“Teach Us How to Pray”
“A certain one of his disciples said to him: ‘Lord, teach us how to pray.’”—LUKE 11:1.
1-3. (a) Why did Jesus’ disciples seek instruction on prayer? (b) What questions about prayer arise?
SOME people are gifted with a fine singing voice. Others have natural talent as musicians. But to reach their highest potential, even these singers and instrumentalists need instruction. It is similar with prayer. The disciples of Jesus Christ came to realize that they needed instruction if God was to hear their prayers.
2 Jesus usually went to his Father privately in prayer, as he did for an entire night before choosing the 12 apostles. (Luke 6:12-16) Though he also urged his disciples to pray privately, they heard him say public prayers and observed that he was not like the religious hypocrites who prayed to be seen by men. (Matthew 6:5, 6) Logically, then, Jesus’ followers desired his advanced instruction on prayer. Thus, we read: “Now on the occasion of his being in a certain place praying, when he stopped, a certain one of his disciples said to him: ‘Lord, teach us how to pray, just as John [the Baptizer] also taught his disciples.’”—Luke 11:1.
3 How did Jesus respond? What can we learn from his example? And how can we benefit from his instruction on prayer?
Lessons for Us
4. Why should we “pray incessantly,” and what does it mean to do so?
4 We can learn much from Jesus’ words and example as a man of prayer. One lesson is that if God’s perfect Son needed to pray regularly, his imperfect disciples have a much greater need to look to God continually for guidance, comfort, and spiritual sustenance. Therefore, we should “pray incessantly.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Of course, this does not mean that we must always be literally on our knees. Rather, we should constantly have a prayerful attitude. We should look to God for guidance in all aspects of life so that we can act with insight and always have his approval.—Proverbs 15:24.
5. What may encroach on the time we should devote to prayer, and what should we do about this?
5 In these “last days,” many things can encroach on the time we should spend in prayer. (2 Timothy 3:1) But if domestic worries, business cares, and the like are interfering with regular prayer to our heavenly Father, we are too weighed down with the concerns of this life. Such a situation ought to be corrected without delay, for failure to pray leads to loss of faith. Either we should reduce our secular obligations or counterbalance the cares of life with more earnest and repeated turning of our heart to God for guidance. We should “be vigilant with a view to prayers.”—1 Peter 4:7.
6. What prayer will we now study, and with what objective?
6 In what has been called the model prayer, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, not exactly what to say. Luke’s account differs somewhat from that of Matthew because different occasions were involved. We will study this prayer as a sample of the nature of our prayers as Jesus’ followers and Witnesses of Jehovah.
Our Father and His Name
7. Who are privileged to address Jehovah as “our Father”?
7 “Our Father in the heavens.” (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2) Since Jehovah is mankind’s Creator and dwells in the heavenly realm, it is proper to address him as “our Father in the heavens.” (1 Kings 8:49; Acts 17:24, 28) Use of the term “our” acknowledges that others too have a close relationship with God. But who have the unrestricted privilege of addressing him as their Father? Only dedicated, baptized individuals in his family of worshipers. Calling Jehovah “our Father” indicates that we have faith in God and realize that the only basis for reconciliation with him is full acceptance of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.—Hebrews 4:14-16; 11:6.
8. Why should we yearn to spend time in prayer to Jehovah?
8 How close we should feel to our heavenly Father! As children who never tire of going to their father, we should long to spend time in prayer to God. Deep gratitude for his spiritual and material blessings should move us to thank him for his goodness. We should feel inclined to carry to him the burdens that weigh us down, being confident that he will sustain us. (Psalm 55:22) We can be sure that if we are faithful, everything will ultimately work out well because he cares for us.—1 Peter 5:6, 7.
9. A prayer for the sanctification of God’s name is a request for what?
9 “Let your name be sanctified.” (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2) The word “name” sometimes denotes the person himself, and “to sanctify” means “to make holy, set apart or hold as sacred.” (Compare Revelation 3:4.) In effect, then, a prayer for the sanctification of God’s name is a request that Jehovah act to sanctify himself. How? By clearing away all the reproach ever heaped on his name. (Psalm 135:13) To that end, God will remove wickedness, magnify himself, and make the nations know that he is Jehovah. (Ezekiel 36:23; 38:23) If we yearn to see that day and really appreciate Jehovah’s majesty, we will always approach him in the reverent spirit implied by the words “let your name be sanctified.”
God’s Kingdom and His Will
10. What is meant when we pray for God’s Kingdom to come?
10 “Let your kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2) The Kingdom here meant is the sovereign rulership of Jehovah, as expressed through the heavenly Messianic government in the hands of Jesus Christ and his associated “holy ones.” (Daniel 7:13, 14, 18, 27; Isaiah 9:6, 7; 11:1-5) What is meant by praying for it to “come”? This means that we ask that God’s Kingdom come against all earthly opposers of divine rulership. After the Kingdom ‘crushes and puts an end to all earthly kingdoms,’ it will transform the earth into a global paradise.—Daniel 2:44; Luke 23:43.
11. If we long to see Jehovah’s will done throughout the universe, what will we do?
11 “Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:10) This is a request that God carry out his purpose toward the earth, which includes removing his enemies. (Psalm 83:9-18; 135:6-10) In fact, it implies that we long to see the divine will done throughout the universe. If that is in our heart, we will always do Jehovah’s will to the best of our ability. We could not honestly make such a petition if we did not earnestly endeavor to have God’s will done in our own case. If we are praying in this way, then, we should make sure that we do not do things contrary to that will, such as courting an unbeliever or adopting worldly ways. (1 Corinthians 7:39; 1 John 2:15-17) Rather, we should always have in mind the thought, ‘What is Jehovah’s will in this matter?’ Yes, if we love God with all our heart, we will seek his direction in all of life’s affairs.—Matthew 22:37.
Our Daily Bread
12. Requesting only ‘daily bread’ has what good effect on us?
12 “Give us today our bread for this day.” (Matthew 6:11) Luke’s account reads: “Give us our bread for the day according to the day’s requirement.” (Luke 11:3) Asking God to provide necessary food “for this day” promotes faith in his ability to care for our needs from day to day. The Israelites were to gather manna “each his amount day for day,” not for a week or more. (Exodus 16:4) This is not a prayer for delicacies and superabundant provisions but for our daily needs as they arise. Requesting only daily bread also helps us not to become greedy.—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10.
13. (a) In a broad sense, what is meant by asking for daily bread? (b) What should be our attitude, even if we work hard and barely have enough to subsist on?
13 In a broad sense, asking for daily bread indicates that we do not feel independent but constantly look to God for food, drink, clothing, and other necessities. As dedicated members of his family of worshipers, we trust our Father but do not sit idly by waiting for him to provide for us miraculously. We work and use whatever means are at our disposal to obtain food and other necessities. Yet, we rightly thank God in prayer because we see behind these provisions the love, wisdom, and power of our heavenly Father. (Acts 14:15-17; compare Luke 22:19.) Our diligence may result in prosperity. But even if we work hard and barely have enough, let us be grateful and content. (Philippians 4:12; 1 Timothy 6:6-8) In fact, a godly person with common fare and attire may be much happier than some who are materially prosperous. So even if we have little because of circumstances beyond our control, let us not become downhearted. We can still be rich spiritually. Indeed, we need not be impoverished in faith, hope, and love for Jehovah, to whom our praise and thanks ascend in heartfelt prayer.
Forgiving Our Debts
14. For what debts do we ask forgiveness, and what does God apply to them?
14 “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) Luke’s account shows that those debts are sins. (Luke 11:4) Inherited sinfulness prevents us from doing all things according to our Father’s perfect will. In a sense, therefore, these shortcomings have been our debts, or obligations to God, since we started ‘living and walking by spirit.’ (Galatians 5:16-25; compare Romans 7:21-25.) We have these debts because we are imperfect and cannot now fully measure up to God’s standards. It is for the forgiveness of these sins that we are privileged to pray. Happily, God can apply the merit of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice to these debts, or sins.—Romans 5:8; 6:23.
15. What attitude should we have toward needed discipline?
15 If we expect God to forgive our debts, or sins, we must be repentant and willing to receive discipline. (Proverbs 28:13; Acts 3:19) Because Jehovah loves us, he gives us the discipline we need personally so that we can correct our weaknesses. (Proverbs 6:23; Hebrews 12:4-6) We can be happy, of course, if growth in faith and knowledge finds our heart so fully in accord with God’s laws and principles that we never transgress with any measure of willfulness. But what if we discern some willfulness in our wrongdoing? Then we should be deeply pained and ought to pray earnestly for forgiveness. (Hebrews 10:26-31) Applying counsel we have received, we should correct our course quickly.
16. Why is it beneficial to keep asking God to forgive our sins?
16 Regularly asking God to forgive our sins is beneficial. Doing this keeps our sinfulness before us and ought to have a humbling effect. (Psalm 51:3, 4, 7) We need to have our heavenly Father “forgive us our sins and . . . cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8, 9) Moreover, mentioning our sins in prayer helps us to keep putting up a hard fight against them. Thus we are also continually reminded of our need for the ransom and the merit of Jesus’ shed blood.—1 John 2:1, 2; Revelation 7:9, 14.
17. How does praying for forgiveness assist us in our relationship with others?
17 Praying for forgiveness also assists us to be merciful, compassionate, and generous toward those who may be our debtors in matters great and small. Luke’s account says: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone that is in debt to us.” (Luke 11:4) In fact, we may attain forgiveness from God only if we already “have forgiven our debtors,” persons sinning against us. (Matthew 6:12; Mark 11:25) Jesus added: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14, 15) Praying for forgiveness of our sins should move us to put up with others and forgive them. The apostle Paul wrote: “Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.”—Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32.
Temptation and the Wicked One
18. Why should we never blame God for our temptations and trials?
18 “And do not bring us into temptation.” (Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4) These words do not imply that Jehovah tempts us to commit sin. The Scriptures sometimes speak of God’s doing or causing things that he merely permits. (Ruth 1:20, 21; compare Ecclesiastes 11:5.) But “with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone,” wrote the disciple James. (James 1:13) Therefore, let us never blame our heavenly Father for temptations and trials with evil things, for Satan is the Tempter who tries to maneuver us into sinning against God.—Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5.
19. How might we pray with regard to temptation?
19 By the request, “Do not bring us into temptation,” we in effect ask Jehovah not to allow us to succumb when tempted or pressured to disobey him. We can entreat our Father to guide our steps so that no temptation will come our way that is too severe for us. In this regard, Paul wrote: “No temptation has taken you except what is common to men. But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) We can pray that Jehovah lead us so that we are not tempted beyond what we can bear and that he provide a way of escape when we are sorely distressed. Temptations are from the Devil, our sinful flesh, and the weaknesses of others, but our loving Father can guide us so that we are not overwhelmed.
20. Why pray for deliverance from “the wicked one”?
20 “But deliver us from the wicked one.” (Matthew 6:13) God surely can prevent Satan, “the wicked one,” from overcoming us. (2 Peter 2:9) And never has there been a greater need for deliverance from the Devil than now, for ‘he has great anger, knowing his time is short.’ (Revelation 12:12) We are not ignorant of Satan’s designs, but neither is he unaware of our weaknesses. Hence, we need to pray that Jehovah keep us from the clutches of the lionlike Adversary. (2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8, 9; compare Psalm 141:8, 9.) For instance, if we are interested in getting married, we may need to ask Jehovah to deliver us from Satan’s designs and from temptation to cultivate worldly relationships that can lead to immorality or to disobeying God by marrying an unbeliever. (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 7:39) Do we yearn for wealth? Then prayer may be needed to help us resist temptations to gamble or practice fraud. Eager to destroy our relationship with Jehovah, Satan will use any weapon in his arsenal of temptations. So may we continually pray to our heavenly Father, who never abandons the righteous to temptation and who provides deliverance from the wicked one.
Prayer Builds Faith and Hope
21. How have we benefited from praying for the Kingdom?
21 Our heavenly Father, who delivers us from the wicked one, delights in blessing us abundantly. Yet, why has he for such a long time allowed his dear people to pray, “Let your kingdom come”? Well, over the years, praying in this way has increased our desire and appreciation for the Kingdom. Such prayer reminds us of the great need for this benevolent heavenly government. It also keeps before us the hope of life under Kingdom rule.—Revelation 21:1-5.
22. What should be our continuing attitude toward prayer to our heavenly Father, Jehovah?
22 Prayer unquestionably builds faith in Jehovah. Our bond with him is strengthened when he answers our prayers. Therefore, let us never tire of turning to him daily with praise, thanksgiving, and supplication. And may we be grateful for Jesus’ helpful response to his followers’ request: “Lord, teach us how to pray.”
Do You Recall?
□ What lessons can we learn from Jesus’ words and example as a man of prayer?
□ For what should we pray regarding our heavenly Father and his name?
□ What are we requesting when we pray for God’s Kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth?
□ We are asking for what when praying for our daily bread?
□ What is meant when we pray for forgiveness of our debts?
□ Why is it vital to pray regarding temptation and deliverance from Satan, the wicked one?
[Picture on page 16]
Jesus’ followers asked him to teach them how to pray. Do you know how we can benefit from his instructions on prayer?