I remember some time ago listening to (or maybe reading) a sermon about prayer. Although my prayer life isn’t always as robust as I feel it should be, I’ve always been a strong believer in its power. So any advice I could get on how to improve my prayer life would be welcome.
The sermon described the typical prayer as resembling the result of dropping a rock into a lake. It begins in the center and then ripples out farther and farther in increasingly larger concentric rings. This is what happens when we pray for ourselves first, then move out to those close to us—friends and family—then on to our local church and community, our state and country, and finally on to the world at large. He pointed out the selfish nature of these types of prayers.
He had my attention at that point. My philosophy of prayer had been to pray for myself first. (I need it most and I’m acutely aware of the areas in my life needing prayer.) I had never thought of it as selfish.
I went on for several months attempting to utilize my new prayer model and trying to overcome the guilt I felt for years of doing it the “wrong” way.
Then it occurred to me to compare his prayer model with the ultimate model of prayer—the one given to us by Jesus himself: The Lord’s Prayer. The one we have all memorized, maybe in more than one language, and have heard it sung and recited countless number of times.
But I hadn’t really sat down to analyze its structure. I’m an English major. I’m in the habit of analyzing what I read. But sometimes the things that are the most familiar to us we just gloss over, saying the words but missing the meaning.
Here’s what I learned. It’s in Matthew 6:9-13 if you want to follow along.
Our Father . . . – the beginning addresses God, to whom we’re praying
your kingdom come . . . – here we’re asking for the success of His kingdom. I see this as acknowledging his lordship and his supremacy over the world.
Introduction out of the way, we begin the supplication portion.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” Wait a minute. I thought we were supposed to be praying for others first. We don’t get to our relationship with others until the forgiving our debtors part.
Now confused, I decided to turn to the last recorded prayer of Jesus. He had given his final message of comfort to the apostles and was now in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for strength for the ultimate sacrifice he faced the following day. Found in John 17:1-26 (the entire chapter).
He begins, predictably, by addressing his father (v. 1).Then he says something surprising. “Glorify your Son.” He spends the next five verses summarizing his own mission and the role “glory” and “authority” played in that mission.
Only in verse six does he begin to pray for his disciples. Through verse 19 he pleads for their safety and sanctification. Finally, in verse 20, he extends his concern to the entire world.
So there it is. Two perfect patterns for prayer:
Concentric circles. Ripples. Definitely ripples.