We opened our discussion on prayer by asking what is the purpose of prayer? Why do we even do it? God certainly knows us and loves us and already knows what we need, so what’s the point? Some mentioned the need to bring our needs to Him regardless of his pre-existing knowledge of our needs. Others emphasized the call to praise God. These, however, are mostly the ‘what’s’ of prayer not the whys. The answer lays in the fact that the essence of prayer is so we can engage in a true relationship with God. The analogy was made to our gathering 30 minutes before the start of our study each month. Why do we come ‘early’. Its so we can spend time catching up with each other and this enriches our relationships. The same with prayer. Spending time in prayer is the opportunity to develop and enrich our relationship with our heavenly father.
We then read the passage for this evening from Matthew 6:5-14 which consists of Jesus’ instruction on how to pray. We discussed Jesus’ first instruction which was to spend time in prayer in private. We talked about why this is important. The lack of distractions was mentioned as well as the quite time which was felt to be an essential part of time with the Lord. It was stated that prayer is a conversation between two beings – ourselves and the Lord. For a conversation to occur both have to converse. The meditative, or quite portion, of our prayer time gives the Holy Spirit the time to speak and us to hear Him. This kind of quite time often does not happen when we pray in groups or in public. The other aspect of praying in private is there are no mixed motives to our prayers. Unfortunately, sometimes in public prayer some might take the opportunity to be haughty or prideful in how they pray or what they say. This is mentioned by Jesus in Vs 5 as he warns against being like the hypocrites who pray “so that they can be seen by all men.”
The second instruction from Jesus is to avoid babbling on and on. We discussed what this refers to. It was emphasized that it is not important what words we use or how well we can express ourselves. Some mentioned that trying to cover every possible prayer need can actually distract us from the things that are truly closest to our heart. Some of the group mentioned how sometimes people can feel inadequate in their “praying ability” and therefore hesitate to pray in groups. It was pointed out that we need to keep mindful that the focus and center of our prayer time needs to be on God and not on ourselves. Having the right focus takes a lot of the anxiety out of these situations.
We then moved on to cover Jesus’ instruction on how to pray using the Lord’s prayer in Vs 9-13. We discussed that we are instructed to start prayer with praise of the Father. This focuses our prayer on where it belongs – on God and not on ourselves or our needs. We then discussed the implications of wanting God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done. This attitude places us in a posture of surrender and acknowledges the vast gap between us and God as to control and understanding. We are going to come to God with our wishes and desires but his perspective of our situation is so much different than ours that we need to be willing to accept his will be done in all things. We also need to remember that the purpose of prayer is not to change God’s mind. He already knows what he will do and why. One of the primary purposes of prayer is to change us. To draw us closer to God so that we can be in alignment with his plan and his desires. We will then ask for things he already desires to give us. In verses 11-13 Jesus instructs us to ask for three things, our daily bread, forgiveness and aid in avoiding temptation. We discussed why it is important that Jesus says to ask for “daily” bread. It was mentioned that this harkens back to the Israelites living off manna in the desert. But it also guides us in the importance of relying on God daily for what we need. Latter in this same chapter (vs 34), Jesus warns against worrying about tomorrow and all its needs. Making a habit of daily prayer allows us to ask God for just what we need for today. It was obvious to all why we must always ask for forgiveness. We all continually back slide in our devotion and commitments to God. But we also mentioned that God has already forgiven all we do by dying on the cross for us. We have to accept this forgiveness and not continue to live under the power of sin. We also must forgive others and not hold onto our grudges. The last instruction is to ask for help in avoiding temptation. This is again a constant battle to remain in a state of grace. We acknowledged that we live with spiritual battles all around us (as in Eph 6:12) and we need the power of the Holy Spirit at all times.
We closed our discussion with asking how being aligned with God and having a right relationship with him impacts our acceptance of God’s answers to our requests. It was stated that being mindful and accepting that God is God and we are not is a key to dealing with situations in which the answers to our prayers are ‘no’ or ‘not yet’. The old quandary as to why do bad things happen to the good people that we know in our lives is often an unanswerable one. It is where our faith that God is on his throne and in charge is the only answer we can give.