What Jesus Says You Should Pray For

“The world does not revolve around you!” “You are not the center of the universe!” “Your mother and I are the sun; you’re the moon!”

I bet my wife Christy and I have said something like this to our children hundreds, if not thousands, of times—because I have five of those rascals. I’m sure your children aren’t this way, but my kids are selfish. As my mother says, “They come by it honestly.” That’s her way of saying that I’m selfish too.

One of the best ways Christy and I discovered to deal with our children’s selfishness—to reorient their orbits, if you will—was to teach them to use one simple word: please.

Alicia Aspinwall wrote a delightful children’s story about the Pleases that live in all of our mouths. For your Please to remain strong and happy, it needs lots of fresh air, which it can only get if you let it out of your mouth. The more you let your Please out, the stronger and happier it becomes and the more friendly and polite you become.

Letting your Please have plenty of fresh air is a bit like prayer. Prayer is asking the Father for the right things in the right way. It sounds selfish, but it isn’t. God already knows what you need and desire, but He invites us to ask anyway. What we need to learn, as His children, is to ask for the right things, in the right manner. Now keep in mind, prayer is more than a Christmas list submitted with the word please scrawled across it. Prayer is also listening; it’s worship; it’s molding my will into God’s will—recognizing that I’m not the center of the universe. However, as every good parent knows, God especially, one of the best places to start reorienting the orbit of your children is by teaching them to ask for the things they need and want in an appropriate manner. And that’s what Jesus taught in Luke 11:1–13.

After a time of prayer, an unnamed disciple approached Jesus and asked Him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). Jesus gladly obliged and instructed them what to pray for, how to pray with the proper attitude, and why they should pray. We’ll look at Jesus’s first point in this article and discuss the remaining points in “Here’s How—and Why—Jesus Says We Should Pray.”

What We Should Pray For

In what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer”—though it should be called “The Disciples’ Prayer”—Jesus teaches us to pray for five things.

First, we should pray that God’s reputation is revealed as holy in our lives.

“Father, hallowed be Your name” (Luke 11:2). When we “hallow” something, we treat it as holy—with reverence. When we come to God in prayer, we are to treat His name, His character, His person as holy—as set apart from the filth of this corrupt and corrupting world.

And because we carry the name of God, as His children, what we do and what we say is a reflection upon God’s reputation. That’s why Jesus said we should pray that God’s reputation be revealed as holy in our lives.

Second, we should pray that God’s love and justice reign on earth.

“Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2). The companion passage in Matthew 6 adds the helpful phrase:

“Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

Or as Eugene Peterson translates Matthew 6:10 in The Message:

“Set the world right;
Do what’s best—as above, so below.”

We live in an upside-down world. A business runs itself into the ground, and the government gives it money; another business is successful financially, and the government takes its money. Where’s the justice in that? A drunk driver slams into a minivan and kills a family, but the drunk walks away with nary a scratch. Where’s the justice in that? A woman is raped, but her rapist goes free without punishment. Where’s the justice in that? We desire that each is given his or her due—that the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. This is justice. And Jesus tells us to pray for its practice on earth.

Third, we should pray for daily provisions.

“Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3). Or, “Keep us alive with three square meals” (Luke 11:3 MSG).

In calling God “Father,” you recognize your daily dependence on Him, relying on the Father to meet your daily needs. We can’t ever pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps. All of us need others. And we all especially need God—daily.

Our dependence on God is day-by-day. God gives us what we need for today, not for tomorrow—not until tomorrow becomes today. Then He gives us enough for that day. It’s always been this way. In the wilderness God gave the Israelites enough manna to feed them for one day at a time (Exodus 16:4, 21). So Jesus encouraged us not to worry about tomorrow, because “tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

Fourth, we should pray for forgiveness of sin.

“And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” (Luke 11:4)

Asking for forgiveness is an act of humility . . . and many of us are reluctant to do it; we’re too proud. We’d rather point fingers and blame others. We come by blame honestly. It’s in our spiritual DNA, going all the way back to our original mother and father—Adam and Eve. Like playing a game of hot potato, Adam blamed Eve (and God) and Eve blamed the serpent (Genesis 3:12–13).

The truth is, your sin is your sin—you must own it. Your sin is no one’s fault but your own. So take this bit of advice to heart: the easiest way to eat crow is while it’s still warm. The colder it gets, the harder it is to swallow.

Now notice the second half of Luke 11:4: “For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” There is an unbreakable link between being forgiven and forgiving. Paul said: “Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 MSG). The forgiven must be a forgiver.

Finally, we should pray for God to protect us from temptation.

“And lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:4). Or to put it into words we all can understand: “Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil” (Luke 11:4 MSG).

If you’re not careful you’ll read this and think the prayer is a request for God not to tempt us. But God never tempts us to sin! “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). So where does temptation come from? It comes from your sinful self, your sinful nature. “The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer” (James 1:14–15 MSG). This is what John calls the “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

This reminds me of a story. A three-year-old was trying to explain why he was tempted to eat a forbidden cookie. Standing on a chair with the cookie in his mouth, he said, “I just climbed up to smell them and my tooth got stuck.”

It’s our own sweet tooth that gets us into trouble, not the cookie.

So when we pray, “lead us not into temptation,” we’re asking God to protect us from ourselves. And if we’ll focus our attention on the Father, He will.

Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. (1 Corinthians 10:12–13 MSG)

In part two, we’ll look at how to pray with the right attitude and the reason why we can pray with that kind of attitude.

The Lord’s Prayer isn’t a magical formula. It isn’t an incantation. But for those who learn to humble themselves and ask the Father for the right things in the right way, prayer can become a rich source of encouragement, joy, and peace.

Adapted from Derrick G. Jeter, “The Spiritual Discipline of Prayer, Part 1,” from the series Building Spiritual Muscles, Coffee House Fellowship, Stonebriar Community Church, Frisco, Tex., January 18, 2009. Copyright © 2009 by Derrick G. Jeter. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.

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Derrick G. Jeter holds a master of theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and served as a writer for the Creative Ministries Department of Insight for Living Ministries. He has authored or coauthored more than twenty-five books. Derrick's writing has appeared on influential Web sites, and he is a contributing writer for The Christian Post. He and his wife, Christy, have five children and live in the Dallas area. He blogs at www.DerrickJeter.com.