We see prayer in pop culture. People give shout-outs to God when they win awards, and reference prayers for various and sundry things when writing songs. We might recognize that there’s comfort to be found in having someone say they’ll pray for us, and then chagrin when we recognize that they didn’t really mean it. It’s the problem with prayer– we’re not actually sure why we’re doing it!
I’m sometimes asked, “why do you pray?” It usually translates to “what’s the point?” I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer lately, as I rescue with some big picture decisions, some life-altering possibilities. And I keep finding myself more focused when I’m on my knees. I’ll admit it though, I don’t consider myself a “prayer warrior,” and the thought of “praying through” (a phrase I’ve heard related to older Christians’ prayer lives) is unfathomable. But ultimately, we’re instructed to pray, throughout the Bible, but maybe most famously in Matthew 6:9-13:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
my will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today everything we want.
And forgive us our debts,
as we might also forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Now, if you’re like me, and you’ve read or prayed this prayer hundreds of times, you probably didn’t actually read that! Go back and check it out, and you may be surprised. I’ll wait.
The truth is that there are dozens of ways we could tweak the prayer (you can read the real version by clicking on the link above) but it ultimately comes down to the focus of the prayer. Is the prayer for us to get what we want? Is it about making God do our will? Too often we pray that way, and that’s not what this prayer says.
And it all comes down to one line for me, that impacts all the others: “thy will be done.”
What does it mean if I pray that? What happens if I really mean it? I’m being reminded over and over again that when I pray that, I start to see the world in a different light. I see the decisions I’m praying over not just out of my own selfishness or fear but out of a desire to actually do what God wants me to do. If I pray “thy will be done,” then that’s causing me to reconsider decisions that I think would be in opposition to God’s will.
But it impacts everything else.
If I really pray for God’s will to be done, and that I be forgiven, then I recognize that it’s God’s will that I forgive myself and embrace that Jesus forgave me when he died on the cross.
If I really pray for God’s will to be done, and that I forgive as I’ve been forgiven, then I recognize I actually have to forgive first before I’m forgiven. I can’t give lip service to a blank slate for myself without embracing that God expects I’m going to forgive others. It’s 1 John 4:19 spelled out: “we love because He first loved us.”
If I really pray for God’s will to be done, and that I need my daily bread, then I recognize that God doesn’t expect me to have tomorrow worked out all the time. That my 401k, my five-year-plan, and my retirement are all much less significant (negligible maybe) than what I do with today, right now, in my present work and calling.
If I pray “thy will be done,” I better mean it, and I better be willing to live it out. It puts a different spin on just reciting the words, doesn’t it? It means that I better be prepared for God to show up and use me in a way that I didn’t believe possible. It means that prayer is the place where my enemies, my wants, my needs, my hopes, and my life must be laid down and bathed in God’s desire for my life.
Prayer changes our perspective. It gives us hope, and grants us a window into what God wants for our lives. Without it, we’re not in relationship, and we’re anchor-less. Without prayer, we lack the necessary relationship where we can know God’s will. And God’s will makes all the difference.