Pray Like This Back to all sermons

Date: November 15, 2013

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Series: Book of Matthew

Category: Gospel of Matthew

Scripture: Matthew 6:1–6:18

Tags: Lord's Prayer

Synopsis: It is commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. But it should be called the Disciples Prayer, because it is the prayer that Jesus taught his followers to pray, introducing it with the words, “Pray like this…” Find out what Jesus included in this model prayer and then take the time to compare his prayer with the way you pray. And while we’re at it, we’ll take a little time to examine our motives for how and when we pray and do other “deeds of righteousness.”

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For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven

That statement of Jesus, found in Matthew 5:20, sets the stage for much of what follows in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is describing the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. When I preached on that text, I described this greater righteousness with 3 phrases. This greater righteousness is internal as well as external; it extends to our motives as well as our actions; and it is a matter of the heart as well as the hands.

In the passage before us this morning, we find Jesus elaborating on the second of those phrases; greater righteousness, the righteousness that characterizes the members of the kingdom of heaven is a righteousness that extends to the motives as well as the actions.

Jesus first lays out the broad principle in verse 1: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

The first thing I would highlight here is found in Jesus opening word: “Beware…” There is a serious danger here. The NIV translates this “Be careful.” The KJV translates it “Take heed.” It is a word that commands caution, alertness and warning. What is more, it is given as a present tense command, which speaks of an ongoing and continuous action.

Motives and motivation are very subtle and slippery things, aren’t they? They have a sneaky way of changing on us even in mid-stream. We can never let down our guard. We must be like night sentries in enemy territory. We can be infiltrated from any direction at any time. Be constantly on guard and monitor your motives carefully.

Jesus goes on to apply this basic teaching to three common religious practices: acts of charity or giving to the poor, prayer and fasting. All of these are good things. Jesus is not against any of them. What he is telling us is that it in the kingdom of heaven it isn’t enough to just do the right thing. We must do it for the right reason. In each case he highlights unworthy motivation and contrasts it with worthy motives.

Unworthy motivation is man-centered. Worthy motivation is God-centered. This is clear in this opening verse, isn’t it? Our motivation is man-centered when we do what we do in order to be seen by people. In the three examples, the giver “sounds the trumpet” to call attention to his gift. The pray-er stands in the synagogue or on the busy street corner. The one who is fasting wears a gloomy face or disfigures his face with ashes to make sure everyone knows he/she is fasting. They do what they do to be seen and noticed.

They also do what they do in order to be praised by other people. Verse 2 highlights this unworthy motivation: Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.

Obviously these two go together. You have to be seen and noticed if you are going to receive praise. So the hypocrites are those who do good things for unworthy motives; they are anxious to be known and praised as generous givers, as prayer warriors, as disciplined and diligent fasters.

True motivation, the motivation of greater righteousness is God-centered. In each of these examples, Jesus calls us to refocus our motives on God by deliberately doing things in a way that will not be seen by men. “Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing when you give.” “Go into a private room when you pray.” “Make an effort to look cheerful and normal when you fast.” Then you will know that your motives are truly God-centered. And the God who sees in secret will reward you.

So, be careful. Be constantly on guard. The praise of men is sweet. We are all susceptible to being seduced into playing our lives out on a stage for the applause of other people. Guard your motives. Weigh them constantly. Be sure that it is God’s approval and God’s reward that you are seeking. This is the greater righteousness that God desires.

In the middle of this section, as Jesus gives the example of praying in secret, he stops and takes the time to give us some valuable instruction on prayer. This is where we are going to focus in the rest of this message.

I think it is worth noting that this prayer occupies the very center of the Sermon on the Mount. Maybe that is just a coincidence. But I think it is certainly true that without reliance on prayer and the help of God through prayer, we will all be utterly unable to apply the powerful truths and high standards that Jesus is laying out before us in this sermon.

Jesus has already established that prayer is not a performance to elicit the admiration of other believers. The best and most powerful prayers will be those uttered in secret. This is not to rule out public or corporate prayer. But I like the illustration that I heard many years ago. Our prayer life should be like an iceberg, with 90% of it under water and out of sight. If we pray more in public than we do in private, it doesn’t matter how eloquent the prayers might be, our motivation is suspect.

Jesus then goes on to give us what is frequently referred to us as the Lord’s Prayer. As many have pointed out over the years, it should be titled The Disciple’s Prayer, because it is the prayer Jesus taught us as his disciples to pray. I like to look at this, not just as a prayer for recitation but as a recipe for prayer.

When I was a boy, my mother taught me how to bake. One of my chores every Saturday was to bake a cake or cookies or some other form of desert for our family. The very first thing I learned was the importance of a good recipe and the importance of following that recipe. One does not produce a good cake or a good batch of cookies by simply randomly throwing ingredients in a bowl and stirring. Yet, I think all too often, we do approach prayer that way. Without forethought or preparation, we simply close our eyes and start praying, putting random thoughts into words and stopping when we run out of thoughts or run out of time.

Jesus offers us a better way. In these verses, I believe that Jesus is giving us a basic recipe for prayer. And to help us hold the structure in our minds, I want to follow the analogy of baking a cake.

The first part of the process is preparation. I was always in a hurry to get started when I baked. My mother taught me that it was necessary to slow down, and spend some time in preparation; to read through the recipe first to be sure I had all the ingredients, and to assemble the necessary bowls and measuring cups and spoons.

I think most of us spend too little time preparing for prayer. In the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer pens these thought-provoking words:

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Ecc. 5:2

That verse should not discourage us from prayer, but it should encourage us to pause and gather our thoughts before we pray, to ponder the one to whom we are speaking. We might call this the pause that connects. This is what Jesus is telling us in v. 7-8.

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. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9Pray then like this:

Jesus discourages a kind of prayer that uses mindless or rote repetition, saying the same words over and over, believing that sheer verbosity will make our prayers effective.

Before you pray, Jesus says, stop and think about the one to whom you are praying. First of all he is our Father. And secondly, he already knows what we need.

Stop and ponder on this fact before you begin your prayer. I am praying to my heavenly Father who loves me. Therefore, he does not need to be persuaded to come to my aid. What’s more, I am praying to my heavenly Father who knows what I need even before I ask him, therefore, he does not need to be informed.

So, why pray? I will admit there is always a certain degree of mystery attached to prayer. But the simple answer to that question is: Because God tells us to. He invites, no, he commands us to pray and to ask and to seek and to knock. But before we ask, seek and knock, spend a few moments thinking and connecting: I am talking to my heavenly Father, who loves me and knows what I need. That time will have a great impact on how we pray.

This time in preparation actually becomes the starting part, the first words in our prayer.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven…

He is not only our Father. He is our Father in heaven.

When we talk to our Father, we are talking to the highest authority that exists. There is no power or authority on earth that outranks him. He rules over all.

In a sense this opening phrase in the prayer tells us all we need to know about prayer. We have heard it so often that we have lost the wonder of it. It is an incredible truth. Ponder it a moment. The paradox of it is overwhelming: Our Father – a word of relationship and intimacy and caring. In heaven – with all power and rule and authority over the universe.

Ponder this before you pray. It will greatly influence how you pray.

This, then, is what we might call the preparation phase. Now let us look at the recipe itself.

In most cake recipes, there are two basic kinds of ingredients, commonly referred to as wet and dry ingredients. Wet ingredients include such things as oil or butter, milk, eggs, etc. Dry ingredients would be the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, etc. Many recipes actually have you mix the ingredients up separately before combining them.

In Jesus’ recipe for prayer, there are two kinds of ingredients; two broad categories for prayer. God’s Purposes and Our Needs.

Unfortunately, our tendency is to skip over the first category, and jump straight into our needs. But if you were to try to bake a cake with only flour and other dry ingredients, you are not going to produce anything that can be eaten. The two types of ingredients must be combined in a good recipe, and likewise, the two categories for prayer must be combined if we are to pray effectively.

There are three requests, or ingredients, under each category. Let’s look at God’s Purposes, because that is how Jesus taught us to pray.

The first ingredient under this category is a prayer for God’s Glory.

Hallowed be your name.

This is actually a difficult phrase to translate and therefore to grasp. The Greek word comes from the root word for holy. A causative ending is added, meaning to cause to be holy or to treat as holy. We might paraphrase this: Cause your name to be reverenced, worshiped and adored as holy. In Scripture, the name of God is synonymous with his person, his identity, his reputation. To honor his name is to honor him. To reverence his name as holy is to reverence God as holy. What we are praying with this phrase is for nothing less than that God should be given the worship and adoration and glory that he deserves as God.

As Christians, we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. God is our king. We should be characterized by a holy passion for God’s reputation, for the proper reverence to be given to his holy name. O God, may your name be reverenced.

This is both a global prayer, as well as a very specific prayer for God’s honor and reputation in our situation and sphere of influence. “Oh, God, please work in this situation and in this circumstance, so that your name will be honored as holy.”

The second ingredient related to God purposes is a prayer concerning God’s kingdom.

Your kingdom come.

This is a hugely significant phrase in the context of Matthew’s Gospel. From the very beginning of the Gospel, this has been one of Matthew’s main themes, beginning with Jesus’ genealogy and his identity at the Son of David. Jesus is the King. He came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching on life in the kingdom of heaven. As members of the kingdom, we are to be characterized by a passion for the establishing of his kingdom. That passion should come through in our prayers.

What is the kingdom of heaven? It is God’s rule. Wherever God is acknowledged and served as king, there is the kingdom of heaven. How shall we extend the kingdom of heaven? It starts on our knees. Your kingdom come.  A great longing and ache to see God acknowledged and worshiped as king.

This passion for the kingdom of heaven has taken some distorted forms at different times and places in church history. There are times when God’s people have attempted to establish and spread it by force of arms. There are times when well-meaning people have attempted to spread it by political means and legislation. But the kingdom of heaven, Jesus told us, is like yeast in bread. Its spread is subtle, silent and often hidden, as one life influences another life. It is a kingdom that is spread by prayer. Your kingdom come.

God’s purposes include God’s Glory, God’s Kingdom and, thirdly, God’s Will.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

This is a prayer that begins very close to home and expands to include the whole world. How can we pray for God’s will to be done on earth, when we are not willing for it to be done in our own lives and places of influence? This is to be our passion in every area of life – to see God’s will done, just as it is in heaven. But as I said, it is a passion that spreads beyond our immediate situation to the world as a whole – when we pray for world leaders and for peace and for justice and for God’s purposes to be fulfilled.

It is a prayer that will not be answered in full until Christ comes again, but we should never cease to pray toward this end.

This is the first great area of prayer. GOD’S PURPOSES.  I think we can see that there is no real boundary between these three specific requests. God’s glory, his kingdom and his will are all interrelated and part of the same goal. In fact, one commentary I read this week makes the point that grammatically, the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” can be equally applied to all three of these prayers: God’s glory, God’s kingdom, God’s will. Right now they are all perfectly fulfilled in heaven. Our prayer is to bring that same perfection of fulfillment down to earth – starting in our own hearts, our own lives, our own families and our own spheres of influence.

So, we’ve put in the wet ingredients. Now let’s add the dry ingredients. The second general category of ingredients for prayer.

OUR NEEDS

At the very top of this list is…Provision for physical needs.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Here we have illustrated the paradox and the practicality of prayer. From the sublime global prayer for the establishing of the kingdom of God, to the very simple and basic prayer for daily bread. Both are part of this recipe for effective prayer. Bread was the basic staple of diet in Jesus’ day. Many of the people lived on a subsistence level, working each day for the food they would eat that day. Jesus here is bringing prayer down into the very simple and basic needs of human beings. I believe we can include here all the basic needs of human survival: food, shelter, health.

After all, God made us as physical beings with bodies. He cares about our physical needs. Pray for them. Remember, he knows you need them even before you ask him. But ask him anyway. This is another paradox of prayer.

The second is Pardon for sin.

And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Even as members of the kingdom of heaven, we will sin. We will fall short of God’s standards. When we do, we must pray and ask God to forgive us. And Jesus here links our forgiveness to our willingness to forgive those who sin against us. In fact, he expands on this at the conclusion of the prayer.

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.

Here Jesus is expanding on one of the beatitudes, is he not? “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” It is a troubling verse. Does it really mean that when we fail to forgive others, God will withdraw his forgiveness from us?

There isn’t time to explore this question fully, but if we compare Scripture with Scripture and the larger context of the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith, I think it is necessary at this point to distinguish between judicial and family forgiveness. Judicial forgiveness is the once for all act of God as our judge, whereby he declares us righteous on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and our faith in Christ. By that one act, we are made children of God and members of the kingdom of heaven. Within the family of God, however, there is the matter of fellowship and enjoying uninterrupted closeness with God. Our sins interrupt that close fellowship. So we go to God in confession to have that closeness restored. But if at the same time we are refusing to forgive others, we shall not be forgiven – in the sense that our closeness of fellowship will not be restored. We will remain at a distance from our heavenly Father.

The final prayer in this category is Protection from evil.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Scholars have wrestled over the wording of this final request. Very simply, I believe Jesus is instructing us to pray for moral and ethical guidance and protection from the evil one and his temptations. We might paraphrase this: Lord, keep me from sinning. While #2 might be referred to as the cure for sins, #3 might be thought of as the prevention of sins. Together it is a strong prayer: Forgive me for the sins I have committed, and keep me from sinning again. I might suggest that if we spent more time praying #3, we would need to spend less time praying for forgiveness.

So, the basic ingredients for prayer are here, and if you ponder them carefully, I think you will find that everything is included. The final phrase of the prayer as we usually quote it is not found here in the ESV translation, because it is not actually found in many of the ancient manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel. But it makes a fitting conclusion and doxology as it wraps our thoughts and prayers again back to the glory of God and his purposes. We started out pondering the greatness of our Father in heaven and we conclude by reflecting on his greatness once again: For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

So, finally, how should we use this prayer? Should we memorize it? Quote it? Recite it as part of our worship? All of these are appropriate. Let me suggest two ways to use it.

One is exactly the way I’ve pictured it: As a recipe. Quote each phrase, and use it as an outline for prayer, personalizing it and filling it in with your situations and circumstances and areas of concern and responsibility.

The second way to use it as a periodic diagnostic tool, to compare the general content of your prayers, and see if you are neglecting some key area of concern and prayer. If you are only adding dry ingredients, your prayers will soon become dry and flavorless. Come back to the recipe.

There is no need to become rigid and legalistic. As you bake with a particular recipe, you find that you are then able to experiment and create variations on the theme. But when things start to get dry or out of balance, it is always good to have a basic recipe to come back to, to know the essential ingredients needed to bake an effective life of prayer.

Pray then, like this…

Discussion Questions

1. Read Matthew 6:1-18 together.

2. What are some present day examples of ways that people might “practice righteousness…to be seen by other people”?

3. Motives are “subtle and slippery things.” Do you agree or disagree? Why is it so difficult to keep watch over our motives?

4. How would taking some time to prepare and focus our minds before praying affect the way we pray?

5. Meditate silently for a few minutes on the opening words of this prayer: “Our Father in heaven…” Then share your thoughts with one another.

6. The sermon breaks the prayer into two parts: God’s Purposes and Our Needs. What happens when we focus on the one to the exclusion of the other?

7. Using Jesus’ model prayer as an outline (see categories below), fill in as many types of prayer requests as you can under each heading.

God’s Purposes: God’s Glory, God’s Kingdom and God’s Will.

Hallowed be your name

Your kingdom come

Your will be done (on earth as it is in heaven)

Our Needs: Provision for physical needs, Pardon for sin and Protection from evil.

Give us this day our daily bread

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

8. Are there any categories for prayer that are not included in Jesus’ prayer?

9. How does your prayer life (the kinds of things you usually pray about) compare to Jesus’ model?