How do you pray? (Matthew 6:7-15)

When I was 15, I was sure I knew how to drive.  I don’t know why I thought I knew how to drive.  I had no experience, training, or practice.  But I was sure I knew how.  When it was time to start drivers ed, I figured that this would be simple.  No drinking and driving, stay in your lane, don’t speed… got it.  After passing a few written tests, I earned my permit, and the roads would never be the same.  My parents (mostly my dad, as my mom developed a King’s Speech-esq stutter riding with me) took me around the streets of Salinas, and things went pretty well.  So, after a couple months, it was time to go to the big city of San Jose, and a real freeway.

I almost made it, too.  We were only a few miles from Fry’s Electronics.  I was driving the Ford Aerostar minivan, cruising along at exactly 55 miles an hour in the carpool lane, being passed by angry motorists on the right, and my dad suggested that I find a slower lane to drive in or speed up.  Thinking this was a test, to see if I’d break the speed limit, I get ready to change lanes.  Gotta check my blind spot….. still checking…. Gotta be sure…. “Look out!” my dad yells, and I’m looking at the BART train, as the freeway has headed right, while I’ve kept going straight.  No problem, I’m a pro, I’ll just turn a little right (*swings the car way too far to the right*), oops gotta go back left (*swings way too far left*), and now the vans going backwards across four lanes of San Jose traffic.  (I’ve always wondered what the other motorists thought was happening – a swarm of angry bees in the car? A drunk driver?) A couple seconds later, the car comes to rest, only after running (backwards, of course) into a retaining brick wall.

When the CHP officer came by a few minutes later, ready to write up a report, he was a bit confused: “No other cars were involved? You’re not drunk? Then why did you crash?”

Here’s why I share that story: Just because you think you know how to do something, it does not mean you know how to do it well. This is a whole genre of comedy: people who think they know how to sing, think they know how to water-ski, think they know how to pick-up people of the opposite sex, think they know how to cook, etc.

There’s a temptation to say this doesn’t apply to prayer, that any prayer said from the heart is a valid prayer.  Since the fourth century, the axiom has been around the church, “Prayer is simply talking to God.”  While this is certainly true, we must not mistake it to mean that any way that we choose to talk to God is good.

When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray (Luke 11:1), he answers their question, rather than simply telling them to ‘follow their hearts.’  How does he tell them to pray?

I. Christian prayer is not an attempt to manipulate God (v. 7-8)

The Pew Research Center found that 81% of Americans report prayer is an important part of their daily life. The same was true for the Greek and Roman culture Jesus was living in.

He critiques the “pagans” (people who didn’t believe in God) in verses 7 and 8 specifically for how they prayed.

Why did people “think they will be heard for their many words”?

The belief of the majority culture of the time was that gods were difficult and angry, and that they need to be cajoled and manipulated into do what you wanted. If you could say the right name (the secret name), you could grab the god by the tail, so to speak, and force him or her to give you want you wanted. I know, it sounds silly, but is it that far off from how we approach God now?  Have you ever tried to bargain with God? Offer to serve in a church, or be kind to your siblings, or give money to the poor, if only he’ll do something for you?

What is significant about what Jesus is saying about God in this section?

Jesus is saying something incredible about God here: He cares about you. You don’t have to trick him into being on your side, to doing what you want.  He’s for you, the way that a father is for his children.

Since we are sons and daughters of God through Christ, we don’t recite a prayer as magic.  We take Jesus’ instruction on how to pray to learn how to have a full relationship with the Father.

Should we avoid reciting the Lord’s Prayer by memory, then?

(Illustration) Imagine I came into our kitchen one evening and said to Becca, “Sweetie, I’d like to do something to help strengthen our marriage by showing you how much I love you.  What can I do?” Startled by the request and my pure romanticism, she offers, “Well, I hate doing the dishes.  Could you scrub the crock-pot that we made chili in?”  No problem, I say.   Go, have a seat in the other room, relax, I’ll take care of the crock-pot. And I do.  Then, proud of myself, I go watch some TV, leaving the rest of the dishes there.  A week later, Becca finds me in the kitchen, washing the crock-pot again.  The same the next week.  The following week, we don’t actually cook anything in the crock-pot, but I take it out of the cupboard, and wash it anyways.  At this point, Becca’s just confused.  The following week, pushing the rest of the dirty dishes out of the way, I take the crock-pot out of the drying rack (I never put it away last time) and start to wash it again.  Becca stops me this time: “Sweetie, you’re sort of missing the point.  I wanted you to help me around the kitchen, not just wash one specific dish over and over again.”  I know, I say (trying to save face), but I get a lot of peace by washing the crock-pot.  It reminds me of how I washed crock-pots growing up.

Is it possible to miss the point of the Lord’s Prayer?  Absolutely.

II. Christian prayer involves:

a. Coming to God as our Father (v. 9) Our Father in heaven,

The title of this prayer depends which tradition you come from.  Most Protestants call it “The Lord’s Prayer,” while many Catholics call it the “Our Father” (or Pater Noster, if you’re feeling nostalgic for the Latin). I’m going with the Catholics on this one.  These two words “Our Father” sum up the prayer in a remarkably simple way:

–          Our – Jesus’ way of praying is corporate.  Unlike the Greeks, who used prayer as a means of getting a leg up on others, we pray together. As the prayer goes on, you’ll find a disturbing lack of “I” or “me” language.

–          Father – Celebrates the relationship that we have with God, as people brought into the family of God through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Moreover, the “our” reminds us that we never come to the Father alone.  Galatians 4:6 says that it is by the Holy Spirit groaning within us that we cry out “Abba, Father!”  And it is through the Son, according to Hebrews 4:14-16, that we come before the Father at all.

God, you care for me as Father.  Not only me, but those throughout the world.  We come to you, the powerful one who is above all, because of Christ and through the Spirit, as sons and daughters.  Thank you.

Why is it significant that God is the “father in heaven”

Matthew uses “father in heaven” 13x times, to remind the reader of God’s power and control over all human affairs.

b. Worshiping God (v. 9) hallowed be your name

It’s in the passive voice, meaning (grammar alert!) that the subject of the verb is not stated.  Quick grammar reminder: Active voice is “Bob baked a cake.” Passive voice is “A cake was baked.”  The question for the passive voice is, “Who did it?”

The antiquated word “hallowed” is there because we don’t really have a word in English for it.  The best I could come up with was “may your name be holy-fied,” but that sounds like a boxer.

The idea, though, is that we’re praying that God’s name (that is, his reputation) would be accurately understand as holy (pure and powerful).

Whose responsibility is it for God’s name to be holy?

Is it God’s or ours?  Or both?  We are praying that God would work in us to make us the sort of people who lift up God’s name.

God, make us the sort of people who point accurately to who you are, who never do anything to diminish your name. Remind me afresh of what it means to worship you. Show me your goodness and greatness again through creation, through people, and ultimately through Christ, and cause me to well up in worship.

c. A yearning for God’s kingdom (v. 10) your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

In what ways is this prayer answered?

Whenever God’s rule is extended on earth.

A. Evangelistically – When we see someone repent of living for themselves, and begin to follow Jesus as their master and savior, we’ve seen a sign of the kingdom come.

B. Values – When we see the poor fed, the lonely comforted, the oppressed freed, and justice done, we’ve seen a sign of the kingdom.

C. Return of Jesus – Ultimately, this prayer is fulfilled by the return of Jesus, when he rules as Lord and King.

God, we pray that we would see things be the way they’re meant to be, like in heaven.  We want people to know you, and to live under your leadership as their master.  We want to see justice done for the poor, so that all men and women and children would be treated as made in your image, like in heaven.  We long for the day when heaven will come down, when you will return, and your kingdom will be here.

d. Dependence on God for our provision (v. 11) Give us our daily bread

Why is there an emphasis on daily bread?

Proverbs 30:8-9 Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

When we pray for our daily bread, we are praying for God to fill our needs in a way that engenders relationship between us.

God, thank you for bringing me to today. You have provided enough health, enough food, enough shelter, enough warmth, and enough security to bring me to today.  Thank you. God, I pray for those for today, too.

e. Our confession and forgiveness (v. 12; 14-15) Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

If you’ve ever tried to recite the Lord’s Prayer from memory in a group, this is the line that’s a train wreck.  Some people are saying “debts”, others “sins” and others “trespasses.” What gives?

Literally, the Greek word is “debts” and “debtors” – It’s what you’ll find in the NIV, ESV, KJV, and NASB.

Does that solve it?  Not really, because people might (understandably) wonder what on earth we’re talking about.  Is Jesus really saying that we owe money to God, and we’re asking for him to forgive our loan, and in return we will forgive the loans of people who owe us money?

The Anglican Book of Common Prayer, tried to help smooth this out by saying “trespass” and “trespasses,” though it seems like that only replaces one metaphor with another.

So some translations (NLT) just translate the metaphor for you: your debt to God is because of sins, so let’s just say, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sinned against us.”

Whatever translation you prefer, the idea is the same: Jesus is tying our forgiveness of others to our forgiveness from God.  And, in case you miss the point, he brings it up again in verses 14-15:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Confession is a normal part of prayer in the Old Testament, and we’re not surprised to find it here.  Confession is agreeing with God about what you did.  It’s bringing into the light what you’d rather keep under the bed.  But Jesus isn’t only concerned with our confessing, but our forgiveness of others.

Why is mutual forgiveness such a big deal to Jesus?

–          See also Matthew 9:5,6; 12:31-32; 18:21,35

Forgiving others is a non-negotiable part of being a disciple of Jesus.  It is required.  Why? Because it is a reflection of the way that we are forgiven by God.

Is there anyone you’re not on speaking terms with?  Is there anyone you need to reconcile to, as far as it depends on you?

God, show me where I have sinned today.  Show me how I have wounded others for my sake.  Show me how I have failed to honor you in my thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  Thank you for the cross.  Thank you that you have forgiven me, God. Where do I need to extend that forgiveness to others?  Who do I need to forgive and reconcile with?

f. Our need for protection from temptation and the evil one (v. 13) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

What happens if God doesn’t do these things?

Do you think it matters whether you pray this or not?  After all, God does not lead you into temptation anyways, according to James 1. And isn’t Christ the victor of Satan anyways? So, what are we actually praying for?

1. We’re praying that we would fall to temptation when it comes. When our sinful nature, or the people around us, or the enemy, provide a reason why we should prioritize the temporary over the important, the now over the real, may we be the sort of people who stand up tall, rather than get knocked over.

2. We’re praying towards the day when there will be no more death or sin, when we will be rid of the both the results and causes of sin.

God, when I am tempted today, bring me through it whole.  Through your Spirit make me the sort of man who does not wilt before temptation, but who is brought out the other-side complete.

Prayer Project

With at least one other person this week, pray through the categories of the Lord’s prayer daily.

Our Father in heaven,
may your name always be kept holy.
May your kingdom come and what you want be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us the food we need for each day.
Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us.
And do not cause us to be tempted, but save us from the Evil One.

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