I once heard of a man who adopted two children. They were twins – a boy and a girl. When the first birthdays with their new family were coming up the children began to think about what presents to ask their new father for.
The boy was bold and brash. He walked right up to his adopted father and said: “I want an XBox 360 and 50″ flat screen HDTV. I want and iPod touch, iPhone and iPad. Oh, and a go-kart. And an England football shirt with my name on it. And if I don’t get those things I’ll know you don’t love me.”
The girl took the opposite approach. She was so thankful to have a stable home and a new family that she didn’t want to bother her father with any requests for presents. As a result she became more withdrawn and despite her father’s requests she wouldn’t tell him what she wanted for her birthday.
The two children took differing approaches but the end result as the same. Their relationship with their father suffered.
Does that sound familiar? I think these children’s approaches to their new father mirror some of the mistakes we can make in our own prayer to our heavenly Father.
The first mistake is that of the boy. We come to God with ridiculous requests. “Give me today my daily Aston Martin. Give me health, wealth and prosperity. Give me everything my heart desires.” If we pray in this way then it shows we’ve not really understood the first half of the Lord’s Prayer. It shows we’ve not subordinated our own wills and desires to seek the hallowing of God’s name and the establishment of his Kingdom.
The consequences of this approach to prayer will only lead to disappointment when the sufferings and disciplines of this life come upon us. It will leave behind the debris of hurt and lost people.
The other approach, that of the girl, also destroys faith. We may well understand the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. But we may see God as being so great and mighty that we become fearful about approaching him. It is just enough that a God like him has shown mercy to those who didn’t deserve it.
But if this is our approach to prayer it shows we’ve not understood the very first line of the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father.” We’ve shown that we don’t believe that God is a Father who delights in his children, who wants them to come to him for all things and who works in all things to their good.
The outcome of this approach to prayer is passionless lives and churches and, ultimately, faithlessness.
The Lord’s Prayer teaches us the true way to engage in prayer. When it comes to prayer we are to pray for our bodily needs but only after we have prayed that God’s name and purposes be glorified. In that context we pray only for those things that are sufficient for us. When we recognise that all things come from God’s good hand then we will have a trust and faith in him that leads to a deeper relationship with him.
Don’t pray for ridiculous things. But don’t be an ascetic either. The fact that “Give us today our daily bread” is in the Lord’s Prayer shows that God cares for our bodies and our needs. But in your prayers come with a joy and confidence in God – who clothes lilies and feeds birds and provided everything for your salvation.
“Give us today our daily bread.”