Christian Life: Prayer

This entry is part [part not set] of 18 in the series Christian Life

Christian Life: Prayer

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This is a series about the outward forms of Christianity, the things everyone sees.  When you think of Christianity, you think of things like prayer, people who read the Bible, go to church, etc.  So we’re going to talk about those things and what they really mean.  I think this is a series that is really good for people who have been to church before but may not understand . . .

I’m really glad we’re talking about this right now, because it is something I have needed some serious help with.  I feel like studying for this has been good for me.

Matthew 6: The Lord’s Prayer

And if there has been any particular prayer that has been the prototype Christian prayer, it is the Lord’s prayer. “Our Father . . .”

So, I wanted to take that prayer tonight and talk about the real meaning of prayer.  Because Jesus taught his disciples that prayer as an example of how to pray.  There is a lot of insight there.

The context

First the context of the prayer.  Matthew includes a few introductory words that Jesus had to say about the topic of prayer itself.

Prayer is not for show (vv. 5, 6)

This doesn’t mean that you don’t pray in public.  In fact, at other times Jesus is very specific that we should pray in public.  What he is objecing to is praying for the attention of others.  Where you are consciously praying for the others to notice you.

I can’t think of anything more obvious.  Prayer to God shouldn’t be some kind of ego-inflating thing that you do for show.  And yet, I have gotten the impression before that prayers are for show, to draw attention to the person.

Not meaningless repetition (vv. 7, 8)

The second introductory comment he makes is that prayer shouldn’t be meaningless repetition.  When you think about what prayer really is, it’s kind of obvious.  Prayer is talking to a person, God.  God is just like you and me in the sense that he is a person.  He’s not a slot machine.  He’s not a tape recorder.  He’s a person.

Example: Think of talking to a friend the way a lot of people pray.  “Thank you Bob.  Just thank you Bob.  Oh, Bob!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  Bob, could I borrow a dollar?  Yes, a dollar.  Could I borrow a dollar, please?”

It would be totally ridiculous!  But somehow we don’t think this way about God.  People talk to God and say the same thing over and over again.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe they don’t think he hears them.  It has to be.  And of course that’s a real reflection on your view of God.  It says either that he’s kind of deaf and you have to shout.  Or, maybe he just doesn’t care, and he’ll only listen if you say it a hundred times.

Whatever the reason, it’s not a very attractive picture of God.  And it’s a picture that Jesus refutes.

The Lord’s prayer

Then Jesus goes on and begins to teach them how they ought to pray, and he gives the example which has become so familiar to us . . .

Isn’t it ironic that in the previous verse he says, “Don’t pray with meaningless repetition?”  Is there any prayer that is repeated more meaninglessly than this one?  I realize that it could be said with meaning, if you knew what “hallowed” means.  Or if you knew what “thy kingdom come” means.

What I want to do is look at each part of it and understand what it is that Jesus is teaching us about prayer.

Our father in heaven

First of all, “our father in heaven,” is a powerful statement, and most people miss the impact of it.  But realize this: no one before Christ called God, “Our Father.”  People may have called him “the great father,” or “God,” or something like that.  But no one dared call God “my father”.  It’s presumptuous.  It’s a term of intimacy.  It’s a term that says you are on the inside.

Actually, until Jesus Christ, it would have been completely presumptuous to say something like this.  Because there was a very serious rift between humans and God.  God was distant.  God was estranged from us and stood in judgment over us.  But it was Jesus Christ, who’s death for us appease God’s justice, and allowed God to say, “OK, I accept these humans on an intimate and personal basis.”

In other words, before Jesus Christ and his death for us, to approach God meant death.  Because of our sinfulness.  And yet after the death of Christ, he comes and live inside of us.  And the Bible describes our relationship with God this way,

Let us draw near with confidence . . .

This is a confidence that is absolutely essential to prayer.  If you don’t have this confidence, then prayer is just whistling in the dark, hoping someone hears you.  But the Bible tells us that you can know for sure that God loves you, that God lives inside you, that God hears you.  You can know this as a fact, if you take the step of faith to ask for God’s forgiveness and ask him to come into you life.  If you take that step in prayer, you can say with confidence, “My father.”

But then he says, “who is in heaven.”  And the idea here is not that God is in some special place called heaven.  The idea is that God is unseen.  God is supernatural.  He exists in a realm that is beyond the merely physical.  This is a statement of faith.  It’s to say, “I know you’re real.  I know you hear me, even though I can’t see you.”

“Hallowed be your name”

Then, the worst phrase in the whole thing, “Hallowed be thy name.”  I had so many weird images of this as a kid.  But the main connection was to a halo.  I thought of God’s name with a halo around it.

Basically to be “hallowed,” is for people to know the way you really are.  Jesus is saying, “God, what I want is for people to know the way you really are.”  Since this prayer is teaching us how to pray, I think the desire here is that we should pray to understand God the way he really is.  And we should pray that others see him the way he really is.

This is really interesting.  I could talk about this phrase right here the rest of the night.  Because it says several things.  For one it says that prayer should begin by reflecting on who God really is.  And prayer should begin with a desire to see the truth about God come out.

There’s no doubt that no one in the history of the world has had his reputation as smeared, as mis-represented, as misunderstood as God.  No one else even comes close.  Because every thing gets attributed to God.  Good things, bad things, things that we do, things that other people, things we were born with . . .  Everything gets attributed to him, when it’s convenient.

The result has been that God’s reputation is sinister.  It’s ominous.  I know this is true because there is not a person I talk to about becoming a Christian who isn’t at least a little apprehensive, “What is God going to do to me?”  “I’m not sure I can follow God’s ways.”  “I don’t want to get carried away about God.”

All of these concerns are related to God’s reputation.  And they are understandable concerns, given all the strange things that happen in the name of God.

But, if the truth were known about God, if the real truth were known, we would throw ourselves upon him without reserve.  And that’s why Jesus says the first order of business in prayer is to get it straight who you’re talking to.  “God, I want the truth about you.  I want to know it.  I want others to know it.”

I think beginning our prayers this way is important from the standpoint of humility also.  In other words, we’re dealing with God.  We’re not dealing with a butler, or someone selling us a hamburger.  Yes, there is an intimacy that God wants to have with us.  But there is also a degree of respect and awe that is totally appropriate.

Example: Some people come to God on their knees.  And I see nothing bad about that.  In fact, I think it may be a good thing.

I think this attitude is refected in the next statement.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done . . .”

What Christ is teaching us here is that we ought to tell God that we want his way.  “God, I want you to have your way.”

Isn’t this fascinating?  “God, I want you to have your way.”  As if, we need to give him our permission or something!  As funny as it sounds, that is kind of the idea here.

God has authority, and he has power.  But for the most part, God does not exercise that power on earth unless we want him to!  In other words, God has volunatarily restricted himself on this earth.  He will exercise his authority only when we want him to.

So you can see that this part of the prayer is a statement of humility.  It says, “God, I want you to have your way.  Whether it’s my way or not, I want you to have your way.  I want you to rule.”

Dealing with God is like this.  I don’t think it’s like this with anyone else.  To say anything else is to say, “No, I don’t want you to rule.  I don’t want you to be God here on earth.”  To say, “God, I think I want you to have your way, what is it?” is to say, “I want to have my way.  But I’ll consider your way if you submit your plans.”

Because God is God, because of his nature as an absolute authority, we have to decide if we want to let him rule.  Yes or no.  Not, “I want you around, but could you just sit over there and be quiet?”  Not, “I want you just to help me with this problem here and that’s all.”  He’s not a picture you put on the wall.  He’s not an ornament you wear around your neck.  He’s God.  And we have to decide if we’re going to relate to him as God or not.

So these statements are teaching us about our attitude in prayer.  It’s an unusual combination of intimacy, on the one hand, but tremendous respect and humility on the other hand.  Then he goes into the things that you should pray for yourself.

Give us our daily bread

First he says, “Give us our daily bread.”  Again, this is a paradigm.  This is an example.  He’s not saying that every day you should pray for bread.  The idea here is that we should pray to God for our needs.  Our physical needs, our daily needs.  These are the things that we need regularly.

Again, this is so insightful.  It teaches us what God wants to be for us.  Because when it comes to daily needs, these are the things that we’ve gotten used to taking care of.  These are the things that we think are “our business.”  They’re not spiritual.  They’re small.  God would have no interest in these issues.

Yet here Jesus is saying that God does care.  God wants us to learn to rely on him for these daily things we take for granted.

Example: I’ll just give you an example from my life.  I sometimes pray to God for energy, for vigor throughout the day.  And there is a difference between those days that I just stick my nose to the grind and go, versus those days that I turn to God for energy.

Example: I used to pray to God about school, especially when things would get hard.

But I have people all the time thinking that God doesn’t want to hear about those kinds of requests.  That’s wrong!  He does.  In fact, he wants to hear more of them from us.  Because what it shows is a greater degree of dependance on him.  And God wants this kind of daily intimacy with us.  He doesn’t want to be the God who just takes care of problems we can’t fix.  He wants to be involved in our lives every single day.

Forgive our sins . . .

The second thing we are to pray for ourselves is, “Forgive our sins as we forgive.”  This is a potentially confusing saying.  Because it can be construed a couple different ways that would be inaccurate.  So let me first say what this part of the prayer doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean that we have to pray for forgiveness every time we pray or we won’t be forgiven by God.  Forgiveness is something that is given to us by God once and for all.  And just to clarify this, let’s look at a passge out of Hebrews 10 . . .

The second thing this passage is not saying is that God will only forgive us if we forgive others.

The reason he puts these two ideas together is that they are so connected.  The reason we forgive others is because we have been forgiven.  Jesus is teaching us here that forgiveness of other people is connected to the fact that we have been forgiven.

Example: In fact, later in the book of Matthew he tells the story of a guy who was forgiven an outrageous debt, like 10 million dollars.  But then he goes to his friend and starts to choke him because his friend owes him a lousy dollar!

And Jesus’ point is that forgiveness by God for all we’ve done, implies that we should forgive others.

Now the reason he puts it in this prayer, as something we should pray about all the time, is that forgiveness is something we really need help with.  Forgiveness of others is a big, big deal.  Isn’t it amazing?  There are only three basic things he highlights in this part of the prayer, and one of them is forgiveness of other people.

Now that I’m an old man, and lived a few years, I know why.  It used to be I thought, “Forgiveness?  Sure!  No big deal!”  But I look back on my life now and realize that it has been perhaps the single hardest thing I’ve had to do.  And it has been one of the most damaging issues, in my life and others.

I was reflecting on it for this teaching.  I cannot believe how many people have been wiped out in their Christian lives because of their failure to forgive.

But it makes all the sense in the world.  How can love and hate coexist together?  The Christian life is about love.  And when we don’t forgive someone, it is so contrary to the spirit of God within us, it grieves him.  That is the first thing Paul lists in Eph. 4:31 which grieves the Spirit of God within us.

When we fail to forgive, it may not feel like hate.  It rarely feels like hate for me.  I don’t go around gnashing my teeth about people.  It just feels like, “Well, I’m gonna lose that idiot out of my life!”

It totally grieves God because his posture with us is, “I love you no matter what!  There’s nothing you could ever do to take my love away!”

Let me warn you about something.  If you fail to forgive, or cut someone out of your life, you may think you are going to really hurt that person or get even with them.  But let me warn you, if you fail to forgive, you will be destroyed.  It will ruin your life.  If there is even one person in your life you cannot forgive, then that’s enough to destroy you.

I know this from passages other than this one.  For example later in this chapter, Jesus says that if you are on your way to worship God, and you remember that you have something against your brother, stop.  Stop right there and go make things right with your brother.  Then you can go worship God.

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