Approaching the King


Introduction: In 6:1 Jesus warned against practicing acts of righteousness, specifically deeds of kindness, before other people, but to give as discreetly and unostentatiously as possible. Works of mercy should be done only for the good of others and to glorify God. If God alone knows about it, that is best. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid the public nature of a gift; in such a case we must guard our hearts and prize the opportunity to give, for it emulates the mercy of our Father toward us. “Your Father,” a constant theme of this teaching of Jesus, sees all. He knows the haughty heart that gives only that men will applaud his generosity (1); he knows the deed done only out of the motive of mercy. Another practice of true piety is prayer. Even more so than deeds of righteous mercy to others, prayer should be between the soul and God. The religious leaders of the day, however, had managed to make of prayer an opportunity for public display of superior religiosity.

I. To pray rightly, we must know who the true audience is. Verses 5, 6, 9. – Public prayer is right in its appointed place in worship and should be expressive of the spirit of worship involving the entire church and make petitions related to the entire church and its relation to the broader culture. First Timothy 2 gives instructions about public prayer and conduct in worship based on theological truth. Issues concerning private devotion and prayer, however, are not to be paraded in public as a badge of spirituality.

A. Prayer is not a performance to gain the approval of men

1. What not to do

Do not use prayer as a means of gaining public approval, or to create an impression of spirituality. Prayer must never be a means of self-congratulation or self-righteous posturing. Jesus gave an example of the difference hypocritical prayer and earnest personal submission to God in the parable in Luke 18:9-14.

Even though prayer should be in earnest and in sincere recognition of our dependence on God for all things, we must not engage in vain, meaningless repetition, thoughtless parroting of phrases that have little or no thought about the biblical foundation for the content of prayer. Every Christian is responsible for knowing as much of the word of God as possible so that his prayers will be consistent with the purpose of God in the world and the will of God for his people (1 John 5:14, 15). For examples of the content of prayer based on thoughtful points of intercession see Exodus 32:11-14, Philippians 1:9-11, Ephesians 1:15-20; 3:14-19; Colossians 4:2-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:11,12.

2. What to do 

Pray with unwavering confidence that God is the one addressed in prayer (both public prayer and private prayer) and that he delights to hear his children confess their dependence on him and give joyful submission to his will. We must know that prayer is not an empty exercise, but powerful and effective, engaging God for the powerful movement of his Spirit, mysteriously participating with him in the accomplishing of his will (2 Corinthians 1:10, 11; Philippians 1:19, 20)

In supplication for personal needs both material and spiritual and in intercession for others, prayer must be hidden, earnest, focused, and constant (Romans 1:9-11; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; Philippians 1:3-5; Colossians 1:3, 4; 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 4; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:3,4).

B. Who He is – He is by nature a Father

1. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ _ Jesus claimed in a unique way to be the Son of God and looked to his Father in a way that convinced his contemporaries that he was claiming equality with God (John 5:18).. The overall fatherhood of God in the care of all his creatures and his special fatherhood of those who trust him for salvation is built on his character, eternally intrinsic to his nature, as Father. In Ephesians 3:14, Paul  prayed, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named,” confident that God’s eternal paternity in the generation of the Son bolsters the encouragement we should sense in lifting our prayers to him. As he loves his Son so he loves his sons given to the Son eternally to be a source of eternal praise.

2. Three times he is called “Your Father;” we are told to address him as “Our Father.” Verse 4, “Your Father who sees in secret,” verse 6, “Pray to your Father . . . and your Father who sees in secret . . .” Jesus wants his followers to sense that all that is excellent and compelling in the idea of fatherhood motivate us, not only to pray, but, to pray with security in the love and submission to the wisdom of the Father.

3. To pray rightly, we must consider both the knowledge and the gracious intentions of God – Verses 6b, 8.

He sees in secret, that is, when our devotion is hidden from all others beings and visible only to him; he will reward with spiritual growth and petitions answered.

He knows our needs before we request, for he has decreed what events of providence will mold us to be like his Son, and his answers to our prayers will be in accordance with the gracious purpose he has for his children.

4. We are invited,–no, instructed—to address this gracious omnipotence as “Our Father.”

This instruction comes anticipatory to the full instruction concerning our adoption and its inconceivable privileges: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:4-6).

Addressing God in this way involves a high responsibility as well as privilege. Peter reminded his readers that this is not casual, flippant, egalitarian address, but one of sober submission and careful respect: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” by Christ’s work of interposition.

C. Where He is – He is in heaven and he is everywhere we are

1. The place of his glory is called Heaven. One heaven in Scripture refers to the atmosphere above the earth; another refers to the place beyond the atmosphere where the stars and all the “heavenly bodies” exist; the third (2 Corinthians 12:2) is an uncreated heaven, but in which creatures, nevertheless, may live, in which divine glory is sensibly present. Jesus, in our nature, presently has his abode in this heaven: “and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead” (1 Thessalonians 1:10); “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20); “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 12:22-24).

2. By his omnipresence he is every where – both omnipresent and immanent. Although the place in which his glory is manifested unstintingly is heaven, he cannot be excluded from any place. He has made all, he inhabits all with his sustaining presence, and rules the world according to his decrees of providence for the good of his people and his own glory. He is not divided into parts but he is immanent, that is, all of him, all of this power and eternally glorious moral attributes are everywhere.  We address him as in Heaven, for that is a recognition of his transcendence and the place of Christ’s intercession—“Seek those things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” All covenant mercies come from the immutable covenant sealed in the work of Christ and distributed according to his intercession. It is from heaven, therefore, that we seek all blessing, temporal and eternal, the perishable and the imperishable.

D. What he is – “Hallowed be thy name.” God is holy and we request that his name be revered as holy. If we are his people and ask that his name be hallowed, we seek a proper reflection of that holiness in our style of life: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

II. To pray rightly, we must readily consent in all our petitions to divine sovereignty and our absolute dependence – Verses 9-13

A.  Thy kingdom come – The King himself teaches us to desire his righteous rule.

1. This is a prayer for present recognition of the soon-coming visible reign of God.

2. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” – The world presently does not recognize the sovereign rule of God. In heaven, however, all the glorious and powerful unfallen angels and the spirits of just men made perfect worship and glorify him and do his bidding with unhalting delight and immediacy. All is holy, all manifests his righteousness. It is not so presently in this world, but this is the desire of all his saints and should constitute a deeply felt petition in prayer.

B. Dependence for daily provision – “Give us this day, our daily bread.”

1. We recognize that all provision come from him and freely confess it. Some hardly ever recognize that they have not made themselves, have not given fertility to the earth, or the cycle of seedtime and harvest as a regular rhythm of the earth. We have grown to expect abundance and do not see in it the gracious outpouring of God.

2. We do not pray for future wealth that our security might rest in material well-being in this present age; we pray that our souls, as well as our bodies, might be always in possession of the reality of the dependence on divine gifts. “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people” (Psalm 116:12, 13).

C. Dependence on his mercy for the forgiveness of sin – The previously quoted verse manifests “the cup of salvation” as the greatest of all blessings and that which calls on us to recognize that such grace “demands my soul, my life, my all.” It calls on us to live in a forgiving spirit for we have also been forgiven.

D. The presence of the evil one and his influence in this world-not-yet-subdued-to kingdom-rule constantly reminds us that we depend on the Lord, not only for physical sustenance, and forgiveness of personal sins, but for protection from the arch-enemy of God and his purpose. The fiery darts of the evil one surround us and only with the shield of faith can we quench them, and only with the sword of the Spirit wielded in prayer can we persevere through the “domain of darkness” living consistently in the “kingdom of this beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13, 14).

III. To pray rightly, we must be conscious of the prevailing grace that leads us to pray – verses 14, 15.

A. We are called on to pray for the forgiveness of sins in accord with the spirit of forgiveness that we ourselves embrace. The distinction between how much we are forgiven and how much we forgive cannot be measured.

B. A failure, therefore, to approach the offenses of others with a desire for a restored relationship built on forgiveness betrays a spirit of ingratitude and perhaps fatal misperception of what is involved in our having “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”  “If you do not forgive, . . . neither will your Father forgive.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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