The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:20-21 (ESV)
(Jesus said:) And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day 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 evil. Matthew 6:5-13 (ESV)
What do wisdom and prayer have in common? We learn from the inspired writer of Proverbs that the fear of the Lord (meaning respect, reverence and awe) is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of God is insight. If we want to be wise, we should seek God in the study of His Word, and in prayer.
Jesus teaches us to pray. It’s important to take a look at how Jesus teaches us to pray. Prayer is not meant to be a display of piety or any kind of a show to impress other people. It is conversation with God in which we come to Him with everything He already knows about us. In prayer we give thanks. We praise. We joyfully affirm who God is. We also bring to Him our sadness, our mourning, and even our anger. We intercede for those around us- for our friends, our family and even our enemies. We lay bare our vulnerabilities to the Author of Life- confessing that in and of ourselves we are dead in trespasses and sins. We affirm that by faith in Christ alone we have forgiveness, absolution and eternal life. We trust Him for what we need, and we ask Him for what we think we want.
Why should we bother to pray if God already knows our heart and our needs?
We pray from that fear of the Lord, because in prayer we are acting out of faith. We believe that God is omnipotent, that He is holy, and that His goodness and His plan will prevail. We may not have our petitionary prayers answered in the way we ask, but getting our wants fulfilled isn’t the primary purpose of prayer.
If one looks at petitionary prayer from the standpoint of a child asking a parent for what the child wants, it makes a little more sense. A good parent knows what his or her child needs and will do his or her best to provide for a child’s needs. Sometimes what a child wants is not congruent with what a child needs- ice cream and bacon for every meal sounds great to a child on the surface, right now, but a parent knows bacon and ice cream for every meal isn’t a healthy choice long term.
God knows when the things we want may not be in line for His plan for us. He does know our needs, and He does provide for them. We may never understand why we must bear the crosses of sorrow, loss and pain. We know that Jesus endured all manner of suffering while He lived on earth, up to and including a brutal death by crucifixion. We aren’t going to “get out of life alive.” Life on earth isn’t permanent. We don’t know why we are called to the way of the Cross, but we know that to live in Christ, we are called to die to ourselves and to the world. We may not find understanding as we pray, and we may not like the answers we get- or don’t get. Yet we pray, and we trust. God is getting us ready for the not-yet world to come.
(Jesus teaches) :What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13 (ESV)
We pray because Jesus tells us to pray- not in the anticipation that God will become a celestial Santa Claus Who rains down all kinds of material stuff just because we ask for it, rather, we come to Him in faith. We trust that God is God even when we don’t understand.
We ask Him for daily bread because we trust that God is the One Who gives us provision every day, even when we don’t know where it’s going to come from. We trust that God will forgive our sins and that they are washed away forever in Jesus’ blood. We trust God for the grace to pass the undeserved and unearned forgiveness He gives us along to those around us, who also don’t deserve it and can’t earn it. We trust that Jesus walks with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death. He has conquered the grave and so will we. We trust that Jesus keeps us from the evil one. We trust that He has rescued us from sin and despair and unbelief.
We believe the promise we receive in the water and the Word- that we are named and claimed and made to be children of God. And so, we pray.