Introducing The Lord’s Prayer: Who Can Pray?
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
One of my fondest memories from my youth is of my parents taking my sister and me down to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf to buy fresh live Dungeness crab from one of the outdoor crab markets. I love the taste of Dungeness crab. Unfortunately, Dungeness crab is not easily obtainable or affordable here in Iowa. On the other hand, imitation crab – a processed fish product shaped and colored to look like crab meat – is cheap and easy to find at the local grocery store and on many restaurant menus (sans the word “imitation”).
If you have never eaten authentic fresh crab meat, then imitation crab meat might fool you or at least appear as a reasonable substitute. But if you ever are fortunate enough to experience the taste of fresh crab meat, then you may decide you can no longer suffer the imitation. Often, one can only discover what is lacking in the imitation by finding (or tasting) what is present in the authentic.
So it is with prayer. Anyone can make up a prayer to a god or an idol, using words that sound pious and religious, and with sincerity and apparent spirituality; but such prayers are empty imitations because they are not commanded or heard by or pleasing to the one God who created the Universe. True prayer, by contrast, is communion with that God. In Matthew Chapter 6 and Luke Chapter 11, Jesus taught his disciples not only how to pray to God, but also how to distinguish true prayer from the empty imitation. Therefore, before we begin our meditations on The Lord’s Prayer, let us first review two important issues regarding prayer, which will help us to distinguish true prayer from the empty imitation:
(1) Who can pray? and
(2) What is prayer?
Having this background in mind will magnify our understanding of the wisdom behind The Lord’s Prayer.
(1) Who can pray?
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1a)
All true prayer must conform to the first two Commandments of the Decalogue: (1) “You shall have no other gods” (Deut 5:7); and (2) “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Deut 5:11). What this means, first and foremost, is that there is only one worthy recipient of true prayer: God who has revealed himself to us through the inspired writings of the Holy Bible.
Prayer involves the entire Triune God. Christians pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to pray to God, one must be a Christian. Similarly, a Christian, in fidelity to the first two Commandments, would not join in a prayer proffered by a non-Christian. This may sound harsh, narrow-minded or intolerant by religious pluralists and secularists. However, only Christians have a prayer-enabling relationship with God.
Before anyone can pray, the Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel, must first engender faith in an individual’s heart that God has forgiven all his or her sins because Jesus took them all upon himself and into death on a cross to redeem the Christian for adoption into God’s family. Faith then receives God’s peace, grace and mercy, enabling the Christian to approach God in prayer, as a trusting child approaches his or her loving father, as Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans: “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom 8:15)
We should note, before moving on, that Christians do not have the Spirit of adoption on the basis of their own worthiness or merit. Their relationship with God is a pure act of grace, a gift from God made possible entirely by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To attribute any worthiness or merit to oneself would signify the absence of the Spirit of adoption in that person, because such an attitude would be a rejection of God’s grace and of Jesus’ sacrifice.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:14-16)
Jesus is not only our Redeemer and Lord; He is also our High Priest who intercedes for us and sanctifies our prayers before the Father. Jesus’ intercession on our behalf with regard to our prayers is very important because our own thoughts and desires are disordered by sin. Left on our own, we might ask for things which are harmful to us or others, or fail to ask for the very things we actually need. Therefore, Jesus intercedes for us even in our prayers so that we should never worry about our own unworthiness to pray, or making an imperfect prayer or asking for the wrong things. Simply put, we are to draw near the throne of grace with confidence that the Father both hears and answers our prayers for our good because Jesus is always interceding on our behalf.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” (John 16:23b)
Jesus also gives us His name in which to pray. This reinforces our family relationship with God and signifies Jesus’ promise to us that that the Father will hear our prayers with the same affection as if spoken from the lips of Jesus himself. Only a Christian can pray in the name of Jesus, and only prayer which is sanctified by Jesus will be heard by and pleasing to the Father. Praying in the name of Jesus encourages us to call upon the Father in full confidence, at all times and for all our needs.
“Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Heb 13:15) Amen.
Next week, we will review the second background question: What is prayer?
Copyright © 2016 Jean Dragon – All rights reserved.