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The Privilege

“What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear… What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear… All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.”

(Partial lyrics from an 1855 hymn entitled “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” written by Joseph M. Scriven)

My grandmother Bradshaw was someone our family and friends considered to be a “prayer warrior”. This sweet little old Avon lady with crippling arthritis did spiritual battle every morning from her floral tapestry couch. She did not simply give God a nod in the morning but instead dedicated two hours of in-depth time spent in the study of God’s Word and then communed with Him in prayer. Once she was done, she ambled around her little cottage in Fair Haven, NJ doing chores and phoning her customers to not only sell make-up and perfume, but to also care for them through conversation and taking their concerns to the Lord in prayer. Lillian “Lil” Bradshaw daily lived out the wisdom of her favorite hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.

When the disciples observed Jesus’s habit of pursuing prayer as a daily, intentional communion with His Heavenly Father, they asked Him to teach them HOW to pray. Jesus starts out by answering how NOT to pray (Matthew 6:5-8). He instructed them to avoid praying like “the hypocrites”, referring to the hypocrisy and pride that had entered Jewish prayer customs.

In the Old Testament Jewish tradition, the Jews had given a prominent place to prayer, with set times and established prayers for the purpose of honoring God and keeping their focus, gratitude, and faith on Him. Over time they lost the original perspective and their prayers had become a religiosity – not a real connection to the Lord or communication with Him. It had become an opportunity for “religious” leaders to put on a show that drew attention to themselves. Today we don’t often see people praying like these pharisees, but we can still struggle with a self-centered mindset in prayer. I think what I observe in our culture is more of a demand that God answer our prayers in the manner we specify.

However, God is not to be summoned like a genie. We cannot demand that He grant us our wishes, no matter how good (by our standards) those wishes are. If we approach prayer like putting in an order at a drive-thru restaurant, expecting we’ll get exactly what we ordered, we have a very transactional mindset that will backfire, causing us to become disillusioned with God’s power or benevolence.

In contrast to the self-centered types of prayers, Jesus gives the disciples (and us) what is now referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”. He offers a masterful consolidation of the main themes of what Old Testament Jewish prayers used to consist of before the religious leaders got so far off track. This patterned outline is for us to put our own personalization into, rather than to be a specific prayer to memorize and repeat over and over. Jesus gives us a framework to build on for our infinitely unique prayers.

Matthew 6: 9 – 13 (NAS version) “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil. {For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.}”

This prayer pattern has been studied, preached on, and written about over the years with great detail and insight, but my purpose in this article is not to dissect and examine the mechanics of the Lord’s prayer. Personally, I want to check myself against Jesus’s instructions to not become like those who approach prayer for personal gain with their vain, self-centered, and hypocritical prayers. I want to pursue the Lord in a way that is relational rather than transactional, and in a way that keeps my faith based on an accurate view of who God says He is and who He says I am, rather than on my life circumstances.

To me, prayer is the purposeful coming into the acknowledgment of God’s presence, character, and power. Prayer is a workspace for us to assemble our thoughts, beliefs, questions, and emotions in order to seek out his mind and heart. It’s also a canvas for us to paint our praise for Him in the way that is most fitting for our personality and temperament. Through authentic prayer we can offer God the core of who we are and can also access His forgiveness, power, wisdom, courage, provision, protection, and guidance in abundance.

We can establish a relational mindset by seeking an understanding of God’s eternal qualities while offering our truest self to Him. Relational faith is one that listens for God to communicate with us rather than just listing requests as if we are sitting on Santa’s lap at Christmas. Relational faith asks for His will to be done. We wonder and ask for what HE wants…rather than offering the solution to our problem that He needs to carry out.

God desires for us to come to Him like children coming to a trusted parent. The ‘Heavenly Father’ concept was introduced in the New Testament by Jesus (as shown at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer). When we see Him as the kind, just, powerful creator who loves us deeply and desires unbroken fellowship and communion with us, we realize that prayer is much more than the checklist of things we need from God. We will confidently expect God to answer based on His perfect wisdom and love, not demanding that He respond like a genie, but rather as the God who sees not just the here and now, but also into eternity. We can trust that He has our good in mind no matter how He answers.

My desire is to learn to pray in a more relational style, relating to Jesus as my Faithful Friend, who bears all my grief, sorrow, and sins, and rejoices with me when I experience joy and goodness in life. He is the one who walks beside me throughout my life. No one person can walk the entire route with me other than Him.

I want to view prayer as the privilege that it is…not a duty, not a transaction, and not a means to demand my way disguised as a request. I want to view prayer as unbroken fellowship with my Savior, aligning my heart with His throughout my life.

Lord, please teach us to pray in meaningful ways that draw us closer to you, grow our faith, and honor your Holy Name. Amen.

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