Notes from a Dwight L. Moody prayer meeting...
Dwight L. Moody: Mr. Moody read the Lord's Prayer (Matt.6:9) and said each should ask himself the question, "Can I pray this prayer?" This prayer has been called by a good many "the Lord's prayer," but it wasn't; it was the disciples' prayer. The disciples had been with Jesus, and He was praying. And when He finished, they said to Him, "teach us, Lord, how to pray." They didn't ask him to teach them how to preach; man knows how to do that; but they wanted to know how to pray. They'd all soon know how to preach if they only knew how to pray.
He believed he spoke the feelings of thousands of Christians when he said, they hadn't known what it was to pray. "Teach us" should be the prayer of every Christian heart. If the disciples nearest Jesus needed to be taught how to pray, how much more did Christians to-day, as lukewarm as the church is now, need this spirit and teaching. What they wanted was heartfelt, heart-searching prayer.
He had never been more impressed with the lesson than in the warning when he was reading over the chapter before the meeting. In the twentieth chapter of Matthew, at the twentieth verse, it was said that the mother of James and John came to Jesus and asked Him that her two sons, Zebedee's children, might sit, the one on Christ's right hand, the other on His left, in His kingdom. And Jesus answered, "Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized?" They say unto Him, "We are able. And He saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left, is not Mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father. And when the ten heard it they were moved with indignation against the two brethren."
John was nearest Jesus, and yet, like the others, though he knew how to preach, he did not know how to pray. These words were uttered by Jesus in the evening of his ministry. The mother of James and John came to Him with this prayer, but, because it was prompted by a desire to be great in His kingdom, the Holy Spirit didn't put into her heart, and Jesus didn't answer it. The ten disciples when they heard it were indignant, jealous.
There would have been trouble if Christ hadn't been there. Jesus then went on to speak about humility in Mat. 20:25, and said to his disciples that whosoever would be chief among them, let him be the servant. "Even," said Jesus. "as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." In other words, Christ taught his disciples not to be ambitious. Probably the mother of James and John wanted her sons to be made prime minister or chief secretary, or to be appointed to some high office in Christ's kingdom, when it was established, as many thought it would be.
Christians to-day ought to pray and ask to be taught how to pray. In the ninth chapter of Luke it is related that when Jesus steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, He sent on some of his disciples to a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him. The people wouldn't receive him because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when these same disciples saw it they wanted Jesus to send down fire from heaven and destroy the village. But Christ rebuked them, and told them they didn't know of what manner of spirit they were, "for the Son of Man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them." These disciples were closest to Christ, had been with Him all through His ministry, and yet, even when it was about to close, they hadn't learned how to pray.
The Lord's prayer to His Father was given in the seventeenth chapter of John, but what was commonly called the Lord's prayer was the disciples' prayer, the one Jesus taught them. There was no difference between a disciple's prayer and a sinner's prayer. One spoke to God as "Our Father," the other as the great God who ruled this world and all the worlds.
The eighteen hundred years since Jesus taught His disciples how to pray had rolled away, but it hadn't been changed, it hadn't been improved. "Thy will be done." The ungodly man couldn't say that. The sinner's stumbling-block is that he isn't willing to give up his will for God's. The ungodly man cannot forgive others, and so he can't ask God to forgive him. God's grace only can make man do this. Many men stumble over this prayer into perdition. Many say their prayers like the man who counts his beads - there's no soul in it.
excerpted from Great Joy by Dwight L. Moody, New York, 1877