as ourselves. We are never to be selfish in our praying.
The next petition is for the forgiveness of our sins. God is always glad to forgive us--but in His prayer there is linked a duty also. We are asking God to forgive us--AS we forgive others.
The latest petition of the Lord's Prayer refers to temptation. God does not promise to lead us in ways in which we shall have no temptations. The prayer we are taught to make, is that we may not be allowed to rush needlessly into any danger. We need never fear temptation, if it comes in the way of God's leading, for then we shall always have God's protection. But we should never dare to put ourselves into any place of temptation unless we are sent of God. God's design in temptations which come to us--is never to lead us to sin--but to have us overcome and grow strong in resistance and victory. The divine thought in temptation, is that we may be proved and may grow stronger.
The lesson of earnestness in prayer, is taught in the little parable of the friend coming at midnight. The good man within did not give his neighbor food because the neighbor was his friend--but because the man would not go away from the door until he got the bread he wanted. The lesson is importunity in prayer. God wants us to be earnest, not rebellious and willful--but always earnest and persistent in our praying. He is pleased when we want things very much--and when we believe in His willingness to give them to us.
The Syrophoenician woman is an illustration of our Lord's teaching. She knew that Jesus could heal her daughter, and she simply would not be driven away, without the blessed gift. Many prayers fail to be answered, because the person praying gives up too soon. A little longer patience and continuance in prayer--would have brought the answer.
The love of human fatherhood is used in the last verses of our lesson in assuring us that God is willing to give us blessings, even the best that He has to give. We certainly would not say that human fathers are kinder than the Heavenly Father. No true earthly father would mock his son by giving him a stone--when asked for bread. We may turn the words about a little--and say also that our Heavenly Father will withhold from us the stone which we unwittingly asked for, supposing it to be bread. God will not give us anything that will harm us, however persistently we may plead.
The best of all gifts is the Holy Spirit. Not only is God willing to give us things we need in this world, things for our bodies, supply for our passing needs; He is willing also to give us the best things of His own love, even Himself, the Holy Spirit. All we have to do is ask--but the asking must be sincere. It must be earnest and importunate. If we get the richest of God's gifts, and yet do not get God Himself--we have missed the best!