What is Prayer?
Prayer is as essential to knowing God and growing spiritually as breathing is to living and staying healthy.
Interestingly, according to recent studies, prayer is more popular than ever among Americans today. One recent poll showed that 8 out of 10 Americans pray regularly. Another poll found that 73% of Americans believe that praying for people can help to cure their illnesses. But many who claim to pray completely miss the objective of what true prayer really is.Back to Top
What Prayer Is and Isn't
Prayer is not some mystical process whereby we call out to some force. Nor is it a kind of power with which we create things or speak them into existence, ordering God around like some bell-hop who art in heaven. Prayer is communicating with and hearing from God.
True prayer is what happens when our will is aligned with the will of God, and we pray accordingly. Prayer is our connection to heaven and heaven's connection to us—that is why you should always keep the lines open!Back to Top
Why Prayer Should Be Practiced
Perhaps you used to pray when you were a small child, or you started to pray as a young Christian, but it seemed as though God always answered your prayers with a resounding "No!" Frustrated by unanswered prayer, you decided to stop praying. In doing so, you have unwittingly fallen into the sin of prayerlessness. Jesus said, "Men always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1). And Paul wrote that we are to "pray without ceasing. . .for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (1 Thessalonians 5:17–18).
On the other hand, maybe you pray regularly, but your prayers never seem to get a response. It seems that all you receive is an icy silence. Perhaps you can relate to Job, who said in the midst of his trials, "Nor is there any mediator between us, who may lay his hand on us both" (Job 9:33). Job was saying that there was no one who could lay his hand upon both God and man at the same time.
But Jesus is our mediator. Being God, He knows God's desires; yet having walked on this earth as a man, He understands our weaknesses and frailties. For that reason, we can be assured that we pray to a God who does not turn a deaf ear to our prayers. Instead, He desires to communicate with us in this wayBack to Top
How We Should Pray"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18). Notice the use of the word "all" in this verse. We are to pray on all occasions, with all kinds of prayer and requests, and for all the saints.
God does not teach us the posture of prayer, because any posture will do.
People in the Bible prayed standing, lifting up their hands, sitting, lying down, kneeling, lifting their eyes toward heaven, bowing, and pounding their chests.
God does not teach us the place to pray, because any place will do.
Scripture tells us, "I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere" (1 Timothy 2:8). People in the Bible prayed during battle, in a cave, in a closet, in a garden, on a mountainside, by a river, by the sea, in the street, in Hades, in bed, in a home, in a prison, in the wilderness, and inside a fish.
Jesus does not tell us when to pray, because any time will do.
People in the Bible are found praying early in the morning, in the mid-morning, in the evening, three times a day, before meals, after meals, at bedtime, at midnight, and day and night. People pray when they are young, when they are old, when they are in trouble, every day and always. In any posture, at any time, in any place, and under all circumstances—prayer is good and needed in the life of the Christian
What Types of Prayers We Should Pray
The Bible identifies several different types of prayers we can pray. One model for how we should pray is captured in the acronym ACTS. Each letter stands for a specific aspect of prayer, arranged in a very natural order.
- A: Adoration (worship)
- C: Confession (of specific sins)
- T: Thanksgiving (gratitude)
- S: Supplication (specific requests).
Jesus essentially taught us the same thing in the Lord's Prayer, which begins, "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name" (Matthew 6:9 KJV). This puts things in perspective for us. A good example of this type of adoration is found in Psalm 95:1–7. When we take time to praise and worship God in our prayers, we are placing God where He rightfully belongs. As a result, our problems and needs come into their proper perspective.
The closer we draw to God, the more we sense our own sinfulness. When Isaiah came into God's presence, he said, "Woe is me, for I am undone!" (Isaiah 6:5). The confession of our sin removes any barriers and clears the air of anything that would cause God not to hear our prayers. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us" (1 John 1:9). This is, once again, modeled in the Lord's Prayer. After "Our Father which art in heaven," we find, "Forgive us our sins" (Matthew 6:12).
Our immediate response after confession should be thanksgiving. We should be thankful that God would indeed cleanse and forgive us. David said, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven" (Psalm 32:1).
Should we give thanks because everything is going perfectly in our lives or because we are in a good mood? No, we should give thanks because God deserves our praise. Psalm 118:1 says, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For his mercy endures forever." As another translation puts it, "His love endures forever." By giving thanks, which is simply expressing gratitude for what we have, we prevent our focus from shifting to what we do not have.
If we are faithful in the first three steps, the last step will not degenerate into giving God our spiritual shopping list. Too often in prayer we start with requests instead of spending time in adoration, confession, and thanksgiving first. Yet, God does want to hear our needs and requests. Scripture tells us, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6–7).
We are also promised, "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
Do not neglect this vital part of your Christian walk. As someone has said, "Prayer is the breath of the newborn soul, and there can be no Christian life without it."Back to Top
How to Pray
Someone has said, "If you are swept off your feet, it's time to get on your knees." Scripture backs up this claim. In the pages of the Bible we find ample evidence that prayer can dramatically change situations, people, and sometimes even the course of nature. Consider the prayers of these Bible characters:
Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was doing all the right things to please God (2 Chronicles 20:1–30). Suddenly, without warning, he received a frightening report: "A vast army is coming against you!" Alarmed, Jehoshaphat stopped what he was doing and prayed: "O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You" (verse 12).
As Jehoshaphat prayed, so did the people of Judah. "All Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the LORD" (verse 13). Since Jehoshaphat chose to turn the problem over to God, God responded powerfully and answered the prayer of the king and his people (see Philippians 4:6).
Unable to have a child, Hannah prayed that God would give her a son (1 Samuel 1:1–20). The Lord answered her prayer, and she gave birth to a son, Samuel, who would one day become one of Israel's greatest prophets.
In spite of his previous disobedience to the Lord, Samson prayed, and God returned Samson's strength (Judges 16:28–30).
Paul and Silas
Imprisoned for their faith, these two men pray. Within moments, an earthquake comes and they are free (Acts 16:22–26).
When Peter was in prison and awaiting execution, the early church prayed for his release. While they were praying, an angel came and escorted Peter out of the prison (Acts 12:1–17).
This Old Testament prophet prayed and the rain stopped. He prayed again, and the rain returned. Another time he prayed, and fire came down from heaven (James 5:17–18; 1 Kings 18:36–38).
Prayer Is Not Just for Heroes of the Faith
When we read the stories of these great men and women of faith, we may think that these people were super-spiritual, that our prayers could never be answered like that. But look at how Scripture describes Elijah:"Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit" (James 5:17–18).
Scripture tells us to pray when we are suffering, when we are cheerful, when we are sick, when we have sinned, and for one another. We are told that "the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." (James 5:13–16). It is clear that we are all to pray!Back to Top
How to Pray Effectively
No one is better qualified to teach us about how to pray than Jesus Himself. We often read of Him spending the night in prayer. Even on the night before His crucifixion, we find Jesus praying. This may have been one of the reasons His disciples asked Him, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). His response was something that we now call "The Lord's Prayer" (Luke 11:2–4; Matthew 6:9–13). If we were to be completely accurate, we would instead call it "The Disciples' Prayer." The true "Lord's Prayer" is found in John 17, where Jesus prays right before His arrest. It is Jesus' longest prayer on record.
Keep Your Motives Pure
Motive is everything in prayer. As Jesus points out in Matthew 6:5, it is a sin to pray insincerely. We, like the people Jesus criticizes in this passage, can still be guilty of hypocrisy and self-centeredness in our prayers. We can try to impress others with our devotion to God through our eloquent prayers. It is tragic but true: sin knows no boundaries. It can follow us to the very throne of heaven.
As we come to God in prayer, we should make sure that we "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). Otherwise, our prayers will not be effective. As the psalmist David writes, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18).
Make Your Private Prayers Longer than Your Public Prayers
We can learn something from Jesus' prayer life. Jesus' prayers were short when offered in public, but they were long when He was alone with His Father. All too often, our public prayers are long, while our private prayers are short—or non-existent. In reality, Jesus showed us that it should be the other way around. He encourages this practice further by saying, "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matthew 6:6).
Recognize the Objective of Prayer
Jesus gives us a valuable insight into prayer when He says, "Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8).
Prayer is not instructing or informing God or bending His arm.
The object of prayer is not to bend the will of God to mine, but to get my will in line with His. True praying is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness. Martin Luther once said, "By our praying, we are instructing ourselves more than Him." God only answers the requests which He inspires.
Abide in Christ
Jesus gave this incredible promise concerning how to have answered prayer: "If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7).
This verse can be literally translated, "If you maintain a living communion with me, and my words are at home in you, I command you to ask at once for yourselves whatever you desire. It's yours."
"Abide in Me"
If we abide in Jesus, we will automatically know God's will, and thus we will ask for it. To abide means to "maintain a living and continual fellowship with Jesus Christ." You become like two friends who are completely comfortable in each other's presence. You are not ill at ease, looking forward to getting away from that person. Instead, you enjoy being with him and you want to hear what he has to say.
This is not to say that we should be overly casual with God. As Jesus points out in His model prayer in Matthew 6:9–13, we should always begin our prayers by recognizing that we are addressing the Almighty God who is to be reverenced, worshipped and obeyed. Yet, He is also our Father in heaven who greatly desires to hear from us and wants to be our closest and most intimate friend.
"My words abide in you"
This speaks of God's Word being at home in our hearts. Our prayers cannot be divorced from our lifestyles. They flow out of a close walk with God. If your life is not pleasing to God, your prayer life will be practically non-existent. Obedience to God certainly plays a part in answered prayers: "Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22).
If we give a listening ear to all of God's commands to us, He will give a listening ear to all of our prayers to Him.
Why We Should Pray
You might ask, "If God already knows what we need before we ask, why even bother praying?" Scripture makes a very strong case for prayer in the life of the believer.
Jesus told us to pray.
"Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1). We should pray simply because Jesus told us to and emphasized it in His life and teaching. There really is no better reason to pray than this.
Prayer is God's appointed way of obtaining things.
James 4:2 says, "You do not have because you do not ask." Do you ever wonder why you never seem to know the will of God for your life, why you never have any opportunities to lead others to the Lord, or why you always seem to be just scraping by? Maybe you haven't seen answers because you've failed to ask God. God wants us to experience the blessings of seeing our prayers answered, such as the salvation of a loved one, or perhaps a divine healing, or a wonderful provision. But we first have to ask.
Prayer is the way God helps us to overcome our anxiety and worry."Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6–7).
King Jehoshaphat, after praying to God for deliverance, sent singers out in front of the army, singing praises to God. They sang, "Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever" (2 Chronicles 20:21). And their enemies attacked one another. Jehoshaphat understood what it meant to present his petition to God with thanksgiving.
Prayer is one of the ways we make ourselves ready for the return of Jesus Christ."But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will be as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:34–36).
As believers living in the last days, our lives should be characterized by watchfulness and prayer (see also Mark 13:32–33). Whatever concerns you may have right now, it is always time to pray! Remember, Scripture tells you to "cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).
The Model Prayer
"Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). The disciples brought this request to Jesus after they had witnessed the countless times He went out to spend time with His Father. Likewise, this should be the heart cry of every child of God. Jesus' response to the disciples' request is found in Matthew 6:9–13:"In this manner, therefore, pray:
'Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your Kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
This model prayer, also called "The Lord's Prayer," covers every aspect of prayer. It can be divided into two parts. The first three components of the prayer deal with God's glory: "Hallowed be Your name," "Your Kingdom come," and "Your will be done."
The second three components of the model prayer deal with our need. "Give us this day our daily bread," "Forgive us our debts," and "Lead us not into temptation."Back to Top
Prayer Sets Your Sights on Who God Is
"Our Father in heaven"
Jesus begins His model prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) with the phrase, "Our Father in heaven." This was a revolutionary thought to the Jewish mind. The Jews feared God and attached such sacredness to God's name that they wouldn't even utter it. When Jesus referred to God as "His Father," the religious leaders of that day accused Him of blasphemy! But now, because of Jesus' death on the cross, we can also call God our Father.
Jesus told Mary Magdalene after His resurrection, "I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God" (John 20:17).
Paul wrote, "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:15–17).
In an earlier study, "Who Is God?" we learned that God is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and ever-present (omnipresent). That means that He is ignorant of nothing, unlimited in power, and not bound by time and space.
We also learned that God is just, good, righteous, holy, and loving. That means that His decisions and purposes are always right and proper, yet they are motivated by a pure goodness and a deep and abiding love for you.
It is vital to remember that this awesome and holy God is also our loving Heavenly Father who has our best interests at heart! The fact that we even have the privilege of approaching a God like this is staggering.
"Hallowed Be Your Name"
In our initial approach to the throne of God, we should not immediately come with wants—or even needs. We should first contemplate whom we are speaking to. There must be a reverence for the Holy God in our approach. Isaiah, seeing the glory of the Lord, immediately acknowledged his own weakness, saying, "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5).
Job, after speaking foolishly to the Lord and then listening to God's response, said, "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth" (Job 40:4).
The word hallowed means we attribute to God the holiness that already is—and always has been—supremely and uniquely His. To hallow God's name and recognize Him as Lord of all takes more than a mere reference to His holiness. It takes a willingness to put Christ first in your life and to be a reflection of that holiness.
To hallow God's name is to revere, honor, glorify, and obey Him as uniquely perfect. In other words, we need to recognize that, above everything else, He is Lord over all.
If God's name is hallowed in your life, you can never really say, "Me first, Lord" or "No, Lord." If He is really the Lord of your life, the only proper response is "Yes, Lord!"
Can you write "hallowed be Your name" over your personal interests, ambitions, and pursuits? Can you write "hallowed be Your name" over your career choice, your business decisions, and your friendships? If you cannot, then it is questionable that you should be engaged in that activity and you are not truly hallowing God's name."How is God's name hallowed among us? When both our doctrine and living are truly Christian." —Martin Luther
"Your kingdom come"
This is a multi-leveled request with different shades of meaning.
This is a request for the return of Jesus to this earth.
The word that Jesus uses here for kingdom does not primarily refer to a geographical territory, but to sovereignty and dominion. Therefore, when we pray, "Your kingdom come," we are praying for God's rule on earth, which essentially begins when Christ assumes His rightful place as ruler of the earth.
The word come indicates a sudden, instantaneous coming. It's the same word John uses when he prays, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20). It speaks of that day when Jesus rules and reigns on this earth as King of kings. It will be a righteous rule. There will be no scandals, violence, or war—just peace—for 1,000 years.
This is a personal request.
I am asking for the kingdom of God to come in my own life. Jesus said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36).
On another occasion, Jesus, said, "The kingdom of God is within (among, or in the midst of) you" (Luke 17:21). He was referring to His own presence on that particular day. Simply put, the kingdom of God speaks of the rule and reign of Jesus Christ in our lives. When we allow Christ to rule and to reign in our lives, we relinquish our control and put Him in charge. In essence, we give Him the master key to every room of our lives.
You cannot pray "Your kingdom come" until you pray "my kingdom go." When Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33), He was saying, "Principally, in everything you say and do, before anything else, seek first and foremost the rule and reign of God in your life.
This is an evangelistic request.
As God's kingdom is ruling and reigning in our own lives, we can play a part in bringing it to others, as well. Another way God's kingdom is brought to this earth is when a new soul is brought to Jesus. Thus, this becomes an evangelistic prayer, as we pray for the rule and reign of Jesus in the lives of many others.
No one is beyond the reach of prayer or the need of salvation!
There is no doubt that it is God's will that people come to believe in Jesus Christ (see Isaiah 53:12; 2 Peter 3:9). A striking illustration of prayer for a nonbeliever is shown in the case of Stephen, who was being stoned for his bold, uncompromising stand for Jesus. As he was being stoned, Stephen prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60). We know that a young man named Saul of Tarsus oversaw this execution that day. Could Stephen, inspired by the Holy Spirit, have been praying for Saul specifically? So unexpected was the answer to this prayer, that when Saul was converted, most did not believe it.
Paul himself spoke of the burden he had for the Jews to come to Jesus: "Brothers, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1). While it is not biblical to claim someone to be saved, it is very biblical to pray for that person to come to Christ.
The apostle Paul's model for evangelistic prayer"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1–4).
Paul makes some subtle differences in the words he uses for prayer in this model for evangelistic prayer. The word intercessions comes from a root word meaning "to fall in with someone." It speaks of identifying with someone, sensing their need, and showing empathy and compassion. Why is this important? I am not going to share the gospel with someone—much less pray for them—if I do not care about their plight and situation.
"Winners of souls must first be weepers of souls." —C.H. Spurgeon
"Give me souls or take away my soul!" —George Whitfield
This passage says that we are to pray "for all men, for kings and all who are in authority." When Paul gave these words, Caesar Nero was on the throne. He was one of the worst persecutors of Christians in church history. From a purely human point of view, it would seem appropriate for Paul to have us praying for the removal of evil rulers from power. Yet, Paul tells Christians to pray for such people, and to pray for their salvation.
Likewise, we need to pray that our leaders would come to Christ, and that they would rule with wisdom. We should pray that God would raise up godly people to influence them. And if they are sinning against God, we should pray that they would be convicted by the Holy Spirit and repent. If the church really took this to heart, what a profound impact it could have on our nation!
- Is God's name hallowed in your life today?
- Is He ruling over your family, your business, and your friendships?
- Is His kingdom securely established in your life?
- Are you praying for those who do not know the Lord?
Let us not just be hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word (see James 1:22).Back to Top
Prayer for Our Needs
As we continue studying Jesus' model prayer for us in Matthew 6:9–15, we now come to the second set of three petitions of the prayer: requests for daily bread, forgiven debts, and the avoidance of temptation. All three, interestingly enough, deal with man's need.
"What is man, that You should exalt him, that You should set Your heart on him, that You should visit him every morning, and test him every moment?" (Job 7:17–18). It is amazing to consider that this all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God who created the entire universe would have any interest in us personally. But He does! And it is rooted in of His tremendous love for you. God Almighty has committed Himself to personally meeting the needs of His children.
"Give us this day our daily bread"
This part of the model prayer is not only a place where we ask God for something. It also serves as an affirmation that everything we have ultimately comes from Him. It is acknowledging God as the Giver. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17).
Yes, we can work hard, save, and wisely invest our money, buy our own food and clothes, and pay for our own houses, but the very ability to do this comes from God! Scripture also says, "But remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:18)."He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)."And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19)."Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God" (2 Corinthians 9:10–11)."I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread" (Psalm 37:25).
"Forgive us our debts"
This verse can also be translated, "Forgive us our sins, trespasses, shortcomings, resentments, what we owe to you, or anything wrong that we have done."
Some think that they do not need forgiveness. But according to Jesus in this model prayer, it's something we should be asking for on a regular basis. Scripture says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). In fact, everyone has sinned, and should seek God's forgiveness. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
The apostle Paul wrote, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Philippians 3:12).
Those who do not see their constant need for regular cleansing are not spending much time in God's presence. Someone once said, "The greater the saint, the greater is the sense of sin and the awareness of sin within."
"As we forgive our debtors"
According to Jesus, a generous and constant forgiveness of others should be the natural result of our understanding of the forgiveness that God has extended to us. A man once said to the English preacher John Wesley, "I never forgive and I never forget." To which Wesley responded, "Then Sir, I hope you never sin."
In many ways, forgiveness is the key to healthy, strong, and lasting relationships with others. We are going to hurt one another—whether it be intentional or unintentional—because as fatally flawed people, we are going to sin. That is why we must learn to forgive.
When there is no forgiveness, a root of bitterness begins to grow. And when a root of bitterness grows, it destroys that relationship. Hebrews 12:15 speaks of this destructive nature of bitterness: "Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled."
Today, society seems to exalt vengeance over forgiveness. We see many who live by the adage, "Don't get mad—get even!" Yet, harboring unforgiveness in your life can eat you up spiritually and even bring your spiritual growth to a standstill.
Unforgiveness is choosing to love hate. It produces bitterness, malignancy, anger, rage, anxiety, and depression. Simply put, it is sin. That is why Jesus included the need to forgive others in this prayer.
The Bible gives 75 different word pictures for forgiveness. Included among those:
- Forgiveness is like writing "canceled" over a debt.
- Forgiveness is like taking a piece of pottery that resembles something that someone has done to you and smashing it into a million pieces so that it can never be remembered again.
Three Reasons to Forgive
Since Jesus placed such an emphasis on forgiveness, you would think that forgiving others would easily be at the top of our list of priorities. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Pastor John MacArthur gives three reasons, or incentives, for forgiving others.
You are never more like God than when you forgive."Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, 'The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin . . ." (Exodus 34:6–7).
Do you want to know who God is? He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, full of lovingkindness, and full of truth. He also forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin. Our God is a forgiving God. God's forgiveness then requires our forgiveness of others. The Bible says, "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).
Remember, Jesus taught us to pray, "Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). What goes on in heaven? The worship of God, the lifting up of Christ, and the granting of forgiveness are all taking place in heaven right now. And that is what we should be doing here on earth.
Matthew 18:18 says, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." This verse means that if someone is sinning, and you confront that person about his sin, and he repents and you forgive him—heaven has already done that. You are just lining up with heaven. If he does not repent, however, he is bound in that sin—and heaven confirms that, as well.
You are literally bringing heaven down to earth when you forgive others.
It is only reasonable that those who are forgiven forgive.
Jesus was speaking on the topic of forgiveness when Peter asked, "'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven'" (Matthew 18:21–22).
Jesus then tells Peter the story of a man who had apparently refused to pay his taxes (see Matthew 18:23–35). He was a tax collector for the king, and he was supposed to collect a certain amount for the king, after which he was allowed to keep some money back for himself. But this man kept it all! As a result, he owed the king ten thousand talents. One writer said that would roughly equal the national gross income of Galilee. The king generously pardons him and completely forgives him of his debt.
This tax collector, however, fails to show the same kindness to his fellow man. He finds a man who owes him one hundred denarii (about three months wages), and demands payment of the debt. When the debtor pleads for mercy, he is thrown into prison. Upon hearing this, the king reverses his decision and throws the tax collector into prison until he has paid in full.
When we read this story, it is easy to point our finger at the tax collector. But we must take this lesson to heart. Jesus is saying that a forgiven person must forgive. It is only reasonable that if you have been forgiven a massive debt to God, you can forgive a small one for man.
God forgave you for your sins, an unpayable debt. Are you going to take all of the forgiveness of God and give none of your own?
Failure to forgive results in chastening."When his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses" (Matthew 18:31–35).
Jesus is clearly telling us that failure to forgive results in divine chastening. You will be tortured by your own bitterness and resentment and personal separation from fellowship with God because of your unconfessed sin.
In essence, when you choose not to forgive, you are usurping the authority of God. Not only are you disobeying Scripture, but you are taking the place of God Himself."Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:19–21).
We as Christians should never take revenge. In fact, instead of wanting revenge, we are to extend mercy and kindness.
Forgiveness is important in prayer (see also Matthew 5:23–24). Don't wait to forgive until you feel like doing it. Remember how much God has forgiven you and ask the Holy Spirit to help you take that first step towards forgiveness.
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"
"Lead us not into temptation" (Matthew 6:13) does not mean that God tempts His children, for it is not part of His character. "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed" (James 1:13–14).
In this petition, we are asking God to guide us so that we will not get out of His will and place ourselves in the way of temptation. In essence, we're saying, "Lord, don't let me be tempted above my capacity to resist."
A Litmus Test for Temptation
The problem with temptation is that we often fail to see it for what it is. We try to rationalize it. Other people's temptations look so ugly and foolish, while ours look so enticing and innocent. Then one day our little house-of-cards collapses, and we see our sin for what it is. Here is a little litmus test to apply when you are not sure if something is an enticement to evil:
First, pray about it and bring it into the clear light of the presence of God. Should you allow yourself to be in this potentially vulnerable situation? Jesus said, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).
Then, ask yourself the question, "How would this look if some other Christian gave into it?" If you saw your Christian friend doing this, how would you react?
Sin can hinder our prayers.
Why did Jesus place such an emphasis upon temptation? Because He understood that sin can hinder our prayers, making them fruitless and ineffective. That is why we need to recognize our sinful vulnerabilities and ask Him to keep us from the power of sin. We need God's help to make the right choices and to avoid those things or activities that could pull us away from Him.
As author and pastor John MacArthur notes in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, this part of the Lord's Prayer is "an appeal to God to place a watch over our eyes, our ears, our mouth, our feet, and our hands—that in whatever we see, hear, or say, and in any place we go and in anything we do, He will protect us from sin." It is laying claim to the promise that "God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Don't allow yourself to be lured into the temptation of sin.
Hindrances to Prayer
Prayer is one of the Christian's most powerful spiritual assets, yet some are missing out on its effectiveness. No, I am not merely speaking of some clever tactic of the devil that prevents our prayers from reaching God. There is a prayer killer on the loose, and we are the ones primarily responsible. Some of the things that we ourselves do—or fail to do—can make our prayers ineffective.
In studying how Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:5–13, we have seen that our prayers should include:
- First, a holy reverence as we approach a perfect God;
- Second, an appeal for God to extend His Kingdom in our lives as well as in the lives of others, and for His will to overrule our requests if they are out of line with His purposes;
- Third, a request for His daily provision in our lives;
- Fourth, a request for forgiveness of the sins we have committed, as well as the recognition of our obligation to forgive those who wrong us.
Now Jesus brings us to some potential hindrances to prayer in the final petitions of this model prayer in Matthew.Back to Top
Six Specific Sins That Can Hinder and Devastate Our Prayer Life
Selfishness"When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (James 4:3 NIV).
When we pray for God to use us, is it for His glory or your own? Whenever we pray with some hidden motive (e.g., praying for someone's salvation so that you can date that person), your prayer is canceled out, so to speak.
Having idols in our lives"Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?" (Ezekiel 14:3 NIV).
An idol is anything or anyone that takes the place of God in our lives. It is any object, idea, philosophy, habit, occupation, sport, or loyalty that to any degree decreases one's trust and loyalty to God.
British preacher Alan Redpath said, "Our god is the thing or person which we think most precious, for whom we would make the greatest sacrifice, and who moves our hearts with the warmest love. He is the person that if lost would leave us desolate." If God is not Lord of your life, your communication with Him will be less than it should be.
"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25). Forgiven people should be forgiving people. An unforgiving attitude is one of the most common hindrances to prayer.
"If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18). "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you" (Isaiah 59:2).
God cannot forgive the sin you will not confess. Perhaps you have some sin in your past that has remained unjudged and unconfessed. You may even be committing a sin right now that you do not think is a sin. We need to pray as the psalmist prayed, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23–24).
An improper relationship between a husband and a wife"Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7).
Three principles stand out in this verse.
- First, this is uniquely addressed to husbands. Men need to recognize their God-given responsibilities in the home. In far too many homes, the wife is the spiritual leader and initiator. Men need to be in that position.
- Second, men are to dwell with wives with understanding. To dwell means to "be aligned to." It means more than just simply living together.
- Third, men are to give honor to their wives. To honor means "to give maintenance to." Just as a car needs regular maintenance, and the wheels can get out of alignment, so a marriage needs to be constantly fine-tuned spiritually. Husbands need to make sure that they are meeting the needs of their wives. They need to continue to cleave to them (see Matthew 19:5). The man's full commitment must be to his wife (and vice versa). He should also see his wife as a companion (see Malachi 2:14). A companion is a person whom you are united with in thoughts, goals, plans and efforts.
When these three areas of marriage are properly maintained, your prayer life will be effective and unhindered.
A lack of faith"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:5–8).
There is no question that faith is a key element in effective prayer. On one occasion, we are told, "Jesus could do no mighty work there because of the unbelief of the people" (Mark 6:5).
Some have taken this to extremes, suggesting that an affirmative answer to prayer somehow depends upon our personal faith. Yet, how much faith did Lazarus have when Jesus raised him from the dead? How much faith did the early church show when Peter showed up at their door, freed from prison by an angel (Acts 12)? They didn't believe it could be true at first!
Yes, we need faith and should pray with as much faith as we have. But God can do a lot with a little—especially when we acknowledge our weaknesses. Remember the story of the man with the demon-possessed son (see Mark 9: 14–29). He came to ask Jesus to save the boy by casting out the evil spirit. Jesus said to him, "'If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.' Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help my unbelief'" (Mark 9:23–24). Jesus then answered that man's honest plea. God wants no less from us when we pray.
If you want your prayers to be powerful and effective, steer clear of the six hindrances that can destroy your prayer life. Then you will see that "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version™. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ™. NIV ™. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by biblical, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.