Priorities in Prayer

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What do you want out of your Christian experience? If you’re like most people you might answer that you are looking for peace, strength during difficulties, or even some level of personal prosperity. Would these be your answer? If so, you might want to consider God’s list of priorities for us in prayer. When you pray, what are your priorities—your spouse or kids, your job, your finances, for your friends and family?

Lo and behold, none of these are God’s priorities in prayer. Don’t get me wrong. We can and should ask God for these things. But we need to have our prayer priorities straight. Think back to your prayers. Whatever you pray for first, or most often, is your priority in prayer. So let’s compare that to God’s priorities in prayer and see how we fare.

Jesus provided his disciples with a model prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Let’s take a look:

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.

In this model prayer, Jesus has given us five prayer priorities. What is number one on God’s list?

God’s reputation. Note Jesus says, “Hallowed be your name.” God’s reputation is very important to him. In fact, our reputations are important to us as well. We don’t like getting slandered or accused falsely, do we? In our case we might deserve a little accusation, but not God. As Christians, how we behave is a reflection on God’s character. You may remember the days when people used to say that if children misbehaved it was a bad reflection on their parents. This is true spiritually. Because the Holy Spirit indwells us, because we are made in God’s image—to think what he thinks, to feel what he feels, and to do what he does—our behavior is supposed to be a reflection on who he is. What do you pray for? How important is God’s reputation to you? For Jesus, it is his number one priority in prayer.

Note God’s second priority in prayer: God’s will. What do you want out of your life? What do you want out of your Christian experience? Following on the heels of God’s reputation is God’s will. Some might think it should be the other way around, that if we focus on doing God’s will then we will then protect God’s reputation. But in reality it’s the other way around. A high view of God’s name, his character, will drive us to do God’s will. We will care about God’s will because we value him so much. But if we focus first on doing things, even on obedience, we will lose the motivating reason for doing his will. Our obedience will then become a work of man instead of an outpouring of responsive love that comes from honoring his reputation.

Part of praying for God’s will also involves evangelism. Wrapped around the statement, “Your will be done,” is “Kingdom come,” and “Earth as it is in Heaven.” God want those on earth who do not yet know him to be prayed for, that their eyes may be enlightened, and their hardened hearts softened to receive the Gospel. It is part of God’s will that we pray this way (I Timothy 2:1-4).

After getting things right with God’s reputation and his will, then we focus on the lesser things. They are important, but lesser compared to God’s reputation and will. Jesus says to pray for our daily bread. In other words, pray for your physical needs. But elsewhere in scripture Jesus says that God already “knows that you need these things” (Matthew 5:32). Here it is that we discover that God wants to meet our physical needs. He does not ignore our earthly needs, but wants to give us what we need to sustain our lives. So why does Jesus instruct us to pray for something that he also says God fully intends to give us anyway? You might have guessed it—it’s a matter of God’s will and reputation. He is a God who provides. If he did not provide for his children, what kind of reputation would he have? Why would his will matter to us if he didn’t provide?

Thirdly, Jesus instructs us to pray for forgiveness. God is a forgiving God. Without his forgiveness we would have no hope of eternal life, heaven, or experiencing his love. We would forever be cut off from God. Though it’s fourth in the list God considers forgiveness as foundational to the Christian life. It’s so important that it is the only thing we are instructed to pray for that has a proviso attached, “As we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Finally, deliverance from temptation and Satan are listed last. Satan is a powerful foe. Why would Jesus list him last if we are to understand this prayer as including a list of priorities? Because Satan is already defeated. This doesn’t mean that he can’t pull the wool over our eyes or tempt us greatly. It means that we have everything we need in Christ to defeat him as Christ also defeated him. We do not need to be spiritual victims if we keep alert.

What do you pray for? How high on your list is God’s reputation? Even Jesus’ prayer in John 17 puts God’s reputation first. Jesus uses words like “glorify,” “name,” and “true God” when addressing God’s character. In fact, Jesus’ prayer in John 17 contains all of the elements of the Lord’s prayer (except for forgiveness since Jesus needed none and he had already forgive his disciple’s sins).

If we lift high God’s reputation in our lives and prayer, if we will become jealous for his name (Ezekiel 39:25, Numbers 25:1-13), God will honor our hearts and prayers by granting those other things we seek that are according to his will.

So, what do you want out of your Christian experience? What do you pray for?

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