This is How You Should Pray
Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 6:7–6:13
Good morning! If you were here last week, you know that we covered the whole of the first part of Matthew 6 and this week we are going back to zoom in on what we call The Lord’s Prayer. Of all the prayers out in the world, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that this is the most well known prayer and likely the most prayed prayer in the history of the world. Most scholars would say that they are the most famous English words at the very least.
Inside the church, outside of maybe parenting, I don’t think there is an area of our life that contains more guilt than prayer. We all feel like we should be praying more, we should be praying better, we wonder if things would be different if we had prayed more.
About ten years ago, my wife, Angela, was going through chemotherapy for her cancer and I was at a Starbucks talking to a well intentioned Christian who told me that Angela’s cancer was on us. If we had prayed more and prayed with greater faith that she would have never gotten cancer in the first place. And I can’t say that, as much as I wanted to fly across that table and punch that guy, that for a second, I didn’t wonder if he was right. Should I have prayed more for Angela?
Then we have all the things that we do pray for and never see them happen. Do you remember the $1.5 Billion lottery jackpot last year? The single winner just claimed his $800 Billion take home prize this week. I remember that drawing well, because it was the first lotto ticket I have purchased in maybe 20 years. And you better believe I prayed. “God, seriously, I’m the ideal winner. I’m going to give most of it away. Schools will be coming to OGC to ask to borrow our facilities. RTS wouldn’t need tuition from a single student. Homelessness would be ended in Orlando. I could buy FSU some good football players! Ok, maybe I didn’t pray that. But, God obviously thought there was a better candidate out there.
We all pray things that just don’t happen and we all wonder at least if we are praying the right way or at worst if prayer even matters. There are so many questions, doubts and guilt in the arena of prayer. And in this passage, Jesus gives us, essentially, the scaffolding for all of our prayers. I want to look at this passage and answer two questions. First, why we can pray and, second, how we should pray.
- Why we can pray
Why we can pray comes down to two words: our Father. Our Father in heaven. We call this prayer The Lord’s Prayer, but most of the rest of the world calls this prayer simply, The Our Father. They understand what a big deal these words are that they have named this prayer accordingly.
Jesus, beginning this prayer in this way would have been shocking. Nowhere in the whole Bible do we ever see any individual calling God Father in this way before Jesus. God is holy. God is royal. God is immeasurably more righteous than us so, the people of Jesus’ day would have concluded, our relationship with him needs to one of formality and honor. And to call him Father communicates a level of intimacy that is not ok. It’s like meeting the Queen of England and giving her a high five. However inappropriate that would be, imagine multiplying that by 10,000 and maybe we get a glimpse of how Jesus would be received. You don’t just do that!!
And it would be easy to think, “Well, maybe Jesus can call God Father, but we can’t.” But both Jesus and Paul tell us to do the same. Look at John 1: But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of
God, - John 1:12 or Galatians 4: And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" - Galatians 4:6
The reason we can pray is because God has made us His children. If you are a child, you are loved and you have access. Angela and I have been sleeping our whole marriage on the same mattress that Angela got when she went to college so when we moved here, we finally upgraded...to a king bed. I was thinking we could finally spread out a bit, but I realized that buying a king simply insures a third person in the bed. Every morning I wake up and some child has worked their way between us. And I look at that child in the morning and I smile.
What would happen though if I woke up and saw any of you in between us? It would be a very different scenario. Because my children are my children they have access to me in a way that no one else does and that is the same kind of access Jesus is communicating with this word Father. And this access should affect the way we pray.
There are these precious years between like 2 and 6 when a child believes their dad can do anything. I still have one in that sweet zone. The others are beginning to wonder if I can do anything. Angela’s dad and sister are here this morning and they have this great story where Angela’s sister was young and her balloon popped and she said, “It’s ok, dad will fix it.” That’s the way we can come to God because He has made Himself our Father.
And He isn’t just any old run of the mill dad either. He makes Jack Pearson on This Is Us look like an amateur. He is more loving, more gracious, more patient and more kind than the greatest of earthly fathers. And not only that, look at verse 8: for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. God our Father not only loves us and gives us access to Him, but He knows our needs before we even ask. That’s a pretty great dad.
So, how is it that we are His children? As Jesus said in John 1, we need simply believe. Let me flesh this out by asking a different question. Why is it that we always finish our prayers ‘In Jesus’ name’ but nowhere in this prayer are we instructed to pray in Jesus name? Have you ever thought about that? Kind of odd that the main thing we always do in prayer would be missing from the main passage on prayer.
Because it is actually assumed in this text. When you say ‘Our Father’ you are doing it in Jesus’ name. Without Jesus, God can’t be our father. Jesus was the only son, but when we believe, we get His status. The way we become children of God is by Jesus exchanging statuses with us. He took on the status of criminal on the cross so we could take on the status of true children.
This great doctrine is called the doctrine of adoption. J.I. Packer, in Knowing God, calls justification the fundamental blessing of God, but adoption the highest blessing of God. We are adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High God and can now call Him Father. It is such a sweet thing for me to see a family with both biological and adopted children. Sometimes you can distinguish between the two just by the color of their skin. But you can also see that there is no distinction on the parents’ part between the way they love the biological children and the way they love the adopted children. It’s a sweet thing to watch and it is a picture of our adoption in Jesus Christ.
This is why we can pray. Because Jesus has made us true children of God and we have every bit of love and access to God our Father as Jesus Himself. So, what are we to do with that access? How is it that we should pray?
- How we should pray.
Jesus tells us that there are two ways that we should not pray and that there are two ways that we should pray. The first way we should not pray is hypocritically. All of last week’s sermon was on that so you can go back and listen if you missed it. The second way we should not pray is by using empty phrases. Look at verse 7: "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. - Matthew 6:7
It would be to pray as the Gentiles did. The Greek word for empty phrases is an interesting one because this is the only place we find it anywhere, ever. The word is Batalogeto. I think William Tyndale and, much later, the NIV actually nails it here translating it as babble. We don’t need to heap up babble. This word batalogeto is actually likely onamonapia. You know where we make up a word based on how it sounds like smash, bam, gurgle or belch. Likely the same thing is going on here. A word has been invented to sound like the way the gentiles babble when they pray.
Angela and I were members of a very charismatic church during our early years in Italy and I remember the day when my Italian became good enough to realize that the prayers being offered up were not Italian. I’ll leave it at that.
So, what does this practically mean for us? Kevin DeYoung says that “our prayers can’t be all lips, no mind and no heart.” I think that really sums it up well. There is this idea that if we have the right formula for prayer and we do that formula, whatever it is, enough time, we will somehow unlock God’s blessing. The right formula plus repetition, equals more blessing. I think that is what the King James was getting at by translating the word ‘vain repetition.’ We want to make sure, to the best of our abilities that our prayers are thoughtful and heartfelt.
So, this does beg the question, is the Lord’s Prayer not some rote prayer that, in essence, is exactly what Jesus is guarding us against? No. Remember, the Lord’s prayer is a scaffolding. Jesus is giving us categories to pray unlike the Hail Mary. So, what are those categories? How should we be praying?
Jesus tells us that we should pray for God’s glory and our good. Pretty much everyone agrees that this prayer divides into two clear sections so I want to take them separately. First, we should pray for God’s glory. 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. - Matthew 6:9-10
There is a real part of our prayers that should be focused on our own needs, but Jesus is clearly saying that this is not the starting point. The starting point is God’s glory. There is something about God’s glory that will shape the way we understand the events transpiring around us and the prayers that come forth from us. And Jesus says that to pray for God’s glory means two things. That His name is hallowed and his kingdom comes.
First, His name be hallowed. Hallowed be your name. I think if you asked the average person in America my age or younger what hallowed means, you’d get more Harry Potter references than Biblical explanations. God wants His name to be hallowed. To understand this, we need to first understand something about a name.
A name in our culture doesn’t mean nearly as much as it did in Jesus’ day. We pick names based on popularity or simply how it sounds or maybe because it’s the best sounding in our family tree. It’s not unusual for our pets names to have more actual meaning that our kids names. There is some residue though in our culture when it comes to names. We still use the phrase ‘he has a good name in our town.’ When we say this, we aren’t just talking about the way his name sounds, we are talking about the integrity and character of the man behind the name.
I can remember my dad saying, “Davis’ don’t do that.” There is a something about that name that begged for more out of me. Names are supposed to communicate something about our character. I heard a pastor this week tell a story about the Mansi people. An American was talking to a Mansi and, as we Americans do, he was using this man’s name often as he talked to him. That can be considered endearing in our culture. But this Mansi looked at the American and said, “Don’t throw my name about like that. My name is important to me.”
Names in most cultures and especially Jesus’ culture are inseparably linked to the character of the person behind the name. And no one has more behind their name than God! Now, God has many names in the Bible and they each communicate something about Him. When Moses asked God who is it that I shall tell Pharaoh sent me? What does God say? Tell them ‘I am’ sent you. Talk about a name. To be. That is my name. Augustine describes this name as "too much to handle." He says, "I see the depths, but I do not see the bottom."
There was so much reverence to the name of Yahweh in Israel that they wouldn’t even say the name for fear of doing dishonor to the name of God. That is still true among practicing Jews today. I love how C.S. Lewis writes in the Chronicles of Narnia, “At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in his inside. . . . Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realise that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.”
Hallowed means honored, revealed and lifted up. Our prayer is first that the name of God would be honored the way it should be. So, what does that look like?
The obvious answer is praying against all the kinds of words that come out of our mouths when the golf ball doesn’t go in the direction we want or if our team isn’t producing the way we want. That’s too obvious to spend much time on. What about all the things that we do in the name of God? Do you pray that your actions will hallow God’s name? If you have anything on your car that identifies you as a Christian, then everything you do in that car affects the hallowing of the name of God.
This week there has been a huge amount of press surrounding both the extramarital affairs and sexual abuse of minors by pastors in the US. I cannot say in strong enough terms that if anyone holds the title of pastor or elder and uses that title and the influence that comes with it to harm people, they are corrupting the name of God in maybe the strongest possible way and they will be held accountable for the damage they are doing.
Or, do we pray for the hallowing of God’s name in our worship here on Sundays? [Plug 8:30am Sunday prayer group. This is a God centered worship, not a man centered, consumer driven worship. We are not here to be entertained, we are not here to lift up Orando Grace and we certainly not here to lift up anyone who speaks in this pulpit. We are here to lift up the name of God from the time we enter this building to the time we leave for lunch. Charles Spurgeon says, “God isn’t a product to be enjoyed, He is the Creator to be worshipped.”
Hallowed be Your name! That is our starting point. Secondly, we pray for His kingdom to come. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. - Matthew 6:10 I remember so well the very first time I understood this verse. Richard Pratt taught me that heaven is a bus stop. If we die today and go to heaven it is a glorified bus stop. It is a staging place as we await God’s full glory and dwelling to permanently come to earth. God’s kingdom come! Come here. Make our world like heaven! That’s where the whole Biblical narrative is going!
And there are three parts to this prayer. Alistair Begg helpfully says we should remember the letters CSC. Conversion, submission and consummation. The first part of this prayer is conversion. We should pray that people will be converted. People being brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light is the God’s designed starting place for the coming of His kingdom.
In Jesus’ day, a king would mark his territory by erecting statues of himself as far as the kingdom would span. You would know by the statues whose kingdom you were in. Most of us have lived long enough to see kingdoms fall. What is the first thing people do after the kingdom comes down? They tear down the statues of the former king. Those statues make bold and real claims about who is in charge. And in the same way, when we are converted, we become statues to the True King making bold and real claims about whose kingdom we really live in.
One of the things your elders are praying regularly for is that conversions and baptisms would be a regular part of the life of this church. That it would be an odd thing to go a few months and not see a baptism. We want be a church through whom God’s kingdom is growing through conversions.
The second part of God’s kingdom coming is submission. Once we are in the kingdom, we are conformed by submitting to the King. We begin to look more and more like Jesus the son and as that happens we are more effective statues for His glory all over this city. But, we can’t think of submission as simply something that happens internally. There is a huge internal change, but that fuels an outward affect. Thomas Watson, who probably has the most famous work on the Lord’s Prayer says, "A Christian that is all head, but no feet, does not walk in the ways of God."
We become more acutely aware of all the ways that this world does not hallow the name of God, the ways that this kingdom does not reflect the kingdom to come and that does not sit well with us. In the kingdom to come, there is no poverty, there is no pain, there is no homelessness, there are no disenfranchised, there is no racism and there are no hurting. All of those things are an offense to the nature of God, so His people care about it.
Now, obviously, we can’t fix every kingdom issue, but the more we are conformed into the image of the Son, the more we care about these issues and the more we are motivated to sacrifice to see them remedied. Not because it makes us more righteous, not because it makes us more loved, but because we live in a different kingdom and we exist to make that known to all. That is submission.
Then, finally, there will be consummation. We are praying for that day to be fully realized. The day when Jesus will come in a flash and with trumpets blaring fully bring His kingdom to earth. The souls of the dead will come with Him and meet their new bodies in the air. Those who are alive in Christ will rise to join them. And the kingdom will be fully consummated on that, the greatest day those who believe in Christ will ever know.
We have been delivered into a new kingdom and we exist to see that kingdom come.
And, can I tell you how hard it is as a Westerner to have prayers that are marked by God’s glory. It can sound each week like I hate the United States. Please hear me say that I think the United States is one of God’s great blessings to us and this world. I shudder to think what this world would look like if not for the presence of this country. I’m so thankful for capitalism and all the ways God has used it to bring us health and spread His Word worldwide.
But, we have to see this country in all its glory and faults. The American dream is self-centered. We live in a radically self-centered, me-driven society. So, it should come as no surprise that our prayers are self-centered and me-driven. And when we don’t get what we think we should have, we doubt God and walk away.
Self-centered prayers push us toward emptiness and isolation. Living in this culture is like the frog in the pot of water not realizing that it is slowly getting hotter until it’s boiling and too late. This doesn’t mean we can’t ask for things for ourselves. It simply means that when we pray first for God’s glory, it completely changes our heart and what we ask for. We feel the things God feels and ask accordingly. We let go of prayers that God doesn’t want. And we become more bold in things we ask for.
We pray for God’s glory and THEN we pray for our good. 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. - Matthew 6:11-13
We can’t ever think that our prayers don’t matter and that we can’t ask boldly on our behalf. When our prayers are filtered through God’s glory, we should be more emboldened to ask for our needs.
There is some debate on what Jesus means by ‘our daily bread.’ Some say He is referring to the bread of communion, some say that He is referring to the Word of God, some say that He is referring to the Bread of Life, Himself. I think these are overspiritualizing what Jesus is saying though. I think the most plain and clear reading of the text dictates that Jesus is talking about out our daily needs and epitomizing those needs in our greatest need: food.
In the same way that God provided manna in the wilderness everyday, so will He provide for the needs of those who ask. I find that among most Reformed Christians, our problem is that we don’t ask specifically and boldly. We are great at praying, ‘You’re will be done,’ but we are terrible at asking very specifically. We are less likely to trust God for healing and financial security. We are less likely to pray by name for the people we want to see God to bring into His kingdom. But we are told all over Scripture to ask God for these things! Remember, God provided the manna, but His people still had to go out and pick it up.
You prayers show how much you really believe and trust in God. My friend Caleb Brasher says prayer is the sound dependance makes.
There is this misconception that the more we trust God the bigger our prayers. I think it’s just the opposite. The more we trust God the smaller our prayers. The more specifically we ask for things because we realized that He is our father. I know how deeply the fathers in this room want to give their kids every good thing. How much more then is this true of our Heavenly Father. Go and ask. Ask like a child would his father.
When we know God as our Father, we can ask Him for our daily needs. We can ask him for the forgiveness of our sin. We can ask Him for supernatural ability to forgive others. And we can ask Him to guard us from temptation and keep us until the end. These are prayer we can ask and should ask boldly!
As always, Jesus is our way and our perfect example. When Jesus walked this earth, He offered up prayers and He was heard because of His righteousness. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. - Hebrews 5:7
And in the same way, we today are heard not because of our reverence but because of His reverence. Jesus is interceding for us to the Father from a throne that sees all space and time at one moment. That is why we pray boldly. Not because we deserve it, but because Jesus does and in Him we are loved children. But this is only true if we believe.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to
God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. - Hebrews 11:6
Are you seeking Him? If you are, you are loved children by a Father who wants to answer your prayers.