Teach Us to Pray
THE LORD'S PRAYER
“Therefore you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Story of God
First, where does this prayer take place in the Story of God? We know from our work in this so far, that God created the heavens and the earth through Jesus. The Word was with God in the beginning, nothing was created unless he created it. God’s world is good; his ways are perfect; his power limitless – it’s his kingdom. In this kingdom, God creates men and women to be his managers – stewards of this good world he's made.
But out of nowhere, there is an intrusion, an opposition to this kingdom. An enemy shows up. A deceiver, a serpent – the devil – a living reality that is opposed to God and since he can’t kill God, he’s taking out his rebellion on God’s images, and tragically, the ambassadors are buying the goods! And instead of doing the will of God, humans dig in their heels against the will of God.
But we also see God is not content to stand back and let his plan fall apart, nor to eternally turn over his good world to this opposition, so he does something about it. It begins with a promise to Eve that this serpent will be crushed one day by one of her offspring, a promise that carried through generation after generation until the Word became flesh – Jesus himself, God in the flesh – here on earth to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.
That’s the overarching context of Jesus teaching us how to pray, and he starts it like this, in Matthew 6:
5“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.
WHAT PRAYER IS AND ISN'T
It’s not an informational exchange, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him. It’s a relational exchange, where he wants you to talk with him, interact with him, and want to be with him. God’s heart for humans, ever since the garden of Eden, is that we would walk with him, talk with him, know him, and, in John 17, Jesus says, "this is eternal life: That they would know you!"
So, because prayer is not about information, but about relation, Jesus continues in verse 9 “Therefore, you should pray like this:
Of all the things Jesus could have instructed us to call the Creator of the Universe, he says, call him Father. He doesn’t say, Our Judge. Our King. Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. All powerful. Omniscient. Eternal God. All true! But Jesus says, “Father”. It’s relational.
Secondly, notice that first word, “Our.” When you pray, Jesus says, don’t pray like you’re the only person on the planet. You belong to a family, where you are not an only child*. Revelation 5:9,10 says one of the songs being sung in heaven right now as we speak, includes this line: “You were slaughtered and you purchased people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.” We have brothers and sisters in every country, those who have been purchased by slaughtering the Lamb of God; who speak every language; who represent every race, every ethnic group, every tax bracket or economic status on earth. Some are already in the family and some are on the way. And God is our Father. And that “Our Father” is only possible because of Revelation 5, the Lamb who was slaughtered.
Our Father in heaven.
God is not "the man upstairs." He's not a bigger, better version of you. He exists in a totally different realm than we do. We are limited by time and space. I cannot go where this body cannot take me. I have physical limitations, like gravity, and fatigue, and my height, I have a beginning and a death, and my wisdom only goes so far. There are questions I don’t know the answer to. And all of our earthly fathers faced those same limitations. But Our Father in heaven exists outside of time. He made time! He’s not in a hurry and he’s never late. Ecclesiastes 3 says there’s a time for everything under the sun, and God oversees that time. He’s not bound by it.
He exists outside of space – he’s able to be everywhere at all times, understanding all things, seeing all things, knowing all things.
Isaiah 55:8,9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways….For as high as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts”, and Jesus is saying, that's who we pray to.
Your name be honored as holy.
Maybe your Bible or a version you memorized uses the word "hallowed." This is an old English word that means holy. Sacred. Set apart. Treasured. Valued.
This is not a statement Jesus is making – Your name is honored as holy. This is Jesus telling us how to speak to God…. Father “make it so,” that your name is treasured above all, valued above all, loved and cherished. Make it so, Lord God.
10 Your kingdom come;
Isn’t God already king? Isn’t this world already his kingdom? So how are we praying that it would come if it’s already here? Well, his kingdom has come in part, but it isn’t fully realized yet. Remember, Adam and Eve’s job was to work with God to expand the Garden; to move creation forward until the the knowledge of the glory of God filled the earth. The part that isn’t fulfilled yet is where the we know and see Jesus as he is, and the presence of sin completely eliminated from the earth. So, pray to that end, Jesus invites us. Pray that the kingdom of God would come!
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
How is his will done in heaven?
Psalm 103:20 – Bless the Lord, all his angels of great strength, who do his word, obedient to his commands. Even in the book of Job, we learn that Satan and his demons cannot act unless they first have permission from God.
So we’re praying, Father, let it be that your name is revered and honored by everyone in my city, in my family; Let it be that your name would be so treasured and valued by the people in my workplace, and in this world, that the darkness would be pushed back and your kingdom of light would invade, to the point where we are as obedient and reverent to your will as all the angels in heaven are; again modeled to us by the life of Jesus. And Lord, we can’t do your will on earth if we’re dead, so...
11 Give us today our daily bread.
Bread refers to everything we need to live. Clothes, food, shelter, etc. Lord, you know what we need before we even ask. I trust that whatever you give me today is what I need for today. If you didn’t give it, I don’t need it.
Jesus isn't saying you shouldn't pray for safety, food, shelter, clothing, but he's asking us to pray for those things in light of the bigger picture. Pray for your daily needs in light of the bigger story of God.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Pastor Tony Evans says this verse is why this prayer should not be called the Lord’s Prayer*. It should be called the Disciples Prayer. The Lord never needed to ask for forgiveness. He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.
But Jesus knows our hearts and knows what it is to be human. And he knows that as we try to do God’s will here on earth, honoring his name, relating to him, we aren’t always going to get it right. We’re going to hurt each other. We’re going to work for our own kingdom to come instead of his, and we’re going to need forgiveness, and so we go to God and ask him to forgive our debts. That word, again maybe translated as trespasses in your Bible, means a guilty party who owes something. I mentioned a couple weeks ago how I broke a window with a baseball and had to go make it right. I stand guilty, and responsible for the damage I did. Forgive us our debts, our guilt, as we forgive those who stand responsible for damage they have done to us.
Now maybe that little word "as" in the middle of verse 12 that troubles you. Does that mean that we have to forgive people who have wronged us before God will forgive us? Wouldn't that be salvation by works? We’re earning our forgiveness by first forgiving others? No, we’re saved by grace through faith, not by works, so that can’t be.
Author/pastor John Piper helped me think of it like this… If I’m holding a grudge against someone, not forgiving them for how they’ve let me down or hurt me or abused me, and say “No, that is stupid. It would give license to repeat. I cannot and will not forgive them. I will treat them poorly until they recognize the damage they have done to me, ask for forgiveness and shape up” ––– and then we turn around and ask God to forgive us, what are we asking him to do? We’re asking him to do something we think is stupid! We’re asking him to do something for us that we have determined is unthinkable to do ourselves.
If we jump ahead to verse 14, Jesus keeps this one going – For if you forgive others their offenses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you as well. but if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.
Remember back to the first word of the prayer? OUR. To live with bitterness and unforgiveness in your heart is to carry on as if you are an only child. To live with unforgiveness is to not treasure God's name as holy.
I believe Jesus is teaching us that your relationship with God is only as good as your relationship to others. Is there forgiveness in your marriage? If not, the culprit is that you aren't treasuring God's name as holy. Is there forgiveness for your boss, your coworkers, you parents, your kids? If not, the culprit is that you aren't treasuring God's name as holy.
But think about who is teaching us to pray? He knows forgiveness is hard, and he knows we're going to struggle with it. But he also knows we have an enemy who is out for our destruction, making it even more difficult.
13 And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Here again, one could raise the question, why are we asking God to not lead us to temptation? Does God do that? James 1:13 says God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. So what does it mean to ask God not to bring you into temptation?
Again, Piper explains this really well. He says we all go through two kinds of experiences in our lives.
- Pleasure - things we enjoy, experiences, beauty, relationship, etc
- Pain – things that are uncomfortable; sickness, loss, grief, etc
Each of those arrive in two ways
- Test from God to see how we will respond
- Temptation from Satan to try to get us to respond
And each of these has a desired outcome.
- God allows you to experience pleasure as a test, with the desired outcome that you will thank him, honor him as God, worship him and enjoy him.
- Satan’s temptation, as you experience the pleasure, has the desired outcome that you will worship the pleasure. Worship the experience. Worship the thing. Make it ultimate in your life instead of thanking God.
- God allows you to experience pain as a test, with the desired outcome that you will trust him. That you will believe that your circumstances don't define you, but that God still speaks a better word over you than your trial does.
- Satan tempts you in the same pain to despair. To lose hope. To refuse forgiveness. To hold onto bitterness. To doubt God’s goodness.
So, Jesus prays, Father, don’t allow us to be destroyed by the tests and trials that come our way, rather, deliver us from the enemy and the destruction that he wants for us. Lord the temptation is that I will want to give money, and pray, and show up at church so I’m noticed. The temptation is to make this life my own kingdom. The temptation is to not forgive others when they’ve wronged me, but to take revenge. The temptation of Satan in the garden of Eden, the temptation of Satan in the desert with Jesus, is that you aren’t enough; that you are holding out on me.
What do you pray for?
If I sat with you in the car, at your desk, at your kitchen table when you’re praying, what would I hear? How does it line up with what Jesus wants us to pray? If you're like me, we probably mostly pray things like: keep us safe, help the food to be useful for our bodies, give us a good day, etc. Those aren’t necessarily bad, in fact, Jesus invites us to pray for our daily needs. But let me show you how Jesus puts those things into perspective for how we talk to God:
Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts – We have not lived by nor sought your will. Our "on earth" doesn't always look like "it is in heaven."
As we also have forgiven our debtors. – One of the markers of your kingdom coming is when I forgive others who have hurt me. The darkness your kingdom is coming to push out, lives in my heart. May your kingdom come in my heart, by helping me to forgive others.
And do not bring us into temptation – every temptation of Satan is to lessen your name, to make it less than holy. I'm tempted every day to make this life about me, about my advancement, my business, my goals...
So Father, deliver us from the evil one – Like a Father protects his family, protect us from our enemy. Provide for us our deepest needs, because you can see the whole picture at once.
It's all about Jesus
Jesus honored his Father's name as holy; Jesus was the one who brought the kingdom of heaven to earth; Jesus perfectly did the will of the Father, to the point where he would be criticized by the religious, "How can you say that?" and his response is, "I only do what my Father tells me to do." People would ask, "how can you heal people on the Sabbath, and trample the traditions we have?" and Jesus would respond, "I only do what the Father tells me to do."
It was Jesus who not only met our need, but was the Bread of Life. He's the true food we need every day. It was Jesus who forgave those who nailed him to the cross, saying, "Father forgive them. They don't know what they are doing." It was Jesus who went through the wilderness, enduring the same temptations you and I face, overcoming the evil one, so that we would one day be fully delivered from suffering and sorrow and evil. And this same Jesus would go to the cross, carrying the sin of the world, dying in our place, so the head of the serpent would be crushed.
And because he eternally loved the Son, and because in every moment of his 33 years of life, Jesus honored his Father’s name as holy, eagerly prayed for and worked toward the kingdom of heaven coming, God’s will to restore and redeem sinners, God raised Jesus from the dead, and ascended him into heaven where he right this moment sits at the right hand of God, glorified and interceding for you and me until the day he returns to claim his own.
And when God brings you from death to life, and opens your eyes to see and believe that Jesus is the rescue plan, then his life of obedience, his victory over sin, his position in the Family of God is applied to you, your deepest needs are met, and sin and death no longer have any power over you.
Father God, yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
*The Secret to Powerful Prayer (September 15, 2019) - Tony Evans Sermon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVkC-zzubWY)