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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 17, 1999
Teach Us to Pray, Part 3
Over the past several weeks we have been examining the section of the Sermon of the Mount that is often referred to as "The Lord’s Prayer." As we have seen, it is not really the "Lord’s Prayer" in that He never prayed it – Jesus had no need to as for forgiveness. It is in reality Jesus’ instruction for prayer. It is a model for prayer set in the context of explaining the nature of true righteousness as compared to the religious righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.
In Matthew 5 Jesus describes the characteristics of those who were truly righteous in that section we often refer to as "The Beatitudes." Jesus warned that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (5:20). Next Jesus compared the teaching of the Scribes to the truth and righteous intent of God’s word. In Matthew 6, Jesus is comparing the practice of true righteousness with the practice of the Pharisees. Starting in verse 5 Jesus begins to talk about the subject of prayer. Let me just briefly remind you what we have already seen in our study of these Scriptures.
There is a proper purpose in prayer, but the Pharisees did not demonstrate it. They prayed for the sake of the people around them that would hear them. As described in Luke 18, the Pharisees tended to pray for the purpose of their own glory and not for the purpose of talking with God and seeking His glory. The proper purpose of prayer is to communicate with God without concern for what people may think. That is why Jesus advocated praying in secret so that there would not be the temptation to pray with a concern about impressing people. True righteous prayer is focused on God alone.
In verses 6 & 7 Jesus explains the proper practice of prayer. Here Jesus contrasts the practice of the Gentiles who worshiped and prayed to false gods. Since their gods were figments of their own imaginations and demons empowering idols they could not pray with confidence that their prayer would be heard or given any attention. Consequently they developed elaborate systems in trying to get the attention of their false gods. Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 is a classic example of this. God is not impressed with long prayers or prayers repeated over and over again with the mind disengaged. The proper practice of prayer comes to God with the confidence that He is real and cares for us. We have the confidence that the Living God who created us is good, loving, merciful and gracious as well as omniscient and omnipotent. The true and living God knows our needs before we even ask.
It is with this already in mind that Jesus begins in verse 9 to explain to His disciples the pattern they should use for prayer. In contrast to the Pharisees and the Gentiles, they were to "pray then, in this way."
These first four elements of this model prayer remind us of who we are praying to and what life is really about.
Our Father who art in Heaven, This describes our relationship to the one we are praying to. It tells us how we are to address Him and approach Him. It tells us what He is like.
Hallowed be Thy name. This is the passion of prayer. We are to desire for God to be reverenced, honored, and treated with all respect and dignity. Our lives should reflect God’s holiness and we should promote others to walk in holiness.
Thy kingdom come. This is the desire of prayer. We long for the return of our Lord to set up His earthly kingdom of righteousness. Even more we desire to live as kingdom citizens in the present and be good ambassadors of Christ.
Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. This is the centrality of prayer. It is all about His will being done, not our own. This puts the focus on God and not on our own selfish desires. This teaches us that prayer is not bringing a wish list to God to get what we want, but rather a means by which our hearts desires are changed to align with God’s desires. To pray for God’s will to be done is to commit ourselves to seeking it out and being obedient to it. We want His will accomplished here on earth like it is in heaven.
The next three elements Jesus brings up in this model prayer changes focus somewhat and speaks to our needs and how to have them met. The first need mentioned is for sustenance.
"GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD." We need to seek from God the provisions for daily life. That is what the "bread" here is talking about – our basic needs for life. This is in contrast to the American culture in which we think that we provide for ourselves. Like the old farmer we pray, "Dear Lord, We have this farm and we have this land because we cleared it and worked hard to till it. We have this food because we worked hard to plant it, hoe it and harvest it. If we didn’t work so hard we wouldn’t have it. Amen."
There is a general failure to recognize that "every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17). God is the source for all that we need, and we should acknowledge that when we pray. We eat nothing, we wear nothing, and we have nothing that did not come from this earth, and every element in it is the work of the creative hand of God. Yes, the farmer has to work hard, and that very hard work should remind him that he lives on a sin cursed world (Gen. 3:17-19). His very hard work should remind him of his need for God. It is God that provides for us. Psalm 65:9-14 explains – Thou dost visit the earth, and cause it to overflow; Thou dost greatly enrich it; The stream of God is full of water; Thou dost prepare their grain, for thus Thou dost prepare the earth. Thou dost water its furrows abundantly; Thou dost settle its ridges; Thou dost soften it with showers; Thou dost bless its growth. Thou hast crowned the year with Thy bounty, And Thy paths drip [with] fatness. The pastures of the wilderness drip, And the hills gird themselves with rejoicing. The meadows are clothed with flocks, And the valleys are covered with grain; They shout for joy, yes, they sing.
Unless the Lord provides, the farmer will have nothing, and the same is true for you and me. And so in gratitude we are to thank God for all of his provision whether it is abounding or little. The Lord always provides for us what we really need. That may not always what we want, but it will always be what we need. Let me add as well that He knows our needs better than we do. He provides what is good for us even when we desire what is not good for us. Good parents feed their children a balanced diet. They make the kids eat bananas, apples, oranges, broccoli, peas, corn and drink their milk even when the kids are protesting that they want they only want junk food – greasy fast food, snack crackers, cola and candy. The amazing thing is that the more of the good food you eat the more you like it – even lima beans – and the less you like the junk food. The more you live with thanksgiving for what the Lord provides the greater you like it and the less you desire the things of this world.
Let me add here that while God is our provider, He is not bound to meet everyone’s needs. That promise is only to the righteous. In Psalm 37 there is a contrast in each stanza between the wicked and the righteous. Taking just the first stanza (vs. 1-6) as an example: Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass, And fade like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your judgment as the noonday.
The rest of this Psalm continues in the same manner, and this same truth is seen in other Scriptures. God does not want the righteous to be pre-occupied with material things. God wants you focus to be on Him. That is why He says in Matt 6:25-33, "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you." His promise is that as you place your priority on Him, He will meet your needs for physical sustenance.
God meets our needs in two ways. 1) Through our own labor (Gen 3:19). If we do not work we show ourselves to be unrighteous (1 Tim 5:8), and we should not be fed (2 Thess 3:10). 2) God meets our needs when we cannot work or our own resources are inadequate through His people and His own sovereign methods.
To pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" is to place our trust in God as the source that will supply all our physical needs. We will carry out our part in following after Him and in our own labor, and we lift our hearts in gratitude for what He has provided. And we do this on a daily basis. Let me add that for the Christian this is no option. It is a command. 1 Tim 4:3-5 tells us to receive what we have with gratitude, and that our meals are sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
More important than our physical needs is to have our sin taken care of, and so we pray:
AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS, AS WE ALSO FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS.
Modern psychology has made a valiant effort to get rid of man’s sin problem by redefining it, redirecting responsibility for it, or both. The sinful things that men and women do are now classified as this neuroses, that phobia, or some new psychological disease. Problems are most often attributed to the parents, but siblings, friends, acquaintances and sometimes even strangers can be blamed. Yet the sin problem and resulting broken relationships still remain.
I hope you understand that sin is a serious matter. It not something light, inconsequential or "no big deal." It has ramifications in our relationship with God and other people, and you cannot escape it on your own. Sin has, as it says in Romans 1:18, placed man under the wrath of God. That leads to tragedy after tragedy in this life as the person pursues the impure lusts of their hearts, descending into degrading passions and eventually a depraved mind. After this life it means separation from God in conscious torment for eternity.
Only in true Christianity is there forgiveness of sin. Some religions erroneously try to balance sin off by good works. Others try to help a person live with the guilt caused by sin, but only in Jesus Christ Himself is there forgiveness and hence freedom from sin. Forgiveness is God’s passing by our sin. Forgiveness is that aspect of love mentioned in 1 Cor 13 that "does not hold into account a wrong suffered." He wipes our sin off the record. We are no longer condemned to punishment and guilt. God casts it as far as east is from the west and He remembers it no more (Ps 103:13).
Having your sin forgiven starts with repentance from it and acceptance of the payment of its penalty on our behalf by Jesus Christ when He died on the Cross. (2 Cor 7:9-10) This is salvation and it brings about the restoration of a relationship with God.
But Christians still fall into sin, and when we do we need to "confess our sins," (1 John 1:9) to keep our relationship with God pure and clean. Without such confession, our relationship with God is hindered, Ps 66:18 says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear." There is a need of confession and repentance on a daily basis so that our relationship with God is never hindered. Guilt is a good indicator of the need to confess. God uses our emotions to alert us to what is going on in our lives. He uses guilt to alert us to the fact that there is sin that needs to be dealt with.
We recognize as well that those who are forgiven should respond to others with forgiveness. That is the point of the Lord’s parable in Matt 18:21-35 about the slave that owned the king a fortune and was forgiven that debt, but he in turn refused to forgive another slave a paltry sum. The result was that the king threw him in jail and called the debt back into account. This is the meaning of verses 14,15 in our text. "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." We do not earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but we do demonstrate our understanding of His forgiveness when we practice the same with others.
If I am unwilling to forgive others their small transgressions, how am I going to expect God to forgive mine? We in fact demonstrate that we do not understand God’s mercy and forgiveness and, like the unjust steward, we will bear the consequences. James 2:13 tells us, "For judgement will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement".
Feelings of bitterness and resentment are good indicators that there is an issue of unforgiveness in your life. When you are holding a grudge against someone then you are in danger of what the Lord has been talking about in this section. You need to first come to grips with the depth of your own sin and then put into practice the Lord’s command to love even your enemies and "not hold into account a wrong suffered." Those who understand the great forgiveness that they have received will respond by forgiving those who have by comparison wronged them very little. The believer wants to be forgiven, but even more he wants to walk in holiness so he prays,
AND DO NOT LEAD US INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL.
At first glance this may seem to be something akin to "God, keep me out of trouble." But it brings up a difficult question. Can an holy, righteous, pure, undefiled, blameless, unblemished, virtuous God possibly lead anybody into temptation? And if don’t ask, would He lead us into evil?
The answer to this dilemma is found in the fact that the word "temptation" is neutral. It can mean either a solicitation to evil or a testing.
God has no part in a solicitation to evil. James 1:13 makes this point clear. "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." The meaning in our text is "Lord do not lead us into trials/testings." Yet at the same time we know that we are to rejoice when trials come (Jam 1, Rom 5). The sense here is the same as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
I do not believe this element of prayer is for God to spare me from all trials in life. If that were true I would not grow the way I should. I believe the prayer is in agreement with 1 Cor. 10:13. "Father, do not lead me /allow me to enter a trial that is too great for me- one in which I would fall into sin."
This actually reflects the other elements in the prayer. God promises to meet the needs of the righteous, yet we are to pray that they are met. God promises to forgive, yet we are to pray that He will forgive us. God promises that He will not allow us to get into a trial that is over our heads, but will "provide a way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it," yet we are to pray that He will not lead us into a trial that is beyond us.
The prayer is a safeguard against our own presumption and false sense of security. We are to pray that the Lord delivers us from evil according to His promises, for evil is a real danger that is all around us. Jesus Himself prayed for the disciples and us in John 17:15 "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil [one]." Our prayer then becomes like that of Christ. We ask the Father to spare us the trial, but if the trial fits His wisdom and His way and His plan, then please protect me so that I may endure it and grow through it.
The prayer closes with a doxology that is a reflection of 1 Chron. 29:11 "Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and Thou art exalted as head above all." The prayer ends as it began centered on God.
If there is nothing else that comes through to us I hope that does. Prayer is centered on God, not on us. He is our Father, we want His name hallowed, we want His kingdom to come, we want His will to be done. We look to Him for all that we need- our physical needs, our mental needs, and our spiritual needs. He is our life. FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM, AND THE POWER, AND THE GLORY, FOREVER. AMEN.
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