The Lord’s Prayer Pt 2
Summary: Christian prayer is communication with a Holy Father who knows our needs; understanding this affects our expectations of, and approach to, prayer.
This morning we continue our look at the Lord’s Prayer, part of Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount. Read it with me, will you please?
Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. 9 In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Last week we noticed Jesus expects that we are going to pray – He doesn’t tell us “if you pray” He says, “And when you pray.” And that’s good news for us because it means God expects that you will pray. He actually wants to hear from you. You’re not bothering Him, you don’t have to work hard to get His attention, you don’t even need to make an appointment – God expects you to pray to Him. That’s good news!
But, there are some things to avoid – like being more concerned with what other people think than you are about God, or using vain repetitions, empty phrases, babbling on and on thinking you will somehow wear God down or wake Him up and get what you want.
The problem with both of these approaches, and the root of all our failure in prayer really, is that they reflect our self-centeredness. That is, thinking that prayer is something I do to get what I want. Maybe I want a clean conscience, maybe I want to know that I’ve checked that box and done a good thing spiritually, or maybe I’m praying because I need something from God. We can have all kinds of variations on the theme, but they keep me in the middle.
Meanwhile, Jesus wants to teach us an entirely different way to pray. And that’s immediately obvious when you hear what He’s saying about God: Jesus tells us to pray to God and call Him Father, or Abba in the original language.
That may seem quite normal to you, but it wasn’t to the people who first heard Him.
If you read through the Old Testament – that part of your Bible that tells about everything that happened before Jesus came – you will find an occasional reference to God as the Father of the nation of Israel. It happens fifteen times to be exact. But NOWHERE in either the Scriptures or the ancient Jewish devotional writings is YHWH ever referred to as a personal Abba, father.
And yet, here, just in the Sermon on the Mount you find Jesus referring to God as a personal, intimate, concerned and involved father 17 times! In other words, Jesus calls God Father more in this one sermon than all the writings of Moses, David, Isaiah, Hosea and Ezekiel combined! When you read through the Gospels you discover Jesus refers to God in prayer as Abba over 60 times! All of His prayers address God as Father. If you count His other references to God as Father – in the gospels alone – you come up with 105 mentions.
So, make sure you catch this: no one calls God Abba Father before Jesus comes – but now, because of Him, every Christian can pray this way. In fact, calling God “Father” was not simply a way Jesus said we could relate to God, it was the way He wanted us to relate!
And that’s important, because if you don’t know that, you wind up saying weird things about prayer as if it’s some sort of magical incantation with powerful qualities all it’s own.
For example, whenever a tragedy strikes officials and neighbors and even the announcer on CNN will say something probably well-meaning, but actually ridiculous like, “well, our prayers go out to the family.”
Now what on earth does that mean? Our prayers “go out to them”? Are our prayers supposed to be like some big cozy blanket that we throw at them, hoping it somehow wraps them up and makes them feel better? Is there some kind of magical power wrapped up in the concept of prayer all by itself?
No! Prayer is only significant because it is a form of communication with our Father in Heaven – there is an identity, an individual, with personality and intelligence and power on the receiving end of our prayers. We don’t just pray FOR someone, we pray TO Someone. This is communication 101, right? Every form of communication requires a speaker or sender, a message, and a receiver.
So, when the Christian prayers, our prayers don’t “go out to the families,” they go up to the God of Heaven, the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the One who was and who is and who is to come. The prayer itself – the words that are spoken, and even the heart and desire behind them – doesn’t “do” anything, God does! He hears and answers our prayers. He is the receiver of the message we transmit. And we are told to call Him Father.
When we call God Father, we recognize that there is a degree of familiarity there – we know Him, and He knows us. There is a relationship, and there is concern on His part for our well-being. Good fathers care about their children, help their children, love their children, and lead their children. And as much as children look up to their dad and think he can do anything, our Heavenly Father really can.
Our Heavenly Father made the world and everything in it. He knows everything, sees everything, has everything, and has triumphed over everything. And on top of all that, He’s got time for us, and actually wants to hear from us, He expects us to pray, expects us to ask for His advice, and to talk with Him about our needs. If kids don’t have this kind of relationship with their parents, there’s something wrong.
And that brings us back to something we didn’t have time to address last week: if God knows what I need before I ask, then why do I even have to pray? That honest question exposes a lot of our misguided thinking about God and about prayer. I know my kids need to eat, and they know that I know that they need to eat, but they still come to me all the time and ask “what’s for dinner?” And if they liked it, they’ll let me know and thank me.
Do my kids need to ask for food? Will I still feed them even if they don’t ask? Of course. Do they need to thank me for food? Will I still feed them even if they don’t? Of course. But there are plenty of other kids who don’t talk to me about dinner at all. They’re not my kids. I don’t think about feeding your kids and they don’t tell me thank you for what you fed them.
My kids talk to me because they’re mine – because we have a relationship. You see, the communication that occurs between us is about more than just putting calories in their bellies. They know that things come to them because of their relationship with me. So, at times they make requests, at times they say thank you, at times they come walking into the room crying and I ask what’s wrong, even if I already know. There is a relationship between us and so we communicate about all kinds of things.
When we forget that prayer is just a form of communication between us and our Heavenly Father, that’s when we go wrong: when we think of prayer as an abstract thing disconnected from a person, as a mechanism for getting what we want or doing what we should.
May I ask: What do you think prayer is for? Getting your way, or getting more of God? You see, we can easily forget that prayer and Bible study, our ‘devotional time’ if you want to call it that, is more than just a means to our own spiritual growth. It’s a time to check out from this world and be with God – to put our soul first, above everything else in life. And, to give ourselves to God – to be with Him, to focus our attention on Him, and Him alone. To make a priority of Him with no distraction or need.
Do you ever think in these terms? Do you ever think of responding to God’s invitation to spend time with Him as an invitation to develop a relationship and not just a chance to get something from Him?
Too often we focus on our Father in Heaven – and skip right over the simple Father part.
But He is our Father in Heaven and hallowed be His name. So let’s think about that for a minute. What about the fact that our Father is in Heaven? That reminds us that there is more than just this life, there is more than just these troubled times on this troubled planet. There is something else, something after, and that is where our Heavenly Father dwells. Heaven is real, it is a better place, and it is under the total rule and authority of our Father in Heaven.
Hallowed be His name. Now, that’s not a word we use that often – except in connection with trick-or-treat. We still use the word Halloween. That’s because we get Halloween from Hallow’s Eve – which happens right before Hallow’s Day or All Saint’s Day, November 1 – a holiday observed by some churches where they remember all the saints that have come before. There’s too much history and theology there to dig into right now, I just want to make the connection for you that when we hallow someone we think highly of them. We consider them holy.
And of course, God is the pinnacle of that. When we hallow His name, we worship Him, we esteem Him, we consider Him better, far better, than ourselves. We recognize that He is God and we are not. And in the process we fulfill the Commandments to have no other God before Him and not use His name in vain, for it is hallowed, it is holy, God is different, better, than us – He is pure and good and wonderful and holy.
Think about it in terms of a contrast – you can hollow God – empty your expectations of Him, your understanding of Him, normalize Him, and emasculate Him. Most people walking around today have hollowed God – they don’t think of Him as He truly is because they have shut Him out of their lives, they don’t want to know Him as hallowed, they don’t want to know Him as real, they don’t want to put Him first in their lives. Maybe they don’t mind having Him there, as a nice idea, just like their idea of prayer is a good thing that you can send out to those in need, but it’s all hollow and empty on the inside and doesn’t really do anything – the most that can happen is you feel a little better.
But friends, as we have seen prayer is so much, much more than that, because God is so much, much, more than that.
So, let’s pull all of this together and make some practical applications about how we pray. We start by thinking about our posture and position in prayer. When you mention prayer the first thing most people is a bowed head, closed eyes, clasped hands, and probably a bended knee. But prayer doesn’t have to be all of those things, or any of those things.
You don’t have to
Close your eyes (although we frequently do that so we can focus better)
Bow your head (although we do that sometimes to show reverence for the great King who is our Father)
Fold your hands which we do in an act of submission and begging (I desire to men lift up Holy hands)
Kneel which we do to symbolize our submission (prayer can be standing or laying prostrate)
When you read the Bible you find people praying while they stand up, lie face down, sit, or raise their hands toward Heaven (Paul – I desire that men everywhere lift up holy to hands). You find people beating their chest in humility, or looking down, and you find others looking up.
You find people praying in secret, in the Garden of Gethsemane – which would be more like a modern day park, at the beach, you even find Jesus praying on the cross. In other words, you can pray anywhere, any time, under any conditions. You don’t have to have your eyes closed, your hands clasped, your head bowed and your knees bent.
You also don’t have to recite a formula whether that’s the Rosary, Hail Mary, the Prayer of Jabez, or even the Lord’s Prayer. Remember, there is no magic in the words. Prayer is about relationship, not requests, it’s not a recipe you learn to get what you want – it’s talking with your Father who already knows your every need.
And if prayer is a conversation with God, it might be quick – something about an immediate need, or just a short hello. Or, it could be a long-drawn out, in-depth conversation that goes for several hours like having lunch with a friend you’re seeking some advice and counsel from. Think of a man communicating with his wife – there are times when you have a short conversation that’s just about the facts of what’s going on, and times when you sit down and really think through a major decision. The same is true in prayer with God.
Another thing: I don’t use a special vocabulary when I talk with my wife – or with my dad for that matter. Nor do I think I’ll be heard better by repeating myself over and over or using some formal style of speaking. They would think that was weird and tell me to knock it off. So don’t talk weird to God – talk with respect, with reverence, but also with familiarity like you would to someone close who loves you. Like you would talk to a good Father.
But, here’s something else to remember, and that is: if prayer is more about relationship than requests then there is a need for prayer even in your busy life. Many of you will know the name William Wilberforce. He served in the British Parliament as the MP for Yorkshire from 1784–1812. He helped establish what became the country of Sierra Leone in West Africa and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals but he is best known for his tireless work to fight against the slave trade and is considered to be the father of the legislation that finally brought an end to that evil activity.
But I want you to hear this, and hear it well – here is a man who was serving in government, very active in leading his nation in both domestic and foreign affairs, a very busy, a very important, a very influential man – but also a deeply devoted Christian man who was acting on His Christian convictions. But he faced the very real challenge that many of us face in trying to prioritize His devotional and prayer time with God in light of the many demands of his calendar.
Listen to what he had to say – nearly 200 years ago:
This perpetual hurry of business and company ruins me in soul if not in body. [I need] More solitude and earlier hours! I suspect I have been [giving] too little time to religious exercises, as private devotion and religious meditation, Scripture-reading, etc. Hence I am lean and cold and hard. I had better allot two hours or an hour and a half daily. I have been keeping too late hours, and hence have had but a hurried half-hour in the morning to myself. Surely the experience of all good men confirms the proposition that without a due measure of private devotions the soul will grow lean. But all may be done through prayer-almighty prayer, I am ready to say-and why not? For that it is almighty is only through the gracious ordination of the God of loving truth. On then, pray, pray, pray!
This man who history speaks so well of, remembers so fondly, this man who was so active in government service felt that he needed to spend more time in private with God in order to face the challenges of the day, not less.
Friends, prayer is trusting God that He can accomplish more when I’m on my knees than I can accomplish on my feet.
So, prayer requires time management – when will you pray? Is prayer important enough to make it into your schedule – is it important for you to slow down and talk with God? When we think of prayer as a thing, as something we do, we forget that God is on the other end of it. But if you think of prayer as just talking to God, why wouldn’t you want to do that each day? If you really have accepted Him as Father and king and view your life as His – why wouldn’t you stop to ask Him how to live it today?
Prayer will always take time, but after all, what are we so busy doing?
One thing of course is mindlessly looking at our phones. Last year Andrew Sullivan wrote an article for the New Yorker entitled: I Used to Be a Human Being. In it he wonders:
Has our enslavement to dopamine — to the instant hits of validation that come with a well-crafted tweet or Snapchat streak — made us happier? I suspect it has simply made us less unhappy, or rather less aware of our unhappiness, and that our phones are merely new and powerful antidepressants of a non-pharmaceutical variety.
And then he goes on to diagnose the effect technology has had in smothering our souls, making us less human and transforming a culture from one where spiritual practices were once common and widespread to todays modern secular society.
modernity slowly weakened spirituality, by design and accident, in favor of commerce; it downplayed silence and mere being in favor of noise and constant action. The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which it might endure or be reborn.
He then goes on to propose something for consideration – and remember, this is coming out of the New Yorker – this is not a religious magazine published by some Christian company in the South. He says:
If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation. Christian leaders seem to think that they need more distraction to counter the distraction. Their services have degenerated into emotional spasms, their spaces drowned with light and noise and locked shut throughout the day, when their darkness and silence might actually draw those whose minds and souls have grown web-weary.
So, let me ask – I know you’re busy, but busy doing what? If you’re so busy you don’t have time to read the Scriptures and pray, are you sure you’re spending your life the right way?
Prayer is not the communication of information
Prayer is not a technique for getting what you want
Prayer is not a magical, spiritual, thing that exists all by itself
Prayer is communication with a loving God who wants us to call Him Father. Or in the words of John Stott: “the essence of Christian prayer is to seek God.”
Are you seeking God? He is certainly seeking you. He expects you to pray, to call out to Him as your Abba Father in heaven – so let’s do that now. Let’s pray.