“Lord, teach us to pray.”
Prayer Day—must we be taught to pray?
We do not know what to pray? Must we not pray for crops, for rain and sunshine and their proper amount, and that they may be sent us at the proper time? Should we not pray for health and strength, for corn and gram, for happiness and peace, etc.? Surely, we know what to pray, do we not?
Yet, do we know? The Savior taught us so differently, did He not? He taught us: “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” This must always be first. Besides, we must pray such prayers which we can conclude with “Amen.” This word means that our prayer shall be heard. And, in this context, Christ, we read, had been praying, and the disciples were struck by the praying of the Christ, its uniqueness, its complete dedication to the Father, and they wish to pray accordingly.
O, let us understand: prayer, true prayer is not so easy after all. To pray, really to pray, to pray to our Father in heaven, to pour out our soul before Him, it is indeed necessary that the Lord teach us to pray. Always we must learn and be taught to pray.
Today many people pray and many prayers are uttered. Every day our Congress and State Legislatures, while in session, begin with prayer. Many years ago a president of our country assumed the role of a national high priest to lead the entire nation in a word of prayer, and the result was a prayer which everyone could pray, except those who had really learned to pray. Prayer, today, has become rather national, yea international—who today cannot offer a word of prayer? But all this is surely contrary to the Word of God and our Reformed confessions. In our confessions prayer is treated as the highest manifestation of gratitude, and it is preceded by a knowledge of our misery and redemption. In Scripture, we must be taught to pray, and by none other than our Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer, we must understand, must not be considered merely as a means to get something. Viewed thus, we pray for the things we desire. We pray for crops in the spring, and in the fall we give thanks for them, for health in time of sickness, peace in time of war, etc. If this be the essence of prayer, we can surely dispense with the words of this text: Lord, teach us to pray. Then we do not need this instruction. Then we simply ask for the things we desire. Then the prayer, “Lord, teach us to pray,” is completely unnecessary.
Some have questioned the propriety of prayer, have said that prayer is unnecessary, yea improper. We need not discuss this. The child of God does not really ask himself, shall I pray? He must pray. Prayer is the spontaneous seeking by the child of God of the living God as the God and Father of his salvation in Christ Jesus. We are not concerned about the philosophical question whether prayer is necessary or proper. Of course, it is necessary and proper. Prayer is spontaneous. It is, first of all, a speaking unto the living God, a personal conversation with God. To pray means that we pray to God. Besides, to pray to God means that we approach unto Him with all our needs. Of course! God has no needs. We have needs. Thirdly, to pray to God means that we express the desire of heart and soul that God may be glorified in us, that we may receive His salvation and that, in connection with whatever the Lord sends us, we may know Him and experience covenant fellowship with Him.
What does this mean? What is true prayer?
True prayer means, first of all, that we address the living God. He is the living God. This is clearly taught us in the Lord’s Prayer and throughout Scripture. Indeed, the whole universe, all of creation is less than a drop of water on the bucket and a particle of dust on the balance. That God is the living God means that He created all things for His Name’s sake, and does all things for His Name’s sake, that He is sovereign in all His works and ways, that there is none like unto Him. And let us bear in mind that true prayer is a speaking unto Him. So often we shut our eyes and fold our hands without being consciously in the presence of the Lord. To pray means that I am speaking, but also that He is listening, and that I am consciously in His presence, overwhelmed by God.
Secondly, to pray means that we approach Him with all our needs. We are needy. God is the All- Sufficient One. We are needy. We are needy, physically. In God we move, live, and have our being, constantly. We are needy, spiritually. In ourselves we have no life, no grace, no forgiveness of sin. In ourselves we have nothing. We have needs as a church or as churches. Only, we must approach Him with our needs. This does not mean that we acquire all the luxuries of life and then cry to the Lord because we find ourselves “up to our ears in trouble.” This implies that we wish to conduct ourselves, with our children, as of the party of the living God, realizing that, physically and spiritually, we are utterly dependent upon the living God and therefore approach Him with all our needs.
Finally, to pray means that we approach the living God with all our needs and with the desire that the living God may fill us and satisfy us as He wills, unto the glory of His Name. We pray not that we may impose our will upon His will, not to ask Him what we want or desire, but that He may reveal His will to us and that we may say, Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.
How necessary it is that we be taught!
Yes, in principle we know how to pray. The disciples ask this of Jesus and they have learned to know Him and the Father Who had sent Him.
Still, this request is so necessary. From a subjective point of view it is so very difficult to pray. To be sure, to pray is easy if we merely pray for what we naturally desire. But this is not true prayer. True prayer is that we seek the glory of God’s Name. To speak unto the living God, to be controlled and prompted by His majesty, His greatness, and His glory, to become nothing, to lose ourselves in Him—all this implies a struggle, a continuous struggle, in which we must daily crucify our old nature and mortify the flesh, continually subject ourselves to the Lord. This means a fight, a continuous fight, in which we cannot possibly engage in our own strength. To pray for God’s sake is humanly impossible. How easy it is to murmur when we experience things that are contrary to the flesh!
On the other hand, however, true prayer is so very difficult also from an objective point of view. First of all, we know not what to pray for as we ought. O, we may know this in general, having been taught the Lord’s Prayer. But, we know not what to pray for as we ought as far as the specific details are concerned. It seems so often that, walking in the way of God’s precepts, seeking the glory of His Name, we court and invite trouble and disaster. And, secondly, true prayer is so difficult, objectively, because we must surely pray for grace to be His people and of His party in the midst of the world. To pray for grace to do God’s will implies that we know that will. But this also means that we must be able to distinguish that will of God. We must not only know what to pray for as we ought, but we must also know what we must not pray for as we ought. There are so many movements, mighty forces at work in the midst of the world in which we have a name and place. Indeed, how difficult is prayer, subjectively and objectively! O Lord, teach us to pray.
True prayer is possible only through this instruction: Lord, teach us to pray.
First, we must be taught subjectively. To be sure, only the Lord can teach us to pray. Of ourselves we cannot pray; we cannot seek God and the glory of His Name. Hence, we must be taught by His Spirit, and ever anew. Always the Lord must teach us, from day unto day, that we may know and experience the true, spiritual attitude of heart and mind which is so essential to true prayer.
But we must also be taught objectively. To be sure, the Lord has taught us objectively. He did give His disciples and us the model of the Lord’s Prayer. And, He also gave us through His apostles His own infallible Word. In that Word of God He has revealed unto us the will of Jehovah, the norm and rule of all our conduct in the midst of the world. That Word also speaks to us of the coming of His kingdom in the midst of our present evil world. If we pray, “Lord, teach us to pray,” sincerely and from the heart, then we shall also always turn to His Word for instruction. How can we pray, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and then fail to turn to the Word of God? We understand that life’s increasing perplexities and problems demand of us an ever increasing study of the scriptures. Hostile forces are always at work all around the church of God. It is becoming increasingly difficult to pray unto the living God, to conduct ourselves unto His glory. More and more we will experience the need of His grace and of His Spirit to live unto the glory of His Name. The Lord, of course, instructs us by His Spirit. However, He also instructs us by His Spirit through His Word, the lamp before our feet and the light upon our pathway.
How empty will be our life if we fail to pray thus. O, we may pray prayers that are in harmony with our carnal desires. Then we pray, on Prayer Day, for rain and sunshine and crops, and on Thanksgiving Day we give thanks for the crops we have received. Then we pray for health in times of sickness, for peace in times of war or when war threatens. We simply pray for the natural desires of our carnal heart and mind. Such prayers, however, leave us empty. What if we receive crops and health and all the “good” ‘things of this life that a man can desire and lack the grace and fellowship of the Lord? What do we have then? We have nothing!
However, how rich is the fruit of true prayer! To be sure, the way may be ever so difficult. Trouble and sickness and sorrow may then be our lot and portion. But God answers prayer, true prayer. He will fill us, not necessarily with earthly things, with the things one carnally craves and desires, but He will fill us with Himself, with His grace and mercy and Spirit and the blessed assurance that all is well unto the glory of His Name and the realization of His covenant. Then all is well, really and truly well, now and even forevermore.
Lord, teach us to pray.
Teach us to pray truly and sincerely.
Grant us Thy mercy and the peace that all is ever well.
Then my soul shall surely magnify the Lord.