A groundbreaking book from the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary that teaches readers how to participate in the radical, transformative prayer that Jesus taught his first disciples.
The Lord’s Prayer has been domesticated and tamed, turned into a safe series of comforting words and made familiar by repetition. In reality, writes Dr. Albert Mohler, the Lord’s Prayer turns the world upside down, toppling every earthly power and announcing God’s reign over all things, in heaven and on earth. The Lord’s Prayer is the most powerful prayer in all the Bible, taught by Jesus to his own disciples. This generation of Christians desperately needs to relearn the Lord’s Prayer and learn from Christ himself how we are to unleash the power and discipline of prayer
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About the Author
R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology. Described by Time magazine as the "reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement," Dr. Mohler can be heard on The Briefing, a daily podcast which analyzes news and events from a Christian worldview. He also writes a popular commentary on moral, cultural, and theological issues at albertmohler.com. He and his wife live in Louisville, Kentucky.
Read an Excerpt
THE LORD'S PRAYER
Several years ago, I was invited to speak at two major conferences back-to-back. The first was on one side of the continent while the second was on the other. Making the coast-to-coast trip in a very limited time was a challenge, and since my talk at the second conference was on a particularly controversial topic, I worked feverishly during my flight to put the finishing touches on my lecture.
The airlines, however, conspired to keep me from landing at my scheduled arrival time, meaning I got only two hours of sleep before I had to deliver my message. Thankfully, I was able to get to the conference and deliver my lecture — after which I promptly sat down in a pew and fell asleep!
The conference, however, was not over. While I slumped in a near-comatose state, one of the hosts approached the podium and said, "We would like to ask Dr. Mohler to come up and pray for us as we conclude." Someone sitting next to me nudged me and politely informed me that I had just been asked to pray. I blinked, stood up, and made my way to the podium in a fog about what was going on and what I had been asked to do. Thankfully, the host at the podium continued, "Now while Dr. Mohler is coming forward to pray ...," providing a welcomed reminder of what was happening.
I found myself at the podium entirely unprepared and knowing nothing about the context of the prayer I'd been asked to deliver. Were we praying for someone specifically? Was someone dying? Were we celebrating something? I did not know. I took a breath, bowed my head, and prayed.
Amazingly, I did what I was asked to do — I led the congregation in prayer. I did so by falling easily into the slipstream of evangelical prayer. I possessed enough familiar prayer language and stock devotional phrases to make it through. While I am certain that many men and women in that congregation prayed sincerely at that moment, I was not one of them. When I finished praying, I did not have the same sense of satisfaction that I had felt at the end of my message. Instead, I had the sense that I had robotically performed a familiar task. It was all too easy — and embarrassing.
My hunch is that many evangelicals can identify with this experience because we know what it is to pray without really praying. Many of us know what it is simply to fall into a pattern of familiar words and slogans without truly engaging our hearts or our minds with the one to whom we speak.
This is similar to the experience I had as a teenager, when I realized after a few months of driving that I could often arrive at a destination and remember almost nothing about the trip there! Driving to some locations, like school, became mindlessly automatic, the entire activity performed by nothing more than instinct. Many evangelicals sense something similar occurring in their prayer life. They can go through the motions, say all the right words, and even lead a congregation or group in prayer without remembering a single word they have said or even understanding what they just prayed for.
These experiences witness to the same reality: prayer is difficult. Like anything of great value, prayer takes great effort, tremendous care, and Spirit-filled discipline. This is one reason why we so desperately need the Lord's Prayer and why we need to sit at the feet of our Lord and implore as the disciples did: "Teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1).
PRAYER IN WORLD RELIGIONS AND IN EVANGELICALISM
Scholars in the field of world religions tell us that prayer, or at least something like prayer, is a part of every major world religion. In Islam, the call of the muezzin summons faithful Muslims to kneel in the direction of Mecca and pray with their heads to the floor. Judaism uses repetitive prayers in formal liturgy and features particular holy sites like the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where worshippers insert scraps of paper with supplications to God into the rock wall. Even Buddhism has a form of prayer that focuses on entering a state of cognitive tranquility — an emptying of the mind of all positive content.
Turning to the different strands of the Christian tradition, we also find a variety of prayer traditions. Roman Catholicism's prayer practices, very much influenced by the monastic tradition and Catholic teachings about Mary, incorporate physical elements like prayer beads and formulaic prayers (e.g., "Hail Mary, full of grace"). Historic Protestantism made prayer into a central theological concern. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other magisterial reformers wrote a great deal about prayer, particularly in the context of Christian worship. Their aim was to regulate prayer by Scripture. The Reformers desperately wanted prayer to be understood by the people of God, as opposed to the Latin confession spoken by the priestly caste unfamiliar to most of the congregation. They demanded that prayer be both scriptural and intelligible.
Later, the Anglican Church produced a prayer tradition that is now established in what we know as the Book of Common Prayer. These prayers seem exceedingly formal to many modern evangelicals. Yet when Thomas Cranmer first produced this prayer book, solidly based upon Scripture, it was known for its sense of intimacy with God and its use of common language to teach Christians how to pray.
Prayer is also very much a part of our evangelical tradition and our piety. Evangelicals are recognized for a populist approach to prayer. We encourage all saints (that is, all believers) to pray in private and in public. We regularly organize large prayer meetings and even arrange prayer marathons, which systematize a steady stream of prayer over lengthy periods of time for a single issue. We even teach the youngest among us to pray. But do we teach them well?
PRAYER: THE BAROMETER OF THEOLOGICAL CONVICTION
Pointedly — especially in light of our tendency to pray badly, as noted above — the first thing Jesus taught his disciples about prayer was how not to pray. The Lord's Prayer must be seen not only as a model of what prayer is, but also as a model of what prayer is not. Jesus provided the Lord's Prayer within the context of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7), as a corrective to practices that had developed that are familiar to us today, as we shall see.
Prayer is never an isolated event. When we pray, we convey our entire theological system. Our theology is never so clearly displayed before our own eyes and before the world as in our prayers. Praying forces us to articulate our doctrines, convictions, and theological assumptions. These aspects of our Christian life come to a unique focus in prayer because when we speak to God we are explicitly revealing who we believe he is, who we believe we are, what his disposition toward us is, and why he has that disposition.
This point was made by the philosopher Roger Scruton who, even before converting to theism and joining the Church of England, argued that what people truly believe about God is reflected in their worship and prayer: "God is defined in the act of worship far more precisely than he is defined by any theology." In other words, what we believe about God is revealed most truly not in what we say about him but in how we approach him — in prayer or in worship. It is one thing to hear a person state what he believes, but it is another thing to listen to him pray. Prayer always reveals the underlying theology. As the old Latin formula reminds us, Lex orandi, lex credendi — As we pray, so we believe.
We can safely take Roger Scruton's point one step further: we learn a great deal about someone by what they ask others to pray for. Just consider what we learn about the apostle Paul's priorities and character from his prayer requests found all throughout Scripture. For instance, in 2 Thessalonians 3:1–5, Paul's primary prayer was that the gospel advance throughout the world and that the Thessalonians would be deeply impressed with the "love of God" and the "steadfastness of Christ." Clearly, Paul's primary concerns were eternal matters and the kingdom of God.
In short, prayer discloses much about us. It discloses our assumptions and convictions. It discloses our view of God and of ourselves. It discloses our priorities and our assumptions about God's priorities. It discloses our doctrines of God, man, sin, redemption, the world, and a host of other theological matters. If we really want to know what a person believes, we should listen to them pray.
THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR PRAYER
Biblical scholars and pastors from almost every Christian denomination or tradition agree on this much: Christians are called to pray. Yet prayer raises a host of theological issues. What are we trying to do in prayer? Are we trying to convince God to do what he otherwise would not be inclined to do? Are we trying to negotiate with God — even to manipulate him? Are we trying to inform God of what he does not know?
The primary theological foundation for prayer is the fact that there is one true and living God who has revealed himself to us:
I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any. (Isa. 44:6–8)
This God has made us in his image (Gen. 1:26–27), thus we have the spiritual and rational capacity to pray. Part of what it means to be made in the image of God (to bear the Imago Dei) is being able to converse with our Creator. We see this in Eden prior to sin entering the world: Adam communed with God (Gen. 2:15–17). Man was made for conversation with God — for communion with the Creator.
Along with affirming what prayer is — communion with God — we should note what prayer is not. First, prayer is not a matter of creative self-expression. In John 4, Jesus, speaking to the woman at the well, said that those who worship the Father must do so "in spirit and truth" (v. 23) — which means we worship God according to who he is and the "truth" he has revealed in his Word. We are not allowed to approach God in any way we see fit. He is holy and exalted, and we know how to come to him only by virtue of his revealed will. Prayer is not an act of spiritual self-expression, nor is any other aspect of worship.
Second, prayer is not an act of therapy. We should not seek some sort of curative kickback when we pray. Some scholars of psychology of religion suggest that people pray because prayer produces serenity and alleviates anxiety and fear. Prayer certainly does often accomplish these things, but prayer also sometimes disrupts our tranquility. God uses prayer to radically reorient our hearts, which can be disturbing. Prayer can sometimes be "anti-therapy." This is because prayer is not first and foremost about us, but about the glory of God.
Third, prayer is not an act of manipulation or persuasion. We are not simply trying to find the right formula or secret code to force God to answer our prayer as we want it to be answered. Nor are we trying to persuade or bargain with God as if he were one of his creations. Prayer is not persuasion. Prayer is about God's will being done — not our own. We must come to God and learn to pray "your will be done" just as Jesus did. If God's will is truly perfect, then why would we want to persuade him to do something that is less than perfect? It is true that Scripture encourages us to bring our deepest concerns, anxieties, and needs before God — the Bible, in fact, is full of illustrations portraying as much — but we must not bring our needs to God thinking that we do so to break down a wall of hostility or complacency. We must bring our needs before God humbly, willing to submit to his perfect plan.
Fourth, prayer is not a news report to the Creator. God knows everything perfectly. This is what Christians mean by saying we worship God as omniscient — he is all-knowing. We must resist the temptation to use prayer as a way of alerting God to what he otherwise does not or would not know. Not only does God know everything — past, present, and future — he even knows our hearts and minds better than we know ourselves. We pray, confident of God's full knowledge but needing to remind ourselves of all our concerns in order to confess our sins, to admit our dependence, to lay out our hearts, and to pray for others. We do not pray to give God our daily briefing, but to bring everything that concerns us before the one who made us.
Finally, prayer is not an act of bargaining. We have all heard prayers that sound like a negotiation meeting: "Lord, I will work on this sin if you will help me with this blessing. Also, I will try to do this for you, if you promise to do that for me." This type of prayer reveals huge theological misunderstandings. Prayer does not inform God of what he does not know, nor does it get him to do what he is reluctant to do. Prayer does not change God; it changes us. This is not to say that God does not command us to pray or that he does not take our desires in prayer seriously. Rather, we must remember that God is sovereign at all times over all things while simultaneously being loving toward his people. Prayer is not our bargaining chip with a reluctant genie. It is our opportunity to commune with the Creator and Redeemer who loves us.
INTRODUCING THE LORD'S PRAYER
Given our inclination to misunderstand prayer, Scripture regularly reminds us about the true meaning of prayer and how to rightly approach God. Of all the passages in Scripture that speak to prayer, the Lord's Prayer is one of the most astounding and theologically rich. But before we jump into the text, it is important to see how both Matthew and Luke introduce this prayer.
In Luke's account the disciples come to Jesus and ask him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples" (Luke 11:1). In Matthew's account, the Lord's Prayer stands at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. Before Jesus gives instructions on praying, he spends a significant amount of time criticizing the prayer practices of the Pharisees, particularly their use of many words and empty phrases. By implication, he may not think much of today's routine Christian prayer either.
The Sermon on the Mount presents a picture of life in the kingdom of heaven. Thus, the contents of the sermon are those issues that Jesus himself identified as essential to that kingdom. The Lord's Prayer is no exception. It stands at the very center of the Sermon on the Mount and so should stand at the very center of our lives as Christ's followers. For this and many other reasons, Christians need to regularly revisit the rich theology of the Lord's Prayer.
The Lord's Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount is part of Christ's vision for life in the inaugurated kingdom of heaven. The arrival of God's kingdom leads to a complete transformation of values that in turn leads to a transformation in piety and practice — particularly in almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.
No one is better able to teach us these transformed values and the nature of true prayer than Jesus himself. The Gospels regularly depict that Jesus engaged in the work of prayer (Matt. 6:5–9; 14:23; 19:13; 26:36–44; Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:37–39; Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12, 28; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41, 44; John 17). Perhaps the most prominent example is Jesus' prayer in John 17, typically called Jesus' High Priestly Prayer. Here we get a small glimpse into the richness of Jesus' private prayer life and his intense communion with the Father. Yet prayers like that in John 17 cannot serve as model prayers since many of the elements of Jesus' prayer in John 17 could only be spoken by Christ, the divine-human Mediator. The Lord's Prayer, however, is quite different. The Lord's Prayer is a prayer for disciples to pray. Jesus specifically designed it to be used by the people of God and to enrich our prayers. The account of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew makes this point explicitly, for Jesus says, "Pray then like this" (6:9).
But before he gives his model for prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus provides important context:
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. (Matt. 6:5–8)
Excerpted from "The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down"
Copyright © 2018 Fidelitas Corporation, R. Albert Mohler Jr., LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Lord's Prayer: An Overview 1
Chapter 2 And When You Pray: Why Jesus Doesn't Think Much of Routine Christian Prayer 25
Chapter 3 Hallowing the Father's Name: Where Authentic Prayer Begins 37
Chapter 4 Your Kingdom Come: Whose Agenda is Our Concern Anyway? 69
Chapter 5 Give Us This Day: God's Abundant Physical Provisions 103
Chapter 6 Forgive Us Our Debts: The Prayer of God's New Covenant People 113
Chapter 7 Lead Us Not into Temptation: Fighting the Enemy Through Prayer 139
Epilogue Thine Is the Kingdom 163
About the Author 181
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This latest title from Dr. Mohler on the Lord’s prayer is one of his best books to date. The material behind this book grew out of a series of chapel messages that Dr. Mohler delivered when I was a student at SBTS. He later adapted that material into a teaching series for Ligonier Ministries. Now his insight into the Lord’s prayer has been turned into a book that I am certain all readers will profit from. In th first chapter of this book Dr. Mohler addresses the nature of prayer and how prayer serves as an accurate reflection of what we really believe about God. Mohler makes very clear what prayer is not setting aside subbiblical and unbiblical understandings of prayer. The second chapter addresses Jesus’s preliminary teaching on prayer with a focus on the absolute necessity of prayer in the believer’s life. In the following chapters Mohler addresses each part of the Lord’s prayer showing how each petition should shape our prayer life. While there are many books on prayer out there many of them depart from Scripture as the basis for understanding prayer. Dr. Mohler’s book is a throughly biblical resource that I highly commend. Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.