The Lord’s Prayer | 1

Text: Matthew 6:5-15

It has been said that “to be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Although this is true, just because something is necessary for life doesn’t mean that it comes naturally to us. In Luke 11:1 we read, one day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” What makes this significant is that this is the only record in Scripture when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them something. Jesus sent them out to preach and they did not ask for a lesson on “how to preach.” When Jesus sent them out in Luke 10, he did not give them detailed instructions on how to treat leprosy or cast out demons. None of the disciples ever said, “but Jesus, we were asleep the day you went over how much spit to use when healing a blind man.” They simply followed instructions. Peter did not ask Jesus how to walk on water – he simply stepped out and tried. But when it came to prayer the disciples said, “teach us.” In Matthew 6 Jesus provides us with a simple template to teach us to pray. J.C. Ryle once said, “tell me what a man’s prayers are, and I will soon tell you the state of his soul.” As Jesus teaches us to pray, he doesn’t begin by teaching us how to ask, he teaches us what to ask for.

We learn two precious truths from these familiar words.

  1. The first two words “our Father” remind us that prayer begins with not just a relationship but relationships. These two words remind us that we are both children of God and siblings to each other. Every time we pray, we must actively remind ourselves that we are not just individuals in relationship with God, but that we are part of a community of people who have the same access to God. Before we request anything in prayer, we are reminded that God is not merely our sovereign Judge and Ruler. He is also our Father. In John 1:12 we are told that through belief in Christ God gave (us) the right to become children of God. In 1 John 3:1 this truth takes the apostle’s breath away. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! In J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God he has a chapter on adoption. He writes, our first point about adoption is that it is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification . . . that justification – by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with His acceptance for the future – is the primary and fundamental blessing of the gospel is not in question. Justification is the primary blessing, because it meets our primary spiritual need . . . but that is not to say that justification is the highest blessing of the gospel. Adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves. Packer goes on to write to be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is a greater.
  2. Our Father is in heaven. When we start to pray, we must remind ourselves that we are addressing someone who is at the top of the pecking order. In Psalm 115:3 we are told, our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. When we pray, we are holding on to God’s omnipotence. He is in control. He needs permission from no one. No one can stop his plans. Our Father in heaven is capable! His agenda always wins. The opening four words of Jesus’ model prayer teach us that God is as compassionate as he is capable. He can do anything. We have the ear of the most powerful being in the universe. No court of appeals can undo the decisions he makes.

The Lord’s Prayer | 2

Last time we saw that “to be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing. ” And yet as John Onwuchekwa says in his helpful book on prayer, “we don’t treat prayer like breathing. We treat it like prescription medication meant to rid us of an infection. Once the infection is gone, so is the frequency and fervency of our prayers.” This prayer which Jesus gave us must be seen as a skeleton. Like all skeletons it needs flesh to come to life. Before teaching his disciples to pray he does encourage us to be on the lookout for two dangers. The first of these is ostentatiousness (vrs 5). During one of DL Moody’s evangelistic campaigns in the UK he asked a church leader to pray. The man went on and on using beautiful flowery language. The prayer was clearly calculated at drawing attention to the individual. Moody subtly interjected and announced, “let us sing a hymn while our brother finishes his prayer.” I am sure the church leader got the message. The second danger in our prayers is babbling. I will say more about this next time.

We have seen that Jesus begins the prayer with those familiar words our father in heaven. We saw that these words remind us of our relationship to each other and our preciously intimate relationship with God. The first three petitions in the Lord’s prayer are orientated in a Godward direction (it is all about your name, your kingdom, your will). We should be primarily concerned with God’s glory. By giving us this model Jesus is reminding us that God’s power is primarily aimed at advancing his agenda and not ours. What does Jesus mean when he invites us to pray hallowed be your name? The word hallowed comes from the Old English “halgian” which means “to sanctify or honour as holy.” Jesus means that the honour of God’s name and reputation should weigh heavily upon us. The advancement of God’s reputation in this world is infinitely more important than our own. When we pray hallowed be your name, we are asking that God himself will protect his name from being defamed and obscured. The beauty of this prayer is that we are asking God to do what he already wants to do. In Psalm 138:2 David says, I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. In Malachi 1:11, 14 the Lord says my name will be great among the nations . . . For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations. Some people find this arrogant and egotistical of God to be so concerned with His own fame. We instinctively recoil from people who seek their own glory. Why do we admire God for being passionate about His own name when we condemn this in others? Everyone would agree that God is the supremely valuable being in the universe. That is why we worship only Him and ascribe all glory to His name. How then could we describe God as righteous and good if He ever failed to pursue and preserve what is supremely valuable and of greatest worth. That is why God must take ultimate delight in His own glory or He would be unrighteous. For God to fail to refuse to value Himself (and His name) preeminently would implicate Him in the sin of idolatry. Idolatry is honouring anyone or anything as god, instead of God. If God was not concerned about the glory of His name, He would be saying that there was something more valuable than Himself – and that is a lie. God is not an idolater and therefore is passionately committed to His name and reputation. Are we? Can we identify with the apostle Paul in Romans 2:24. He was deeply concerned that his fellow Jews lifestyles was causing God’s name to be blasphemed among the Gentiles? In Acts 17:16 as Paul walked through the streets of Athens, he noticed that the city was full of idols. We are told that he was greatly distressed. All the worship and honour that ought to have been directed towards the one true God was being squandered on pieces of wood and stone. Paul was outraged. Can we identify with Paul enough to pray along with Jesus hallowed be your name?

The Lord’s Prayer | 3

Jesus introduces his model prayer by highlighting two dangers that we need to avoid in our prayer lives. In vrs 5-7 he warns about ostentatiousness. Instead of our “flowery” prayers drawing attention to us we should go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Secondly, we should avoid babbling. Jesus cautions us against thinking that we will gain a better hearing from God because of our many words. In vrs 8 he says do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. The story is told about George Whitefield and John Wesley praying after a strenuous day’s ministry. Whitefield prayed, “Lord we thank Thee for all of those with whom we spoke today, and we rejoice that their lives and destinies are entirely in Thy hand. Honour our efforts according to Thy perfect will. Amen.” He rose from his knees and went to bed. Wesley, who had barely got past his invocation said, “Mr Whitefield, is this where your Calvinism leads you?” Wesley put his head down and continued to pray. About two hours later, Whitefield woke up, and Wesley was on his knees beside his bed fast asleep. Whitefield shook him by the shoulders and asked, “Mr Wesley, is this where your Arminianism leads you?”

The first three petitions in Jesus’ model prayer are all orientated in a Godward direction. We have considered the sacredness of God’s name and now proceed to learn how to make God’s kingdom central to our praying. In the gospels we see how the “kingdom” was never far from Jesus’ teaching. In Mark 1:15 he said, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” When we think of a “kingdom” we think of a geographical area over which a king reigns. In Scripture ‘the kingdom” of God describes an activity. It speaks of God’s reign over His people on earth. How do we put flesh to the skeleton of these words your kingdom come? This is a prayer for the success of the gospel in the world. We know that the gospel has changed us, so we plead for God’s kingdom to be extended through the gospel going to the ends of the world. Let us consider three way in which we can faithfully pray your kingdom come. Firstly, when we pray for missionaries and worldwide missions, we are praying for God’s rule to be established on earth. In Psalm 2:8 we have the promise from God the Father to God the Son, ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. When we pray for missionaries this is essentially what we are requesting. We are asking for God’s rule to be extended over the face of the earth such that Revelation 7:9 be made a reality in our experience. After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. Secondly, when we pray for the salvation of unconverted people, we are praying your kingdom come. In 1 Timothy 2:4 the apostle Paul says that God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. When he visited Athens and preached at the Areopagus, he said in Acts 17:30 in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. We can be sure that when we pray for unbelievers to be born again that we are praying for God’s kingdom to spread on earth. Thirdly, when we pray for the local church and the preaching of God’s Word, we are aligning our prayers with Jesus’ model. We are told in Ephesians 3:21 that God wants to be glorified in his Son and through his church. The local church lies at the centre of God’s purposes on earth. In 2 Thessalonians 3:1 Paul requests finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. When we pray for our local church and the ministry of God’s Word, we are praying your kingdom come.

The Lord’s Prayer | 4

As we reflect on the opening three requests in our Lord’s model prayer we are reminded about how easy it is to pray about our honour, our kingdom and our purposes. How do we respond when we are disrespected, dishonoured, and disregarded? We get angry! “God, help them to treat me with the respect and dignity I deserve.” What we are essentially praying is “God, please let everything work out the way I want it to. Help me build my own kingdom.” As John Onwuchekwa says “our self-centredness is like gravity; it pulls us down. Jesus is teaching us to aim higher. He wants our prayers to soar.” In order to do this, we need our Saviour to teach us the priority of the Godward orientation of our prayers. It is all about the honour of His name, the spread of His rule and the fulfilment of His will.

We see a practical application of these three words your will be done in 1 John 5:14-15. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him. When we pray, we must carefully seek to align our prayers with God’s will. This is the secret to confident praying. There are a group of Christians who do not like to add the phrase, “if it is your will” to their prayers. Our Saviour did not just teach us to pray this way but he modelled it in his own prayer life. In Matthew 26:39 we read, going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Those people who suggest that adding the phrase; “your will be done” to our prayers is faith destroying are saying that Jesus lacked faith! Biblical praying is not a matter of knowing how to get my will done. It is a matter of knowing God well enough to get His will done. I am rather glad that we don’t get everything we ask for in prayer – aren’t you? I am fully persuaded that if we received exactly what we asked for in prayer, we would soon stop praying. Let me prove this to you. In Matthew 7:9-11 Jesus said, which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! The God we serve is a merciful and good God and if we come to him and pray for a snake, he is not likely to give in to our demands. Unbeknown to us we often pray for stones, snakes and scorpions (Luke 11:12). Our heavenly father like any earthly father will not agree to such requests. If we always got exactly what we asked for in prayer we would soon stop praying after we received a few black mambas in our laps or scorpions in our shoes. We would no longer trust ourselves to pray wisely. I would far rather trust an infinitely wise and an infinitely good God to sift out the snakes and scorpions and give me the fish and eggs. Wouldn’t you? Now of course when we pray the difficulty at times is, how do we determine what God’s will is so that we pray in line with it? Part of the answer can be found in a comment that Stuart Briscoe once made. He said, “I definitely believe that the effectiveness of your prayer life is closely related to your depth in the scriptures.” As our knowledge of Scripture increases so too does the wisdom and power of our prayers. We see what God’s will is and can direct our prayers accordingly and pray with greater assurance. To pray for God to be glorified in and through His church is to pray your will be done. We know from 2 Thessalonians 3 that God desires for His word to spread and be honoured. When we orientate our prayers in this direction it is to pray your will be done. Sinclair Ferguson has this to say about prayer; “faith is not a matter of looking within ourselves to see how much we feel capable of requesting. What faith does is to search the scriptures to see what God has promised.” Indeed, this is what Jesus says; In John 15:7, if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

The Lord’s Prayer | 5

Christian prayer begins with a passion for God’s honour, kingdom and will but it doesn’t end there. Just because we should not prioritise food and clothing doesn’t mean we don’t need them. If the first three requests are vertical in orientation the last three are horizontal. Jesus invites us to pray for three things in particular, provision, pardon and protection. Of course these are not the only things we can or should ask God for but they do provide us with a template for what we should prioritise.

In vrs 11 Jesus first of all tells us to ask for our daily bread. Notice, he wants us to pray for daily bread – not weekly bread, not monthly bread, not a trust fund or a nice little nest egg. He wants us to rely upon God daily. In Proverbs 30:8, 9 Agur prays as follows. Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. Agur isn’t simply interested in having his needs met. He wants to ensure the name of God isn’t profaned – whether with too much or too little. “Give me just what I need today, and I’ll come back tomorrow.” Agur is praying that he would be kept dependent on God in such a way that every day the Lord will be acknowledged as our sufficient supplier. If we pray for our daily bread we will be reminded on a daily basis that every gift comes to us from the bountiful hands of God. In 1 Timothy 6:6-8 we are reminded but godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Martin Luther helpfully broadened the scope of what is intended in this request. In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther said “Daily bread includes everything needed for this life, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, fields, cattle, money, goods, God-fearing spouse and children, faithful servants and rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, order, honor, true friends, good neighbors, and the like.” In his Large Catechism he elaborated a little more by way of explanation. “For when you mention and pray for daily bread, you pray for everything that is necessary in order to have and enjoy daily bread and, on the other hand, against everything which interferes with it. Therefore, you must open wide and extend your thoughts not only to the oven or the flour-bin but to the distant field and the entire land, which bears and brings to us daily bread and every sort of sustenance. For if God did not cause it to grow, and bless and preserve it in the field, we could never take bread from the oven or have any to set upon the table.” As we broaden the scope even further of praying for our daily bread Martin Luther included praying for our government. Where there is civil unrest our daily bread may well be threatened. This is one of the reasons the apostle Paul urges us to pray for our leaders in 1 Timothy 2:1, 2. I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

The Lord’s Prayer | 6

We have seen how true Christian prayer is firstly orientated in a vertical direction by displaying concern for God’s name, kingdom and will. Last time we started to examine the horizontal aspect of our praying. We should pray for provision, pardon and protection. Today we turn to consider how our prayer should include a daily plea for forgiveness.

This request lies at the heart of true Christianity. As John Onwuchekwa says in his book of prayer. It reminds us that peace with God always comes through pardon and forgiveness, never performance. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf is our only appeal for forgiveness. A useful spiritual discipline for us to consider implementing is to study a good Christian book on the cross every year. We should never take the cross for granted and we should never lose our sense of wonder and gratitude. If we ever reach the point in our Christian lives of being bored by a sermon or devotion that reminds us of the grounds of our forgiveness in the cross of Christ and his triumphant resurrection we are indeed standing on dangerous ground. When we pray forgive us our debts we are not asking God to reconsider our debts, nor are we asking Him for time to pay our debts. We are asking for forgiveness. When we do this, we remind ourselves of two things. Firstly, we remember our consistent failings and secondly, God’s willingness to forgive. To miss a day without praying as Jesus taught us is to spend a day where I’m tempted to think that God and I are okay because of my performance. That has never been the case, nor will it ever be.

Our Lord goes on to remind us that we ought to be as willing to forgive others for their offences towards us as the Lord is to forgive us, as we have also forgiven our debtors. In vrs 14, 15 Jesus spells out the consequences of forgiving or not forgiving those who have wronged us. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. When our hearts aren’t convinced of our need for God’s forgiveness, we’re prone to hold grudges. We will then focus on other people’s debts and withhold forgiveness. In Matthew 18:23-35 Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant. A servant was forgiven an astronomical debt of 10000 talents. One talent amounted to 6000 denarii (a working wage was one denarii a day). This means that the servant owed his master 60 million denarii (or 60 million days wages). This servant then proceeded to refuse to wipe out the debt of a fellow servant for the relative paltry amount of 300 denarii. The reason why Jesus chose such astronomical figures is because we have been forgiven an infinite debt by our heavenly father. Having been forgiven a Mt Everest sized debt by God why do we find it so hard to forgive a mole hill sized debt of someone who wrongs us? Jesus applied the parable in vrs 32-34, then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. If we are struggling to forgive someone for wronging us, we need to spend time meditating again on our own forgiveness in Christ. We need to pray forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.

The Lord’s Prayer | 7

For the last few days, we have been examining the horizontal dimensions of the Lord’s prayer and seen how we need to pray for provision and pardon. Today we turn our focus to the last request for protection. Like pardon from past sin, protection from future sin is found in Jesus.

The opening phrase and lead us not into temptation has confused many people. Would God ever lead us into temptation? No! Of course not! In James 1:13, 14 James is adamant, when tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. God does bring trials into our lives to reveal the quality of our faith but never so that we fall into temptation. Perhaps what Jesus means in the first half of vrs 13 is that we ought to pray that we do not succumb to temptation in the trials of life. The Greek word for temptation is peirasmos and is also translated as trials (James 1:2, 12 etc). A perfect illustration of this truth is found in Mark 14:32-42. Why did Jesus ask only Peter, James and John to come a little farther (vrs 33)? In Mark 10:35-39 James and John had claimed that they could drink the same cup that Jesus would drink and in Mark 14:29-31 Peter had promised to remain faithful even to death. Perhaps Jesus specifically wanted to correct this. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus modelled the lesson of Matthew 6:13. Jesus was staring death in the face, knowing that his fate was inescapable. How did he face it? On his knees in prayer. In Mark 14:39 we are told that Jesus prayed repeatedly. While Jesus was wrestling in prayer his disciples had fallen asleep. In vrs 38 Jesus said “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” He clearly links prayer with the ability to withstand temptation. His disciples failed. By agonizing in prayer Jesus found the strength to endure the cross. The disciples failed to prayer and when called upon to stand up for Jesus they failed. Gethsemane is as much about the power of prayer as it is about the inevitable failure that comes from prayerlessness. Gethsemane is sandwiched between the disciples promising faithfulness to Jesus and later running away. As John Onwuchekwa says, “like a vegan sandwich, the disciples present great promise, but they deliver disappointment in the middle.”

Many bible translations will read “deliver us from evil” whereas the NIV translates it as deliver us from the evil one. Which is correct? I suggest that at this point the NIV is quite correct because in the Greek text Jesus uses the definite article (tou ponerou – the evil). It would make more sense to understand that he had Satan in mind. The same words are used in Matthew 13:19 in the parable of the sower where seed sown on the path is snatched away by the evil one (ho poneros). When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are not simply requesting deliverance from generic evil but deliverance from the schemes of Satan. In 1 Peter 5:8, 9 we are reminded, be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. When we pray deliver us from the evil one we are praying that we would not be led astray by the devil schemes.

We saw how Peter, James and John failed to apply Jesus’ teaching in the Garden of Gethsemane and failed him. They learned from their failures. In Acts 4:23-31 following Peter and John’s release from prison following a beating and threats to cease preaching what did they do? They summoned a prayer meeting and asked the sovereign God to give them strength and boldness to do his will. What was the response to their prayer? In Acts 4:31 we read, after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.


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