Transformed in My Prayer

| Matthew 6:9-15

The Point:  Prayer is grounded in a desire to honor God.

The Lord’s Prayer:  Matthew 6:9-15.

[9]  Pray then like this: "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 also have forgiven our debtors. [13]  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [14]  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, [15]  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  [ESV]

How to Pray and Live.  Jesus has already made it clear in Matthew 6 that the single most important influence on the way we live the Christian life is how we think of God. For Jesus, theology (how we think about God) determines practice (how we live our lives). In particular, Jesus stressed how important it is for us to think of God as Father, and to know the intimacy of a Father-son relationship with Him. That is precisely what Jesus is saying in Matthew 6 when He exposes the religion of the hypocrites and pagans for what it really is: ignorance of God. The way they speak in prayer underlines the fact that they do not know God as Father. The contrast between them and those of us who belong to the kingdom of God is that we are to know the Great King as Father in heaven.  There is, of course, a paradox here. Even as Christians, we have an instinct to hide from the Father, both because He is the Great King and because we are still sinners. There is the paradox that fellowship with God in His prayer means sorrow for our sin, yet joy in His forgiveness and grace. Prayer involves struggle, but the struggle is not that of persuading our God. Rather, it is the struggle involved in being subdued by God, coming out of the dark and secret places in which we have been hiding the truth about ourselves, and laying the whole of our lives before Him. Jesus knew this, and, therefore, taught His disciples to pray by means of what we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ It serves two purposes. First, it provides a model prayer, an easily memorized outline, that serves as a lesson in how we are to approach God as Father and how we are to speak with Him. Second, it serves as an outline of the whole Christian life by providing certain ‘fixed points’ of concern for the family of God. It underlines life’s priorities and helps us to get them into focus. The prayer focuses on five concepts: the worship of the Father; the kingdom of the Father; the sustenance of the Father; the grace of the Father; and the protection of the Father.

The Worship of the Father.  In the opening petitions of His prayer, Jesus brings together two ideas that are true only of royal children: the intimacy of children, and access to the Great King. The one we address in prayer is in heaven, and yet He is our Father. The whole of our worship flows from these few words. They, in turn, invest our worship with the grandeur and the joy of true praise and adoration. Jesus is clearly stressing the greatness of God in His heavenly glory, and what we sometimes call the Creator-creature distinction: He is in heaven, while we are on the earth; He is heavenly, while we are earthly; He is the eternal one, while we are His creatures, made by Him and dependent upon Him for every breath we breathe. This is why we pray, hallowed be your name. It is not that God’s name can in itself be made more holy than it is. But rather, we are reminded how much we need His help to recognize just how holy, or separate from us, He really is. And, indeed, we even need His help to come to Him with the sense of awe and wonder that is appropriate for His glory. At the same time, we dare to call on Him as Father! We know that He is near us and cares for us in a special way because He has given us life as our Creator, and new life as our Savior. Every believer confesses to the Lord, you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb [Ps. 139:13]. But we must also confess that when we were spiritually dead, the Lord brought us into new life [Eph. 2:1-5] by giving us a new birth [1 Peter 1:23]. We are His privileged children. Furthermore, these words underline the fellowship and corporate nature of the Christian life. We pray, Our Father, not ‘My Father’ – not only because Jesus prayed, My Father, and we should distinguish ourselves from Him, but to remind us that we share our spiritual privileges with all the people of God. That in itself adds to the privileges that we receive. Notice the balance of this teaching. It contains three elements: intimacy (Father), adoration (in Heaven), and fellowship (our), and thereby sets the tone for Christian living, and especially for our praying. We do not live in intimacy with God in a way that destroys our reverence for Him or in a manner that isolates us from our fellow Christians. If we were to write these few words over the whole of our lives, their truth and power would transform our relationship to God, to ourselves, and to others. These words also concentrate our attention on the glory of God in the sanctifying of His name. this includes our speech. We do not trample the Lord’s name in the dust by using it loosely. By doing so, we would show that we do not really know Him. Who would use the name of someone he admired and loved as a curse? It is unthinkable. But the real issue goes far beyond speech, to that of which our speech is the expression. We are praying here that God will be glorified in all things. We are recognizing, as the Shorter Catechism says, that ‘man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.’ We are really saying about our own lives, ‘Lord, may everything I do and say show forth your glory as my Father in heaven, and may all my thoughts be focused on what will bring honor to your name.’

The Kingdom of the Father.  The secret of the kingdom of God is that it is ruled by the Father. Out of our love for Him and our concern for His glory, we pray that His kingdom will come. We have already seen that there is a present reality about the kingdom of God. It has come in Jesus. But there is also a sense in which it has not yet come in its full glory. Its final flowering is still awaited. We live now between the inauguration of the kingdom and the consummation of the kingdom. We therefore pray that the kingdom that has already been established will express its presence more and more throughout the earth, until the day comes when the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever [Rev. 11:15]. New Testament Christians were often far more conscious of what this means than we are today. In fact, a great deal of Paul’s teaching is dominated by this thought: we are to live as those who have already experienced the power of Christ’s kingly rule, yet who still long for its completion. Because we live ‘in between the times,’ we fight, and labor, and sometimes struggle. We are those who have received the Spirit of Christ and His kingdom [Rom. 8:9], but that is the very reason we have to struggle to deal death blows to the sin that remains in our lives [Rom. 8:13]. We have already received the Spirit of sons [Rom. 8:15], and know that we are heirs together with Christ [Rom. 8:17], but because we belong to His family, we must share in His sufferings. That is why – precisely because we have the Spirit of Christ – we groan inwardly as we wait for the day when the kingdom of God will be established fully and finally [Rom. 8:23]. This, then, is what lies behind Jesus telling us that we are to pray, with urgency, Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Think what this involves. (1) Bowing to God’s sovereign purposes. Jesus not only taught His disciples to pray, your will be done, He established the kingdom by praying these words Himself in the garden of Gethsemane, when He accepted the cup that His Father was giving Him to drink [Matt. 26:39]. For Jesus, seeking first the kingdom of God, praying for it to come, meant taking up the cross, dying for others, and thus yielding His life in complete obedience to God. In this way, Jesus exposes the heart of the petition He taught His disciples to pray. For God establishes His kingdom through the cross, first of all by Jesus dying on it, and then by Jesus’ disciples taking it up daily as His followers. Unlike the kings of this world, God establishes His kingdom through suffering, self-denial, and service! To pray for that kingdom means committing yourself to the way of the cross. (2) Seeking the spread of the gospel. The kingdom of God comes inwardly, but the children of God also ask for it to spread outwardly – geographically. The Lord’s Prayer is a missionary prayer. As a model prayer, it teaches us to put the spread of the gospel before our own needs. In one sense, this is already implicit in the corporate address Jesus teaches us to use: Our Father. We cannot address Him in this way without recognizing that we belong to a family that encircles the globe and stretches back into the past and forward into the future. It is interesting that in His last prayer with His disciples before His passion, Jesus Himself prayed in these terms: I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word [John 17:20]. Jesus, who was Himself a missionary sent by the Father into the world, prays for other missionaries and for those who will believe in me through their word. How often our missionary prayers are only for our missionaries and workers! If we really followed Jesus’ example in praying this petition, would we not also want to know more intimately and pray more definitely for those who are brought into our family through our brothers and sisters? (3) Searching out God’s will in Scripture. When we pray that God’s will should be done, we are not blindly committing ourselves to ‘let things happen’ with a fatalistic que sera sera attitude! No, such a prayer implies that we ourselves will seek out and then do the will of God. In a nutshell, we discover that will as we become familiar with God’s revealed will in Scripture and subsequently develop the wisdom to apply biblical teaching to the different situations and experiences of our lives. Again, we should notice that Jesus is our model in this regard. The Gospels indicate that He saw the will of God for His own life by applying the teaching of the Old Testament. When He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He relied on God’s will revealed in Scripture. Throughout His ministry He applied to Himself Isaiah’s prophetic description of the Servant of the Lord [Isa. 42:1-8; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12] and the prophecies of His death [Isa. 26:24,31,54,56]. Few things are more obvious about His life than the fact that He was steeped in Scripture. When He prayed, Your will be done in the garden of Gethsemane, He knew – from Scripture – what that would mean. Have you followed that example? It is a key element in knowing the will of God in order to be obedient to it. It is the secret of the Lord’s guidance. (4) Praying for Christ’s return. The coming of the kingdom and the return of the King belong together. When we pray, Your kingdom come, we are asking the Father to do what we know He most certainly will do – bring to a final denouement the history of the human race and usher in the new age of His glory. Only the children of God can have this view of the future. Only Christians can be long-term optimists, and live without debilitating anxiety because they know that their own lives and the history of the world have a final destiny that Jesus Christ controls [see Revelation 5]. That prospect influences the way we live here and now. No one can rightly pray, Your kingdom come, or Come, Lord Jesus [Rev. 22:20] without here and now bringing his life into conformity with the will of God. In fact, that is the single most frequent application of the promise of the Lord’s return in the teaching of the New Testament [e.g. Mark 13:32-37; 1 Cor. 15:58; 1 Thess. 5:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14]. Again and again we discover that all the facets involved in praying, Your will be done imply that our lives are submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ here and now.

The Sustenance of the Father.  Christians have long realized that there is a clear order to the Lord’s Prayer. Its opening focus is God and His glory. Only then does it move to man and his need. There is an obvious reason for this: God and His kingdom must always take priority over man and His needs. That certainly needs to be underscored, but it should never be stated in isolation from another biblical truth. Since man was made for the glory of God, he can never be what he is intended to be until his life is properly focused on the glory of God. Unless our vision of life is properly focused, the whole of life will be more or less distorted. Jesus makes this point very vividly later in His sermon [Matt. 6:22-23]. So God’s glory does not detract from man’s life. Instead, His glory is the sun around which the whole of life must revolve if there is to be the light and life of God in our experience. Since we were made for His glory, we will always malfunction whenever we fail to live for that purpose and according to the Maker’s instructions. In the light of this, we are encouraged to pray for our daily bread. Far from being trivial, this prayer is intimately related to God’s glory. Our eating and drinking – everything we do – are to be for the glory of God [1 Cor. 10:31].

The Grace of the Father. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, forgive us our debts. He knows that we come to our Father with the burden and nagging pain of our guilt. Jesus teaches us to keep what earlier Christians called ‘short accounts’ with God. We ask for forgiveness. We specify whatever debts we know we have. We no longer foolishly try to hide them from the Lord. We admit them, bring them to the surface, mention them by name in His presence, and ask to be forgiven. But Jesus adds a qualification to this petition: forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. So important is it that He enlarges on it: For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses [14-15]. Does Jesus mean that our reception of forgiveness is determined by our granting of forgiveness? That might seem to contradict the rest of the New Testament. Yet, Jesus does stress that without our forgiveness of others, there can be no forgiveness from God. The key to understanding His teaching is to recognize that we do not receive forgiveness because we forgive others, but because we cast ourselves on the mercy of God. Yet we cannot receive forgiveness without forgiving others. The person who mouths the words forgive us our debts, but will not forgive others their debts, has not begun to understand the weight of his own sin. If he did, in the light of it being forgiven, he would be prepared to forgive his brother seventy times seven [Matt. 18:22]. The two are inseparably linked, for the person who knows his debt before God and turns to Him for forgiveness is the recipient of such grace that he cannot but share it with others. Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another with the love of forgiveness [1 John 4:11].

The Protection of the Father.  The final petition of the Lord’s Prayer assumes that the children of God realize their weakness and vulnerability, and, therefore, seek the protection of God from evil. But the details of the final petition require closer study. Does the request not to be led into temptation assume that God may so lead us? What does it mean to be led into temptation? And what is involved in being delivered from evil, or from the Evil One? The key to this petition is to be found in our Lord’s personal experience. In the previous chapter of the Gospel, Matthew recorded the temptation of Jesus Himself [4:1-11]. It is a passage with several unique features, one of them being that the narrative must have come from the lips of Jesus Himself. Apparently no one was with Him during this long period of fasting and temptation. The intensity of the conflict He experienced must have been shared with the disciples after the event. Since that is so, the summary statement with which Matthew’s account begins should be understood as Jesus’ own interpretation of what happened: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil [4:1]. The devil tempted Him. But even in that context, Jesus was led by God’s Spirit. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Jesus is teaching us here to pray that we will be protected from such an experience. Furthermore, that test was but the forerunner of the greater test to which the devil put Jesus later when he returned at a more opportune time [Luke 4:13]. Just as His baptism in the Jordan River foreshadowed His baptism in blood on the cross, so His testing in the wilderness was the forerunner of the terrible test He would face in Gethsemane and on Calvary. We are to pray that we will be delivered from the Evil One now, and kept from the test of his full onslaught against our lives; that we will either be protected from such terrible testing, or, should we be faced with it in the providence of God, that we will be protected in it with the armor of God [Eph. 6:10-20]. Scripture describes both of these elements of testing with great vividness. It reminds us that we are exposed to the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We can deal with the flesh by God’s grace, or with the world and its allurements, and even with the devil in the strength of Christ. But the ultimate test confronts us when all three conspire together. Who is able to stand when indwelling sin is incited by the temptations of the world and worldly people, and stirred up by the activity of Satan, either spurring us on to sin or hiding its dire consequences from us? This is the evil day of which Paul spoke, for which we need the whole armor of God if we are to remain standing. Jesus urges us to pray to be delivered. The fact that He does so assures us that our Father is both willing and able to deliver us. We know, with Paul, that the Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen [2 Tim. 4:18]. We are weak, but He is strong. The Christian who does not know his weakness can, therefore, neither pray this prayer nor experience God’s strength. The Christian who knows his weakness, but is a praying Christian, will be garrisoned by the Lord’s strength.”  [Ferguson, pp. 118-133].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What are the two purposes of the “Lord’s Prayer?”

2.         What five concepts does Ferguson say is the focus of the prayer? Summarize what each concept teaches us concerning how we should pray: e.g., how should our prayers include worship of the Father; how should our prayers be informed by the kingdom of God, etc.

3.         What do we learn from this “model prayer” concerning prayer? For example, one of the things that Ferguson mentions is that “God and His Kingdom must always take priority over man and his need,” Do your prayers reflect this priority? Are your prayers glorifying to God?

 

References:

Matthew, vol. 1, Daniel Doriani, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Sermon on the Mount, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, Inter Varsity.