When I was in high school, one summer my parents paid money for me to go off to a summer camp for track and cross country runners. It was a special camp held at the University of North Carolina where we would sit under the teaching of an accomplished coach, workout, and be evaluated on form, style, diet, and other key aspects to a distance runner’s performance. The whole experience was beneficial and full of great memories. One thing I can remember is that the coach would put our video on the screen and work with us to explain how we should improve in our form and it really helped me become a better athlete.
Imagine sitting at the feet of Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7. The focus of the sermon is the difference between true righteousness and the fleshly righteousness of the religious establishment of the day. In that sermon, Jesus teaches many different things, but one thing he explains is way the children of God should pray. Imagine learning to pray from Jesus himself.
Jesus prayed often during his earthly ministry. We find him praying before his betrayal (Matt. 26:36-56), in his high priestly prayer (John 17), and on the cross (Mark 15:34) as just a few examples. However, in Matthew 6:5-15, we don’t find Jesus praying to the Father himself, instead, he’s providing a model prayer for the disciples to follow. He begins with examples to avoid, and then moves to the model prayer.
Interestingly enough, in the model prayer, Jesus does something at the beginning that should help us in how we pray. He doesn’t begin by focusing on the physical needs of people around them. He doesn’t begin by pointing them to pray for those who are sick or experiencing the pain of disease. He begins by pointing them to God. In other words, he begins with a vertical approach before he moves to the horizontal aspects of people.
How often it is that we gather for prayer with our church family or small groups and focus our entire prayer time on the physical needs of people without any serious desire to make much of God’s name. Imagine picking up your church’s prayer sheet and seeing a request at the top that states, “Please make much of God’s name among the people of our church for he is worthy of all praise and adoration.” Would that be abnormal or would it be normal?
Jesus begins his model prayer with these words:
Adoration: Praise God for who he is and for his divine attributes.
Confession: In a transparent manner, make confession of personal sin before God.
Thanksgiving: Take time to thank God for the many blessings, both physical and spiritual, that he’s given you in this life and that you long for in eternity.
Supplication: Pray for the needs of others and yourself.
Whether or not you use a set formula like ACTS, you and I are called to adore and praise God for his holiness, sovereignty, and grace. While we should spend time praying for the physical needs of our loved ones and church members, we should spend much time praising God for his character, his steadfast love, his faithfulness, his holiness, his power, and his saving grace.
Consider the reality that the Psalms are poetic arrangements of prayers to be sung and prayed to God. As we read those prayers and consider how often the Psalmist makes much of God as a rock and refuge and adores his holy name—we should follow in those same footsteps when we pray.
Prayer is a privilege. We have an audience with the King of the Universe. God is interested in the needs of his people, and he is worthy of the praise of his people. Prayer aligns our will with God’s will and points us to our utter dependence upon him.