Openness, goodness, love, understanding, strength, trustworthiness. These are terms which, for many, are linked with the idea of a ‘a good father’. In recent years the structure of the family has altered, and very few children are lucky enough to have such a father. Problems are discussed with friends or completely suppressed because their own father either has no time or lacks understanding.
Nevertheless we must not throw overboard our conception of the ideal. The Bible often speaks of God as the Father who possesses all the characteristics that we would desire. He has time for us. We can come to Him with our problems. He challenges us: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you.”(Psalms 50:15)
This is not a one-way street, but a real conversation with God. The Bible calls it prayer.
God lets us talk to Him
There are many different ways of having a conversation. The essential precondition for an intensive dialogue is your attitude towards your partner.
When we pray we can kneel down, close our eyes, fold our hands, formulate our words just in our thoughts or speak out loud.
What is important is not to place the form above the content. It is not enough to make a ‘pious face’, if we have nothing to say. Praying is a serious matter, but not a sad, tortuous one. It’s not a question of great words, but rather of inner attitude. The closer we tum to God the clearer He will answer (Luke 18:9-14).
You can go into a church to pray. Yet the Bible also speaks about the ‘closet’, a place where we are undisturbed (Matthew 6:6). Nothing should distract us when we speak to God. You can’t always go somewhere quiet to pray. Neither is it necessary. God is still our conversation partner at our place of work, at school, in the kitchen or in other places which seem to have nothing to do with God at all.
Martin Luther once said, ‘whenever I have a lot to do I pray twice as long.’ Whoever begins the day with prayer also finds time to do everything that needs to be done: “Morning by morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; morning by morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” (Psalms 5:3) “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” (Psalms 63:6)
Praying is a basic need which cannot simply be satisfied when one wants to or when one is in difficulty. Paul admonishes us: “Pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Such a close relationship with God is possible everywhere, at all times. Prayer is not an obligation, but rather the principle of depending on God everywhere and allow Him to play a part in everything we do.
Surely God already knows everything! Right. We don’t pray to give God information or to try to persuade Him to fulfil our wishes. Praying comprises far more. Namely:
Worship and praise
Here we make ourselves aware of the greatness and omnipotence of God: “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” (Psalms 103:1). Moreover, our praise is a kind of declaration of love to Him: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
God, I call upon you! Help me to pray and to collect my thoughts towards you. I cannot do it alone. In me there is darkness, but in you there is light. I am lonely, but you do not leave me. I am downcast but in you there is help. I am troubled, but in you there is peace. In me there is bitterness, but in you there is patience. I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me.’Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Because God loves us at all times we always have reason to be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18). When we are grateful we reflect on what we often take totally for granted.
Asking for something
We can ask God to help us to overcome our difficulties. At the same time it is possible to pray for other people, for our relatives, friends, the sick, those who have responsibility, and even for our enemies. Interceding is the most valuable thing we can do for other people.
God hears me
Sometimes we have the impression that God does not give us an answer to our requests and questions. He seems to keep silent. David gives a possible explanation: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalms 66:18)
Answering a particular request could be harmful either for us or another. On the other hand, maybe we are just too impatient and can’t wait for the answer. In any case, we can fully trust God’s promise: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Jesus is a very good example of trust in this promise. Before He was executed He prayed; “My Father, if it be possible, may this cup be taken from me.” (Matthew 26:39) Yet God’s will remains decisive: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Praying also means recognising the will of God. He always hears us: “When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stout-hearted.” (Psalms 138:3)
When Jesus prayed, the disciples were deeply impressed. Therefore they asked Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ Jesus answered them with the Lord’s prayer:
“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. Forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the power and the glory for ever. Amen.”(Matthew 6:9-13 see also KJV)
Let us now discuss this prayer in more detail.
“We are not alone. We have a Father to whom we can come. We are His children, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our Brother.” (Hebrews 2:11, 17)
Hallowed be your name.
Here we ask God to help us not to treat His name lightly. Through our words and our way of life people should be able to recognise that we are God’s children.
Your kingdom come.
God’s kingdom begins in us when we trust Jesus Christ and accept Him as our Redeemer. This is a personal process. As Christians we wait for the visible kingdom of God which Jesus will not bring until after His return when He creates a new Heaven and a new Earth (Revelation 21:1-3). We have every reason to rejoice in this hope.
Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
As human beings we have distanced ourselves considerably from what God would like for us. As a result there arise many problems which otherwise would be avoidable. We can discover in the Bible what God’s will is.
Give us today our daily bread.
The stress here should lie on the ‘our’. Here we do not only speak about our personal needs; we also speak of the needs of other people, and share with them what God has given to us.
Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.
All are guilty in the sight of God. Since Jesus Christ died on the cross for our guilt we can ask for forgiveness and also receive it. Thereby we are given strength to forgive others.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
We know the feeling of simply not being able to resist a temptation. Often enough we act contrary to our convictions. Yet many temptations are so subtle that we don’t even recognize them, and blindly fall into the trap. We therefore ask God to allow us to go through life with open eyes and to protect us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom, and the power and the glory for ever.
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