Teach Us To Pray
The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It is significant that they did not ask for instruction about preaching or even soul-winning; but they did ask Him to teach them to pray. Why? Because they saw what prayer meant in the Lord’s life, and they recognized their own needs.
Our living is only as good as our praying. No Christian rises higher than his prayer life. No matter what problems we face, if we know how to pray, then God has the solution. All the great saints of God in the Bible, and in church history, were men and women of prayer. The early church got its spiritual power from prayer. If you and I can improve our prayer life, and the prayer life of our church, then we will see God work in wonderful ways.
In this magnificent prayer [Ephesians 3:14-21], Paul suggests some questions we should ask ourselves as we examine our own praying.
Why Am I Praying?
“For this cause—” is the way he begins his prayer. For what cause? To answer that question, we must go back to the beginning of Ephesians 3 where Paul says, “for this cause” and then interrupts himself to explain his ministry to the Gentiles. In other words, the “cause” Paul is referring to is the truth he presents in chapter 2—the great doctrine of the church. Note the end of chapter 2—“In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
Why was Paul praying? He was praying because he wanted to be a part of the great work God is doing in this world, the work of building His church. Paul was not praying for physical or material blessings; he was praying because he wanted the church to experience spiritual blessings. He is burdened for God’s glory in the church, not his own personal needs.
So often, you and I pray because we have physical or material needs, and there is nothing wrong with this. But God meets these needs as they fit into His great plan of building the church. We must take care that our praying does not become selfish. We need to pray with our eyes on the great work God is doing—building His church.
How Am I Praying?
Notice how Paul prays: “…I bow my knees unto the Father…” He prayed as a son to a Father and as a servant to a master. Prayer is based on sonship. “If ye being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children,” said Jesus, “how much more shall your Father in heaven give good gifts to them that ask him?” We belong to God’s family and therefore can come to the Father in prayer.
But it takes more than sonship; it also takes fellowship. A disobedient son cannot expect much from his father. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” We must be obedient sons and obedient servants. We must come boldly, but humbly—bowing before the Father in submission to His will.
What is the correct posture for prayer? Abraham stood before the Lord when he interceded for Sodom. David sat before the Lord, and Solomon stood with his hands lifted to heaven. Our Lord fell on His face in the garden when He prayed. It is not so much the posture of the body as the soul that is important. In Ephesians, spiritual posture is important. Once we were “dead in trespasses and sins,” but then we trusted Christ and were raised from the dead and made to “sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Because we are seated with Him, we can “walk” (Ephesians 4:1) and “stand” (Ephesians 6:11)—but first we must bow the knees.We must be submissive to God’s will. Sit—bow—walk—stand: this is the proper posture for the believer who wants his prayers answered.
Robert Law says, “Prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven, but God’s will done on earth.” And Archbishop Trench reminds us that: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of His willingness.” If I pray as a loving son and an obedient servant, then God can hear and answer for His glory.
For What Am I Praying?
We must confess that most of our requests deal with the physical and the material. There is nothing wrong with asking God for daily bread, but keep in mind that “Hallowed by Thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” precedes that request. Paul is not praying for the outer man; he is praying for the inner man. Note the four requests he makes.
1. For spiritual strength. The inner man needs strength just as the outer man needs strength. They Holy Spirit of God gives us the inner power we need to do the will of God. It is wrong to ask for power if we use it selfishly; it is right to ask for power to serve for His glory. Phillips Brooks once said, “Do not ask for opportunities equal to your abilities; ask for abilities equal to your opportunities.” What a tremendous potential there is in each one of us because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God!
2. Depth—How shallow we are when we ought to be “digging deep” in our Christian life. There are three verbs in verse 17 that speak of depth: dwell, rooted, and grounded. The word dwell means “to settle down and feel at home.” Paul prays that Jesus Christ might not simply live in our hearts, but that He might feel at home there.This is a deeper relationship than salvation alone; it speaks of intimacy between us and the Lord.
The word rootedmakes us think of trees with their roots down deep into the soil. “And he shall be like a tree, planted by the rivers of water…” (Psalm 1:3). Groundedis an architectural term; it pictures the foundation on which the structure is built. The foundation is the most important part of the building. An architect once said to me: “If you don’t go down deep, you can’t go up high.”
There is a desperate need for spiritual depth in our lives, for a closer fellowship with Christ, for roots that go deep and foundations that are on the rock and not on the sand. I wonder how many of us pray for spiritual depth?
3. Appropriation (vss. 18–19). “That you may get your hand on the inexhaustible love of God!” This is what he is asking. It is not enough to know about God’s riches in Christ; we must get our hands on them and appropriate them for ourselves. Too many Christians, at that hour of need, fail to lay hold of God’s resources by faith. It is one thing to read about them, but quite something else to claim them by faith.
4. Fulness—“That ye might be filled unto all the fulness of God.” This means God’s character in our lives and God’s control over our lives. What a tragedy for a Christian to be empty! “And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16).
How we need to confess our sins: weakness, shallowness, poverty, emptiness! If only we will pray, God will give us strength, depth, riches, and fulness!
We have asked ourselves three questions: “Why am I praying? How am I praying? For what am I praying?” But the fourth question is the most difficult:
Am I Willing To Be Part Of The Answer?
There is no question that God has the power necessary to answer our prayers. He is able to “do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think”—but note that this power must work in us! “According to the power that worketh in you.” You and I must be available for God to use that our prayers might be answered.
Moses, caring for the sheep, prayed for his people in Egypt; and God called Moses to be their deliverer. Nehemiah wept when he heard that Jerusalem was in ruins, and he prayed for many days; and then God called himto go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. Moses and Nehemiah made themselves available to God, and God used them to answer their prayers.
As we pray, we ask God to work for us;but He wants to work inus andthroughus. His power works in us as we yield to Him. The Spirit works in us to pray and then to obey: we pray in the Spirit and we work in the Spirit. Jesus told His disciples to pray “the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers”—and then He called themto go out and help reap the harvest (Matthew 9:36-38 and 10:1-6). If I am unwilling to obey God as I pray, then He will not answer my prayer.
Like the disciples, we need to come to Christ and say, “Lord, teach us to pray.” We can spend a lifetime learning to pray! And the place to begin is with our own prayers, and honestly ask: Why am I praying? How am I praying? For what am I praying? Am I willing to be a part of the answer?