John Wesley on Prayer Lesson 2

The Way of Prayer*

“Pray, then, in this way.”  Matthew 6:9, New American Standard Bible

He who best knew what we ought to pray for and how we ought to pray, what matter of desire, what matter of address would most please Himself and best become us, has here dictated to us a most perfect and universal form of prayer. It comprehends all our real wants, expresses all our lawful desires–a complete directory and full exercise of all our devotions. He here directs us to pray thus–for these things; sometimes, in these words. At least in this manner: short, close, full.

This prayer consists of three parts–the preface, the petitions, and the conclusion. The preface, “Our Father who art in heaven,” lays a general foundation for prayer. It comprises what we must first know of God before we can pray in confidence of being heard.It likewise points out to us the faith, humility, and love of God and man with which we are to approach God in prayer.

“Our Father”— who art good and gracious to all, our creator, our preserver, the Father of our Lord and of us in Him, Your children by adoption and grace. Not my Father only, but the Father of the universe, of angels and human beings.

“Who art in heaven”— filling heaven and earth and beholding all things in heaven and earth; knowing every creature and all their works, and every possible event from everlasting to everlasting. The Almighty Lord and ruler of all, superintending and disposing all things.

*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

Wesley, in this lesson, lays a foundation for perhaps the most famous prayer of the Bible: The Lord’s Prayer. It is so named because “It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 NASB). There are actually two versions of this prayer recorded in the gospels: the shorter form in Luke and the longer form of Matthew 6:9-13, in the Sermon on the Mount, to which Wesley alludes:

 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is 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 do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]’”

The Lord’s instructions, as Wesley points out, come from “He who best knew what we ought to pray for and how we ought to pray, what matter of desire, what matter of address would most please Himself and best become us, has here dictated to us a most perfect and universal form of prayer.” And although, “It comprehends all our real wants, expresses all our lawful desires–a complete directory and full exercise of all our devotions,” it need not be always recited in rote. In fact, there is license to personalize this form and that permission should be exercised. As Wesley continues, he proposes that Jesus “here directs us to pray thus–for these things; sometimes, in these words. At least in this manner: short, close, full.” The Matthean context explains well why Wesley would subscribe to a “less is more” praxis here. Matthew 6:7-8 precedes the prayer with “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Jesus next directs His disciples to begin by “Our Father.” Not the “for my needs only” limited god of selfish ambition, but, as Wesley states, the God “who art good and gracious to all, our creator, our preserver, the Father of our Lord and of us in Him, Your children by adoption and grace. Not my Father only, but the Father of the universe, of angels and human beings.

“Who art in heaven.” Our Father is a God that is apart and above us in His complete non-dependent nature and holiness, but also “knowing every creature and all their works, and every possible event from everlasting to everlasting.”

Would we want to serve a God that expressed human frailty and emotive vacillation as we so easily do? I think not. I am glad to serve a God who is, “The Almighty Lord and ruler of all, superintending and disposing all things.”

Published by doctorpaddy

An ordained minister, Christian communicator, and educator.

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