The Focus of Prayer: for the Glory of God - 2
In response to their request about prayer, Jesus reminded His disciplesí that all of life is to be focused on God and His greater glory. No one exists for himself; God has created all creatures for His greater glory. So, whether one eats or drinks, gets dressed or makes a purchase, all is to be done to the glory of God. Since all of life is to be God-centred, it follows that speaking with God is also to be God-centred.
That reality needs to be worked out concretely. As it is, so many of our prayers to God focus on ourselves. What is a God-centred prayer to look like? How am I, in the concrete circumstances of my life, to pray according to the Lordís instruction in the first petition?
A couple of days before He had to go to the cross, Jesus spoke with the Father according to His own instruction in the first petition. Jesus verbalised the actual circumstances of His life with these words: "Now My soul is troubled" (John 12:27). That is: Jesus was not looking forward to the coming cross with its horrors and pains and sufferings.
Because He looked up against the cross, Jesus asked a question of Himself: "What shall I say?" He conversed within Himself: "Shall I say, ĎFather, save Me from this hour, spare Me from the cross?í" Please note what the point of Jesusí discussion with Himself was. Jesus was considering whether He should look after His own interests, His own safety first, or not. Heís a true man, and He looked up against the horrors of the cross in the same way we would. Hence His question: "Shall I say: ĎLord, itís all too much, I canít stomach the coming horrors of Calvary; save Me from this hourí?" Now note Jesusí answer to His own question. He does not begin to pray with Himself as the focus of His prayer. Jesus does not do that because He knows He may not do so. Jesus knows the Scripture: He, as all creation, exists for the glory of God.
Since life revolves around the God who created life for the sake of His own glory, Jesus determines what to do. Says He: ĎNo, Iíll not pray for Myself; I shall instead pray that first petition: Father, glorify Your Name, hallowed be Your Name.í Jesus prays here according to the prayer He taught His own disciples to pray. He prays on the eve of His betrayal and sufferings on the cross with God, Godís glory, in the centre of His attention. Here is nothing selfish; here is instead total self-denial. God was to be glorified. So Jesus laid Himself at Godís disposal. Father, He says, here I am; lead Me down whatever track You want, do with Me whatever You wish, as long as Your name is glorified and praised through what I may do. Thatís His prayer: "Father, glorify Your name." Self-denial.
And see: Jesusí prayer is answered!! Did He not say, "Ask, and it will be given"? (Luke 11). Jesus asked that Godís name be glorified. And lo, it happened! To Jesusí prayer heaven straightaway responded, responded with delight. Said the voice: "I have both glorified it, and I will glorify it again." Here was promised that God would direct things in such a way that Godís Son would indeed be triumphant on Calvary. Christís triumph on the cross would bring glory to God, glory because Satan would be defeated, yes, and thousands upon thousands chosen to life would be redeemed from Satanís power, forgiven of their sins and justified before God. Truly, thatís glory for God!
How, now, shall we pray? The point is clear: central to our prayer cannot be our personal desires. Yes, central to our lives cannot be ourselves. The focus of our prayer is to be God, His glory, His praise. That requires denying the self, setting the self aside as Jesus did in John 12. No, that does not mean that our personal circumstances may not feature in our prayers. Our personal circumstances very much need to feature in our prayers. Whether I eat or drink, whether I seek a life partner or go to work or do some painting or clean up behind the children: I am to do all not with the self in mind, but with God in mind. In my specific circumstances I may speak to my God about where Iím at, tell Him my troubles and joys. Yet as I tell Him my concerns, as I pray for strength, as I lay before Him my longing for a life partner or my frustration with the always needing to clean up behind the children, it is not myself or my happiness that is to be central to my thinking nor to my prayer nor even to my desires. As I tell Him my concerns, as I pray for strength in my circumstances, it is His glory that is to be the focus of my thinking, my prayer, my desires.
The angel Gabriel once appeared to Mary with the news that she would become pregnant even though she had no husband. Socially, such a pregnancy was highly embarrassing. Gabriel made it clear to Mary: the Lord wanted to use her to bring His Son into the world. Her response? "Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). Here was no concern with self; here was instead self-denial for the sake of the Lord God. Thatís the attitude, thatís the focus Jesus teaches in the first petition. Thatís the attitude, thatís the focus our lives Ėand hence our prayersĖ are to have. ĎLord, here I am in my specific circumstances, at Your disposal, available for Your greater glory. Here I am, Lord; use me to hallow Your name.í
So many of us wonder why we have trouble praying, wonder why our prayers are not answered, wonder why we have the impression that our prayers bounce off the ceiling. We ask, and donít receive; we seek, and donít find; we knock, and itís not opened to us Ė contrary to Jesusí promise in Luke 11! I wonder: is this because we ask with ourselves in the centre of our prayers? The apostle James once wrote this: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (4:3).
Jesus promised that those who ask would receive. We need to bear in mind, though, that these words about asking and receiving were spoken immediately after Jesus gave His instruction about praying. It is illegitimate to assume that weíll receive what we ask for if our asking is not according to the instruction of the Lordís Prayer. Specific to the first petition: our focus in prayer must be God, and if then we ask for something, then it will be granted. Thatís the promise.