The Bible Insights Weekly e-letter is freely available upon request.

Yes! Please Subscribe Me

Bible Insights Weekly

Enrich your spiritual thinking.

UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, January 13 2022

How should we pray?

Jesus Christ wanted His disciples to learn to communicate with their Father in heaven by not using His or someone else’s words, but by thoughtfully and respectfully formulating their own prayers. So, rather than give them prayers to recite, He gave them a model prayer or outline to use.

Christ's disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray. They lived in a society where ritualistic, recited prayer was common, but it was clear to them that Jesus did not pray in this way. Rather than give them prayers to recite, He gave them a model or outline to use. Clearly, He wanted them to learn how to communicate meaningfully in prayer—not simply to use His or someone else's words. The model He gave them is in both Luke 11 and Matthew 6. In Matthew's account, verses 5-8 and 14-15 amplify the model with a little more information than Luke gives.

Many people simply repeat verses 9-13 as a rote prayer, the so-called "Lord's Prayer." In doing so, they unwittingly disobey Jesus' instruction to avoid repetitive prayers ("vain repetitions," verse 7). Instead He encourages us to learn to pray spontaneously.

Looking at Jesus' model, the first point to note is that we should address God as our Father. More than guidance in "the right way to pray," this introduced the disciples to the concept that our heavenly Father was inviting them into a familial relationship with Him and with one another. We should speak to God with the same warmth that we would use in speaking to our physical fathers—in a respectful, loving and conversational manner. The reference to God's "dwelling in heaven" reminds us that His perspective is different from and superior to our own.

In our prayers, we should acknowledge God's "name," a reference to His great office and holy character. Our prayers might include praise for what He has done, such as thanking Him for features of His marvelous creation. Or they might include praise for His attributes, such as His merciful and forgiving nature.

In the next segment of the model prayer, Jesus said that we should pray often for God to establish His Kingdom on earth. (Our booklet The Gospel of the Kingdom explains this truly significant aspect of the plan of God and helps you understand how and why to include it in your prayers.)

Following this section, Jesus said that we should pray that God's will be done. Regular, effective Bible study will lead to an understanding of God's will so that we can pray about this in an informed manner. (Our detailed Bible Study Course, along with our booklets about the Bible's teachings, can be of help here.)

The part of praying that comes naturally to most people is asking God to bless us with what we want! We should feel free to ask for what we need and even what we may want beyond our needs in accordance with God's will. Of course, we need to guard against selfishness. It's easy for prayers to become a list of "gimmes," a virtual divine shopping list.

A truly vital part of praying includes spiritual self-examination and repentance, a process by which we acknowledge and turn from sins. Before we can truly repent, we must know what sin is and what God expects of us. (To assist you in this area, we recommend that you review our booklets Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion and The Ten Commandments.) As we pray for forgiveness for ourselves, we are to extend forgiveness toward others.

Prayer is an essential part of the life of a Christian. Much of learning how to pray comes through practice—the more a person prays, the more he or she will learn how to do so effectively. Jesus indicated we should pray daily. At any time of day and in any circumstance, we can offer instantaneous prayers. But the type of prayer He spoke of in Luke 11 and Matthew 6 is lengthier and more worshipful. Bible examples of prayer indicate that we should generally pray this kind of prayer on our knees in privacy.

If a Christian wishes to maintain and grow in his relationship with his heavenly Father, he must be willing to devote adequate time to prayer. The Bible gives no set length, and Jesus warned against thinking God is somehow pleased with long, elaborate prayers (Matthew 6:7). On the other hand, we need to be careful of neglecting God by limiting ourselves to a set time span for prayer. As you gain experience and your relationship with God grows, you will find the time passes quickly, and it even becomes difficult to pray about everything that is important to you. This growth will enhance the substance and quality time spent in prayer.

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.