How Shall We Pray?

Matthew 6:5-15

If I were to ask you today, "How are we to pray?", what would you say? How are Christians supposed to pray?

There might be some of you who would argue that it's not important "how" you pray, but how often you pray. Some might insist that prayer to God is like a conversation with a friend. Others may have a very complex, or distinct structure to their prayer. Still others, not knowing exactly how we should pray, will simply recite "The Lord's Prayer".

I can tell you first of all, that it is indeed important "how " you pray--Jesus would have never taught so specifically on the subject if there were not at least some essential principles to praying.

I can also assure you that while God through Christ is our friend, we must guard against the temptation to treat Him as just any other "friend". This "Friend" of ours is also our Creator. To treat prayer like any other conversation is to ignore the reality of just how infinite and holy God is.

The "Lord's Prayer" is meant to be our model for prayer. The Lord's Prayer should guide our prayers, it should help us to pray properly.

Before examining the content of the "Lord's Prayer", it is important that we know the context of the "Lord's Prayer"--that we know exactly what precipitated Jesus' instruction on prayer.

Quite simply, it was hypocrisy that precipitated Jesus' teaching on prayer. Jesus denounced the prayers of the "hypocrites". The text says that these hypocrites pray "in order to be seen by men". Hypocrites pray to be noticed. Hypocrites pray to impress. This is the type of prayer that Jesus warns about.

In verse 6, Jesus goes on to tell us the ideal context for prayer--secrecy. He says, "Go into your inner room" and "shut the door". Corporate prayer is fine and necessary, but private prayer must become a habit for every Christian.

After encouraging us to pray in secret, Jesus also warns against using "meaningless repetition" in our prayers. Some were under the misunderstanding that the more times a prayer was repeated, the better chance it had at being answered. Jesus tells us not to pray like this.

It is not that Jesus is forbidding all long prayers or all repetition. Jesus himself prayed at considerable length(Lk.6:12) and he also repeated himself in prayer(Mt.26:44). Jesus' point is that we should avoid meaningless, repetitive prayers offered under the misconception that length will improve our prayers chance of being answered.

The context then, for Jesus' teaching on prayer, as you can see, was inappropriate prayer . Jesus wanted to correct abuses so He provided a model prayer for His disciples.

The Lord's Prayer, as you know, begins with address, "Our Father". Notice that it does not begin with the phrase "O God of heaven", nor does it begin with "eternal Lord", but with "Our Father". This is significant in that by addressing God as our "Father" we are confessing to have an intimate relationship with Him. Like a parent who loves and cares for us, we can turn to our heavenly Father to share in our joys and to provide comfort in sorrow.

It is interesting, that in the same sentence we express our intimacy with God, you will notice that we also confess that He resides "in heaven". On the one hand, God is "our Father"--our intimate, ever-present companion, but on the other hand, we must remember that He is "in heaven"--He is the transcendent, all-powerful Lord of the universe.
"Hallowed be Thy name" also sets our Father apart from any other name or being. "Hallow" means "make holy", but since we know that God is already holy, "treat as holy" is a better interpretation. In our prayers, we should ask for the ability to treat God's name as holy.

As Christians, we are pretty good at avoiding the harsh ways in which the Lord's name is used in vain, but it is also imperative that we avoid some of the subtle misuses of His name. For instance, to use God's name flippantly or lightly is totally inappropriate for a God whose name is to be "hallowed". The idea is that whenever we verbalize the name God, Lord, or Jesus, there had better be a tone of reverence to our usage.

The phrase, "Thy kingdom come" represents one of the earliest petitions in the Lord's Prayer--and it is no coincidence that the topic of God's kingdom occurs so early in the prayer. The first desire of every Christian should be the coming of God's kingdom.

"Thy kingdom come" is actually a two-pronged request. To some degree, we can experience God's kingdom in the present through the presence of the Holy Spirit. As we unite ourselves to God's Spirit in our everyday activities, we get a taste of what God's kingdom will be like.

The second aspect of the request "Thy kingdom come" is for the permanent establishment of God's rule on earth. The Apostle Paul made this his prayer with the phrase "Maranatha"(1Cor.16:22b), which means "Lord come". And by praying for the coming of God's kingdom, we will keep our thoughts, prayers, and priorities, kingdom-centred rather than world-centred.

"Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven". Praying for God's will to be done should remind us that it is indeed His will, and not our own, that should always prevail. This is perhaps the most difficult thing for us. We all have our own agendas. We want to always be in control. We want to choose everything from our career, to our friends, to what church we attend. God insists, however, that we choose our paths according to His will, and on His terms.

This kind of dependence on, and submission to God isn't just "Theologically Correct", it is practical. If God is, as we confess, infinitely wise, perfectly holy, and loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us-- isn't it just common sense to do His will instead of our own?

Notice that the prayer doesn't simply ask that God's will be done, but it also asks that it be done "on earth as it is in heaven".

How is God's will done in heaven? . . . It is done joyfully. It is done naturally--it is the instinctive thing to do in heaven. So when Jesus asks that God's will be done "on earth as it is in heaven", He is asking that we, who worship God, would do His will joyfully and instinctively.

The second section of the Lord's Prayer begins with the request, "Give us this day our daily bread". This is a petition for our most basic human need--food. More than just asking for food, this request for daily bread is representative of praying for our needs. By telling us to pray for bread, Jesus is encouraging us to pray for life's needs--not "wants"--but NEEDS.

While we are encouraged to pray for life's needs, notice how far along in the prayer this request for food appears. You will recall that the coming of God's kingdom was one of the earliest requests in the Prayer. The fact that God's kingdom is prayed for before our human needs is no coincidence. While our needs are genuinely important to God, what matters most is His kingdom.

"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" is our first request for our own spiritual needs. Just as our basic temporal need is food, our basic spiritual need is forgiveness. For only when we have God's forgiveness can we have proper fellowship with Him.
Now that is just common sense, isn't it? If you have offended someone, be it the person 2 pews behind you, a co-worker, or a family member, your relationship becomes strained. As long as that offense stands between you and another, that friendship/relationship will struggle to succeed.

But if the offending party were to ask for forgiveness, and if the offended party grants forgiveness, then the relationship is restored. In the same way, until we ask for God's forgiveness for our sins, we cannot have proper fellowship with Him.

The second part of the sentence "as we forgive our debtors" only makes sense as well. It would be the height of hypocrisy to expect God to forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive someone else. The sad reality is, however, that we all struggle to forgive. Although it is difficult, we must forgive others in order for God to forgive us.

Now the last request or petition in the Lord's Prayer has been the cause of a great deal of confusion for those who have studied closely this Prayer. The petition to God here is, "do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil". The controversy centres around the suggestion in the petition that God sometimes leads us into temptation, and that is why we need to ask God to not lead us into temptation.

Here is an appropriate place to interpret Scripture with Scripture. You may recall what the apostle James says, in his epistle, that "no one should say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God . . . does not tempt anyone"(1:13).

So if God does not tempt anyone, what is this prayer getting at? The key word in this sentence that helps us is the word "but"--"but deliver us from evil". The emphasis is not so much on the temptation to do evil, it assumes we will be tempted to do evil. The emphasis is instead, on the deliverance from evil.

This theme of deliverance also fits well with the theme of forgiveness. God's will isn't simply to forgive us so we don't go to hell. God's will is to deliver us from evil in our daily lives so that we are made fit for His kingdom.

And finally we come to the last part of the Lord's Prayer, "For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen".

While scholars argue whether this ending was a part of the original Prayer, we should not be too concerned with this. The ending of the Lord's Prayer is a doxology--and a doxology's purpose is to return glory to God. Ending any prayer in this way will remind us that our prayers should be centred around God's glory and not our own.

My hope and prayer for this sermon today is that you now understand The Lord's Prayer better than you did before. Yes, we all know the Lord's Prayer in that we've memorized it, but that is the easy part. It is so easy to recite The Lord's Prayer, Sunday after Sunday, not even thinking about what you are saying or what it means.

From this day forth, however, I hope that when you pray The Lord's Prayer, you will be gripped by its profound meaning for our relationship with Christ.

And I trust that you are now better equipped to shape your own prayers based on this model. It does indeed matter "how" you pray, so remember the Lord's Prayer when you pray.

Pray for God's kingdom and His will. Pray for your practical needs and your spiritual needs. Pray when you are at home, pray when you are in your car, pray when you have a moment at work, pray in your time of rest, but always--always pray as Jesus would have you pray, to the glory of God the Father, our Holy Creator. Amen.