It’s so obvious, I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. It’s so unthinkable, I cannot fathom it even now.
It may be obvious but unthinkable, to you too, for I suspect you know this prayer. Would you want to know if there’s more there than you have seen?
If so, I invite you, the deepest part of you: Notice!
The prayer Jesus taught
Jesus uttered what we call, “the Lord’s Prayer.” But Jesus didn’t pray it. Rather, he taught it. He said:
This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt. 6:9-13)
Notice: These verses don’t teach confession or thanksgiving or praise. While other scriptures show other facets of prayer, the Lord’s Prayer contains key petitions. Here, Jesus taught us what to ask for.
But also, he taught who to pray for. The second half of this prayer includes four requests. When we say them, we typically focus on what we’re asking for. But now notice who we’re praying for: “give us,” “forgive us,” lead us,” “deliver us.”
In a word, Jesus taught us to pray for people. Whether we call on God in behalf of ourselves, family and friends, leaders, the oppressed, strangers or enemies, we’re praying for “us.” It’s good and godly to recognize that people are people and to pray for us.
Yet Jesus also told us to pray for someone else. Indeed, he taught us to pray first for someone other than us. He said we should ask “our Father in heaven”:
Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
It’s not surprising that Jesus taught us to pray to God.
What’s stunning is this: Jesus taught us to pray for God.
If, in prayer, I ask that what you desire happens or that what you’re doing succeeds, I’m praying for you. If I pray for the respect due to you to come to you, I’m praying for you. So when we pray for the Lord’s kingdom to prosper, his will to be done and his name to be honored, we’re praying for him.
Notice too: Praying for God doesn’t mean politely gesturing his way before launching into lengthy prayers for us. The entire first half of the Lord’s Prayer teaches us what to pray for our Father.
That’s not meant to make us legalistic. It’s meant to show us that prayer doesn’t look as we have thought. It’s meant to call forth petitions that originate in our spirit – and birth what we have not even dreamed.
Praying from your soul
Typically, we pray from our souls. We pray for people (including ourselves) because people have needs. Indeed, people have a vast array of needs – little needs, overwhelming needs, physical needs, financial needs, spiritual needs, emotional and mental and social needs. We go to God, asking him to meet needs we’ve experienced or heard about or seen. We may keep lists to make sure we include all the people and needs we feel responsible to cover. We plead with greater passion when we have a deep emotional connection for the people or the need. We ask for what we think will meet each need best.
When we pray for people, we tend to pray from our souls. But you cannot pray for God soul-first. You cannot mentally figure out how to do it. You cannot summon up an emotional connection. The only emotion you may feel is offense. People everywhere have needs so vast and heavy that you could spend all day every day praying and still not scratch the surface. Yet, you’re supposed to pray first and foremost for the God who has all power and all knowledge, who created everything, who owns everything? How can such a God possibly have needs?
Notice what happens inside you when you pray the words: Give us. Forgive us. Lead us. Deliver us. You’re praying for “us.” You can’t help but identify, mentally and emotionally. That’s a soul connection.
Do you feel the same resonance when you pray these words? Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.
We may repeat these words that Jesus taught, because he did say to pray them. But try as we might, we can’t mentally grasp what we’re asking. We can’t emotionally relate to God’s name, his kingdom, his will.
Praying from your spirit
Good news! The most powerful, effective prayers arise, not from your mind or emotions, but from deeper within. Indeed, they originate from God himself. He is three-in-one: Father, Son, Spirit. God the Spirit lives in everyone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord. He relates to us Spirit-to-spirit.
“What no human mind has conceived … these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. … For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is … the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”(1 Cor. 2:10-12)
“Spirit can be known only by spirit – God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion.” (1 Cor. 2:15 MSG)
God’s Spirit calls to your human spirit. You choose whether your spirit will respond, or whether it will continue to be overruled by your boisterous and opinionated soul. (For more on spirit and soul, including an in-depth look at 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, see, “Humble your soul, release your spirit” and “Living by the Spirit.”)
As you humble your soul and release your spirit to move with Christ’s Spirit, you find yourself impelled by something stronger than emotion and more certain than knowledge. You long for your Father’s name to be hallowed, his kingdom to come. You pray for God.
Often, to your amazement, your soul joins in. Your mind and emotions participate joyfully in prayers they could not start. However, you don’t quit praying for God or yearning for what he wants when he takes you places that defy logic, places where your emotions scream not to go.
What’s more, when you begin to pray for God from your spirit, you begin to pray for people in the same way. Where before you asked for what you thought was needed, now you begin to glimpse the heart of God toward each one. You intercede with greater wisdom, authority and love, as God himself teaches you how to pray.
Long before Jesus walked the earth, a king named Asa demonstrated the kind of praying the Lord’s Prayer teaches.
King Asa had a desperate need. His country Judah had a desperate need. A Cushite army of 1,000,000 men marched toward Judah, intending to conquer the people and devastate the land. By comparison, Asa had a tiny army. The Cushites had 300 chariots; Asa had none.
He took his troops out to meet the enemy, drew them up in battle formation – and cried out to God. Asa didn’t relegate prayer to the intercessors back home – though they too surely prayed. Standing on the battlefield as commander-in-chief, he did the most crucial, strategic and wise thing he could have done. He called on the Lord his God:
Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you (2 Chron. 14:11).
Asa brought a specific, desperate need to God. Asa cried, “Help us.” He cried out in behalf of himself, his army and his country. Yet notice the focus of his prayer throughout, the thrust from beginning to end:
Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.
Where we see the word Lord in this verse, Asa called on God’s covenant name. Asa spoke the Name three times in his short prayer. He twice acknowledged the Lord as “our God.” Every phrase of his prayer pointed toward God.
Asa did not use God’s name as a ploy to get what he and his people needed. Asa did not try to manipulate the Lord. God who knows the heart attested as much by the way he responded to Asa.
God saw Asa’s fear and concern for his people and his land. At the same time, God saw that the words of Asa’s mouth reflected the cry of his inmost being. First and foremost, Asa yearned for God’s reputation and God’s rule.
If he had prayed from his soul, Asa might have emphasized the enemy’s dire threat and the people’s great peril. He would have cared little that Judah’s defeat would damage God’s name. Asa would have ended his plea: “Do not let this vast army prevail against us.” Instead, Asa asked, “Lord … do not let mere mortals prevail against you.”
Asa prayed to God – and he prayed for God.
In so doing, he prayed the most powerful petition possible in behalf of himself and his people. In answer, “The Lord struck down the Cushites before Asa and Judah” (2 Chron. 14:12).
Cry from your inmost being
Today, God within you invites you to experience something stronger than emotion, more certain than knowledge. If you say yes, he will move you deep within to want what he himself longs for. You’ll find yourself praying for him.
What’s more, you’ll pray very differently – and far more powerfully – for us.
In time, if you do not turn back, your life will become a prayer. As you press in to your Lord, Spirit-to-spirit, you will pursue his will. You will seek first his kingdom. Continually from your inmost being, you will cry for the honor of his name.
© 2009, 2017 Deborah P. Brunt. Italics in Scripture quotations are mine.
Coming in the Praying for God Series:
- The Forgotten Prayer
- Lauren Daigle Praying for God
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