The Model Prayer-Part Three
Scripture: Matthew 6:11–15
The Model Prayer-Part ThreeMatthew 6:11-15
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Pastor Randy Smith
A Native American and his friend were walking near Times Square, New York. The streets were filled with people, across multiple lanes cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, and sirens were wailing. Suddenly, the Native American stops and says, "I hear a cricket." His friend is astounded, "What? You must be crazy. You couldn't possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!" "No, I'm sure of it," the Native American said, "I heard a cricket." "You are out of your mind," said the friend. The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed.
"That's incredible," said his friend. "You must have super-human ears!" "No," said the Native American. "My ears are no different from yours." "But that can't be!" said the friend. "I could never hear a cricket in this noise." "Yes, you could," came the reply. "Here, let me show you." He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within 5 yards turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs. "See what I mean?" asked the Native American. "It all depends on what you're listening for, on what's important to you."
As we seek to conclude our study of the Lord's Prayer this morning, I have positioned this instruction over the past few weeks around the theme of priorities, the things that should be most important to us. Without a doubt, the Bible is clear that prayer should be one of those priorities. Prayer is an essential, unwavering, nonnegotiable component for every born-again believer. God the Father expects, should I say commands, His children to pray.
Listen to His displeasure when that does not happen: In Hosea 7:7 God said, "None of them calls on Me." Isaiah 43:22, "Yet you have not called on Me, O Jacob; but you have become weary of Me, O Israel." In Isaiah 64:7 the same sentiment is expressed by the prophet, "There is no one who calls on Your name, who arouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities." Samuel understood the sin of prayerlessness, "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you" (1 Samuel 12:23).
The call is unmistakable. First Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing." Ephesians 6:18, "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit." Colossians 4:2, "Devote yourselves to prayer." Acts 1:14 describes the actions early church: "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer."
But what could be said for the modern church? Have we have become too busy to pray? Have we trusted in our own strength and our own wisdom over God's? Have we concluded the times of public prayer are of no value? Is it any wonder that today's Christians are possibly the most carnal and immature and misguided and powerless church that our nation has ever witnessed? It is one thing when the world thinks we are weird for prioritizing prayer. It is quite another when you get that reaction from professing believers? Has Satan won the battle for our hearts and minds? Are we being deceived? Will these sermons on prayer make any difference in our lives?
Regarding the Lord's Prayer, Bible scholar, D.A. Carson said, "(One) will not come across a prayer more all-encompassing, more pointed, more exemplary, than the Lord's model prayer" (The Sermon on the Mount, p. 71).
Prayer is a priority and the Lord's Prayer outlines the priorities we should include in our prayers. We could call them the essential ingredients of a good prayer. And we could say that we will never grow in this area until we are disciplined enough to begin praying this way and start putting these principles into action. A good prayer life will not come without dedication, effort and perseverance.
Last week we covered the first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer found in Matthew 6, verses 9-10. From the start we observed that God-honoring prayer begins first with God. If our heart is set on God, as it should be, naturally our first concern will be for His glory - the greatness of His name and the consummation of His kingdom and the fulfillment of His will. I am sure that we can all testify that too often in prayer we are more concerned with our name and our kingdom and our will. Yet we have been created to find our satisfaction in the One who is greater than us. Life will be forever distorted if we do not live for the purpose that our Maker intended.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss asked, "How would you finish (this) sentence? 'One thing have I desired of the Lord; that will I seek after _________.' What is the greatest desire and longing of your heart? In the answer to that question lies the explanation for much of what we do - our choices, our priorities, our use of time, the way we spend money, the way we respond to pressure, whom or what we love. (Listen to David's answer: "One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD" (Psm. 27:4). David's answer reveals why God could say, 'This man's heart beats like mine'" (A Place of Quiet Rest,p. 39).
So we go from a burning desire for God's glory in the first three petitions to a humble dependence on God's grace in the final three petitions. Jesus now informs us of three primary needs we have as humans. And though we err by making these the priority of our prayers, we also err by eliminating these from our prayers altogether. For God as "our Father" is concerned for our needs and without asking for His help and being grateful for His provision, our prayer life is not operating on all cylinders.
THE REQUESTS OF THE PRAYER - PART TWO
With the remainder of our time, I would like to examine these final three petitions that focus on our physical and spiritual sustenance.
In the fourth petition Jesus said we should pray, verse 11, "Give us this day our daily bread."
Without a doubt, the requests for God's glory are seldom mentioned in our prayers. For different reasons, this petition as well has fallen on hard times.
Most if not all of us have grown up in a society where we have never wondered where our next meal is coming from. We take the surplus of food in our homes for granted. Apart from cultural and ritualistic times of prayer before a meal, seldom do we ask God to provide this basic necessity nor do we thank Him for the ample provision He consistently brings. We often consider the secondary means that produce the food but seldom the Ultimate Provider that makes all these means possible.
As one "Blogger" sadly wrote, "When I was a believer, I never understood the point of thanking God for the food I ate. I mean, the stuff that eventually became the food on my table was grown or raised on a farm somewhere, harvested, transported elsewhere for processing, then shipped to a market where I payed money for it. Where exactly was God supposed to come into the picture? Thank the farmers if you're going to thank anyone, I figured. To quote Bart Simpson. 'Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing'" (Ojuice5001).
How would you respond to such a person?
In the time and culture when Jesus spoke these words, most people made just enough money each day to provide food for the given day. Living day-to-day forced them to trust their heavenly Father to provide. Our dependence on God has weaned, and our prayers have become consumed with the trivialities of life because our wealth and prosperity have created an unhealthy self-reliance. In a strange way, God's good and perfect gifts (Jas. 1:17) abundantly lavished on our lives have not created a greater heart for the Giver, but rather have given us a greater love for lesser gifts and a loss of almost all God-consciousness.
"Bread" personifies our human needs at their most basic level. This prayer is a call to ask God for the essential necessities of life. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. God has promised to provide our needs (we will learn about that when we study verses 25-34 in two weeks). But God has never promised to provide our greeds. Had more people understood this, fewer would be discontent and angry that God had supposedly failed. The Bible says, "If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content" (1 Tim. 6:8). God wants us content. God knows our essential needs for life. As a good heavenly Father, He calls us to ask and obligates Himself to provide.
The great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, wrote in his journal, "I am taking my children with me, and I notice that it is not difficult for me to remember that the little ones need breakfast in the morning, dinner at midday, and something before they go to bed at night. Indeed I could not forget it. And I find it impossible to suppose that our heavenly Father is less tender or mindful than I." He goes on to say, "I do not believe that our heavenly Father will ever forget His children. I am as very poor father, but it is not my habit to forget my children. God is a very, very good Father. It is not His habit to forget His children" (In Marshall Broomhall, The Man Who Believed God: The Story of Hudson Taylor, p. 150).
"Give us this day our daily bread." Beloved, take this as a sign that God cares for His children on a daily basis! May we turn to Him with daily dependence!
From food to the second petition, forgiveness. Verse 12, "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
Let's break this down and examine each half. The first half is the need to ask God's forgiveness for our debts.
To understand this request we must understand a few theological truths: All of us are sinners (Pr. 20:9). And every time we sin, regardless of the sin, we sin against God (Psm. 51:4). As we sin against God, we incur debt with the Almighty. And as Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin (the debt) is death." Therefore, in order to be forgiven and right with God, we need Him to pardon our sin and cancel this debt.
Ultimately this happens when we acknowledge our sinfulness and flee to Christ for forgiveness. None of us will ever be able to pay off our debt. But the great truth of the Bible is that Someone else did. Jesus received our sins upon Himself at Calvary. He stood in our place. He received the punishment from the Father that we deserved. Colossians 2:14, "Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." The cross of Christ is the reminder for those who have declared their spiritual bankruptcy and turned to Christ in faith that they have been forgiven of every sin-past, present and future. The debt has been paid by the blood of Jesus.
In his classic, "It is well with my soul," Horatio Spafford penned:
My sin-O the bliss of this glorious thought!-
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
So if we have all of our sins already forgiven, why are we called in this fifth petition to ask for what appears to be additional forgiveness? Answers: One, because sin destroys. Confession helps our soul heal from the guilt we incurred. Two, because every sin we commit, though it does not forfeit our salvation, breaks fellowship with our heavenly Father. Three, because our forgiveness came at a great cost - the death of God's very Son. Therefore we ought to take sin seriously and carefully recognize the specific areas we are falling short. Four, because true believers are committed to repentance. Confession of sin is important because without acknowledging the error of sin, we will never take the necessary steps toward what God ultimately desires, which is repentance (turning from the sin altogether). Confession may be humbling, but repentance is genuine Christianity.
The second half of this petition is the only one that comes with a condition attached. And it is very convicting because of one tiny two-lettered word. "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." The tiny word I am referring to is "as." A comparison is drawn between God's forgiveness and our forgiveness. The prayer essentially says, "God, to the standard to which I have been forgiving to others, please be forgiving to me."
This petition is so important Jesus expands and reemphasizes it immediately when He concludes the prayer. Look at verses 14 and 15, "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."
When the world says Christians are hypocrites, I often find myself agreeing with their assessment. Entering now my twelfth year of pastoral ministry, I have repeatedly witnessed Christians who fail to forgive one another. I cannot imagine an action that speaks of greater hypocrisy!
What are you talking about, Pastor?
We continually sin against God throughout the day. Many of our sins are even beyond our conscious recognition. Many of our sins are repeated time and time again. And nevertheless, we take great comfort that the Holy Creator of the universe has pardoned our iniquities. That He has completely forgiven us, removing our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psm. 103:12). That "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). But then another fellow sinner sins against us and we are insistent on torturing the individual through our diabolical schemes of either attacking the person or withdrawing from the relationship. We receive mercy from God and in turn extend wrath to His children. God takes this action very seriously.
Chapter 18, beginning in verse 21: "Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart" (Mt. 18:21-35).'"
Allow me to be clear. Forgiving others their sins against us does not earn the Lord's forgiveness. This verse in the Lord's Prayer is teaching us that God's children will behave differently because of His impact on their lives. If we are unwilling to forgive fellow sinners, it is only an indication that we have not understood, or worse, not received forgiveness from the Sinless One. Its been said forgiving others is the surest sign we have been forgiven.
I know it is not easy to forgive, but we of all people should know something about grace. And we of all people need to begin taking the sins we commit against God more seriously than the sins that others commit against us.
From food to forgiveness to frailty. By frailty I am referring to the spiritual weakness we all experience. I am referring to the impossibility to live a victorious Christian life merely on our own strength and resources. I am referring to acknowledging our Savior's words when He said, "Apart from Me you can do nothing" (Jn. 15:5). Specifically, I am referring to the need to have the Lord protect us from temptation. The final petition, verse 13, "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (I believe better put "the evil one").
The Bible says, "Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan and his demonic entourage make it their life's ambition to see you as a Christian fall into sin. Satan tempted Jesus (Mt. 4:1-11), and His brothers and sisters are not exempt. And the mere fact than many disbelieve this reality or think they can stand on their own strength is evidence that the subtle and deceptive "father of lies" (Jn. 8:44) is already winning the battle (c.f. 1 Thes. 3:5). I could even go on and speak for hours how we are also tempted by our own evil desires/flesh (Jas. 1:14). Therefore we need to pray that God help us to "stand firm" (Eph. 6:13) during our time of temptation.
Much confusion often surrounds this petition because it appears as a clear contradiction. Why should we pray that God not lead us into temptation when James 1:13 clears says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God;' for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone."
Here is my best shot at an answer: When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, do you remember the first words that introduced that account in Matthew 4? "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Mt. 4:1). The Greek word for "temptation" is the same as the Greek word for "test" (peirazo/peirasmos). God is forever in the business of testing His children (Jas. 1:3; 1 Pet. 4:12). While He is seeking good in the testing of our faith, Satan often uses these occasions to tempt our faith. Therefore, it is our desire that God, who is not only sovereign over our temptations, but also our strength during these temptations, assists us during these times of need so that we pass the test without succumbing to the temptation. So the prayer is that God will use these designed activities for the strengthening and not weakening of our faith. That He will lead us not into temptation, but away from it into righteousness. That He will assist us when attacked and that He will (as the second half of this petition indicates) deliver us from the evil one.
Example: You serve someone greatly in the church and then they let you down in a very painful way. This is both a test and a temptation. How will you respond? If you give into the temptation some responses will probably be: Bitterness or self-pity or refusing to help in the future or anger with God or possibly even leaving the church to avoid the individual. But if you successfully pass the test some possible responses will be: Prayer or grief for another's sins or thankfulness for the opportunity to minister or increased perseverance or a greater understanding of how often you disappoint God.
I chose this illustration specifically related to temptation in the area of interpersonal relationships for a reason. Does it come as any surprise to you that this section on temptation is situated right in the middle of two sections that deal with forgiveness? How often have we been tempted and given over to deception in our dealings with others who have wronged us?
Beloved, I pray you have gained a new perspective of the "Lord's Prayer." And what a glorious prayer it is addressed to our glorious God! No wonder it closes with the following line: "For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."
I hope you see the need to prioritize prayer and include in your prayers the right priorities. I hope you understand the need to put God's will above your own. I hope you have spiritually matured to the point where you recognize your own weaknesses. I hope you have forsaken your own quest for vain-glory and self-reliance and have rightly turned to God asking Him to do for you what you cannot do for yourselves. For such meekness and humility brings God much glory and us the needed strength for a victorious Christian life overflowing with praise and joy and gratitude and usefulness.