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The Measuring Stick
Photo: Dennis Cox
Some hold that you should feel free to pray for anything. If you pray hard and long enough, God will grant your petition. Yet Christ stated, “. . .when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).

What is appropriate in a prayer? How do we know what to pray for? Or how to pray?

I measure my prayers by a yardstick provided by Jesus:  The Lord’s Prayer. 

It starts: “Our Father in heaven...” This defines our relation with God. God is our parent, and we His children. We should approach God in the way we, as children would have asked our parents for help and advice.

“Hallowed be your name...” Prayer is sacred. We invoke God’s name when we pray. This reminds us not to take it in vain.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done . . .” God wants us to do his will. A prayer is not about us—it is about asking God to help us do what He wants us to do.

“On earth as it is in heaven.” We, as Christians, are not rooted in this world. Our goal is heaven, not Earth. Our prayers should help achieve that destination. 

Not Luxuries

“Give us today our daily bread.” It is okay to pray for things. But what things does Jesus show us to pray for? Our daily bread—not our daily cake and ice cream. Jesus tells us to pray for needful things—the things we need to exist —not luxuries. God is the ultimate parent. Parents provide their children with food, clothing, and shelter. But wise parents (God is the wisest) do not provide children with every toy a child wants. They know that too many material things hurt a child. Dessert and designer labels should come from your own labors.

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Christ is not talking about the mortgage or credit card balances here. These debts are transgressions by us against others and against us by others. We need to pray for God’s forgiveness, and for God’s help in our extending forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

“And lead us not into temptation...” Do not pray for things that tempt us. (That kills many prayers I made as a teen.) No fair praying for fast cars and fast living. Those prayers end up in God’s dead-letter box. 

“But deliver us from the evil one.” We should ask God’s help to avoid evil. This is different than avoiding temptation. We are asking God to protect us from criminals and predators—in the same way we wanted our parents to protect and make us safe when we were children.

Measure your prayers against the Lord’s Prayer. See what fits with it—and what does not. You may be surprised, and adjust your prayers accordingly.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture take from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

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