The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Prayer School – Part Two
This then is how you should pray:
Our father in heaven, [Matthew 6:9a]
The opening line of the Lord’s Prayer makes it crystal clear that prayer is not to be done in a narcissistic manner. The very first word of the prayer points to and acknowledges the fact that the spiritual life is not a life of isolation but a life that must be lived out in community.
When we pray to God as our father we are simultaneously acknowledging that He is my father, your father and the father of all who call upon His name. It is at this point, after we have spent time in meditation preparing our hearts for prayer and getting close to God that we begin by recognizing His sovereignty over our lives, the lives of the people in our community and the lives of all those who call Him father.
When we begin our prayer this way there are three phases to these opening moments.
Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing me.
Around the beginning of this century, as the tech bubble burst, the phrase Ponzi Scheme hit mainstream media and was used to describe the world’s largest energy conglomerate and terrorists flew airplanes into two of the world’s tallest office towers, there was a movement within some religious circles to re-examine an obscure prayer from deep inside the genealogical records of Israel. The prayer of Jabez, as it is known, appears in 1 Chronicles 4:10:
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
I first learned of this prayer and this movement at a particularly low point in my life. By praying specifically for God to bless me, enlarge my territory, (which in modern terms would be to pray for prosperity), for protection and comfort, my mind was also drawn to instances when God was already doing this for me.
It’s okay to pray for your needs. It’s even okay to pray for the desires of your heart. God granted Jabez his request because he asked. Some commentators have also suggested that the last line in the Hebrew suggests that not only will Jabez be free from experiencing pain but also from causing pain to anyone else. Therefore; God granted his request because it contained some other centeredness.
Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing them.
The term intercessory prayer is used to describe a prayer meant to intercede in the lives of others. When you say to someone in your community that you will pray for them what you are really saying is that you will leverage your time in conversation with God to intercede on their behalf.
I always begin this portion of pray by thanking God for bringing certain people into my life and for the blessing that they have been to me. I then ask specifically for the fulfillment of whatever needs they have, those that they have brought to my attention and those that they have kept private.
Jesus modeled this for us in John 17:6-26 when he prayed for his disciples. He begins by thanking the father for them.
Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. [John 17:6]
He then goes on to describe the troubles they will experience because of him and requests that God give them protection and strength.
Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. [John 17:11b]
By turning my focus outward, to my community I become both thankful for the intimacy of my interpersonal relationships and aware of my role in the lives of others. I am now ready for the last phase of the opening of my prayer time.
Our father in heaven, thank you for blessing us.
The world-wide community of believers is a family. God is our spiritual father and through our relationship to Him are all connected. It is through this familial connection that I can thank God for the blessings in your life and intercede on your behalf, even when I don’t know you personally or have any knowledge of your specific needs.
Jesus modeled this too in John 17 when he prayed:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, [John 17:20-21a]
This also sets us up for a deeper prayer for God’s heavenly kingdom which comes later. For now I simply pray thankfully for the world-wide community of believers and ask for blessing and intercession into the lives of my brothers and sisters whom I may never meet. I pray for their safety, their health, their prosperity and the impact of their ministries on their local communities.
So here in the opening phrase of The Lord’s Prayer we have thanked God for all that he has already given us, requested blessing and provision in our lives, thanked God for the people he has brought into our circle and interceded for their needs and thanked God for the world-wide family of believers and interceded for the needs of those half a world away whom we my never meet but with whom we share a connection few outside the faith will ever comprehend.