Friday, March 29, 2013

After This Manner Pray Ye

When I was writing my series on John 15, it struck me how important prayer was to our Lord, particularly in His final days on earth.  And, if prayer is that important to God, it ought to be just as important to us.

To start off, I’m going to go out on one of those spiritual limbs to create our foundation for this discussion.  I often hear people complain loudly about “religion”, ritual performed to supposedly please God.  In reality, it’s not the ritual that’s at fault, but the human heart that places the ritual in greater importance than the heart of the God it’s intended to worship.  When we look at the content of the prayer Jesus used to teach His disciples how to pray, that becomes obvious.

Matthew 6:9 (KJV)  After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
 
God is our heavenly Father, the Creator of all things.  His name is to be considered holy, sanctified, consecrated.  God is both different from and superior to the things of this life.
 
Matthew 6:10 (KJV)  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
 
We look forward to God’s rule or reign over all things in our lives.  We want His will, not ours.  And we know that’s already being experienced in heaven.  Now, we want it evidenced, here on earth.
 
Matthew 6:11 (KJV)  Give us this day our daily bread.
 
We know, Lord that You meet our spiritual needs, but we’re asking You to make sure our physical necessities are also met.
 
Matthew 6:12 (KJV)  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
 
That debt isn’t money or goods owed, it’s our sins against God and the grace given to allow us the maximum amount of time to get right with God.  We need our sins forgiven and our relationship with Him healed, but we should recognize that our own unforgiveness is itself a stumbling block to that.  Think of the parable of the servant forgiven a huge debt, who then refused to forgive a much smaller debt owed him.  The result was that the servant lost the forgiveness given him.  Our choices effect our experiences – ours and those around us.
 
Matthew 6:13 (KJV)  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
 
The first part is more literally “don’t allow us to be in a place to choose wrong, ungodly thinking”.  The next phrase asks God to rescue us from our normal ultimate, diseased, degenerate state of thinking that not only separates us from God, but even draws us further and further away.  “Save us from our own natural thinking, Lord.”  The last part again recognizes God’s glory, His power, His right to be in control of everything.  And, because of that, it’s valid to ask all the things in the preceding part of the prayer.
 
As we look at that, there’s no harm in repeating it word for word, as long as what is in our mind and soul is the intent of the prayer, not just mouthed words.  That prayer was important enough to God that it’s repeated again in Luke.  With that in mind, let’s go to Matthew 26, the garden of Gethsemane.

Matthew 26:36-37 (KJV)  Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.  And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
 
If we don’t pay attention, we mistake Jesus’ later exhortations (in parallel passages) as being for the disciples.  But really most of them were left away from where Jesus prayed.  He included only Peter and James and John (Mark 10:35), an “inner circle”.  And, as He thought about what was to come, Jesus grew sadder.
 
In verse 38, Jesus tells the three that He’s growing sadder and asks them to be vigilant and watchful with Him.  We know they weren’t awake, as they’d been asked to be.  With all we know of the power of prayer, I can’t help wondering what might have transpired if they had been awake and lifted Jesus up in prayer at this time.
 
It’s here in the garden that Jesus asks for “the cup” to be removed.  In Matthew 26:42 we read, “He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.”.  We don’t know if Jesus had set aside His Godly powers, at this point.  Certainly, human fear could cause Jesus to want to have His trials end here.  But He also acknowledges (like in the prayer He taught the disciples) the Father’s claim to His obedience.  On that basis, when we look at the greater detail in parallel passages, it becomes far more likely that Jesus is actually asking for rescue from the demonic attack in the garden, intended to get Jesus to ignore the plan for man’s salvation.
 
When we look at Jesus in the garden, He takes on the beginning of the result of our debts, He forgives our debts.  And, as throughout His life, Jesus honors the Father’s sanctity, holiness, authority.  When we get to the Cross, there’s more.
 
Luke 23:34 (KJV)  Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
 
Once again, there’s Jesus thinking of us before Himself.  As in the prayer He taught the disciples, Jesus indicates by His words that He’s forgiven us (and especially those involved in the crucifixion) and asks the Father to forgive, as well.  It makes me think of the cities of refuge, a haven of forgiveness from the consequences of the unknowing killing of Jesus.  Jesus’ prayer, in His dying moments, is for men’s spiritual forgiveness and protection.
 
The conversation that we call prayer is OK for our own needs.  We’re never guaranteed how the details of the plan of God will go.  Jesus showed by example that it’s alright to ask for our needs to be met.  But there are two aspects of prayer more important than our needs.  Our recognition of who God is and our relationship with Him is one.  Our relationship with others is the second.  And prayer is so important that Jesus continued, even in His last hours on the Cross.  Can we do any less and still consider ourselves Christians?

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