The Model Prayer, part 1: God

Posted: October 17, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 6:9, “The Model Prayer, part 1: God”

Do you ever think of famous prayers?  Many folks learned this as a kid: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” (Pretty morbid!)  There’s the serenity prayer – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  And it’s close cousin, the senility prayer – “God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.” 🙂

Likely the most famous prayer of all is the Lord’s Prayer, which interestingly enough is a prayer we never actually see the Lord Jesus pray.  Actually, Jesus couldn’t pray this prayer (He has no sin of which to seek forgiveness), thus although we call it “the Lord’s Prayer” because our Lord taught it to us, it really ought to be called “the Disciples’ prayer” or “the model prayer,” because that’s really its function.  It’s meant to be used by the disciples of Jesus Christ, and meant to be used as a model for how to pray.  In fact, in Luke’s version of this same prayer, we find Jesus teaching this prayer as a response to the disciples asking, “Teach us to pray.” (Lk 11:1)  In Matthew, it comes during the Sermon on the Mount, and this is likely a prayer that Jesus often taught people regarding the same question: how are we supposed to pray?

Contextually, Jesus had been preaching about sincerity in our worship & our acts of devotion.  Charitable deeds were to be done unto God, prayer was to be done unto God, fasting was to be done unto God…that’s was the test of our motives.  Of course, when Jesus taught about prayer, He took a bit of time aside to teach people how to pray.  Like everything else Jesus taught about in the Sermon on the Mount, it wasn’t about giving people one more legalistic thing to do; it was about giving principles for living as a citizen of the kingdom of God.  So He gave us an outline/model regarding how to pray – what things we ought to include in our prayer.

What we find first & foremost is that prayer is about God.  This goes against the opposite of much of our practice – typically when people go to God in prayer, it’s because they need something.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with expressing our needs to God & Jesus tells us to do exactly that in vs. 11, but that’s not the primary reason for prayer.  The primary reason is to talk to God, because prayer is about God.

Matthew 6:9 (NKJV)
9 In this manner, therefore, pray:

  1. What does it mean to “pray”?  Prayer is simply talking to God through Christ Jesus.  It sounds simple, but it’s worth remembering.  We have a tendency to treat prayer as anything BUT talking to God through Christ Jesus.  If we use this definition, we have an act – an audience – and an advocate.  If we miss any of these aspects, then we’re missing out on what prayer is supposed to be.
    1. The act: talking/communication.  Too many people treat prayer as a magic incantation & not simple communication.  They believe if they utter just the right words in just the right order with just the right emotion, then God will be forced to act upon their request because of what they said.  That has nothing to do with communication; that’s treating God as a genie who’s enslaved to us, rather than us being the ones entreating God.  No – prayer is simple communication.  Just as you would talk to someone else, you would talk to God in prayer.  Granted, we need to remember to Whom we’re speaking, and treat Him with the proper respect (after all, we talk to our kids differently than we talk to our supervisors), but in the end, it’s just simple communication.  We don’t pray to spit out a few words prior to eating dinner – we don’t pray just so we can get it “out of the way” before starting a Church service – we pray so that we can communicate with our glorious God.
    2. The audience: God.  How important it is to remember that when we pray we talk to God!  For those who are not Christians, this means that they cannot pray to anyone except the God of the Bible.  Pagans can spend all the time they want praying to the spirit of mother earth – other religions can waste all the breath they can praying to their made-up gods & goddesses – others can try to pray to the “Big Man upstairs” – but it’s all wasted breath & time.  Prayer offered to anyone except the God of the Universe is just hot air.  Even confessing Christians fall into a similar trap.  Multitudes of people who claim Christ as Lord spend time praying to dead saints or ideas of God that are flatly unbiblical.  That’s NOT prayer.  Prayer is communication with God, as God is revealed in the pages of Scripture.
    3. The advocate: Christ Jesus.  This is an aspect of prayer that we don’t see explicitly modeled in the Lord’s Prayer, but considering that Jesus is the One who gives us the prayer, it’s certainly implied.  The Bible tells us clearly that there is one mediator between God & man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5).  We absolutely need a mediator in our prayers, because there’s no way we can consider communicating with Almighty God when we’ve got sin in the way.  Think about it: how does someone get an audience with the President of the United States if they stand accused of treason & attempted assassination?  The charges against the person must be first addressed before they could ever consider talking with the President without punishment.  Likewise for us – we need to have our charges (our sin) addressed first…and the only way our sin can be addressed is through the cross & resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    4. When we have the right act, the right audience, and the right advocate, THEN we have prayer.  And that’s what Jesus teaches us about in the Lord’s Prayer.
  2. Keep in mind this isn’t a rote requirement; this is a model.  Jesus says, “In this manner, therefore, pray…”  Basically saying, “Do it like this.”  It wasn’t a matter of teaching the exact words to be repeated every time – the Bible is full of prayers that use different words.  Jesus Himself uses different words when He prays.  Yet when it comes to a “manner” of prayer – when we need a model of prayer, we can come to the Lord’s Prayer.  Are the words themselves OK to pray?  Absolutely – otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have given them to us.  But the words are not OK to pray without meaning or thought.  Jesus specifically forbids the practice of using vain repetitions – mindless repetition without thought or intent.  The Lord’s Prayer is supposed to MAKE us think; not to turn off our minds & go on “autopilot.”

…Our

  1. It’s interesting that Jesus ensures that this is a corporate prayer, rather than an individual one.  It’s not that we don’t have an individual relationship with God (we do!), but that’s not the focus of this particular prayer.  In the model prayer that Jesus gives us, we’re to have a kingdom-wide perspective – we’re to pray to God knowing that we’re part of the larger body of Christ.  How different this is than some of our “normal” times of prayer!  Granted, there are some people who are champions of intercession – they repeatedly go to the throne of God on behalf of others, and truly pour out their hearts regarding the needs of someone else.  Yet so many others of us go straight to our own needs before it ever dawns of us to think of someone else.  Intercession for someone else becomes almost an afterthought.  In the model prayer, Jesus doesn’t even allow that kind of selfishness to exist!  As He begins, He starts with the thought of “Our.”  WE belong to something bigger than us – we have a joint privilege with one another in relationship with God.
    1. How sad it is that so many Christians have a “Lone Ranger” mentality.  They believe, “As long as it’s just me & the Lord, I’ll be fine.”  No, that’s NOT fine.  When Jesus saved you, He never intended for you to go off & live as a hermit completely apart from other believers.  He intended for you to be part of His body.  He gave you gifts to help edify His church.  He gave you a commission to go & make disciples (which by definition means there will be other believers, because YOU are the one sharing the gospel with them).  Praise God for our personal individual relationship with God – but that personal relationship is something that is shared between every other believer in Christ.  To know the fullness of what Jesus has in store for us, we simply must be in fellowship with other believers.
  2. Why are we “our”?  Because Jesus tears down the walls between us.  Understand that prior to coming to Christ, we had virtually nothing in common with one another.  Some of us had more physical things in common with folks who share a hobby than with the person sitting next to us in church.  Yet in Christ, we’ve been given a common bond!  We who were once not a people have been made the people of God (1 Pet 2:10).  We’ve been given a common heritage (saved from sin by the grace of God), a common bond (the fellowship of love through the Holy Spirit), and a common future (a co-inheritance with Christ).  If we came from different backgrounds, Jesus tore down the wall of separation between us & became our Peace (Eph 2:14).  If we came from different social statuses, we’ve been made one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).  If we had different skills and giftings, we’ve been perfectly fit together to be made one body in Christ (1 Cor 12:12).  When we see physical objects put together in a beautiful fashion, we often call it “art” – there’s nothing more beautifully artistic than what Jesus has put together in His Church!
    1. BTW, this isn’t just between other men & women, but also between us & Jesus.  We share the same Father as our Lord Jesus Christ!  THAT’s an expression of His glorious grace!

… Our Father

  1. With these two words, Jesus teaches the Jews who were listening to Him something absolutely amazing & revolutionary.  Understand that culturally, a Jew rarely (if ever) referred to God has his/her Father.  They would certainly refer to Abraham or Jacob as their father – they would refer to God as their King & Lord – but only under the most rare of circumstances was God even thought of in a fatherly role, much less would they actually dare to call God their Father.  Yet here comes Jesus, and He repeatedly calls God “Father” in His own prayers, and teaches the disciples to do the same. … Think about what this means for them (and us).  Our God is the Sovereign Creator over all the Universe, but when we approach Him in prayer through the blood of Jesus Christ, we don’t cower before an Almighty Tyrant.  We’re not kept at a distance where we have to appeal through saint upon saint who might perhaps breathe a word to God on our behalf.  We don’t have a veil of separation that cuts us off from any personal relationship with God.  We come to God as our Father.  We have intimate, personal relationship with Him.  We show Him the respect & fear He deserves, but we have close fellowship with Him – beyond any of the wildest imaginings of the ancient Hebrews!
  2. The parentage of God.  In one sense, God is the Father of all mankind.  He is the Creator of every human life, and ultimately every human being on the planet is descended from Adam, who was made by God.  The fact that we have a common creator in God is reason enough to treat our neighbors with love & respect, no matter how different they may otherwise be from us.  In another sense, however, God is only the Father of those who belong to Christ Jesus.  When the Jews accused Jesus of being possessed, He countered by telling them they were of their father, the devil (Jn 8:44).  It is in Christ that we’ve been given the right to become the children of God (Jn 1:12), which by definition means that when we were without Christ, we were NOT God’s children.  Yet in this prayer that Jesus gives to the disciples of the Kingdom, we are instructed to call God “Our Father.”  What blessed privilege!  What astounding grace!  We who were once outside of the family of God have now been brought near by the blood of Christ.  We who were once the enemies of God are the slaves of God, but much more than slaves.  We are the people of God, but much more than His people.  We are the friends of God, but much more than friends.  We are His children & He is our Father!
  3. We are made God’s children by birth.  Just like any child is born, we also need to be born if we’re to be the children of God.  Keep in mind that before anyone comes to faith in Christ, we are first found to be spiritually dead.  This goes all the way back to Genesis – when Adam sinned in the Garden by eating the fruit of the tree, God had promised that “in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die” (Gen 2:17) – and he did.  Adam did not die physically that day, but he did die spiritually & that spiritual death was passed along to every single human being that followed.  (After all, Adam couldn’t pass on life, because he had spiritually died already – all prior to having children.)  This presents a massive problem to us in that only those who are spiritually alive can reside with God in heaven.  This was exactly the issue that Jesus was referring to with the Pharisee Nicodemus: John 3:5–6, "(5) Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." []  If you’re physically alive, you’ve been born of water/the flesh – yet if you want to enter the kingdom of God, you must be born of the Spirit.  And that’s exactly what Jesus does for those who turn away from their sins & embrace Jesus by faith as Lord!  Jesus went on to say that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life (Jn 3:16).  If you want to be a child of God & live with God in heaven, then you must be given a new birth.
  4. We are made God’s children by adoption.  Not only does God spiritually make us His children by giving us a new birth, God legally makes us His children by adopting us as His own.  Romans 8:15, "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” " [] Those of us who were enemies of God have now been intentionally brought in by God to be His own family & children.  The extent of His grace is absolutely astounding!  Usually, when we think of adoption, we think of babies or small children.  In itself, this is a marvelous picture of love & grace.  A child who has no one that claims them as his/her own is lovingly brought into a family & given a home that they never would have had otherwise.  Yet culturally speaking, adoption to the ancients went beyond the age of a young child.  It’s rare that today anyone would think about going through the legal process of adoption for a 20 year old – yet that might easily be the case in ancient times.  Adoption at that time wasn’t only about giving children a family & safe home, but it was also about inheritance – the rights of being an heir.  (One of the more famous examples of adopted heirs was Caesar Augustus.)  To be adopted by God is to receive all the rights and privileges of someone who is naturally a member of the family of God.  When it comes to our relationship with our Heavenly Father, there can be no mistake – we have been made spiritually and legally His children!
  5. As God’s children, we have an inheritance.  This was one of the primary functions of adoption, and it’s a mind-blowing aspect of our relationship with God.  Because we have been given the rights of being children of God, we share in some of the same things that the only begotten Son of God has: primarily His inheritance.  Paul writes to the Romans that we are heirs of God & joint heirs with Christ when we suffer with Him (Rom 8:17) – meaning that when we identify with Christ, we share not only in His sufferings, but in His glory.  We may not grasp the fullness of what this means, but be assured that in the Millennial Kingdom, when Jesus reigns from His throne, we will somehow share in that inheritance.  Simply amazing!
  6. As God’s children, we experience His discipline.  Of course an inheritance is not the only practical demonstration of love that a child has from his/her father – the discipline of the father is as well.  God loves us too much to allow us to wander off in continued sin; He will allow severe consequences to come into our lives because of it.  Some Christians wonder: “How is it that when a non-believer does ____, it’s no big deal, but when I do it, I experience the loss of my job, am so miserable, etc?”  It may simply be the discipline of God.  A non-believer is not a child of God, and thus God does not extend the same loving discipline towards him.  Yet if we truly belong to Jesus Christ, it’s no wonder that we experience absolute misery when we wander off into sin.  God loves us enough to discipline us as sons (Heb 12:6-7).  The time to be discouraged is not when you’re experiencing God’s chastening; it’s when you don’t see it at all, and you know you ought to be.

… Our Father in heaven,

  1. Is God only in heaven?  Of course not…the Bible affirms that God is omnipresent – there’s no place in all of creation where God cannot be found. If we go to heaven, we’d find Him there – if we went into the grave, we’d find Him there as well (Ps 139).  God’s presence certainly isn’t limited to heaven. So what is Jesus saying here?  Heaven would seem to be where God’s throne is located.  Speaks of two things:
  2. First, it speaks of the transcendence of God.  God (being the God of all the Universe) is truly beyond us.  Whereas we are limited by time & space (we exist in a particular location at a particular time), God is not limited by anything.  His glorious throne is in Heaven, and thus He is truly beyond our comprehension.  What we can know of God is what He reveals to us.  We know about Him through His written word, we know of Him through the full revelation of Jesus Christ, and we know Him experientially through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Yet in all of this, we are still limited by our finite brains.  We attempt to consider the inner workings of the Trinity & we fall short.  We try to reconcile the infinite love of God with the absolute righteous wrath of God, and the best we can come up with is only a glimpse of what the fullness of His plan is.  He is transcendent on every level.
    1. What a marvelous combination this is with His Fatherhood!  The Almighty Infinite Heavenly Transcendent God is still our Father.  Amazing!  What privilege we have in Christ!
  3. Secondly, it speaks of the supremacy of God.  The reason we think of God being in heaven is because that is where His throne is located.  When the mercy seat was placed on top of the ark in the ancient tabernacle, it symbolized the throne of God.  When John received the revelation of Jesus Christ, he actually SAW the glorious throne of God (Rev 4).  God sits on the throne because He is supreme over all the universe. As the King, God is in control.  Satan will surely continue to rebel against God & attempt to steal, kill, and destroy (as we’ll look at later in the Lord’s Prayer), but even Satan cannot go beyond what God will allow. [Re: Job]  Why?  Because God is in control.
    1. Knowing that God is supremely in control ought to give us great confidence in our prayers!  We do not appeal to a God who is helpless; we have an audience with the Almighty God of the universe.  When we go to God in prayer, we have every assurance that what God wants to happen WILL happen because it is GOD to whom we pray!
    2. Do you believe this?  Do you truly believe that God can & does act when His people pray according to His will?  It seems that too many Christians are in actuality fatalists – they simply believe “what will be, will be.”  As if God is deaf, or incapable of action.  Know that our God CAN & DOES act.  He is supreme & has all power to do whatever He desires according to His will.  So go to God in that confidence!

…Hallowed be Your name.

  1. We don’t use words like “hallowed” too much anymore.  What does it mean?  “Hallowed” comes from the same root word in the Greek as “holy.”  The primary difference is that “holy/saint” is a noun; “hallowed/consecrate” is a verb.  Obviously God IS holy, simply by the nature of His character.  He is set apart & there is truly none more singular, none more pure than Him.  But what Jesus is teaching us to pray in this prayer is not only the admission that God is already holy, but praying that God’s name would be made holy.
  2. Speaks of the sanctity of God.  God is set apart – dedicated unto His own purpose – fully pure and holy in every respect.  Sin cannot be found in God because God is the very definition of righteousness, holiness, and goodness.  We find our own ideas of purity & holiness by gazing upon the character of God.
  3. Specifically this is in reference to God’s “name.”  Culturally speaking, the name represented the person.  When God promised to let His goodness pass by in front of Moses, God said that He would proclaim His name to him (Exo 33:19).  Yet God said much more than a single name – God proclaimed His entire character to him.  Exodus 34:6–7, "(6) And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, (7) keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” " []  Contextually speaking, ALL of that is God’s name.  God’s name is reflected in His character, which is merciful gracious, just, etc.  God’s very name demonstrates His holiness.  All of who He is can be summarized in His name.  Has God revealed His name?  Yes!  There are many titles & descriptions of God in the Bible, but there are two names that stand above the rest:
    1. Yahweh: When Moses asked God “Who shall I tell the Hebrews who sent me?” God replied “I AM WHO I AM,” (Exo 3:14).  “Yahweh/Jehovah” is simply the name that refers to this. (2nd person)  It means the “Ever-existent One.”  Obviously, a baby does not name him/herself – they are named by their parents.  Yet God has no creator; He IS the Creator & He has simply always been.  Thus He is simply who He is – He is Yahweh, the self-sufficient Almighty Creator God.  When we worship God as Yahweh, we’re worshipping the God of the Bible, the one true God in all the universe.
    2. Jesus:  Jesus told us very clearly, “I and my Father are One,” (Jn 10:30), and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” (Jn 14:9).  To look at Jesus is to gaze upon God Himself, thus when Jesus instructs us to pray, “Hallowed by Your name,” we are instructed to pray that Jesus’ name would be hallowed among us.  The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh is Salvation” – it’s a reference to the gospel itself as Jesus is the only One who can provide salvation.  Thus He has been given the name which is above every name, and we are to sanctify it with our prayers and with our actions.
  4. So if the holiness of God is already seen in His name, how can God’s name be made holy?  For God’s name to be made holy is for God to be worshipped as holy & represented as holy.  When people reverence the name of God, they’re revering God Himself.  That much may be obvious to us, and it’s no wonder so many of our worship songs speak of “Name” of God.  Yet it’s not only about reverence; it’s about representation.  A servant who goes in the name of his king represents the king.  A child who goes in the name of his father represents his father.  We bear the name of Christ (“Christian”) and we go out into all the world in His name.  When we represent God rightly, we act in a way that hallows God’s name.
    1. Do we act in such a way as God’s people that God’s name would be reverenced & made holy?  Or do we bring shame upon the name of our God? When we pray that God’s name would be hallowed, we’re not only praying for God & to God, but we’re also praying that God would use us for His glory.

Conclusion:
It’s only one verse, but there’s a lot to it!  What we might call the “invocation” to the Model Prayer is what sets the tone for the entire prayer.  As Jesus teaches us to pray, He does not teach that we launch into our laundry list of requests – but rather, we spend time remembering to Whom we speak & communicate.  The Lord’s Prayer begins (and ends) with worship as it begins with our thoughts upon God.

Christian: is this how you pray?  We can ask this same question for every study we do in the Model Prayer & we’ll certainly ask it here.  Do your prayers start with worship, acknowledging that through Jesus Christ, God has made you part of one body, the Church – given you a new birth & adoption as a child of God – asking for His name to be hallowed in your own life?  It’s about His work & His glory, and it’s a wonderful way to begin our prayers.  Be challenged this week to pay attention to your prayers.  Do you begin with God or with yourself?

If you’re not yet a believer in Christ, the Lord’s Prayer might be a prayer you have memorized, but it’s not really a prayer that you can yet pray.  When we come to God according to this model prayer, we’re coming to Him as “Our Father” – yet the only way He can truly be our Father is when we experience the new birth & adoption.  That only comes through Jesus Christ.  Outside of Jesus, people are forever separated from God, yet in Christ we are brought near & made sons & daughters of the King.  John 1:12–13, "(12) But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: (13) who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." []  This is the birth you need; yet you must “receive” Jesus Christ in order to experience it.  What does it mean to receive Jesus?  It means to humble yourself before God, turning away from your sin & your own self-rule over your life – recognizing that Jesus is none other than God in the flesh Who died for your sin upon the cross & offers you forgiveness & life through His resurrection – and then surrendering your life to Christ by faith.  Entrusting everything you are & everything you have to Jesus Christ as Lord (your Lord).  If you’ve never done that before, you can do that today through prayer.

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