Jesus Modeled Prayer
Matthew 6: 5 – 13.
Do you have a cell phone? I don’t know how we ever lived without cell phones!
I remember when I was a kid, Batman and the President of the United States were the only people with phones in their cars. Now, everyone has a phone…And, we can stay in constant communication with our friends, family and our jobs. I guess there is both good and bad about having a cell phone.
Maybe you have the same experience with your phone that I have…I don’t always have a good signal on my phone. This is especially true in the church office. Sometimes my phone works just fine in my office. But, other times I have to stand next to the window in my office to talk on the phone. (This is interesting to me, because in 2006 I traveled to North Africa on a mission trip. We spent a week in a mountain village with crude bathroom facilities, limited electricity and better cell phone reception than in downtown Lufkin!)
Isn’t it a good that we don’t have to have good cell phone service to talk to God? In many ways, this is the message we proclaimed at Christmas. God sent his Son, Jesus…And as the Gospel of Matthew tells us, his name will be Immanuel—God is with us. No matter where you go or where you are, God is accessible. God is present. And we can always talk to God through prayer.
One of the Spiritual Resolutions I mentioned last Sunday is that we should resolve to spend more time with God. Jesus modeled this for us by waking up earlier than his disciples and spending time alone with God in prayer. And, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us how we can pray as Jesus prayed…
Matthew 6: 5 – 8…"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. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Jesus introduced the Model Prayer by first describing two negative examples of prayer. First, there is the hypocrite who does not love to pray. Hypocrites love for other people to see them praying and to hear the words of their prayers. A hypocrite is an actor who prays for show or a person who puts on a mask to hide the wickedness on the inside. There are two ways to describe the prayers of the hypocrites. On one hand, they are more concerned with what other people think about them than what God thinks about them. On the other hand, hypocrites pray with no heart. They pray with their bodies and their lips and even with their minds—wondering what other people think about them. But their hearts are far from God. Don’t pray like a hypocrite who prays with no heart.
The second negative example Jesus gave us was the pagan. Jesus makes no mention of whether the pagans prayed in public or in private. Instead, Jesus criticizes their “babbling.” Other translations call this “vain repetitions.” The NIV chooses to interpret this as “babbling,” because the Greek word used is probably an onomatopoetic term imitating the sound of a language other than Greek (battalogeo). In this case, Jesus is not discouraging repetition or even persistence in prayer. He is discouraging us from babbling on and on and on…
The reason the pagans babbled in their prayers was to find the right magic words acceptable to their gods. Pagan prayer was an attempt to flatter the gods and thus to coax them to act. If the gods did not answer prayer, it was because the pagans prayed incorrectly—either using the wrong words or praying them in the wrong order. So, they prayed on and on and on...uttering words that had no meaning, hoping to pray the magic words or to stumble upon the right formula. In other words, the pagans prayed mindless / meaningless prayers.
Hypocrites pray heartless prayers. Pagans pray mindless prayers. Jesus calls us to pray with engaged hearts and minds. Prayer is to be a passionate and heart-felt communication with God. Prayer is to be thoughtful and mindful.
The Model Prayer is Jesus’ remedy to the heartless and mindless prayers demonstrated by the hypocrites and pagans. Therefore, we should never turn Jesus’ words into a heartless and mindless formula.
Matthew 6: 9 – 13…"This, then, is how you should pray: "'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.'
In introducing the Model Prayer, Jesus instructs his disciples that this is “how” they should pray and not “what” they should pray. This is why we refer to this prayer as a model. It does not prescribe the proper formula for praying. Instead, it describes one model or example of prayer.
It is significant that the Model Prayer can be divided into two sections. Both sections contain three petitions (or requests) of God—a total of six petitions. The first section is all about God. The second section is about human need.
The first petition: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”
Prayer begins in the intimacy of a child speaking with his or her father. But this intimate relationship with God as heavenly Father is balanced with the holiness of God’s name. More than likely Jesus spoke this prayer in Aramaic rather than Greek. If this is the case, we might expect Jesus to use the Aramaic word “Abba,” since we have examples of Jesus’ addressing God as Abba in other places. This would be like our English word “Daddy.” And we all know there is a difference between a “Daddy” and a “Father.” A father is a male parent. A daddy is a father who is involved in the life of his children. Our relationship with God is not like a father who sends child support payments to his children. Our relationship is like a daddy who is involved in every aspect of our lives. He wants the very best for us and is so involved in our lives that he blesses us with his time and good gifts.
Yet this intimacy with God as our heavenly Daddy should be balanced with the holiness of God’s name. Name in the Bible is always a reference to a person’s character. Person and name are so closely related that they cannot be separated. Both God’s name and character are holy. That is to say God is separated from everything that makes us human beings. We are human and imperfect. God is not human and is perfect. We are sinners and subject to temptation. God is sinless and cannot be tempted by evil.
It is important to note that God does not become more or less holy as a result of our prayers. Matthew recorded this petition as a third person passive. Since it is addressed to God in a prayer, many New Testament scholars refer to this as a “divine passive.” A divine passive calls on God to act and to accomplish something that is impossible for us to accomplish on our own. It could be translated “Let your name become holy.” In other words, this is not our telling God how holy he is. This is our praying that the rest of the world will one day recognize the holiness of God.
The second petition: “Your Kingdom come…”
This petition is also written in the third person passive. This is another instance of a “divine passive”—calling on God to do something we are incapable of doing. It could be translated “Let your Kingdom come.” In other words, the
is not something we have the power to
bring about. Of course, this has not
stopped people from trying to bring about the Kingdom. Some people think they can bring the Kingdom of God to earth through military conquest;
terrorist acts; or even through the ballot box.
This is not what the Kingdom of God is about. The Kingdom
is the realm in which God is the King.
One day there will be a place where God rules supremely. Until that day comes, the Kingdom of God
is present on earth in the lives of men and women like us, who have given over
control of our lives to God as our King.
On one hand, we have a responsibility to enter into the Kingdom of God right
here and now—living under the rule of God and preaching the Gospel to those who
live under the rule of Satan. On the
other hand, only God can bring his Kingdom to earth. Kingdom of God
The third petition: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”
For the third time, we see another “divine passive” in Jesus’ prayer. Jesus prayed, “Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus teaches us through this petition that there is a place where God’s will is always accomplished. That place is heaven. If God’s will were always accomplished on earth, then we would experience heaven on earth. Perhaps that is what Jesus is teaching us to pray—Make this life “heaven on earth.”
Shift from the Greatness of God to Human Need
While the first half of the Model Prayer is about the greatness of God and God’s great purposes for the world, the second half concentrates on human need. Human need is the very foundation of prayer. Only needy people pray. Self-sufficient people have no reason to pray: they can take care of their own needs. However, none of us is totally self-sufficient. We are needy, even when we do not like to admit our needs.
The fourth petition: “Give us today our daily bread…”
With the fourth petition, Jesus has changed his focus from the miraculous to the mundane. There is nothing in life more basic than bread. For modern Christians, bread is something we can live without. If we don’t have bread, we can just eat meat. That was not the case in Jesus’ day. Bread was the primary source of food for the ancient world. If there was no bread, there was no food. Perhaps we should interpret Jesus’ prayer as a prayer for food…for our basic, daily needs.
Notice how much food Jesus prayed for. Just enough food to make it through the day. This is not a greedy prayer. It is a needy prayer. It is a prayer of absolute dependence on God to give us enough food to sustain life for one more day. I believe it is grounded in the Old Testament story of the manna in the desert. God provided manna for the Hebrew people to eat and instructed them only to gather enough for one day. When they gathered enough to last to the next day, the leftover manna spoiled. You and I are more accustomed to pray for enough money to make it to the end of the month or the end of the year. Jesus demonstrates that we are to be so dependent on God that we could not live through today without his provision.
The fifth petition: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…”
“Debt” is one of the ways the Bible describes sin. It is a debt we owe to God. But, it is a debt we cannot pay. The only hope we have is that God will forgive our debts, or cancel our sins. Again, we are needy in the presence of God. We cannot solve our own problems.
I don’t like the second half of this petition. I don’t want God to forgive me “AS I have forgiven others.” I want God to forgive me “BETTER than I have forgiven others.” But, there is a connection between my forgiveness and God’s forgiveness. The person who has been forgiven knows how to forgive. But forgiveness is a gift from God. God gives us forgiveness for our own sins, and God gives us a forgiving spirit.
The sixth petition: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one…”
Where the fifth petition dealt with past sins, the sixth petition deals with future sins. On one hand, we need God’s forgiveness to deal with our past sins. On the other hand, we need God’s protection to prevent sins in our future.
God does not tempt us or cause us to sin. However, there is a biblical precedent that God does test our faith. The purpose of temptation is to bring about a negative result—sin. The purpose of testing is to bring about a positive result—increased faith and resistance to sin. This leads me to believe that Jesus is teaching us to pray about our weakness.
In Psalm 26: 1 – 3 David prayed, “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.” But when David saw Bathsheba, he failed miserably. David was not strong enough to resist temptation. Jesus was strong enough to resist 40 days of temptation from Satan in the desert. I am not strong enough. Therefore, I must pray for God to keep me away from all temptation.
The most common ways we speak of prayer are really not good images…
Sometimes we use expressions like “going to God in prayer.” But, prayer is not going to God…Because God is already here.
Sometimes we say that we are “seeking God in prayer.” But, God has already sought and found us. God sent his Son to seek and to save those who are lost. Therefore, God has already sought you and found you.
Perhaps the best way to think of prayer is to say we are “spending time with God.”
The Christian faith is not a religion. Religion is a human attempt to make our lives pleasing to God. The Christian faith is not a philosophy. Philosophy is a way of thinking about the world around us. Instead, the Christian faith is a relationship with God. And, just like any relationship…Our relationship grows stronger as we spend more time with the person we love…Enjoying their presence and investing time in communication.
The first sign of trouble in any relationship is when people no longer communicate. If you are too busy to talk with God, what does that say about your relationship with God?