But that is the thing with prayer...everyone starts out as a phony and becomes real.
Some people seem to have a natural inclination to prayer. Some people become really good at in a spiritual sense....be we all start somewhere. We all have to pray without knowing what we are doing and striving to be something we are not.
So despite the difficulties and the wanderings and the fact that I’m still really trying to learn how to pray...I must pray if I want to maintain a relationship with God. It really does take time. We learn to pray by praying more. We get better as do it more often, but each of us has to start somewhere.
Jesus knew this. He knew that even though the disciples had a rich Jewish heritage with thousands of prayers in their tradition they needed instruction on how to pray as part of this Kingdom he was establishing, and which now we can be a part. Jesus never said “If you decide to prayer...” No, he says, “And WHEN you pray...”
Today, we are going to look at how the prayer we know as The Lord’s Prayer can be just what we need to kickstart our prayer life and maybe even enliven an already existing prayer life.
So let’s look at what Jesus taught.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’”
And then vs. 14-15
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Jesus is sitting on a hillside, teaching His disciples the ins and outs of this new Kingdom He is establishing. A Kingdom that will one day culminate in the earthly rule of God here on earth Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. He tells them about the kind of people that His Kingdom appreciates...He explains a morality that surpasses the technical-letter-of-the-law-morality of pharisees...He explains that personal piety is done solely for God’s glory alone...and then he interjects this prayer we are looking at today.
Jesus begins by saying, “This, then, is how you should pray...
He isn’t dictating a new mandatory form of prayer; though He knew it would become part of their worship. He is teaching them what the prayers of His Kingdom will look like...what their content will be...their focus and their tone.
I might just hold the world record for the most times saying the Lord’s Prayer...ok not literally, but I have said it a lot. When we were first teaching Brianna bedtime prayers we opted to teach her the Lord’s Prayer. I wasn’t comfortable with “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep...If I should DIE before I wake...” It just seemed too creepy and morbid to me. I know she didn’t pick that up at her age, but really, death...in the night...for a child?
The Lord’s Prayer, on the other hand, was biblical, structured, and very easy to learn. She picked it up easily, and we have been saying every night together as a family since she was about 2. It is something I look forward to...and not because it means she is going to bed.
Here in Matthew, Jesus has just taught on how not to pray...don’t pray like the hypocrites because they like to be seen...don’t pray like the pagans because they babble on and on trying to manipulate their gods to give them stuff...so this is where Jesus’ turns and says, “This is how you should pray...” Don’t pray like that...pray like this.
It is not meant to be a verbatim, word-for-word, prayer we’re supposed to pray. It gives Jesus’ us a framework or structure around which to build their prayers. It is like the framework of a house. Builders begin by putting down a foundation, and then put up a frame so the walls have something to support them and the house is able to stand.
When we pray, we need a structure. We need a framework around which to build our prayers. We need a structure because if we never use a structure then our prayers have the tendency to become selfish and self-serving.
I popcorn or whisper pray a lot throughout the day, but these whisper prayers are about 9 to 1 in favor of me asking God to do something or give me something. Occasionally the pray focuses on praising God or thanking him. But the majority are requests.
We need a structure, especially in the beginning when we are learning to pray, that guides us through the various parts of prayer. It makes sure we don’t get stuck on the part we most want to spend time in. I certainly don’t believe every prayer we pray must adhere to a framework, but frameworks are good to teach us how to pray and to pull us back in and remind us of some of the essentials we might be missing.
Just like the musical scales for a musician is the framework for prayer. A good musician doesn’t play the scales on stage as a performance, but without the scales, their solos and their songs lack consistency...without the scales they sound horrible. Without the structure, our prayers can become something other than real prayer.
So let’s look at this framework...the musical scales if you will that must under-gird our prayers is we want to grow as prayers...
Prayer starts with our understanding of God.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer begins with “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
A vital part of our understanding of who God is...is found in that word Father...
I grew up for most of my life without a father figure...and when I got one he wasn’t a very good father figure. For some people this sort of reality has skewed their view of God as father. They want nothing to do with God as their Father.
Somehow, and I really don’t know how, but from an early age I never related what I saw in my real dad or my step-dad as anyway related to God as Father. I saw God as the perfect Father, and them the broken, sinful replica that got it all wrong. I don’t know how that thought developed in me, but it did. So I have never had a problem with God as Father. But some have.
But this God, this Father is nothing like any earthly father...even the best of fathers fall short of this Father. The concept of God as Father comes from a middle-eastern culture where fathers were to be the strong heads of their families, and to lead with compassion, justice, to correct, and to guide their children. Children were powerless dependents and were to respond with respect, honor, and obedience.
But Father also carries with it an intimacy. Not the mushy intimacy we find in some modern worship songs that are really uncomfortable to sing. No, this was an intimacy born out of childlike dependence and trust on someone who is worthy of that dependence and trust. God, as Father, is someone on whom we are to respond with complete dependence and obedience because He can be trusted.
So being able to really pray means we understand that God, as Father, is the one in control, and that everything we receive comes from Him. We, like children, are dependent upon God. In order for us to really pray, we must give up control of our lives and depend on Him.
Once we have this concept of dependence upon our Father God...we can then begin to hallow or bring honor to His name because He is worthy of that trust. We praise God for who He is, what He has done, and for His concern and care for us. His faithfulness.
But hallowing God’s name is more than just a few words of praise to God in prayer. Hallowing His name means we take seriously our role in bringing honor or discredit to God’s name. Like it or not when we claim to be followers of Jesus people look to us for what Jesus is like and what he would or would not do. When we act as proper children of God, we bring honor and glory to God. When we live out the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, then God’s name is hallowed. Yes, we need to spend time in our prayer naming the wonderful attributes of God, but those words are hollow if we are not hallowing God with our lives.
Our sin brings dishonor to God’s name...Jewish rabbis were adamant about hallowing God’s name. They taught that if a Jewish person was going to sin they should go where they were unknown and pretend to be a Gentile so as not to bring God’s name to public humiliation through their sin.
Part of our prayer must be to give glory to God, but we must also seek to hallow His name with our actions.
So prayer begins with this dependence upon God as our Father; a provider and instructor. Then, because He is worthy of that trust, we hallow His name with both our words of praise and a life of righteousness.
The next major step is that
Prayer changes our priorities:
We see this very clearly in the arrangement of this prayer.
Jesus instructs us to pray:
“...your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” before he instucts them to pray for their daily bread.
- The first priority is God’s Kingdom.
- The second priority is our world.
Our prayers often get these mixed up, and that is why a structure keeps us in line. My prayers are often more about getting things lined up in my world...rather than figuring out what God wants to do.
The first priority must be God’s Kingdom.
“...your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
If we want God’s Kingdom in the future...we should live like we want in the present.
If we believe that God has invaded our world through Jesus Christ...then our lives should be a reflection of God’s reign on earth starting in our lives...and that requires a rearrangement of our priorities.
By praying for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done...we are asking to be part of that...to have that be our primary focus. We are seeking God’s will and plan. And this will affect what kind of “daily bread” we ask for.
When we preface every decision in lives with this prayer...it changes the focus from what do I want? What would be “best” for me and my family? What would I most enjoy?
What does God want to accomplish? Will this help or hinder that? Is this best for God’s Kingdom? What will bring God the most honor?
Those are tough questions for our culture. Especially one that says business is about making all the money you can...and then leaves a family torn apart or feeling abandoned. It questions our understanding of retirement where people leave the local church to roam nomadically around the world...and miss their opportunity to be wise investors in the next generation. It questions our career choices. It questions our relationship choices. It questions our spending choices.
Placing God’s Kingdom above our own is a major change in focus, and must take place before we are really able to pray as part of this Kingdom.
But that doesn’t mean God is uncaring about us...no. He cares for us and our needs and concerns...but He wants us to start with the proper priorities. So after we seek God’s Kingdom...then
The second priority is our world.
This is where we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.”
But even here this shows a dependence upon God for moment by moment needs. Not tomorrow’s bread...not next week’s...today’s bread. This is our depending on the Father to meet our needs.
For Jesus’ listeners they would have immediately thought of the Old Testament story of God providing manna during their time in the desert. It was never too much or too little...it was always just right.
And we are challenged, even while praying for God to meet our needs to restrain those requests...to trust that what God gives us will be neither too little nor too much.
If we are not careful, we can turn God’s gracious provision into a disguise for our greed. Ephesians 3:20 is so often misquoted in the church it isn’t funny...”Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us...” How many of you have heard someone say this in relationship to praying for something we need?
Many take this to mean that we can get stuff beyond our wildest dreams...but in context Paul is talking about God’s ability to rescue the Gentiles and to God’s ability to dwell in the hearts of both the Jew and Gentile by faith and help them experience His great love. It sounded impossible, but God is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine to really help us grasp the great love of God.
There are many times where God does bless us beyond our wildest dreams...but that is not what this verse is saying. It carries with it the same set of priorities we are discussing in the Lord’s prayer. First the Kingdom...then our world. And praying for our daily bread is an act of dependence upon God for the things that really matter...that we really need.
In Jesus’ culture, bread is the major food group. It is the thing that sustains life. Without bread people died. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to pray dependent upon God for the very things that make life livable...that without them life would end...and to do so with absolute trust as a child looking to their father for the next meal.
So the framework we are building starts with our understanding of who God is and His worthiness to be honored. It then challenges our priorities. Prayer is not Kingdom prayer if it doesn’t have the Kingdom of God as it’s first priority. Then we ask, in dependence upon God, for our needs to be met.
Prayer changes our understanding of us.
We see two things in this section:
- We are sinners in need of forgiveness.
- We are people in need of leadership.
We are sinners in need of forgiveness.
Jesus’ teaches us to pray “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
We are people in need of forgiveness. We have no reason or right to look down our noses at others who we falsely believe to be more sinful than us. Why? Because we are debtors to God in need of forgiveness.
This is such a powerful section on forgiveness. Jesus is asking us to pray that God would forgive our sins with the same grace and compassion as we forgive other people when they sin against us.
God, use my standard of judgment of others against me.
That is a difficult thing to pray for isn’t it? How merciful are you toward those who have sinned against you? How full of grace and understanding are you? What if God took your measuring rod, the one you use to judge the mess ups and miscues of others to judge your life?
At the end of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus returns to this because it is such a difficult thing for us. In vss 14-15 He says,
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins
God’s forgiveness of our sins is dependent upon our forgiveness of others. Why? Because if we can’t forgive others...then we haven’t really grasped forgiveness. We are unable to get what we are unable to give. Our refusal or failure to sho others shows the grace and forgiveness we have received demonstrates we don’t really understand what God is doing in this new Kingdom.
So we are really praying for two things in this section. First, God forgive me for my sins. And second, Give me a right understanding of my offense. It is important for us in the church to understand the depth of our sin so we can understand the depth of God’s mercy and forgiveness and then extend that to others.
People who are angry about the failures of others...people who refuse to forgive...people who rant angrily against the downfalls of others...do not have a clear perspective on just how bad their sins are before God.
Because we are sinners in need of forgiveness...
We are people in need of leadership.
The prayer continues, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
It is not wrong to ask God to rescue us from trials, temptations, and times of testing. This is an acknowledgement of our weakness and once again points to our dependence upon God for all things.
I used to think this section was just about keeping us out of trouble or protecting us from wrong stuff...but this is really an acknowledgment that we need God’s leadership. We need His guidance. I am not smart enough to know where I ought to go or to see all the pitfalls ahead. I may be thinking, “This is a great opportunity!” And God is screaming, in slow motion, “NOOOOOOO!!!”
We acknowledge that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, and then we acknowledge that we need him to guide our path...to show us the way we should...to come to our rescue when we go the wrong direction.
I did a search of the Bible for the words “lead us.” It shows up once in the Pentateuch talking about God leading the people into the Promised Land. Twice in the Gospels here in Matthew and Luke’s discussion of the Lord’s Prayer. The other three times is shows up in Samuel where the people are asking to replace God as their King with an earthly king.
I think there is something significant here. God desires to be our leader, but we are often so determined to lead ourselves or to find someone or something else to lead us. God wanted to lead the people into the Promised Land, and He wants to lead us into the Promised Land of His Kingdom...if we will let Him lead.
As I studied for this message...the thing that stood out the most in The Lord’s Prayer is requirement that we live in dependence upon God for all things. We depend on Him to bring His Kingdom, to supply our daily bread, to forgive, and to lead us. It is so easy to get caught up in the things we want and need and desire God to deal with...we need
One last thing to notice: This is a communal prayer...Our Father...Give us...Forgive us...lead us...deliver us...This is not merely a personal prayer, but rather one we pray with the community of faith. We are a body of Christ. We are the people of God. We succeed or fail together...whether we like it or not.
So we can use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework to build our symphony of prayer around...or our lead guitar solo if you wish. It is a guide. Inside your programs I have provided a handout that will fit neatly into your Bible that helps break this down into a guided time of prayer. I adapted this from a compilation book about prayer, and have found it useful in my own life. You might also want to look at some resources about using the Psalms as guides to prayer...Eugene Peterson, who did The Message, has a wonderful book about that.
This morning I want to challenge you...as I myself am challenged...to become a people of prayer. Not just popcorn, whisper, random prayer, but people who spend quality time in God’s presence through prayer. I am convinced that much spiritual growth is forfeited for lack of prayer.