In almost every marriage the area that needs the most attention is the area of communication – learning to connect with each other in a meaningful way. As time goes on couples find that they talk about schedules, menus, household issues and coordinating various responsibilities but they still grow apart because they never get around to talking to each other about their relationship.
That is often the same thing that happens in our walk with God. We talk to God about problems; we ask for His blessing on our family; talk about our plans and may even “seek His will” in these areas. However, our relationship often lacks intimacy and depth.
This morning we read about the disciples’ request for Jesus to teach them to pray. I think they asked Jesus to teach them to pray because they had observed a transforming intimacy in the prayer of Jesus that made them want something more in their own prayer life. They wanted to know how to develop a relationship with God.
As you read Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer you will notice that it doesn’t fully match the prayer we often recite. That version of the prayer is from Matthew 6 in the Sermon on the Mount. This is not a contradiction or error. Many of the teachings of Jesus were given multiple times in different settings. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus was not so much giving us a prayer that we should pray (though there is nothing wrong with praying the prayer), He was giving us a pattern for prayer. Consequently the exact wording was less important than the outline.
What Not to Do
In the gospel of Matthew Jesus introduces the teaching on prayer with some instruction on what not to do when it comes to prayer.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. [Matthew 6:5-8]
Since our study is in the passage in Luke let’s simply note what Jesus tells us here,
- We should not gear our prayers to the people around us. Prayer is in intimate conversation that is to be directed to the Father . . . not those listening. In other words our prayers should not be designed to sound spiritual. We should not be trying to impress others. God wants honesty and intimacy, two things that work best if spoken in private.
- The quality of our prayer life is not determined by the amount of words we use. We have all had the uncomfortable experience of talking to someone for a length of time and feeling that the person was not really talking to us . . . they were talking to themselves in front of us! God does not require long prayers (although true communication does take time).
- The purpose of prayer is not to inform God of our needs and desires (God knows what we need before we ask Him). Prayer is not a time for us to convince God to change His mind (God does not change His mind! There is no “new information” with God) prayer is designed to talk over our needs with Him so we can align our hearts with His.
An Upward Focus
Now that we know what prayer is not. Let’s look at the elements of prayer. The first half of the prayer is about attitude. Jesus says we should start with “Our Father”. We don’t think a lot about this because we call God “father” all the time. God is called Father only 14 times in all of the Old Testament. Each time he was being referred to as the father of Israel. It was never used about individuals. In other words, God was Israel’s Father, but Abraham, for example never spoke of God as “my Father”.
There are only two people who refer to me as “dad’. Those are two people with whom I have a unique intimacy. Jesus could call God “Father” because of His unique position. He invites us to call God Father because we have been adopted as “Sons” and “Daughters” by virtue of our relationship to Christ.
To begin our prayer with the word “Father” denotes a special relationship. Though we are to respect and revere the Lord, we can approach Him with the confidence, security, and intimacy like that of a child talking to a parent. Jesus invites us to talk heart to heart with the God of Creation.
Some people have a problem calling God “Father” because they sadly have negative associations with that term. Let me share an important observation from R.C. Sproul
When I talk to someone who is having difficulty using the word Father and wants to choke on it when he refers to God, I usually advise him that, as hard as it may be, to focus on the word that comes before it, our, because “our Father” is not his father. “Our Father” is not the father who violated him. It’s our Father in heaven, our Father who has no abuse in Him, who will never violate anyone. We all need to learn to use this phrase and transfer to God the positive attributes that we so earnestly desire and so seriously miss in our earthly fathers.
The second part of the upward focus is found in the words, “Hallowed be your name” or at the New Living Translation puts it, “May your name be kept holy.”
I am used to people mispronouncing my name and I do not take offense when people mispronounce it (unless they do it repeatedly). But that doesn’t mean I like it. When someone calls the church and slaughters the pronunciation of “Goettsche” they are immediately flagged as someone who does not really know us. Why is that? A person who really knows us will want to get our name correct.
The first petition in the prayer is for God to be revered and respected as the One who is Holy. We should come to God desiring He be honored in our life (through the way we live, the words we say, the thoughts we think, the deeds we do, the priorities and commitments we make). And we desire God also be honored in the world around us. This is the first petition because it is the place where all prayer must start: in a humble reverence for the greatness of God. When we come to prayer we should do so respectfully.
Second, we should come yearning for God’s Kingdom to come. In Matthew it is the fuller, “you kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”. Both are saying the same thing. We are asking that the perfection and beauty of Heaven be reflected on earth. In other words we come to pray desiring God to reign and rule in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We do this for a couple of reasons: first, God is the King and should rule. Second, He is just and will rule rightly. Third, we are convinced that God’s kingdom is superior to anything we might construct on our own.
God has given us all a role to play in the establishment of His Kingdom. As we pray for His Kingdom to come we are asking God to help us to do what He has called us to do. It is a plea that we learn to live according to His will rather than by our desires and preferences.
Jesus illustrates this kind of prayer in the Garden before His arrest. He knew what was coming and He struggled with the horror of what was ahead. He prayed,” “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” [Luke 22:42] When we pray for God’s will to be done in our lives it is not a wimpy prayer, it is saying,
“the advancement of your Kingdom is more important than my comfort or even saving my life.”
Our Practical Needs
Only after taking a proper posture before the Lord and aligning our hearts with Him do we start to address personal needs. This is just the opposite of the way we often pray. We have limited time so we get right to the important stuff: what WE want from God! Think about a child who never showed you respect or love and only ran around demanding things from you. We would find ourselves pretty unresponsive to those demands. Prayer must be anchored to relationship.
The first thing we are to ask for in regard to our personal needs is our daily bread. Jesus chooses bread because it was a staple food basic to life. Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray for dessert. Prayer is not like pointing the computer “gun” at items you put on your bridal registry. It is not a Christmas list of things “you’d like to have”. We are to pray for God to supply our needs.
Jesus calls us to ask God for our provision daily and I think the reason for this is because He knows that if we have an abundance (which most of us do) we will start trusting what we have stored up rather than trusting God. When we have more than enough we begin hoarding. We “need” more as we have more.
We should approach prayer knowing that we need God’s provision for our lives. The problem we have is that we may be “financially secure” or “comfortable” and really don’t feel any sense of dependency on the Lord. We are not trusting God, we are trusting ourselves (which is a very foolish endeavor).
Jesus calls us to turn to God and acknowledge our dependence on Him for
- The breaths we take
- The food we eat
- The shelter we enjoy
- The opportunities given to live productively and be content
- The wisdom we need in facing daily decisions
- The confidence of eternal life
We may believe we are independent but if God were to withdraw His hand from us we would be gone in an instant.
The second personal request is for forgiveness. “Forgive us our sins (debts, transgressions) for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” I hope you understand why we need to ask God for forgiveness. Day after day, moment after moment, we find ourselves resisting or rebelling against what God wants for our lives. We manipulate people; we justify sin; we ignore responsibilities; we slant the truth (read lie); we take what isn’t ours; and we ignore the needs of others. All of this is sin. We need forgiveness.
The problem we have with the text is the second clause: “for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” For most of us it is hard to even say those words out loud because we know we don’t mean them! We think “certainly He doesn’t mean what we think He means.” Matthew explains the request further.
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. [Matthew 6:14-15]
I think it is clear that Jesus IS saying what we think He is saying. This is a problem isn’t it? Let’s face it; some of our most cherished possessions are our grudges. We love replaying the hurts and indulging in bitterness and resentment. Doing so makes us feel righteous. We focus on the responsibility others have toward us rather than focusing on the responsibility we have to others.
Jesus reminds us that if we are not willing to forgive others it shows that we do not grasp or truly appreciate what we have been forgiven.
Those who have been through cancer treatments can best understand and sympathize with those going through those treatments. Those who have gone through a divorce can best understand the devastation someone feels as they are going through this process. Someone who has buried a child of their own can best understand the ache of someone who loses a child.
The thought process for forgiveness is this: if you understand your sin and the greatness of God’s forgiveness for that sin – you will be much more willing to forgive those who sin against you. It’s a sobering thought: we have not understood God’s forgiveness until we are ready to forgive others.
When we forgive others we deliberately put our hurt and the retribution for that hurt into God’s hands. It’s not that we are “letting someone get away with something”, we are choosing to entrust the matter to the righteous Judge who always does what is right. We may never forget what someone did to us; we may never have exactly the same relationship we once had; but in God’s strength we can move past the hurt.
The third petition is “and lead us not into temptation”. James, the Lord’s brother, makes it clear that God tempts no one: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13). So, in the prayer we are not asking God to refrain from trying to make us stumble. God doesn’t do that.
James tells us to consider it a joy to encounter various trials because the testing of our faith helps us to grow. The word James uses for test and the word Jesus uses for temptation is the same. In the Garden Jesus told the disciples to pray that they would not enter into temptation since “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”.
I believe we are to ask God to deliver us from overpowering temptations, recognizing that we are liable to fold under such enticement and assault. It is rightly a prayer to keep us from the power of the Evil One (who is seeking to destroy us).
We know we are weak. The very best person still stumbles and falls outside of God’s gracious provision of strength. Jesus is not telling us to pray: “Keep me from having any trouble in life”, it is saying, “Give me the strength not to turn away from you no matter what happens to me in the circumstance of life.” It is to pray that we might have strength to stand in the storms and trials of life.
Luke’s prayer ends here. Matthew adds, ‘For thine (yours) is the Kingdom and the power, and the glory forever”. It does seem to be the perfect way to end the prayer. We begin with a God focus and we should end that way as well. Prayer is meant to be a conversation between those who love each other. We should affirm our devotion, love, and reverence at the beginning and the end of the prayer.
I don’t believe Jesus is telling us we shouldn’t send up quick sentence prayers throughout the day. These are appropriate but we need more extended times of conversation. For these conversations Jesus has given us a simple pattern or outline.
Our challenge is to evaluate the way we pray. Take a look at your prayer life and ask some tough questions:
- Does your conversation with God consist merely of the exchange of information or are you developing an intimate relationship with God? Are you talking to God or talking to others when you pray?
- Do you consider who you are talking to or do you barge into His presence? Do you relate to God with reverence? Do you honor God’s name in the way you live?
- Do you appreciate and celebrate the unique opportunity to relate to God as “Father”? Do you take this privilege for granted?
- Do you look to God to provide for your needs and are you grateful for what He provides or do you feel self-sufficient or always feel like you need more (or as if God is unable to provide enough)?
- Are you being honest about your sin and confessing it before God or are you making excuses? Do you come to God wanting forgiveness or approval?
- Are you willing to forgive others out of gratitude for what you have been forgiven? Are you willing to surrender your hurts and pains to Him?
- Do you come to prayer aware of the daily battle we fight seeking to draw upon the Lord for our strength and victory?
Learning to communicate takes work; whether it is in your marriage or in your relationship with God. Developing intimacy with God should be easier than developing intimacy with your spouse because God already communicates well. He already knows our hearts, our needs, and He already loves us fully. Success in prayer is within reach of all of us. Jesus has told us how to begin. So the next step is to do just that: begin.