Sometimes we become accustomed to doing things a certain way. We repeat what we were taught by our parents, and so we teach our kids the same things. Sometimes we do something for so long, that we lose sight of how things were meant to be. And because we have always done it this way we never take the time to stop and think. We never take the time to examine why we did something in the first place. Why is it so important to do it that one particular way. Two millennia ago Jesus was asked a very simple question. He was asked to “teach us how to pray”. And he did, he taught us how to pray. And every one of us has memorized that part of Scripture whereby he teaches us how to pray. The thing is, Jesus gave us a formula, he gave us the elements of what a prayer to God should contain. He taught us how to pray-not what to pray. But for some reason, over the centuries, we have recited this Scripture as a prayer. But, it is not a prayer. The Lord’s prayer or the our father as it is sometimes called, is not a prayer.
We read in Matthew Chapter 6 beginning in verse five “and when you pray you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” So what does this tell us about praying? It tells us that God is not impressed by our prayer life. It tells us that God doesn’t want us to put on a show about how we pray privately. Those prayers that we need to pray about our own personal matters should not be prayed in public our prayers have a time and a place. Those people that pray out in the open like that-their motives must be questioned. Jesus even go so far as to label these people as hypocrites. For these particular people that he’s talking about, they are not praying to have God answer their prayers. No! They are praying to put on a show. They are praying to show other people just how spiritual they are. Jesus says that they have their reward. Their reward is the approval of those people who make up their audience. It is the motive behind the prayer that determines whether it is good and appropriate. When we pray during our services, we are praying because our hearts are bent towards God, and not towards each other. We are not a bunch of actors putting on a performance for each other. No, we are a bunch of Christians bringing a form of worship before our sovereign God. Jesus goes on to say in verse six “but you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you shut your door, pray to your father who is in the secret place; and your father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Our own individual prayer life consists of being alone with God. It is a one on one conversation! It is not a ritual, it is not a chore, it is not a time to worry. It is a time to be alone with God the father. As Christians only we can, according to Hebrews chapter four verse 16 “… come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” only a Christian can go to God in prayer. In John chapter 14 verse six we read that “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the father but by me.”in order to have that special time with God, in order to be able to go to God in prayer you must be saved. Only a person who has professed that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior can go and pray to God. Now God may hear the prayer of the unsaved but usually that prayer is made out of distress. I am talking about sitting down and talking to God, because as Christians, he is our father. What a God! What a relationship we have. When we take the time to talk with God we receive his blessings in return. Now I am going to make probably one of the most profound statements that you will ever hear from any pulpit-God is listening, he answers our prayers. Think about it we have a God who is an active participant in our lives! We can see the evidence of his work every time he answers our prayers. Crystal? Has God answered any of your prayers lately?... this goes with the last part of the verse God rewards openly. He answers prayers so that everyone may know that he is God. Everyone can see his hand at work. Now we read in verse seven “and when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your father knows the things you have need of before you ask him.” This is a verse which seems to me to be very straightforward, yet in many Christian denominations it is completely ignored. When you pray, your prayer must have meaning and purpose. It should not be something that is repeated over and over and over again as some type of mantra. Jesus specifically said here not do this and yet many Christian denominations will do exactly that for. They will say the same prayer over and over and over again. Some denominations will even go so far as to say that you need to say this many hail Mary’s, this many our fathers, and this many apostles Creeds. And I am here to tell you that according to Jesus Christ the son of God who is God that should not happen at all. I am reminded of a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet “words without thought never to heaven go” the motive behind the prayer is oh so important. Jesus used the words vain repetitions. Somewhere else in the Bible do we predominantly remember the word vain. The third commandment says “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…” what does the word vain mean? Most of us think that it means that you just can’t swear using the name of God. And that is 100% accurate; however, there is more to it than just profanity. In vain also means that we should take care of how we use things. God’s name is to be used appropriately and it is to be used in a way that does not diminish the sacred name of God. How many times have we uttered these words with something amazing happens-oh my God, or we hear someone say Jesus Christ, but they’re not being biblical, or how bout this one-I swear to God. All these examples are examples of using God’s name in vain. When we use God’s name then it should be with the purpose, reverence, and appropriateness. When we pray, our prayers should reflect the exact same thing. Purpose reverence and appropriateness. It is interesting to note, no I think I’m having another profound thought here. God is all knowing. Did we not just read that your father knows that things ye have need of before you ask him? While some of you might ask what if God is all-knowing then why doesn’t he just grant us what we need and we won’t even have to pray? Because God wants to provide for us to, and build a relationship of trust with us. If we did not ask of him how could we trust in him. How could we realize that the life we have is not an entitlement but a gift. So now I repeat the question that was posed to Jesus two millennia ago-how do we pray? Jesus said “in this manner, therefore pray: our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Jesus said this is the way to pray. We start by addressing who we are talking to. We are talking to God the father. When we talk about his name being hallowed we are talking about keeping his name holy, pure just as we talked about when we don’t take his name in vain. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” here we are to pray for the coming of his kingdom. We are to pray for that day when Jesus calls his church home at the rapture. We are to pray for Christ’s return, so that his earthly reign may begin. Our prayers should look forward to the days to come when Jesus sits in power here on Earth. The next part of this prayer is a surrender to the authority of God. We are praying for his will to be done here on Earth, just like his will is done in heaven. It is an example of this whole picture of God’s rule in heaven and our desire to see that rule come to completion here on Earth. His rule is complete authority, complete sovereignty. In him will all of our trust be placed in order that he may rule. “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is a little sentence where we ask so much of God. We are asking God to take care of all of our needs day by day. We are asking God to provide us nourishment. This nourishment includes not only food and water, but spiritual nutrition as well. Jesus did say that he is the bread of life. Jesus pointed out the need not only to have our bellies filled when he fed the 5000 with the loaves and fishes; but also to have our spiritual bellies filled -our soul filled. We are asking God the father, the King to help his subjects. “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Here we have one of greatest thins that we as Christians can do. Forgive and be forgiven. I have mentioned before that there is a legal price for our sin, and Jesus paid the price for our sins by dying on that cross. When the Scripture says forgive us our debts we are asking God to take away the penalty for our sin. We are praying that Jesus’ death and resurrection, in whom we place our sins, is acceptable. Now the flipside of the coin is that we pray that we are able to do likewise to those that have sinned against us. We are praying that we do not penalize those who have sinned against us. Jesus expounds on this topic later on in verses 14 and 15 where he says “for if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses.” The word for debts and debtors is different than the word for trespasses. We have indirectly described what debts are. Trespasses are sins which occurs a result of our temporary lapse of righteous living. To think that we are held accountable for our actions before others, just as we are held accountable for our actions before God. If we do not forgive others then we ourselves are not forgiven. There is no room in God’s kingdom for hypocrisy. Forgive and be forgiven. we go on to read “and do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” When are we praying for here? It would seem that we’re praying for God to not lead us to do something that would cause us to sin. But that is not the case for you see according to James Chapter 1 verse 13 it says “let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”the meaning behind tempted here refers to being tested. We are to pray that when God tests us that Satan can claim no victory over us. We are praying for victory over sin. We are praying to God to bring us through the storms of life with our testimony as his children, as Christians still intact. The final part of this passage says “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever amen.” There are some Greek manuscripts that do not contain this last part. It is upon that knowledge that I assume that is the reason why some churches do not include this as part of the Lord’s prayer. Really, this phrase just reiterates who God is. In a word this phrase displays his sovereignty. God is sovereign. Textually speaking this is really the disciples prayer, not the Lord’s prayer.
So the question remains-if this is not a prayer, then why do we consistently recite it? Why do we take the time to recite something over and over instead of taking the time to personalize our time with God. Are we uttering vain repetitions? When we say the words our father are we using his name in vain? Or perhaps our hearts are truly focused on the meaning of these words as they come out of our mouths. In which case does it become a real prayer? Words with real thought to heaven shall go. Give God the praise and glory he deserves, spend time with him. Improve your relationship with him. Take the time and go to your private place and when you’re there talk to him. Talk to him and listen to what he says in return.