“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that hey will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray like this: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy 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 Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.’” Matthew 6:5-13
Jesus begins His discussion of prayer by first pointing out how not to do it. Do not be a hypocrite, that is, an “actor,” and stand up in public pretending to talk to God when all you’re really doing is preening your religious fathers in public and talking to others and yourself in a self-congratulatory way. (Vss. 5-6).
Prayer is also not a whipping yourself into an emotional frenzy until you achieve the right feeling. In verses 7-8 Jesus said there is no need to be verbose, to “heap up empty phrases.” God is not hard of hearing. He understands plain words. We can speak to Him simply.
Prayer, rather, is a simple conversation between you and God. It’s best done in a room with the door shut (vs. 6).
As an example of authentic prayer, Jesus gives the Lord’s Prayer in verses 9-13.
A couple of football players got to talking about religion in the locker room. One of them seemed a bit more ignorant about the subject than the other. “You’re so stupid,” commented the first. “Why, I’ll bet you five dollars you don’t even know the Lord’s Prayer.”
“I’ll take your bet,” said the other. “Now let me see, the Lord’s Prayer?” He cleared his throat and began… .
“Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
The other jock just shook his head in disbelief. “I didn’t know you knew it! Here’s your five bucks!”
We laugh and shake our heads at such foolishness. But do we ourselves really know the Lord’s Prayer? Most of us repeat it once or twice a week. Yet the words roll over us and through us too easily. 66 words. It can be repeated in about 22 seconds. Yet the meaning can take a lifetime to understand. And to something of that understanding we now turn.
Who God Is
First of all, study how the Lord’s Prayer reveals the nature of God.
Jesus said when one prays we should approach God as, “our Father.” In Luke’s version of this prayer the Greek word used for “father” is “abunna” which translates as “papa” or “daddy.” It is the familiar or intimate form of parental greeting.
When Jesus taught this prayer to His disciples they were surely shocked! Jews were used to calling God Adonai or Jehovah or Yahweh, the unspeakable one. To call God Papa was radical!
Yet this reveals just what Christ bought us with His blood. No longer must we stand far off from the mountain and avert our eyes. Nor must we wait reverently outside the Holy of Holies. Jesus Christ has torn the curtain in two! Now we can come boldly into His presence!
Think of it! In John 3:16 we are told that Jesus Christ is God’s only begotten Son. Yet here in the Lord’s Prayer we are taught to pray as sons and daughters saying to God, “Our Papa.” This means in Jesus Christ we can pray to the Father just like we are Jesus Christ Himself! We’ve been born anew. No longer are we strangers and aliens to God, but children!
In the New Testament the word “Father” is used of God 267 times. There is only one tiny book, Third John, that does not speak of God as Father.
“Our Father… .” “Our Papa which art in heaven.” And now this– “Hallowed be Thy name.” The Greek for “hallowed” means “to make holy” or “to show great respect.” C.S. Lewis wrote, “The prayer preceding all prayer is, ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’” And this is not easy.
It is so natural to fake it, to put on a religious air, and to pray only as wishful thinking to a God we’ve created as a figment of our imagination. It is one of the Ten Commandments which reminds us no to take the Lord’s name in vain. In every society it has been all too easy and popular to become so familiar with the word God that we toss it about as an explanation, a byword, even a profanity. And it is the Lord’s Prayer that reminds us in the first sentence that even though we can approach God with the easy familiarity of a child his papa, we should also pause and remember to set God’s name apart in highest reverence– “Hallowed be Thy name.”
At a nearby synagogue school a student prankishly wrote the name “Yahweh” on the chalk board. When the Rabbi came to class and saw it, he was overwhelmed, for that name above all names was so reverent as to be unspeakable. Yet, what to do? It couldn’t be erased. Nor should it be covered. And it was unthinkable to look further upon it. A meeting of the elders was called and it was finally agreed to cut that portion of the chalk board out and bury it. Sounds radical. But you understand the reverence attached to the name of God.
So, you see the intimacy, the familiarity with which we may approach God on the one hand– “our Father.” But on the other hand you see the awe, the reverence, the deep sense of respect with which we approach Him– “Hallowed be Thy name.” And it is in this unrelieved tension that our relationship with God transpires.
In C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Tales Christ Jesus is portrayed as the great lion Aslan. A child watching the huge, fierce, loving and just lion asks his mother, “Is he safe?” “No,” the mother replies. “He’s not safe. But he is good!” And so is God– a hallowed Papa. Strong and gentle. Good and tough. Righteous mercy. A terrible beauty. Fearful Majesty. A holy Redeemer.
There are other attributes of God revealed in the Lord’s Prayer. Words like “kingdom,” “power,” “glory” and “forever” are used of Him. It can be discerned that He is forgiving, and a provider as well. Yet the key quality I want you to see of God as revealed in Jesus’ prayer is servanthood.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Can you imagine going up to an awe inspiring lion of a hallowed pappa and asking for anything? Much less something as mundane as daily bread? Yet Jesus invites us to do just that!
What Christ is revealing here is that God has the heart of a servant. If you want to see this in black and white, or better still, in the flesh, look at Jesus in Philippians 2:5-7. “Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant… .”
So, what does the Lord’s Prayer teach God is like? He is a papa, but also must be hallowed. And He is a servant eager to care for your daily needs, even something as mundane as your bread. Now this, a look at what the Lord’s Prayer says about human nature.
Who People Are
Immediately one is confronted with the fact that we are offsprings of God. For only a child can call God Father.
This means we are not self-existent. We weren’t here first. We’re in no sense self-made creatures, in charge and unaccountable.
Furthermore, it becomes quickly evident that part of what it means to be human is to have needs which only our Father can fulfill.
One of our needs is physical. In asking God for daily bread our need for material benefits like air, water, sleep, warmth and food is made known.
Yet the prayer shows that materialism alone is not the answer. For in praying, “Forgive us our debts” a moral dimension to our existence is revealed. And the very fact that we ask for forgiveness shows that we have a problem– sin.
Then there is a spiritual facet to our being. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” recognizes this.
Political needs are confessed, “Thy kingdom come.” Also, social needs– “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
So, what are we saying about ourselves when we pray the Lord’s Prayer? That we are the offspring of God, sinful, and having all kinds of needs– physical, spiritual, social, moral, even political. And that we are looking to God to oversee us as any father would his child.
The phone rang at home during supper recently. A poor woman asked me for financial help buying some groceries. I said, “Of course we’ll help!” I asked if she had a church home. “No.” I asked if she’d come to our next meeting and fellowship with us, network with our people, make some friends, and let us help her get a good job. “No,” she said. She just wanted to come by and get the check for groceries.
But in Christ , we aren’t just interested in meeting the needs of the stomach. But also social needs. Emotional needs. Educational needs. Moral needs. Why, one can’t pray the Lord’s Prayer without becoming fully human– body, spirit, and soul.
It is interesting that as the disciples spent time with Jesus they began to see exactly who God is and, by sheer contrast, who they were. And the result was that they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1).
There is no record of their asking the Lord to teach them to heal or work a miracle, to laugh or cry, die, be single, get rich or perform a liturgy. “Lord, they pleaded, “Teach us to pray.” It’s as if they recognized Christ’s prayer-life as the source of all He was. And this brings us to the third part of the Lord’s prayer. Beyond who God is, beyond who people are, there is… .
What Prayer Is
The Lord’s Prayer defines prayer as a lap talk between a papa and his little child. Rosalind Rinker rightly defines prayer as “A conversation between two people who love each other– God and the Christian.” Prayer is the dialog between God who is a Father, hallowed, eager servant and any person who realizes his creatureliness and needs and is willing to crawl up into God’s lap and ask for physical, spiritual, emotional, willful, and social provision.
With this in mind, why isn’t God’s lap full? Why is it we do not pray more?
I’ve heard every excuse. Even made most of them myself. “I don’t know how.” “I’m afraid.” “I can’t find the words.” “I don’t have time.” “I don’t have the faith. After all, isn’t the Lord like the little old lady who lives in a shoe? He’s got so many children he doesn’t know what to do?”
All of these are excuses we give for not talking to God. But the real reason that underlies it all is feeling no need to pray due to a sense of independence.
Look at it this way: In 1776 American colonists rebelled and declared their independence from England. They told King George to get lost, said they weren’t going to pay his taxes any longer, and said they were willing to fight to prove it.
Genesis, Chapter 3, contains man’s declaration of independence from God. There we turned from God to self and Satan in a foolish quest not to die, to have our eyes opened, and to be like God.
When the Lord walked in the cool of the evening searching for us, calling us to account, He found us afraid of Him, hiding, and filled with disbelief, disobedience and deceit.
And we’ve been like that ever since.
Some years ago I was walking with my two year old at Monticello in Virginia. Coming to a steep hill I instinctively stuck out my hand to help my child. But nothing doing! Refusing to take my hand, she said with all the swaggering petulance of a two year old, “I do it by myself!” Four steps later, she fell and rolled to the bottom of the hill. There she cried out hysterically and threw out her hand to me!
And that’s exactly how it is with us and God. Before we will begin to pray two things happen. One: I must recognize my creatureliness and needs. Two: I must recognize God’s nature as a hallowed Papa eager to serve my needs that I might be whole.
What is prayer? Childlike dependence upon God.
Are you there yet? Have you come to Jesus and asked, “Lord, teach me to pray!”
It’s all so refreshingly simple, isn’t it? Yet learning to pray can be a difficult and bewildering experience. Yet a clue to making it easier is found in Luke 11:1. For you see, the disciples did not say, “Lord, teach to pray,” but, “Lord teach to pray.” They simply realized that most anything one wants to accomplish in life is easiest done in a group.
Here in church we come together as a covenant group on Wednesday nights at 7:15 to learn who God is, who we are, and the conversation that flows between us that is known as prayer. And you are invited to come make your declaration of dependence upon God with us.
Lord, teach me to pray!