Last week we started a new series called, “Why Church?” We’re stepping back for a few weeks answering questions about why we do what we do. This is a very good thing to do every once in a while. Last week was “Why Preach?” Today is “Why Pray?” Why speak to God? As individual Christians, but also when we gather together? It seems like corporate prayer, praying as a church when we gather, has slowly become something we do simply because, we know if we don’t, then that’s bad. So we throw in a quick prayer here and there; maybe we need something to help us transition between worship and preaching, or preaching and worship, so we throw a prayer in. Not too much, not too long, especially in this day and age, because people don’t like it. My question is this: Where has thoughtful, worshipful, unrushed praying gone?
There are only four things listed in Acts 2:42 to which the early church devoted themselves: the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. So, prayer is not something we’re to relegate to our home lives: “Oh, we’re going to let you pray at home, because we don’t want to waste time praying when we’re altogether. You can do that at home.” No. We’re commanded in the Bible to pray when we gather.
Today, we are looking at a model for prayer that Jesus gave us in the Sermon on the Mount. We actually looked at this about 2 years ago, but I wanted to revisit it in this series. I think it’s a safe thing to say that many of us struggle with prayer, and notice I said, “Many of US.” This has not, historically, been one of my strengths. And maybe you struggle for the same reasons I do.
My struggle in the past has been how prayer fits within God’s sovereignty. If God is truly sovereign, then can our prayers actually have any real effect? And if the answer is yes, then is God truly sovereign? This apparent paradox has caused some to relegate prayer to being something that’s really just for us. It doesn’t really change anything that’s happening; it’s really just to teach us to rely on God more. And while I think that that is a huge part of what prayer does, it teaches us to lean on God more than on ourselves—while that’s true, to say that it doesn’t actually have an impact in the world is to ignore the entirety of the Bible. And, really, it’s to ignore God’s sovereignty, ironically.
Listen: sovereignty does not undermine the power of prayer; it undergirdsit. It gives prayer a foundation. We pray precisely because we’re not sovereign, but He is. Throughout the Bible we see God sovereignly changing his actions as a direct result of prayer. In Exodus 32, God declared that he would destroy the Israelites because of their sin, but then he relented, why? Because Moses prayed and asked Him to. Everywhere in the Old Testament, and throughout the New, prayer changes things.
Praying doesn’t always change what happens—you know, it’s not always God’s will to answer prayers the way we want Him to. But, there is no doubt that God hears the prayers of the repentant and the humble, and he often change things because of these prayers. The John Piper quote I bring up about every six months, on purpose by the way: “God has ordained that prayers cause things to happen that wouldn’t happen if we didn’t pray.”
That may not explain all the complexities of God’s sovereignty and prayer, but it does help us to understand how they work, and how big of a deal it is that God has given us direct access in communing with Him! Through Christ we come to the Father, unhindered by sin (because Jesus took that sin upon Himself on the Cross), and we can now commune with Him without anything hindering us! And present requests and petitions and desires and our hearts before Him!
And yet I know that we struggle with prayer. We have our reasons, more fitting probably to call them excuses: we’re too busy, we just don’t think about it, we have so many things that distract us. And yet it might be worth thinking of Christ, who changed the course of human history in less than three years of public ministry, and yet found the time to pray to the Father for extended periods of time. How? Because He knew how important it was to pray.
My goal in what we’ve already talked about with prayer and over the next few minutes as we look at the model Jesus gave us for prayer, my goal is not for us to walk out of here knowing we should pray more. That seems like the go-to application for Christians: pray more, read the Bible more, be better more, be more more. My goal is that we understand prayer differently, and see the incredible importance of it, and, particularly, we walk away understanding a bit more of howto pray.
To give you some context for Matthew 6, Jesus is in the middle of the main bulk of his teaching, in the sermon on the mount. If you were here two years ago or so, we went through this whole sermon together over a few months. In Matthew 6, Jesus clarifying that prayer isn’t to be a performance, and it shouldn’t become an overly ritualistic thing that we do. That’s what he’s talking about when we come to what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s read together Matthew 6:9-15. Would someone volunteer to read for us?
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
I’m sure most of you recognize at least parts of this prayer from reciting it on a high school sports team or in any of all the other circumstances in which this prayer is often recited. Because this is a modelprayer, we know that it wasn’t Jesus’ goal for us to recite this verbatim, though there’s nothing wrong with that. His whole point, however, is to give us an example of how to pray, and things to pray for. So, what I’d like us to do is look at “6 Ways to Pray.” Simple as that. In each of these, we’ll see very clearly reasons WHY to be praying also.
- Remember to whom you’re praying (vs. 9).
- He’s God. He knows.In verse 9, Jesus starts by saying, “Pray, then like this.” That word, “then”, gives us a hint that he wants us to pray like this because of what we just read in verse 8. Verse 8, if you look there, says, “Your Father knows what you need before you even ask Him.” Sometimes it’s easy to think that when we’re praying, we’re letting God know something He doesn’t know. Or at least maybe it feels that way: “Does God even know what’s happening to me? Or what I’m going through?” I hope it’s not a frustrating thing, but instead a comforting thing to hear that He does know. He’s God. He knows. He’s not blind to your pain or suffering or anything. He does know.
- He’s our Father. He cares. He’s not just God in some abstract or distant sense. He’s our Father. That’s why the prayer starts in verse 9: “Our Father in Heaven.” This word for “Father” is a well-known word, pronounced “Abba” in Aramaic, which was the common language spoken by Jesus. This is the title that Jewish children used for their earthly fathers, both young children as well as adult children, all of them called their fathers “abba.” And this is why, for me, personally, I don’t like calling God “daddy.” There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily if you do that, don’t feel bad. But, for me, if we’re trying to remember as clearly as possibly to whom we’re praying, “Father” is one of the best ways to think of Him. There’s just this incredible warmth, knowing He’s our Father. But there’s also this reverence for God’s authority, especially because it says right there, “Our Father in Heaven.” This isn’t some man that we’re praying to. He’s our Father, but he’s also in Heaven.
- He’s holy. Honor Him.The next part of the prayer goes right along with this. “Hallowed be your name.” “Hallowed” basically means set apart as holy, or treated with the highest respect and honor. He’s in heaven, he’s separate, totally holy and different from us in that sense, He’s God! He is worthy of our honor and our praise.
This is why, if you don’t know where to start with praying, this is a GREAT place to start. In fact, I’d say EVERY prayer could start out with recognizing who it is we’re talking with. What’s the best way to do that? Honor Him! Just start your prayers with worship. No matter the reason you’re praying, it would never be a bad idea to start out with just a few words of adoration. God, you are good. You are holy. You are not like man. Sayinga few things about who God is at the beginning of your prayer might go a long way in putting your heart in the right place before Him. Because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve jumped into praying with a totally irreverent and flippant attitude, not recognizing that I’m talking with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and that I actually have His attention! That’s a beautiful, warm thing, but it’s also a sobering thing, isn’t it? I have the attention of the King of Kings. I don’t want to be distracted here.
I mean, imagine THE person in the world that you respect most or esteem most highly just walking in the door right now and sitting beside you. Whoever that person is—Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King Jr., another US president, whoever it is. You probably would not take their presence lightly. You probably wouldn’t jump into conversation with them without really even thinking about who they were! How much more should it be for the God of the universe, the Creator and the Sustainer? This doesn’t mean that we can’t talk with him while driving, because we’re distracted. We can talk with him at any time, because we’re his children. He’s our Father. And yet, we don’t talk to him like maybe we’d talk to a sibling. That’s the point here. Remember to whom we’re talking. The 2nd Way:
- Pray for the Advance of God’s Kingdom (vs. 10).
Verse 10- “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” We’re to pray for the advance of God’s kingdom. What does that mean? Well, God’s kingdom in this age is his reign on the earth. In fact, what it means for God’s kingdom to come, is explained in the very next part: “your will be done.” All believers all over the world have Christ reigning in their hearts and minds, and are hopefully ushering in the kingdom of God on the earth through their obedience. We’re to pray that that be increasingly so! We’re to pray for increasing obedience to God’s will all over the world. That people, ultimately, would come to know Jesus, and have him reign in their hearts also. That we’d be obedient by caring for the poor, and being for the flourishing of all mankind like God is for the flourishing of all mankind. In heaven, there is no sin, all people and beings follow God’s will. And we’re to pray the same for those on earth. Ultimately, God’s kingdom will be fully established when Jesus ushers in the new heavens and the new earth. There’s this already, not yet aspect of the kingdom: it’s here, but it’s not fully here. We’re to be part of ushering his kingdom in, in a sense.
So, here’s my question: do we pray for this? Is this part of our regular prayer? There’s a great quote from John Stott; he visited a prayer service at some point in his life, and he noticed that all they were praying for were things within their small village. They prayed that the pastor would have a good vacation, for the safe birth of a child that coming soon in the church, and they prayed for another lady who was sick. Then they were done. Here’s what John Stott had to say: “That’s all there was. I said to myself, it’s a village church with a village God. They have no interest in the world outside. There was no thinking about the poor, the oppressed, the refugees, the places of violence, and world evangelization.”
We need to pray for those within our church. We need to pray for our own lives. We better be praying for these things. But, do we have in mind God’s grand plan for the world?! Do we actually pray for the oppressed? The abused, the orphan, those starving? Do we pray for the gospel of Jesus to be spread all over the world?
That’s also a really good mindset to have in prayer. If we pray as if our own lives are our little kingdoms, then we’re missing the point not only of prayer, but of our lives as Christians. My life is no longer about me. Your life is no longer about you. This is about the Kingdom! This is why we must pray for the advance of God’s kingdom, those in this church as well as those outside this church. The 3rdway to pray:
- Pray for and Trust in God’s provision (vs. 11).
Verse 11: “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is really referring to all of our daily physical needs: food, shelter, clothing, things like this. We’re to pray for these things, and trust that he will provide these things. I’ve seen a bit of a movement, lately, against praying for yourself. I guess this is in response to the habit of praying about nothing but yourself. In other words, with what I just said about praying for God’s Kingdom, don’t react by feeling guilty for praying for yourself. This shows, yet again, how reactionary we are as human beings. Everyone does one thing, then everyone has to do the exact opposite. I digress.
My point is that the Bible does tell us to pray for our own needs! There’s nothing wrong with this. Now sure, if that’s all you’re ever doing when you’re praying, then you might want to think about that. But we see here, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We see in Philippians 4:6, “In everything, with prayer and petition, present your requests to God.” There is nothing wrong with asking for things you need, and even things you want, as long as we don’t come to God with any sort of entitlement or expectation that He needs to do what you ask. Again, that goes back to praying realizing that your life is part of God’s Kingdom, and no longer part of your own. Pray for and trust in God’s provision. The 4th way to pray:
- Confess, be forgiven, and forgive others (vs. 12, 14-15).
Verse 12: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This word for “debt” is the common-used term in Aramaic for “sin.” But this isn’t referring to the forgiveness of all sins that we receive when we repent and believe in Jesus. At the moment that we truly turn and place our faith in Christ, we are saved from all past, present, and future sin. BUT, that doesn’t mean that we don’t sin, does it? Of course not. This is referring to the restoration of your relationship with Christ after you sin. We all mess up. And when we do, God wants us to come to him in confession and with contrite heart, realizing we did something that doesn’t fit our new identities in Christ. And of course, we are forgiven, we are restored to our relationship with God.
And it’s because of that remarkable truth, that God forgives us for our sins, that we too should feel compelled to forgive others for theirs! And this is where verses 14-15 come in, though they definitely seem a bit random, after the actual model for prayer that Jesus gives us; it’s kind of like a side-note on verse 12. But vv. 14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Whoa! Jesus isn’t messing around, is he? What does he mean here? For clarity, he doesn’t mean that somehow we earn our forgiveness by forgiving others. Instead, He’s making a really strong point here: “How can we ask God for forgiveness when we’re not even willing to forgive another human being?” It’s pretty insincere to come to God, this holy perfect being whom we have offended more than anyone can possibly offend someone, asking for forgiveness, while not offering it to a fellow human being, someone on our level. This is why a major way we pray is to confess our sin, be forgiven, but then also to forgive others. The 5th way to pray:
- Pray for protection (vs. 13).
Verse 13: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” God doesn’t tempt us directly, ever. But, he may lead us into circumstances that “test” or “tempt” us. We’re to pray for less of this. Lord, lead us not into temptation. We should never pray for God to bring us temptation so that we can grow stronger. I remember doing that when I was a new Christian, thinking that that would be the best way for me to grow. “God, test me and even tempt me so I can get stronger.” Look, we don’t need to pray for that, because it’s going to happen whether we ask for it or not!
We will face hardship. We will face temptation. But to seek it and ask for it makes no sense. Lead us NOT into temptation, but deliver us from evil. When the temptation does come, deliver us, O God. Help us to be victorious over it. Praying for protection from sin is HUGE. In fact, it’s also a great way to see it coming. If you’ve been praying proactively for God protect you from what may come, not only will He do it, but your mind will be more ready when it does come. Pray for protection.
I have to ask: when was the last time you asked brothers or sisters in this room to pray for a sin you’re struggling with? Listen, we must be doing this. If you’re newer, and you don’t feel like you know people well enough to do that, get into a small group; you’ll get to know people quickly. The Information Desk has all of our small group information. We must be praying for each other, and not just for protection while travelling, but for protection from temptation. The 6thway to pray:
- Recognize God’s Supremacy.
Now this goes right along with the first way to pray that we mentioned, which was “Remember to whom you’re praying.” But, I thought it worth bringing up again, especially because of the common way of ending this prayer. If you’ve recited it before, or had it memorized, the last part was probably something like, “For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”
That part is in a few of your translations, and some of yours it isn’t. This is likely an addition put in by a scribe, probably thinking Jesus’ prayer needed a better ending, or a proper ending of some kind. But the most reliable, earliest manuscripts that we have do not include this. That’s why most of your translations don’t have it, or they have it in brackets. It’s not wrong to include it if you recite this prayer at all, and it’s certainly true, which is why I went ahead and added this sixth way to pray. “Yours is the Kingdom, the Power, and the glory!”
My summary of that: You are supreme! If you truly recognize that God is supreme, that He is superior to everything else in the universe, that He is absolutely unmatched in power and majesty and glory and splendor, and you realize you have direct access to Him through prayer…. If you realize those two things, TRULY, no amount of busyness or distraction will keep you from communing with Him through prayer. It won’t happen. We make time for what we consider most important. That’s not meant to be a guilt-trip; it’s meant to be an encouragement: Recognize first His supremacy, then recognize you have direct access to Him because Christ has dealt with your sin, and prayer will become second-nature for you.
If you had President Donald Trump’s personal cell phone number, whether you like him as president or not, this metaphor applies: if you had his number and a guarantee that he would answer and listen every time you called, would you be calling him? I’m guessing so. Again, whether you like him as president or not.
God Almighty is far more powerful than the most powerful man in the world. God Almighty cares for you more than the most caring Father on earth. God Almighty listens more intently than any spouse, child, mother, or father in the world. The Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe, and you have his ear. That’s why we pray. Cast your anxieties on Him. Speak. Pray. Be honest. Ask him to change your heart, life, this city, this state, this country, the entire world. Speak with Him like He’s your heavenly Father, because He is.