It’s always interesting to me to hear sports interviews. The sideline reporter catches the coach as he’s trying to get off the field at halftime. “Coach, what do you need to do in the second half?” “Well, we need to run the ball better. We need to throw the ball better. We need to catch the ball better. We need to protect the ball better.” Unless it’s Andy Reid, the former Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach. Then all you get is, “I need to do a better job.”
Sports-speak! All sports interviews sound the same. But maybe there’s a reason for that. Whatever sport it is, a team needs to do well in the basics that make up its sport. No matter how sophisticated an offense is, or involved a game plan may be, the team has to excel in the basics.
That’s true for us as Christ’s church. No matter how many programs we have, no matter how extensive are our ministries, we have to excel in the basics. One of those basics, inherent to everything we do, is prayer.
In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus teaches His disciples a model prayer. He doesn’t say, “pray this.” He says, “pray like this.” He gives us a pattern for prayer. Basic prayer for subjects of His kingdom. Kingdom communication.
In the first half of the prayer, Jesus emphasizes two things. One, prayer involves communion with the living God whom we know and relate to as our Father in heaven, with all that means. Two, prayer involves commitment to seeking His kingdom, His will, His agenda. Our prayer is to be kingdom-qualified.
The second half of Jesus’ prayer model for us changes focus from pursuing God’s glory and redemptive reign, to petitioning God for our personal needs. But the whole of the prayer relates to the kingdom of God. We find the two aspects wed at the close of Matthew 6 where Jesus instructs us “to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
In the second half, our Lord includes 3 areas of petition. One, we ask our Father in heaven to provide for our daily needs. Two, we ask Him to promote grace through us, making us peacemakers and showing mercy as we have been shown mercy. Three, we ask our God to protect us from spiritual harm.
We’re not going to develop the substance and breadth of these petitions now, but what we do find is our Lord’s teaching on prayer basic to our discipleship, as His redeemed and subjects of His kingdom.
The story has it that the Green Bay Packers had a horrible game. (Note: I didn’t fact check this story because I didn’t want the facts to mess up my illustration.) Legendary coach Vince Lombardi assembled his team in the locker room. He took a football in hand, looked at his dejected players and said, “This is a football.” He wasn’t just being sarcastic. He was bringing his team’s attention back to basics.
In all we do as a church—worship, discipleship, evangelism through word and deed—at the core of it all is prayer. Just like success in the game of football rests of what happens to the ball (as it is advanced down the field, protected, managed), so the success of our Christian lives and ministry as a Church depends of what happens in prayer. Prayer must be at the center of all we do.
Prayer reminds us that our lives revolve around our God, seek His kingdom and advance His ends. Any success depends on God. Like Coach Lombardi, our Lord Jesus holds up prayer and says to us, “When you pray…” May God grant us grace to be coachable, and to excel in this fundamental of the faith.
(For those interested in a basic study of prayer, see my 32-page booklet entitled, Why Do We Pray? It touches on prayer’s DNA, such as what it means to pray in Jesus’ name and where prayer finds its power. It also includes a practical section on “the practice of prayer.”)