The Lord’s Prayer Pt 1
Summary: It is possible to do religious things like giving, praying, or fasting for the wrong reasons, so Jesus confronts the issue and offers a corrective.
We’re in the book of Matthew moving our way along verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and we’re in the middle of what is called The Sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, and we’ve come to what is called The Lord’s Prayer.
Let’s start this morning by admitting that prayer is kind of like working out – it sounds like a good idea, everyone agrees you should do it, but very people actually take the time to do it, or feel like they do it well. So, if you’re in that boat – if you want to pray more but you just don’t know how, or if you have questions about whether you’re doing it right, or how to start, or why this isn’t working, I hope you’ll find answers as we spend the next several weeks looking at the subject of prayer and what Jesus had to say about it.
We begin right away by jumping in where we left off last time, in Matthew 6, verse 5. Here we find Jesus telling the crowds:
Matt 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 [lit: empty phrases] 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.
There’s a lot of stuff in here and we’re going to do our best to work our way through it.
But right away, the first thing I want us to see is: Jesus assumes people are going to pray.
Right before this, in verses 1-4, we heard Him correcting people about their giving and we noticed it was something He assumed people would do, they just needed instruction on how to give appropriately. Well, now we find Him giving instruction on how to pray – but again, it’s something He assumes we are going to do, we just need instruction on how to do it correctly. He speaks to the crowd and says, “And when you pray…”
Friends, prayer is a natural part of our relationship with God. It’s something we find happening all throughout Scripture. From the first pages of Genesis to the last pages of Revelation, we find the Bible telling us about prayer – it’s either telling us about someone who was praying, or telling us what they prayed, or encouraging us to pray personally. So, prayer shouldn’t be something foreign or strange to us – it’s really just talking to God.
I think we complicate it by giving it a name but it doesn’t have to be more mystical or mysterious or super-spiritual than just communicating with the God who loves us. I talk with my wife all the time and we don’t have a special name for that. I talk with my friends and we don’t have a special name for that. I talk with the waiter, the cashier, the UPS driver, and there’s no special name for our communication.
So when you think about prayer, just think about it as talking with God. And guess what? He wants to communicate with you.
This week, on Thursday, Evan St Onge was promoted from Staff Sergeant to Warrant Officer in the Marine Corps. It was a big deal, so we went down to Quantico for the ceremony. And Evan used to work for the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, the number two general in charge of the entire Marine Corps, so the General came down for the promotion too. He’s retired now, but still, people were in awe of the man. And some people wondered – can I approach him? Can I talk to him? There was uncertainty.
I’m so thankful it’s not that way with God – wondering if you can approach Him, wondering how He will respond, wondering if He’ll brush you off, patronize you, or belittle you.
Christian, if you’re wondering, if you have any doubt, let me tell you bluntly: Yes, you can approach God. You don’t have to pester some reluctant deity until he, she, it or they listens to you. You have a personal relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.
Jesus expects that we are going to pray, desperately, thankfully, joyfully, tearfully, and often. He says, “And when you pray…” He assumes this is something you’re going to do.
Donald Trump does not want to hear from you. Nancy Pelosi does not want to hear from you. Bill Belichick and Doug Pederson are preparing for the Super Bowl – they aren’t going to take your call, your invitation for lunch or respond to your Tweet, SnapChat, or message. Mark Zuckerberg won’t respond to you and neither will Elon Musk.
But God. God Almighty, expects that you are going to pray. That you are going to talk to Him, He invites it, He wants it, you’re not a bore or a bother or a drag to Him.
The Bible tells us:
Heb 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Deep in the human soul is an instinct, planted there by God, to call out to Him.
Isn’t it interesting that all people: men and women, young and old, have a sense of God and the opportunity to communicate to Him. They might not know Him, might not know exactly who He is, but for almost all people, there are moments of wonder and moments of tragedy which stir even the least spiritually attuned soul to recognize the existence of some greater power above. In some ways then, prayer is one of the most naturally supernatural experiences of our human lives.
And I want to point out again how remarkable that is: that God wants to speak to us and wants to hear from us. Don’t make the assumption that “of course things should be that way.” They should not. You should be shocked and suspicious of this wonderful truth: that the God of the universe opens His ears, turns His eyes, toward you. And yet, He does. It’s true. It’s truly true: God put in you the natural instinct to pray toward Him and when you do, He hears.
And yet, as instinctive as it is, the Bible tells us time and time again about the need to labor in prayer, to maintain steadfastness in prayer, and how to pray correctly. Why is that? Because we are prone to use this powerful privilege in the wrong ways.
Jesus outlines several of them here.
First He warns people about putting on a show with your prayers, attracting the attention of others and thinking about what they think of you as you pray. He says
Now, this can happen in two ways – you can pray in an effort to impress others. And so you think about what phrases you’re going to use, or what you’re going to pray about. Especially in a group setting, you think I know what I’m going to pray … – and you wind up focusing more on what they think and what you’re saying or how you’re saying it than you do on the God you’re praying to.
That’s what was happening here – Jesus was talking to people who lived in a very religious community – it was common to pray and to be seen praying. And so there were temptations to make yourself look good – to get noticed praying. He says:
Matt 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.
We probably don’t struggle with this exactly the same way His original audience did. But
let’s turn it around 180 degrees and look at it from the other side. He says don’t make a show of yourself for other people because you want them to think well of you. So what about this: how often do you keep your mouth closed out of concern about what people will think of you?
Do you skip prayer, or stay quiet in a time of group prayer because you’re concerned about what other people are going to think of you? My friend, it’s practically the same thing! You’re doing, or not doing, something in order to be noticed, or not be noticed by people. And in that moment, your focus is more on them than it is on God. Somehow, in your mind, you’ve made the people around you bigger, and more influential, more important to you than the God you could be addressing.
Christian, do not be intimidated by others when it comes to prayer or worship. You have a direct relationship with God – only His opinion really matters.
That’s why Jesus goes on to say:
Matt 6:6 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.
Shut everyone and everything else out and just address your God alone. Now, for some people that’s even more scary than praying in front of other people – being alone with God and nothing else? When was the last time you did that?
Friends, there is tremendous value to spending time alone with God. God Himself is offering you private appointments. You can come to Him and share the things you can’t share with anyone else. You can be real with Him. You can tell Him the truth and ask for help. You can bear the secrets of your soul to Him, which, did you notice – aren’t really secrets to Him anyway?
OK, so we understand that we can be left alone with God –that we should actually look for those opportunities. But let’s ask a question here: does this mean we should never pray in front of other people? Is Jesus saying that the only time and place to pray is when we are alone in some special place? Absolutely not.
One of the trends we have seen in the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus uses extreme language to get people’s attention and make a deeper point.
Jesus Himself prayed openly with the disciples. Think of the Last Supper, as just one example. On the night before He was crucified Jesus gathered together with the disciples and celebrated a Passover meal. You can read all about it in John’s gospel where the information spans several chapters and Chapter 17 is one long recorded prayer of what Jesus prayed for Himself and for His disciples.
After His resurrection the disciples gathered together for a prayer meeting in Jerusalem and they were all gathered together praying when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. When Peter was arrested the church held a prayer meeting to seek his release. They were having another prayer meeting at the church in Antioch when the Holy Spirit commissioned Paul and Barnabas to be sent out as missionaries.
So, of course it is good to pray together, to present our worship and requests to God together. And, God does something special when His people gather together to pray. Perhaps you noticed that the format of the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus gives us here, is in the plural form. “Our Father in Heaven,” “Give us this day our daily bread.” It’s meant to be communal and inclusive, not just private and personal.
The point in all of this is simply to remember that God is the audience for our prayers. So don’t let what other people think affect your actions in prayer – whether you pray to impress them, or keep quiet to keep from embarrassing yourself – don’t think about them, think about God.
And then, notice this little bit: Jesus says there is a reward for prayer. He says if you pray so other people will notice you, you have your reward, or you can pray in secret before God and you’ll have your reward from Him.
Now that right there, should blow your mind. Not only does the God of the universe expect you to speak to Him, not only does He make Himself available to you, there’s actually a reward for doing it. What?!?
So, tell me more.
The word used here for room is tameion – it’s the word used for the pantry or the storeroom in an ancient house. Jesus says go meet with God in the storeroom where the supplies already are, and there, ask for your daily bread.
John Stott notes:
Certainly the hidden rewards of prayer are too many to enumerate. In the words of the apostle Paul, when we cry, ‘Abba Father,’ the Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are indeed God’s children, and we are granted a strong assurance of his fatherhood and love. He lifts the light of his face upon us and gives us his peace. He refreshes our soul, satisfies our hunger, quenches our thirst. We know we are no longer prodigals for we have been forgiven; no longer alienated, for we have come home.
There are countless, indescribable, eternal rewards that come from spending time with God – things that can never be taken from you, lost, or left behind they are impressed upon your soul in the quiet places where you meet with your Maker.
The old hymn reminds us:
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!
But, when we do come, Jesus gives us another warning, He says
Matt 6:7“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Which provokes us with an important question: what do you think you have to do to get God’s attention? Do you think you have to use some special formula, some secret combination of words? Do you have to do something special? What does it take?
There’s a great illustration of this in the Old Testament in the book of 1 Kings where we find the account of a challenge between the priests of a god called Baal and Elijah a prophet of God.
It’s in chapter 18. And if you’ve ever heard the name Jezebel, it’s from the time when she was alive and her husband was the king of Israel. Together, they had led the people away from serving God, and now Elijah was calling them back but the people weren’t too sure what to do or who to follow. So Elijah proposed a challenge – the priests of Baal would prepare an altar and offer up a bull and then call upon their god to accept the sacrifice and see what happened.
So these priests get everything ready, and there are 450 of them.
1 Kings 18:26 So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, “O Baal, hear us!” But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made.
27 And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy [ESV – relieving himself], or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. 29 And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.
They’ve been loud, they’ve been persistent, they’ve chanted until they’re blue in the face, they’ve even cut themselves. And what happens? Nothing.
So then Elijah prepares an altar and he digs a trench around it. Then he puts the wood in place, kills the bull and puts it on the wood, and soaks the whole thing with water three times, and then, just to really prove the point, they fill the trench with water too. So it’s a soaking, muddy mess now.
36 And … Elijah the prophet came near and said, “LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!”
Elijah stands up and offers this short, simple, prayer and God responds in a overwhelming way.
The point is: when we pray we don’t need to chant, or stress, or shout, we just need to talk to our Heavenly Father – the same way you would talk to your earthly father – with familiarity, friendliness, and respect.
As Jesus tells us – He already knows what we need before we even ask. We don’t have to get His attention or convince Him. Now, that brings us to the question: well, if He knows what we need why should we even pray?
Well, that’s where we’ll start next week. But I’ll give you a hint – it has to do with why we pray in the first place – it isn’t to get stuff, it’s to spend time with our God, to grow our relationship, to hear from Him and share with Him.
We’re going to celebrate communion now, to remember the death of Jesus on the cross, which makes our prayers possible.
We are only able to call God Father because of what Jesus has done. We are only able to come boldly into His presence because of what Jesus has done. He went to the cross and bore the penalty for all of our sins; He became a sacrifice for us, so that instead of being angry with us, God is kind toward us.
If you want to find forgiveness of your sins, if you’re afraid of meeting God in the secret place right now because you’re scared of who He is or what He might say, then speak to Him. Ask Him to forgive you in Christ and He will – it’s His plan, not mine, I can tell you He will forgive you and you can find peace and rest for your soul. You can pray to Him freely and frequently, about anything and everything that is on your heart and mind.
Take some time to do that now as the men distribute the elements. Pray to God – confess your sins, bring your needs, and give Him thanks.