Understanding Prayer as we Pray Together

At exactly 5:00 pm today, Pres. Noynoy Aquino will lead Filipinos around the globe in prayer "to remember the lives lost to the tragic incidents of 2013...to thank the Almighty for the nation's strength and resilience, and to seek divine guidance as the country moves forward to rebuild the affected communities."

He will be joined by leaders from various faiths in an ecumenical gathering at the Malacanang Palace. Bro. Jonel Milan, an alumnus of the Asian Theological Seminary and an ordained bishop with the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, will be representing Bible-believing Christians in the event. It is dubbed "One Nation in Prayer" or "Isang Bansa, Isang Panalangin" in Filipino.

The Palace calls out to every Filipino, regardless of faith background, to pause and utter a word of prayer at 5 pm. I will be joining this afternoon, but before doing so, I'm reminding myself of a number of Biblical truths about prayer, so that even in this event, God alone will be glorified.

The Lord's Prayer

Perhaps the most famous prayer in the Bible is found in Matthew 6:9-13. This is the Lord's model prayer for us and is commonly known as, "The Our Father." In the English Standard Version of the Bible, the prayer goes:

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.

If we observe the prayer, we can see roughly two parts. The first exalts, glorifies and lifts up God as a heavenly Father, the Holy one, a King and a Ruler. 

The second part consists of petitions from us which we present before God. It includes daily needs, forgiveness, protection and deliverance or freedom.

Adoration of the Father

It is not an accident that Jesus begins His model prayer with adoration of God. After all, the rightful focus and the only worthy receiver of our prayers is God. As Christian Theologians often stress, "Prayer is conversation or communion with God."

When we pray it is only right to first acknowledge our Father, to remember His faithfulness and grace. We do not charge into His presence with several demands as if we are His masters and He is our genie. A Welsh missionary once said, "God is not a Coca-cola machine that when we put in our prayers He spits out answers to our requests."

Instead, prayer as a conversation or a communion depends on our relationship with the Father. During Jesus' time, no one dared to call God, "Father." The Jewish people were very careful, always acknowledging a gap between them and God. Jesus, however, teaches us to come before our God like little children approaching their papa or daddy.

In the original Greek, in fact, Jesus used "abba Father," which is an endearment. This can only be used by people who know that they have a relationship with the Father. Thus, we approach Him in prayer not because of obligation, not because of fear, not because of selfish ambitions but because of a loving relationship we have with Him through Jesus.

As Jesus addressed the Father, He prayed that His named be "hollowed," His kingdom would come and His will be done. In uttering these, Jesus expressed His desire that God be worshiped as the Holy God that He is by everyone on earth. He also expressed His desire that God's rule would cover the world. This is possible through the entry of His Kingdom, which the Lord wanted to happen very soon. When both come to fruition, it is then that God's will is done on earth and in heaven.

When we pray, Jesus reminds us to look through God's eyes, having the heavenly perspective as our vision. As such, let us ask God to give us His heart so that all that we utter in prayer will be aligned with His desires and lead to the expansion and advancement of His kingdom. Even prayer is never about us or our personal whims, but always about God and His sovereign plans.

Petition for our Needs

Don't get me wrong, however. God is not a tyrant demanding that we forgo our practical needs and just spend all our time in religious activities. No. The next part of Jesus' model prayer opens with a request for "daily bread." Our Lord calls us to ask God for food, shelter, clothing, for daily sustenance. 

God is concerned even with these things. Furthermore, Matthew 6:8 affirms that God "knows what you need before you ask him." He is not a forgetful God who needs reminding. However, He is the God of faith who wants His children to trust and depend on Him even for their daily needs. This is the reason why Jesus called us to petition for our physical needs. The God of faith wants His children to exercise their faith in and depend on Him.

After dealing with the physical, Jesus goes on to petition for our spiritual needs. "...and forgive us our debts or sins, as we also have forgiven our debtors." The sad reality is most people end with the physical needs. Hunger, thirst, cold, pains-- we feel all these things and so we remember to ask God for help. However, there is also spiritual hunger, spiritual thirst, spiritual sickness called sin that we must repent of before God.

In Mark 2:1-12, a paralytic came to Jesus asking for physical healing. Interestingly, upon seeing his faith, He told him, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Jesus knew that as much as he was physically sick, the paralytic was also spiritually in need. Jesus addressed the sin, and went on to heal him physically.

Which is more important? The physical or the spiritual? There is a discussion going on. However, we see that Jesus made no distinction. He asked for the physical needs and then He asked for the spiritual needs. The only advantage of the latter I think is that it deals with an issue with outright eternal consequence. That is, when we are not forgiven of sin, we cannot be with God in heaven. We would have to die as punishment for our sins (Romans 6:23).

However, I do not dismiss the physical needs and their eternal contribution. God can use these provisions to draw people to Himself. At the same time, an inward transformation through the Gospel (spiritual provision) will inevitably result in external change, dealing with physical needs through a transformed view of stewardship. Both are intertwined. Both are legitimate needs that we must petition before God.

Notice, further, that when Jesus told us to ask for forgiveness, He followed it up with an implicit command to also forgive those who have sinned against us. I'll touch on repentance to explain this. A true repentant heart that asks God for forgiveness is proven by transformation.

In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist told the Pharisees, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." He told them this because of their hypocrisy. They came for baptism of repentance but their lives do not show genuine repentance. 

Note that in the original Greek, to repent means to change one's mind. This entails not only intellectual transformation, but together with it is life change. This is the reason why upon asking for forgiveness for sins, forgiving those who sinned against us is an unavoidable consequence.

We can also look at it this way. How can God forgive us when we are still harboring unforgiveness in our hearts towards our fellow?

Finally, it is not an accident that Jesus closes with a petition for deliverance from temptation and evil after He talked about forgiveness. Being consistent with Biblical truth on salvation, those who have been forgiven or justified from their sins through faith in Jesus are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). As such, it is only expected that they desire power over temptation and the enemy so that they can live holy lives in keeping with their new birth.

Thus, we can look at the prayer for forgiveness as both for justification and sanctification. Both, however, result in the same thing--holy living for God's glory.


As we pray together as a nation this afternoon, let us not forget to focus on God through Jesus. May our prayers be consistent with His desires. May we pray with the goal of lifting Him up more in our country and among our people.

Let us not be afraid to approach God with our physical needs. We have a lot for those affected by Typhoon Yolanda, the earthquake in Visayas and the war in Mindanao. However, let us also remember to ask God for forgiveness. Let us repent of our sins as a nation and turn back to Him in faith through Jesus.

Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life." But He does not stop there. He said, "No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)." We want as a nation to seek divine direction. The first step is to come to Jesus by grace through faith who is our only way to the Father.

May God bless us all!   
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