August 29, 1999 / Matthew 6:9-13
Prayer is the single most life-giving and strength-producing element of a Christianís life. This is so because it almost always involves other spiritual activities in concert. That is, prayer often involves seeking solitude and time alone with God. It frequently flows from study of and reflection upon Scripture. By its very nature, it is an exercise in humility that acknowledges how dependent the one who prays is on the God to whom he or she is praying. Public worship almost always involves corporate prayer, and I cannot imagine private worship that does not include it. And when someone undertakes fasting as a spiritual discipline, prayer will always be part of the larger experience.
Prayer is life-giving because it is our conscious act of connecting to the life of eternity, heaven, and God; it tears us away from the false idea that the world of the five senses exhausts reality and calls us instead to adopt a view of all things from the divine perspective. Prayer is strength-producing because it confesses our helplessness in spiritual struggle and opens us to the power of the Holy Spirit; it constantly challenges us to cast our burdens on the Lord and to learn that his grace is sufficient.
We know the gospel message about our powerlessness in sin and have received salvation from Christ Jesus as a gift of grace. Trying now to live by faith in him and to give our lives in daily obedience to his teachings, we are frustrated over everything in our environment that is evil and over everything in ourselves that is still unruly and disobedient. It is God alone who can heal our brokenness, comfort our distress, and give us victory over evil. And we meet with him most profoundly and most responsively in prayer.
All of us would likely do well to heed the counsel of Jesus to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation," he told him. "The spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (Matt. 26:41). Jesus was praying with such passion that night! His disciples should have been as well. Today he is the Great High Priest for the people of God who lives to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25), and we should be praying for ourselves and interceding for one another in imitation of him.
"But how do I pray?" asks someone. "And can I really expect anything to happen if I pray?" The best outline for prayer was given by Jesus as a model for us to follow.
"Our Father in Heaven"
First, it is essential to understand that prayer presupposes a relationship with God. Thus Jesus taught us to pray this way: "Our Father in heaven."
God exists! The heavens declare his glory, and the firmament shows his handiwork. That we human beings canít account for ourselves in the universe has been obvious to thinking people across the millennia. "For since the creation of the world Godís invisible qualities ó his eternal power and divine nature ó have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20).
Behind the confusing shadows and frightening storms of human existence, God is enthroned and unthreatened in his heaven. With a fledgling first-century church facing persecution from the powerful Roman Empire, the first behind-the-scenes vision the apostle John saw was this: "I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it" (Rev. 4:2). And the throne occupant was not the emperor of Rome but the God of the Cosmos! That throne belongs to him alone, and he will never be displaced from it. He created the world. He sustains it by his power. He guides it to his sovereign ends. He is full of grace and love and goodness. And, most important of all for us to know, he is our Father!
We are and always will be prodigal daughters and sons, but the fact remains that the sovereign God who controls this universe is our Father. We would not be his children except for what Jesus Christ did for us. God has "given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet. 1:3b). Because we have been born anew of water and the Spirit, we have a life altogether different from any we could create by our own power or deserve by our own merit. We have been given eternal life in Christ and made to be sons and daughters ó co-heirs with Jesus ó in Godís own family (Rom. 8:15-17).
When I was a little boy, it gave me a childish sense of power and confidence to walk through my daddyís hardware store. People were coming through its doors every day to find things, buy things, arrange to get things on credit. And I had access to every single one of those items I could ever need because my daddy owned the store! Since we are "in Jesus Christ," you and I have been invited to call his Father our Father. And our Father owns the store!
Three Affirmations About God
Second, although it is possible to read the Lordís Prayer as a series of six petitions, I see two distinct parts to the prayer. The first three "petitions" are more nearly affirmations or statements. Then, on the basis of those affirmations, three requests are made. Let me to explain it in this light.
Prayer presumes that we have surrendered ourselves completely to God and are being conformed to his will. Thus the Lordís Prayer begins with these statements of confession and relinquishment in which the emphatic word is "your": "hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
"Hallowed be your name" means that the person praying knows what God has done for her and is in awe of his saving mercy. It means that the man using those words has seen the glory of God and is committed to showing it to others. It means that a child of God takes pride not in himself but in whose he is. It is Godís name that is wonderful, Godís ways that are holy, Godís will that is to be obeyed. The person who prays this way is proclaiming that he has died to himself in order to live to Christ. It is an alternate way of saying, "Not as I will, but as you will" (cf. Matt. 26:39).
"Your kingdom come" is a yearning for the time when ó at the glorious return of our Lord ó all things will be made complete. Righteousness will triumph. Truth will be vindicated. Every sacrifice made for oneís faith in God will be seen to be worthwhile.
"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" is a believerís pledge and goal in the present moment in relation to his or her life. Does he long for the appearing and kingdom of the Lord Jesus? Then he will honor him in the present moment and prepare for that day. Does she await the "not-yet" deliverance from the world that can be reality only at Christís return? Then she will revel in the "already" redemption she has experienced in worship, celebration, and hope.
Third, a child of God who trusts his Father in heaven and who has surrendered himself to a lifestyle of gratitude for grace (i.e., obedience) is both invited and expected to make requests. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses . . . Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 4:15-16).
"Give us today our daily bread." Because we acknowledge our total dependence on him at all times and in every situation, we look to God as the giver of every good gift (Jas. 1:17). Whether the physical bread that sustains earthly life or the spiritual bread that is necessary to eternal life, he is the provider to whom we look ó and to whom we give thanks ó for everything. In our dependence on him, we find our security. We know of a certainty that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God we have experienced in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39).
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." The greatest dependence we have on God is, of course, our dependency upon and trust in his grace, redemption, and forgiveness. The longer we live in the sphere of his grace and come to understand that we cannot live without the continual cleansing we receive by Christís blood, the more deeply we enter into a mindset that teaches us to forgive others as well. Because we feel our own need for constant forgiveness, we know others need it too (cf. Eph. 4:32). Because we have received pardon for our sins against God, we find it within ourselves to forgive others for their sins against us. Forgiving others is not the precondition for being forgiven but the supernatural outgrowth of it.
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Knowing God as oneís Father, living in total dependence upon him, and even tasting the sweetness of his continual forgiveness do not mean that Satan will give up on a person. The arch-enemy of God is also the arch-enemy of his people. "Be self-controlled and alert," warns Peter. "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). Again then, since we depend upon God totally, we pray for his protection against Satan and his wiles.
Although the doxology with which the Lordís Prayer ends was not part of the original prayer Jesus taught his disciples and was added in the early Christian centuries ó probably for the sake of its liturgical use in churches. It is part of the traditional form I learned to quote from the King James Version and underscores a profound truth. The reason why the children of God pray to be delivered from the Evil One is straightforward. We donít belong to Satan but to God. We owe Satan nothing and God everything. Therefore these words ó again reading the word "yours" with emphasis ó were added: "for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."
A Spanish businessman was visiting Sweden in 1996. While in Stockholm, the devout Roman Catholic stopped to pray at a church. It was empty except for a coffin. So Eduardo Sierra knelt down and prayed for the deceased man for about 20 minutes. Sierra, who is 35, signed a condolence registry after he noticed a note saying that anyone who prayed for the deceased was requested to enter a name and address. As it happened, Sierra was not only the first to sign. He would be the only one.
Several weeks later, a call from Stockholm came to Eduardo Sierra to inform him he was a millionaire. Jens Svenson was a 73-year-old real estate dealer without any close relatives. His will had specified: "Whoever prays for my soul gets all my belongings."
Did you know that there are provisions in the Last Will and Testament of Jesus Christ that open a storehouse of spiritual riches to you? Here are just a few of the specific items: daily bread and soul-nourishing grace, relief from anxiety, forgiveness of your sins, strength against Satanís temptations, and wisdom for making decisions that affect your future. But hereís the punch line: you donít get them until you ask for them. "You do not have [the things you want], because you do not ask" (Jas. 4:2b). No, you canít just submit a laundry list of selfish requests. Prayer is not a means to manipulate God for your egocentric purposes. But you can ó and should ó ask for anything that affects your spiritual life in the absolute confidence that God will pay attention and take an appropriate action on your behalf.
Why is Eduardo Sierra a millionaire? He prayed. Why are some of us such spiritual paupers? Could it be that we are failing to pray?
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I donít know who "updated" the Lordís Prayer in the following way, but you might be interested in it:
Our Universal Chairperson in the metaphysical realm, Your identity enjoys the highest rating on a prioritized selectivity scale. May Your sphere of influence take on reality parameters. May Your mindset be implemented on this planet as in the transcendental and incorporeal realm. Allow us at this point in time and on a per diem basis, a sufficient and balanced dietary intake, and rationalize a disclaimer against our disparaging feedback to others. Deprogram our negative potentialities, but desensitize the impact of the counterproductive force. For Yours is the dominant sphere of influence, the ultimate capability, and the highest qualitative analysis rating at this stage of human history and extending beyond a limited time frame. End of message.
I think I prefer praying it as originally given! Perhaps you would like to join me:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
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