Teach Us to Pray (4): What Do You See?
February 1, 2015
Intro – An elderly couple came across an old lamp, rubbed it and got a visit from a genie who gave them 3 wishes. They were discussing how not to squander this opportunity as the wife put dinner on the table -- stew. The man hated stew and without thinking blurted out, “I wish I had a good Polish sausage.” Voila! The sausage appeared in the middle of his plate. Well, that set his wife off. “You old buzzard. What a waste of a wish! I wish that sausage was on your nose.” Voila! Attached permanently. Couldn’t pull it off, cut if off or eat it off. It was just there! Finally, in exasperation the wife exclaimed, “I sure wish that thing was off your nose.” Voila! Back on the plate. But three wishes squandered. Nothing to show but a Polish sausage.
So, a disciple has asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus gives a simple answer consisting of 5 petitions. Simple – yet a profound opportunity that we can squander or use in a powerful way. So I want us to understand these requests as thoroughly as possible so our requests are informed by God. These break down into two kinds of petition: needs related to God; needs related to us.
I. Needs Related to God
First note who is addressed. “Father.” Honestly, my favorite part of the prayer. To address our Creator as Father – priceless! Believers have that right by adoption. Paul says in Rom 8:15, “but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Abba – the sound of a child trying to learn to say, “Papa”. That’s how God invites us to come to Him – with total trust and confidence. Like a little child who climbs into Dad’s lap. Starts to tell him something, then gets distracted and heads off for another adventure. Does Dad say, “Wait a minute. Get back here and finish the thought!”? Does he? No! He rejoices in those moments he had with his child. He knows the limitation of that child. That’s how God receives us. Father.
So, can we pray to Jesus or the HS? Of course. All are prayed to in the Bible. But all prayers eventually end up on the desk of the Father. You might as well start there. There is no precedent in Scripture, BTW, for praying to saints or anyone else. We have access directly to the Father, and God encourages us to use it. Why a go-between when you can go straight to the top?
You know, when it’s time to ask the boss for a raise, it can be scary, right? We feel a little intimidated. We call him Sir. We sure don’t call him “Daddy.” That person may like us and still shoot us down quickly. It’s a whole different feeling from going to ask Dad for something, isn’t it? And for those of you who didn’t have a great human father, or you lost him early in life, you still know what a father can and should be. That’s who we address in prayer. Our heavenly Father. So come with reverence, but come with confidence. He is our Master, our Savior, our Guide, our Shepherd, our Provider, our Helper. But what I love most of all is that He is our Father; He wants us to address Him as such. That says a lot right there. “Father.” So 2 needs related to God.
A. Hallowed Be Your Name
This may sound like adoration or praise. It’s neither. It’s a petition for God’s name to be exalted. “Hallowed” is a form of the word αγιαζω, “to make holy.” It could be translated, “Let your name be made or declared holy.” [not love – holy]! Names were meaningful in antiquity. It represented his whole nature or character – it defined him. This first request in Jesus’ model prayer, #1 on the list, is that God’s holy character will be known to the world -- that God’s reputation will be lifted up – that God will be known for who He really is and not whittled down to some manageable size and shape by man’s reason. That He will be known for who He is, not who we’d like Him to be.
“Holy” speaks of two things – God’s otherness and His moral perfection. That is the basis for morality. Sin is not evil because it violates a law; it is evil because it violates God’s character. This request is that God’s character be foremost in our minds. For most of us, that’s a long way down the list. But as we grow in Him, we will long for Him to be known for who He really is.
Now, since God is beyond our sensual perceptions, the only way we can possibly know Him is by His own self-revelation. We can’t define Him; we must accept His own self-definition. But while people still overwhelming believe in God’s existence, what most really believe in is a God of their own definition. We have made Him what we want Him to be as opposed to what He really is, do you see? Philosopher Blaise Pascal identified man’s arrogance in this regard when he said, “God made man in his own image and man returned the compliment.” He’s right. Our culture largely believes in a God they have created as opposed to God who really is as revealed in His Word.
One onerous example is found in Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The untimely death of his son caused Kushner to question his faith. He reasons that God must have been powerless to prevent the tragedy. He concludes, “I can worship a God who hates suffering but cannot eliminate it, more easily than I can worship a God who chooses to make children suffer and die.” In other words, I can only worship a God who conforms to my own sense of morality, whether or not that corresponds to His own self-revelation – which it certainly does not.
We can sympathize with Kushner’s grief. But his solution – to define a diminished God in his terms and worship that God is nonsensical. Jesus raised the widow’s son in Luke 7. That means God could have kept him from dying in the first place, but He allowed it for some greater good. And if the rabbi needs an OT reference, God, through Elijah raised the widow’s son in I Kings 17. He could have kept him from dying in the first place. The death was not because God cannot prevent it. It was allowed for some greater good. The fact that we disagree with God’s methods does not allow us to re-define Him to our own specifications. To do that is simply to worship Self. It puts human reason above God’s revelation – diminishes His name and exalts me who made that judgment. But only a fool would want to worship himself.
Usually the re-definition of God takes the form of belief in a God who loves but not a God who judges. We sacrifice God’s holiness to His love. The Bible insists that not only is God both, but He could not be one without the other. How could He be love if He allowed evil to go unchecked. Such a God would be a monster. That’s where human reason leads. Better to hallow His name.
Now, let’s go deeper? We are praying for God’s character to be known? How does that happen? A common thread runs thru passages that deal with this question. Lev. 22:31, “So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD. 32 And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” The word “sanctified” is a form of the same word we have in Luke. So how is God’s name hallowed rather than profaned? When His people keep His commandments. We are part of the solution. When we disobey, it is not just ourselves that we hurt; we profane His name, declare Him to be of no worth anoint our ways superior to His. That profanes Him. Interesting, is it not?
In Num 12 Israel arrives at Kadesh complaining of no water. God tells Moses to speak to the rock. But in his anger, Moses strikes the rock. Retribution is swift. Num 20:12, “And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Moses profaned rather than hallowed God’s name by disobedience, and it cost him the opportunity to lead them into Canaan.
Every act of obedience is a means of hallowing God’s name – of affirming His character and worth. The world may not agree, but they will be confronted with God’s true character as reflected in the life of a believer.
Ever hear of Neville Chamberlain? Wilt Chamberlain’s father? No – he was PM of Britain who negotiated away a disputed part of Czechoslovakia when Hitler gave His word of honor that was the last territory demand he would make in Europe. Chamberlain came home to England announcing that it meant “peace in our time.” He was initially hailed for his achievement. Meanwhile another minister, Winston Churchill, was being vilified for saying, “Don’t trust Hitler. He will never be satisfied.” Eleven months later (9139) Hitler invaded Poland and a few months after that (51040), Winston Churchill, was elected PM. The two men occupied the same position and had the same goals. But which name is hallowed? Churchill. Why? Because the people believed and obeyed him and they were right to do so. He told the truth and they hallowed his name.
Our obedience to God’s commands, even the ones that are contrary to cultural norms, especially the ones that are contrary to cultural norms – our obedience signals that He is right and we are wrong. That hallows His name. And just as Churchill was vindicated in the end, so will God be vindicated. And those who are obedient to Him gain in two ways: they have happier lives now and they will be vindicated with His vindication. Do you see how it works? To pray for God’s name to be hallowed is to pray that we and others will obey Him. By our obedience we are saying with Paul, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom 3:4). We are praying that we and others will submit to the God who is, not to a god of our own making. How foolish to do otherwise?
B. Your Kingdom Come
There are two aspects to God’s kingdom. In its broadest sense, God’s kingdom is His rulership in the heart of every true believer. In that sense the kingdom is now. We are kingdom people. It is in this sense that Jesus could say, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lu 17:21). It is in this sense that Jesus could say to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36). It is this sense that Paul could say, “But our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Christians give allegiance to Christ above all as their Lord and ruler of a spiritual kingdom that is in force now. In this sense it is NOW!
But God’s kingdom also has a future sense. It is “already, but not yet” for God has promised that all believers will one day participate with Christ as King in an earthly political kingdom of perfect conditions when God’s will and rulership will extend beyond the hearts of believers to every realm – spiritual and physical, heavenly and earthly. That’s where this prayer aims us. We know this first because Jesus the King, in whom the kingdom is personally resident is instructing His followers to pray for the kingdom to come. That must refer to the ultimate and final fulfillment of all kingdom promises.
We know that also because when He says, “Your kingdom come,” the word “come” is an aorist tense – one-time action. Jesus is asking us to pray for the time when the rulership of God will extend to all realms of reality – when His will reigns supreme once again as the only will in the universe. That’s why in Matt’s version the prayer goes on to say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). In its ultimate sense, the kingdom is the extension of God’s will to every nook and corner of the universe. We are to pray for that. Can you see that Jesus is giving us a big vision here? He is taking us far out of the realm of our rather parochial, rather selfish, rather short-sighted prayers to align with the ultimate purpose and will of God. If you don’t like the current political climate, forget about praying Obama and Congress out, Beloved, pray Jesus in! Jesus is taking us out of our temporally bounded concerns to the Big Picture and saying, Pray for that. He is centering us on who we really are and saying, think and pray like that.
You say, but isn’t the kingdom inevitable? Yes. So, why pray for it? How about to get our focus beyond self to the bigger picture. Peter adds an element you have to love. He says in II Pet 3:11, “ Since all these things are thus to be dissolved (all earthly things), what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Are you tired of the way things are? Tired of the tyranny of a majority driven by selfish concern? Tired of the triumph of evil over good, wrong over right, stupidity over common sense? Then pray for the kingdom. Peter actually says we can hasten, move forward, cause to happen sooner, the coming kingdom when absolute righteousness will prevail.
So at the beginning of this prayer, Jesus is urging us to be praying for the Big Picture, for the time when the effective rule of God is extended to every part of our world. Obviously, if we are praying for that, our lives will be increasingly conforming to that vision as well – our desires will be for His will to be done now, more than mine. For His agenda more than mine. In fact, His will will become mine, and everything from the way I think, talk, plan, spend, work and conduct myself will be affected. You will live out Matt 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
In his book Brinkley’s Beat, TV anchor David Brinkley tells about the great respect accorded to Lyndon Johnson when he was one of the most respected Senate Majority Leaders in history. Brinkley overheard two younger senators talking one day. One said, “Why are we about to pass this bill? What’s it about?” The other replied, “I don’t know, but Lyndon wants it. That’s good enough for me.” Well, I’m not suggesting such blind faith makes for a great senator, because Lyndon wasn’t perfect. But it makes for a great Christian because God is perfect, and His will and His ways will always be best. That’s what Jesus is inviting us into with His model prayer. Get oriented. Before you start asking for your own needs, ask that God’s character be rightly represented. Because when you do that, you will live toward that end rather than your end. And ask for His kingdom to come quickly, because when you do, you will live toward that end rather than your end.
Conc – I saw an economist talk to a group of people about a recession one time. On a big sheet of white paper she made a black pot with her pencil and asked a man on the front row what he saw. He replied, “A black spot.” She asked several others the same question and got the same answer every time. Eventually she replied with great emphasis, “Yes, there is a little black spot, but isn’t it interesting that none of you mentioned the big sheet of white paper all around the black spot.” Get the big picture! That’s the point! Most of us live and pray for the little black spot that represents our life and our interests. Selfishly! And God is interested in the little black spot. But He wants us to see it and pray about it in the context of the big picture – of His honor and His rulership. His concerns first, then ours in relation to His. Jesus’s model will keep us from squandering our great privilege. He’s inviting to raise our vision in our prayer life. So, let’s do so. Let’s pray.