We are in the middle of the series and the subject of this talk is Prayer. I think it’s appropriate because there is a sense in which prayer should really be in the middle of everything we do, an integral part of everything that we’re involved in.
In the first part of chapter 6, Jesus taught us how to give. Now he teaches us how to pray. In vs 5 Jesus warns against hypocrisy in our prayer life. Do not pray what you do not mean. Do not pray, Oh Lord help the poor, if you do not really care at all about the poor. In vs 6 Jesus goes on and says, “Prayer should be private.” Different translations will say, “Go to your room, go into your closet and close the door.” Prayer should be private. However, still pray, even if you can’t find somewhere private to pray. In vs 7, I can’t put it better than Jesus puts it, “Don’t babble.” Don’t think that God measures your prayers by how long they are.
In vs 8, Jesus goes on and says, God knows what you need even before you ask him. You know…….. your reason for praying is not to inform God, as if he does not know what you want or need. Prayer is actually to inform yourself. For example, a prayer that goes something like this, “Oh Lord, please don’t let them choose me. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be the one they come and select.” God wants to use that prayer to tell you something about yourself….perhaps to inform you that you are insecure in your self identity, or perhaps to tell you that you are forgetting who you are in Christ. God can use our prayers to show us what is going on in our hearts. Prayer gives one a sense of continual dependence upon God and it should affirm in your mind that only he is able to supply your needs. Prayer is really not so much to move God, who is always more ready to give than you or I are ready to ask. Prayer is really to move yourself. It is to make you ready and willing to receive the good things that God has prepared for you. So Jesus teaches us/reminds us that , God knows what you need even before you ask him.
And then Jesus gives us a divine pattern for prayer.
He is not saying these are the only words to use when you pray. In fact, that would be to babble, wouldn’t it? Jesus is not saying this is what you must pray. Rather, he is saying, this is how you must pray.
The Lord’s Prayer teaches us not only how to pray, but also what we can desire from God and how we can bring our desires before God. Wesley says our prayers are the true test of our desires. Nothing should really be in our desire, which is not also in our prayer. And, likewise, what we may not pray for, we should not desire. The contents of our desires should be the same as the contents of our prayers.
The prayer begins, “Our father in heaven.” This lays the foundation for the rest of the prayer. We must know God as father before we can pray in confidence of being heard by him. Prayer is personal. God is our father. That means that I am a brother or a sister to every other person who uses this prayer. The first line of this prayer therefore creates us all as equals before God, which you might remember is the basis of spiritual poverty.
“Hallowed be your name.” Not as some children say, “Hello, what’s your name?”, but hallowed be your name. This is the first of six petitions or requests, which, if we are not hypocrites, should reflect the desires of our hearts. When we pray this, we are praying that God’s name will be honoured and this prayer should move us, of course, to honour God’s name. Again, if this is a desire of our hearts, that his name be hallowed, that his name be honoured, then if his name is dishonoured, we will confront that, even at the risk of persecution. Remember the beatitude, blessed are those who are persecuted?
The prayer goes on, “Thy kingdom come.” This is the second petition. God’s kingdom comes when a person repents, believes the Gospel, and then empowered by the Holy Spirit, lives a Kingdom lifestyle. So this part of the prayer, Thy Kingdom come, this leads us to pray for those in whom God’s kingdom has not yet come or it leads us to pray for those who have drifted away, who are wandering like lost sheep again. This prayer should also move us to witness to Christ and his kingdom. This is also a prayer, of course, for Christ’s return and the arrival of His Kingdom in all its fulness, and therefore it should move us to ensure that we are ready for that great moment.
The prayer goes on, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” How is God’s will done in heaven? It is done of course by his servants, the angels, and their obedience to God’s commands. How is God’s will done on earth? It is done by his servants, those in whom his kingdom has come. In this part of the prayer we are praying for ourselves and our obedience to God’s commands, our obedience to his will. Here you begin to see how the answer to our prayers is so very often in our own hands. There is a sense in which God’s will being done on that part of the planet where you are today, where you might be right now - God’s will being done there is 100% in your hands. Now that should be a sobering thought.
So Jesus goes on and immediately teaches us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” This is really another way of saying, “Help me!” Bread in Scripture, and especially on the lips of Jesus, means far more than just food. It means everything we need, whether for our soul or for our body. And Jesus says here, “Ask me for what you need. Depend on me for your existence and do that daily. Don’t worry about next week’s bread or next week’s strength. Don’t worry about tomorrow, Jesus will teach. Come to me daily. Give us this day our daily bread. In other words, remain spiritually poor and remember only his bread satisfies us. So ask for it daily. Hunger and thirst for Christ,… daily,…. remember the beatitude…… ‘And you will be satisfied.’
“And forgive us our trespassers as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Notice that more words are spent on sin than on anything else in this prayer. Why is that? Because sin is your and my biggest problem. Not our health, not our financial position, not our work, not our retirement, not our exams, not our future. No, sin is our biggest problem. So Jesus spends lots of words on it. We should too, in our pursuit of holiness. But friends, beware of this prayer. Notice, we give God an instruction. We say to him, we command Him: Father, only forgive me as much as I forgive others.
In the words of the beatitude that we looked at, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. We are saying, Father, only have mercy on me to the degree that I show mercy to others, to those who do horrible things to me, to those who let me down. Learn from me, Lord, how much mercy and forgiveness I want from you and don’t show me one little bit more, I command you.
Jesus says, “When you pray”.
Prayer is not an option.
It’s not if you pray, it’s a command: When you pray.
We’ve looked at why we should pray, we’ve looked at how we shouldn’t pray and we’ve looked at how we should pray.
I close with one word: Pray.