Uncle Irv was not noted for his religious devotion, but he needed one million dollars to clinch a real estate deal. So, he went down to his local synagogue to pray for the money. By chance, he knelt down next to a man who was praying for one hundred dollars to pay his rent. Irv reached into his pocket for his money clip and took from it a hundred-dollar bill, which he pressed into the other man’s hand. Overcome by joy, the man got up and left the sanctuary. Uncle Irv then looked heavenward and started his prayer: “Lord, now that I have got your undivided attention . . .”
I am not sure Uncle Irv got God’s undivided attention, because the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer that prayer is not about barging by other people and their concerns while seeking to have God to ourselves. The Lord’s Prayer begins with, “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). This prayer is to be prayed in the plural. You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and ever once say “I.” You cannot say the Lord’s Prayer and ever once say “my.” This is a prayer not only for the Christian but also for the whole church. Jesus is warning us to not to allow prayer to become childish and individualistic. Prayer as a treasured gift is not simply to be spent on self (James 4:1–3). Prayer is not a golden lamp with God as our private genie. He is our Father in heaven. He is Father to all those who have been adopted into the family of God, and we should bear that in mind the next time we pray (Rom. 8:15–17; Eph. 3:14–21). Many of us have developed a self-centeredness in praying that is unbiblical and unbalanced.
Paying respect to our family ties in Christ carries with it several important implications for our prayer life. First, as we pray, we will see the world through a wide-angle lens. It is our privilege to cast our individual cares on the Lord, but our praying must not stop there. There must be a kind of socialism to our praying. We must pray for the needs of the whole church across the world. The apostle John saw the elders in heaven with “the prayers of the saints,” not the prayers of one saint (Rev. 5:8). Second, as we pray, we will think about how our requests impinge upon others. We cannot ask for that which might harm, defraud, or exclude others. Paul’s prayer and preference was to be with Christ, but he realized that to remain on earth was better for the Philippians (Phil. 1:19–26). So, he was happy for God to answer their prayer rather than his. We ought not to pray at someone’s expense. Third, as we pray, we will be mindful of broken relationships and the need to repair them quickly. Simply put, we cannot look our Father in heaven square in the face with a smile while deliberately turning our back to brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we are at odds (Matt. 5:21–26; 6:14–15). The Christian is not an only child. Therefore, our prayers are family prayers. And everybody said, “Amen!”