Pray Like This
Scripture: Matthew 6:5–15
July 31, 2015
“Pray Like This”
No series of messages on prayer would be complete without a message on the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. In fact, I have entitled this whole series of messages, “Teach Us to Pray.” This was the request that the disciples brought to Jesus. In response to their request, Jesus gave them this prayer, with the instructions, “Pray like this.”
However, I must admit that I hesitated on including this message, because I actually preached about the Lord’s Prayer not that long ago as part of our series of messages on the Gospel of Matthew. But then I decided that with the transition rate in a church like ours, it is likely that a good number of you may not have heard that message. And if you were here, and you did hear the message, and more importantly, remember the message – well, maybe review is not such a bad thing.
First of all, what shall we call this prayer? It is commonly referred to as “the Lord’s Prayer.” But I believe that is actually a misnomer. I think a better name for the prayer would be “the Disciples’ Prayer.” This is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. The title “the Lord’s Prayer” would be more fittingly attached to Jesus’ great high priestly prayer found in John 17.
This was a lesson I learned in seminary – and it was reinforced on the exam. It was a true and false question. The question read: “The Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6.” Trick question! If we answered “True” we got it wrong. It is the Disciple’s Prayer that is found in Matthew 6. So now that we’ve got that settled, let’s proceed!
The prayer is actually found in two places in the Gospels. It is not only found in Matthew 6, but a slightly different version is found in Luke 11. Personally, I think it is very possible that Jesus used this prayer as a teaching tool on more than one occasion. For our purposes we are going to focus on the version in Matthew 6.
The first thing Jesus does is to emphasize the importance of our motivation for praying. As he says in Matthew 6:5-6:
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus clearly warns us that prayer is not a performance to elicit the admiration of other believers. The best and most powerful prayers will be the ones we utter 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.
Now as we prepare to study the prayer itself the first question that faces us is: How shall we approach it? What exactly is this prayer and how shall we make use of it in our own prayer lives? Believers through the ages have used it in a variety of ways. I find it most helpful to approach it 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. 9 Pray 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 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 in heaven. And he is our Father.
When we pray, we are talking to the highest authority that exists. There is no power or authority on earth that outranks him. He rules over all. This way of addressing God might sound familiar. Remember the message from three weeks ago: This is where Nehemiah began his prayer in Nehemiah 1:5: O Lord God of heaven…
But now we have added truth. He is not only the Lord God of heaven, but he is our Father in heaven. To his power, we add relationship. 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.
Often, 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 wet ingredients, it might taste good, but it won’t hold together. But if you use only flour and the 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.
I have broken the prayer down into 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’s 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 as the Son of David. Jesus is the King. He came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. 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 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 dry ingredients; the ones that will provide structure, body, substance to our cake. Now let’s add the wet ingredients. The second general category of ingredients for prayer.
At the very top of this list is…Provision for physical needs.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Here we have an example of 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. I think if Jesus had been teaching in Asia he might have said, “Give us this day our daily rice.” If he’d been in Kenya he might have said, “Give us this day our daily ugali or maize meal.” 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. This is what he teaches us in Matthew 6:25-26: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
So turn your anxiety into prayer. Remember, he knows you need these things even before you ask him. But ask him anyway. This is part of the mystery and paradox of prayer.
The second request in this category 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 where he said, “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 helpful 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. It might seem to imply that if we did not pray this prayer, God might lead us into temptation. But I don’t think we need to tie ourselves into such knots. 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 the previous request might be referred to as the cure for sins, this one might be thought of as the prevention of sins. Together they make a strong foundation of 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 earliest manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel. But it nonetheless 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 may soon become dry and flavorless. If you’re only using wet ingredients, they will become formless, shapeless without substance. 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 FOR “PRAY LIKE THIS”
July 31, 2015
1. Read the passage together and share your experience with this prayer: i.e. How have you seen it used in your church, family and personal experience?
2. Why do you think motivation for prayer is important? (Matthew 6:5-6)
3. How do you prepare for prayer? Why is it important? (Matthew 6:7-8)
4. Think about the opening address of the prayer: “Our Father in heaven…” What thoughts come to mind as you ponder this reality?
5. In this message, Pastor Cam suggests using it as “recipe” for prayer, with two broad categories of ingredients: God’s Purposes and Our Needs. Review each “ingredient” and suggest the types of prayers and requests might be included for each:
• Hallowed by your name
• Your kingdom com
• Your will be done
• 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
6. Do you find this approach to the prayer helpful? In what ways?