Over the summer month’s we have been digging into what it means to be the church. What the church is called to do, and be, as God’s Faithful Presence in a broken world.
Scripture gives us seven basic disciplines that the church must learn to practice in order to be true to our call as God’s presence in this world. We are Christ’s ambassadors, his representatives to those in our community. These seven discipline’s shape us for mission, they form us into disciples who represent Jesus through faith, obedience, and love.
To date we have journeyed through the discipline of being with “the least of these”, practicing the Lord’s table, the discipline of practicing reconciliation, and proclaiming the Gospel. Each of these disciplines shape us into Jesus, but this next discipline is what actually helps us know Jesus more. It’s the discipline of the Lord’s Prayer.
In the Gospel of Matthew we have a series of teachings that Matthew has put together that we often refer to as the “Sermon on the Mount” in this discourse Jesus teaches us a foundational lesson on how to pray.
Prayer is a difficult subject, mostly because of how we perceive prayer, and what we expect a good prayer to entail.
I remember as a new Christian being petrified to pray publicly. So much so, that I would purposely try to get out of attending small groups where I might be called upon to pray. I didn’t think I knew enough about the Bible to pray like the experienced Christians could pray. I always felt like people would judge me and find out that I didn’t know much about the Bible. I didn’t have any passages memorized, so I couldn’t quote the Bible and string elegant words together like some of the others could. So I avoided public prayer, and community as much as I could. Just so I wouldn’t be exposed as a “crappy” prayer.
My personal prayer life was great, I talked to God all the time, but I didn’t really have any structure to what I prayed, I just talked. Mostly about how I needed help from Jesus, help to live as He was calling me to live. So in public I was afraid of prayer, but in private I would talk to God all the time.
It is because of this experience as an early Christian that I struggle with how prayer is done in the church services, and in small group settings, because I know how intimidating it can be. Many “seasoned” Christians forget this, but I think it’s important to keep in mind how intimidating things like public prayer can be. I also think it’s important for “seasoned Christians to understand what the bible teaches about prayer.
In the “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus teaches us something about prayer that I think is important for the church to be reminded of.
Jesus says this:
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.
Religious people tend to love to be noticed and important. They love to show people how intelligent and well versed in scriptures they are. Jesus speaks against such an attitude, he stresses that prayer is from the heart, it’s not about how much you know, it’s about how much you share, privately with Jesus. It’s about honesty, sincerity, passion and relationship. So Jesus warns us not to be like the religious folks who don’t mean their prayers, they just say them to look good.
In James 1:6-8 it says that if we doubt he won’t answer our prayers.
James 4:3 he says if we pray with the wrong motives He isn’t going to listen.
1 Peter 3:7 says if I don’t honour my wife, my prayers are going to be hindered.
Isaiah 58 says If I don’t care for the poor, it doesn’t matter if I fast and pray He is not going to listen.
In the book of Amos it says that God doesn’t want to even hear the noise of our worship songs, if His people are not willing to humble themselves and turn from their wicked ways. If they turn from these ways, he says, then He will listen.
There are conditions to prayer, and Jesus is trying to show us those conditions by teaching us to not pray like the hypocrites pray, always wanting to be noticed, always having themselves as the centre of attention. Instead, Jesus says, don’t babble, go somewhere private, shut the door, and pray in secret.
The passage continues, Jesus says, when you pray, you should pray like this:
“Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
In this prayer Jesus doesn’t intend to just give us a prayer to recite, although there is nothing wrong with reciting what many of us know to be the Lord’s prayer. As long as one recites it from the heart, and means the words they recite.
If you mean it, God listens.
Reciting the prayer is fine, but I don’t believe it was Jesus’ intention to just have us repeat after him, I think he is teaching us something about the way we should approach prayer, he is giving us a pattern of how to pray, the ingredients so to speak.
Lets take a look at how Jesus is teaching us to pray:
Jesus begins by addressing his prayer to the Father, teaching us who to address our prayers too.
Then he follows with:
“Your name be honoured as holy” or as many of you would recognize “Hallowed be Your Name”
This follows the opening address to the Father by entering into a posture of worship, Jesus is telling us that in our prayers we are to worship God and praise Him simply for who He is.
We give God all the praise and glory as our Father. This posture for prayer is important, it’s essential to approach God in our prayers understanding who He is and what He has done for us!
We are not just talking to a friend, God is not your buddy, He is God and our prayers need to see Him in this light, with this reverent fear.
Once Jesus sets the posture of reverent worship in this prayer, it’s time to make requests. We are allowed to ask God for things, but it’s important to understand what kind of things we ask God for. Jesus tells us what to ask for, we are to ask for this:
“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
Jesus gives us the ingredients, we are to pray that God’s plan in our lives and the world would become our reality. We don’t pray for our plan, we don’t ask for our selfish needs and wants, instead with a posture of worship we ask God to have His way in our lives, and in this broken world. Asking God for His kingdom.
This is tough stuff, it’s tough because it means we want God’s plan to be fulfilled instead of our plans. We are called to submit to God’s will, even if it means we have to do something that doesn’t make sense. This is an essential part of prayer! It’s ok to ask God for stuff you think you need, but ultimately God is going to fulfill His promises and his will always trumps ours.
If we pray this way, asking for God’s will to be done, we would be amazed at how often God answers prayers.
I get so frustrated when people tell me God doesn’t answer prayers! Of course He does, he promises us that He will answer our prayers, maybe we are just praying for the wrong things and we just need to seek God’s will in everything!
The passage goes on to show us more of the ingredients: Jesus says,
“Give us today our daily bread”
We are to ask God to provide for our daily needs, our basic needs for living. God promises to always provide for us, and when we pray we should ask for this provision.
But notice something........Jesus is showing us that we are to only ask for “our daily bread”, not our weekly bread, or monthly bread.
This makes sense considering just a few passages later in the same sermon Jesus teaches us a very important lesson that I believe to be the ingredient for true freedom.
“Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add one moment to his life-span by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
This is why Jesus teaches us to pray only for our daily needs to be met, we are not suppose to worry about tomorrow. He actually says we are of little faith if we worry.
I don’t know about you but I see this as very counter cultural. We are taught to plan for the future, and it’s irresponsible not to plan.
The problem with this way of living is it leads to worry because we need to control our future. The need for control I believe is the root of sin.
The Lord’s prayer teaches us to break down this way of thinking and learn to rely on God for everything. If we do this we are free!
If you think that’s tough listen to the next part of Jesus’ prayer lesson.
“Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors”
Jesus moves from requesting for God to provide for our daily needs, to reminding us to confess our sins before God, and to turn from our sins.
This need for confession is something that needs to happen on a regular basis. We confess our sins daily, turn from those sins in repentance, asking God to help us with our sins. We cry out to God to deliver us from our sinful ways.
Jesus takes this a step further, he reminds us that we also need to forgive those who have sinned against us. We are to forgive them just as God forgives them.
Again this is very counter cultural. We confess and ask for forgiveness, then we ask God to empower us to forgive others just as we are forgiven!
This is powerful stuff! Life changing stuff!
The ending of the prayer is especially important to grasp, so listen carefully.
After we have taken a posture of worship, addressing God as Father, began seeking His will to be done in our lives and the world, requested God to look after our needs, confessed our sins, and forgiven those who have sinned against us, Jesus teaches us in this prayer to make the most important request:
“Do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”
The undergirding issue of human sin is temptation, temptation that has a spiritual flow to it. Jesus teaches us to pray against evil, we are to plea to God for help in achieving victory over sin and make a request for protection from the attacks of the devil.
This is an amazing part of the Lords prayer that changes everything if you are praying it from the heart.
Many of us often live like we can overcome temptation through our own will power, and good old fashion focus and hard work.
But the devil is crafty and knows our human weaknesses. Often we don’t even notice we are being tempted. It is so important to ask God for this protection, it’s the only way we can overcome sin.
God delivers us from this temptation through the power of the Holy Spirit!
This model of prayer that Jesus gives us if done from the heart can completely transform your prayer life. If you learn to pray as Jesus teaches us to pray, I promise you will see God answering your prayers daily.
I have had many people approach me with this statement “I just can’t see God in my life”
Scripture gives us the answer to this statement. You might not be able to see God working in your life because of what James points out in his book.
You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
The Lord’s Prayer calls us to draw closer to God, it calls us to cleans ourselves of our sins, it calls us to purify our hearts and focus our lives on the cross. It calls us to pick up our cross and live our lives in Jesus Christ.
Big Idea: If we learn to pray like Jesus, submit to the will of God and humble ourselves before Him through prayer, we will see God at work in our lives and in the world! Isn’t it awesome that we have a God that listens and answers our prayers!
The church is called to prayer!
A church that prays like Jesus teaches us to pray sees God working in their church, their community, and their lives.
That is why the Lord’s prayer is a foundational discipline for the church.