Have you ever talked to a celebrity? It can be intimidating, can’t it?
When I was in college, I attended a movie premier where Baltimore Orioles icon Cal Ripken, Jr. was in attendance. Before the premier began, I saw him standing alone so I mustered the nerve to go up to him to say hello. We ended up chatting for about five minutes—cannot remember about what now—and I discovered that he was a “normal” guy. I had been somewhat nervous at first, but needlessly.
In my experience, many believers—children and adults—can find prayer intimidating. What do I say? What if I say the wrong thing? Do I have to close my eyes? Do I have to use the proper vocabulary? Do I have to end by saying “in Jesus’ name?” The result is that many people have anemic or absent prayer lives. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Jesus’ disciples were just as lost when it came to prayer. On multiple occasions, they asked Him to help them understand how to pray. And as a result, we have several of Jesus’ teachings on prayer recorded—the most well-known of which is the model prayer. While Luke provides an abbreviated version as compared to Matthew’s, we still have four big, beautiful ideas to share with our kids.
When We Pray, We Pray as Children to Our Father
The first word of the model prayer is striking—even if this fact can be easily lost on us—”Father.” The idea of God as Father would have floored the Jew living in Jesus’ day. Father is far too familiar, far too personal, to a Jew used to not even writing out the name of God. But here was Jesus instructing His disciples to call Creator God “Father.”
In some ways we wrongly come from the opposite perspective—many of us fail to remember God’s holiness. We might be too familiar, too personal, with Him. Remembering that we approach God as Father should help us strike the balance between the two extremes. For children are not equal to the Father, they are still under His authority and are to respect and honor Him accordingly.
God is our good Father—a loving, Holy Father. We need to help our kids understand that and walk the balance it requires. At the same time, we need to be aware that when some kids think of “father” they don’t have the best thoughts. The world is full of bad fathers, terrible fathers, evil fathers even. As much as it might pain us, we need to recognize that some of our kids come from homes with these kinds of fathers. So when we talk of God the Father, we need to be sure that kids don’t cast upon Him the wrong ideas of fatherhood that they may have learned from their earthly fathers. Instead, we need to help them know what a father is supposed to be.
When We Pray, We Pray Foremost for God’s Glory
Just as it is easy for many of us to look past God as Father, we can look past the context of prayer that Jesus provides up front. Prayer is not, as many believe, all about getting what we want from God. Rather, prayer is about giving to God what He us due. Notice the first two imperatives center on God, not us. We are to pray that God is honored as holy and that God’s kingdom comes. In this, we see that prayer is not to be centered on us, but on God.
To be clear, when we ask that God be honored and that His kingdom come—for Him to be glorified—we are not asking for God to be given what He lacks. God needs nothing. And that is key here. This is about us allowing the Spirit to draw us to a posture of honoring and glorifying God. This is about us seeking His kingdom and being used by God for His purposes to come to pass. This is a request of submission.
As we will see next, there is nothing wrong with praying for our needs, and even our wants. We should do so. But even those are to be sought within the context of God’s glory. When this is the condition and desire of the heart, it is not surprising that we will see the content of our petitions change. We won’t feel the desire to pray for the frivolous things of the world.
When We Pray, We Pray for God’s Provision
We can breathe a sigh of relief when we get to the part of the model prayer asking for God to provide our daily bread—our needs. It is OK that we ask God for things. But even here, there is a greater purpose in mind. Don’t miss this—by praying for daily bread—for needs—who do we acknowledge they come from? That’s right, God Himself. Uttering this request should humble us every time. We don’t earn the food that is on our table—it is there by God’s kindness. Once again, our prayer life is designed to drive us back to God and His work in our lives.
The next line affirms this—we are to pray for forgiveness of our sins. The greatest need we have is to be right with God through Christ. And just like the food on our tables is only there by God’s kindness, so is God’s forgiveness.
When We Pray, We Pray for God’s Protection
The last big idea from the model prayer is that we pray for God’s protection, namely that He protects us from temptation. Notice how we have taken a big, important step back from praying for God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is “reactive”—given after we sin. Protection from temptation is “proactive”—seeking to not sin in the first place so that we don’t need to be forgiven.
This is the only reasonable response to the gospel. We are not to abuse God’s mercy and grace, but rather to pursue living in holiness according to His power. We want and need God to change our minds and hearts—to give us the ability to turn from even that which tempts us to sin in addition to sin itself. We are declared fully forgiven and righteous in Christ, but that amazing truth should cause gratitude and awe to well up within us so that we want to detest sin—that which brought about Jesus’ death—and live in a way consistent with who we have been made in Christ.
It’s not surprising that once again, we are drawn back to God’s glory. From start to finish, prayer is about drinking in the goodness of God, delighting in Him, and living accordingly. This is prayer. This is what our kids need to understand and live.
When we pray ‘Our Father,’ we remind ourselves of his closeness, his wisdom, his patience, and his care. Time doesn’t allow us to discuss the limitless applications of this truth. But just know this: God calls us first and foremost to embrace our relationship with him as Father.” — John OnwuchekwaJohn Onwuchekwa, Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 43.
Tips for Teaching this Week’s Session
Every week, members of The Gospel Project for Kids team offer guidance to help you as you prepare to teach every session to preschoolers and kids. Listen in as we discuss:
- The big idea of the session
- Any areas of caution or requiring additional prep time
- What we hope God will do through this session
This training is available on Ministry Grid, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and other podcast platforms.