(Preached at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, 5-10-15)
I attended a men’s retreat last year and I had the opportunity to talk to a man who shared with me that when he was a young Christian, he was challenged to spend an hour in prayer, so one day he went outside and got down on his face before God and began to pray. He said he prayed for everyone and everything he could think of, but he knew it wasn’t anywhere near an hour yet, so he prayed for them all again — and then again a THIRD time. He said then he looked down at his watch to see what time it was — and only 5 MINUTES had gone by! Some of you here today might admit to having the same problem.
I hope that this week you have taken seriously the commitment we talked about last Sunday in our “Disciplines of Disciples” study, of meeting God first thing every morning in prayer. We have seen that if we are going to be successful disciples of Christ, that we need to adopt some consistent disciplines in our lives, including spending time in “the pure milk of the word”, and in prayer first thing in the morning. But HOW should we pray?
Jesus’ disciples could see, first-hand, the importance of the role of prayer in Jesus’ ministry, and they asked Him to teach them how to pray. Many of us are familiar with the prayer that Jesus gave us in Matthew 6:9-13 of The Sermon on the Mount, which we often call “The Lord’s Prayer.” But as we shall see, this is not really so much “The Lord’s Prayer” as it is the prayer that Jesus gave US, to teach us how to pray.
(This message will be a bit of a review for those of you who are coming to our study on the Model Prayer on Wednesday nights. We are looking at this in more detail during that time, but I wanted to be sure to share a summary of it here on Sunday morning, so that the whole church family will get an opportunity to be exposed to this teaching. If you’d like more detail on this Model Prayer, I hope you’ll join us on Wednesday nights, check those out the messages on the Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church podcast, or you can read the printed text of each of those lessons on my website at http://www.shawnethomas.com)
I. The PURPOSE of the Model Prayer
:9a “Pray in this way”
Many people misunderstand the real purpose of the Lord’s Prayer:
A. It is NOT a ROTE prayer.
It was NOT intended to be a “rote” prayer that we just pray over and over. That is obvious from verses 7-8, where Jesus is introducing this prayer, and He says, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him”. So Jesus specifically commanded us NOT to use “rote” prayers that we say over and over until they lose their meaning.
I think it’s incredibly ironic that the very prayer that Jesus gave us right after He said, “Do NOT use meaningless repetition” has in fact become for many a meaningless repetition because they pray these exact words over and over. It is hard to pray anything over and over without it becoming a “meaningless repetition.” And unfortunately that is just what so many religious groups have done with it!
B. It IS a MODEL OUTLINE for prayer
But Jesus did not intend for us to use this prayer as a meaningless repetition. Our prayers to God are not be rote “religious deeds”, but an expression of our relationship with our Heavenly Father. He said, “Do not use meaningless repetition … your FATHER knows what you need …”. In other words, prayer is to be the expression of the relationship we have with God. And notice that Jesus does NOT say: “Pray this”, but “pray IN THIS WAY.” (This accurately reflects the Greek text.) In other words, we are not just to pray these exact same words back to God, these are a MODEL of the kind of prayer that He wants us to pray, containing the ELEMENTS that He wants us to talk with Him about when we pray. Chuck Quarles, in his excellent commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, writes that the Lord’s Prayer “is a model to emulated, not a script to be recited.” It is an OUTLINE for prayer.
Let me give you an example: when my father was still alive, we communicated a lot via e-mail. Dad would often send me a note, and he would talk about the weather where he was for a while, and then his health, and then what he had going in his garden, maybe talk about the latest OU game, and he would ask about Cheryl & kids. Now when I got his e-mail, I would read it, and then hit “reply”, and I would look at what he wrote, and reply with my own thoughts about each section. What was the first thing he talked about? It was the weather. So I might comment on that, and maybe tell him how the weather was where we were. When I had finished a paragraph about that, I would go back to his e-mail and look: what did he talk about next? Oh, his health! So I would write about that for a while. What next? The OU game. So I would write what I thought about that last game — and so on through each section of his e-mail. I might add a topic or two to it, but I would generally follow the outline of the letter he had sent me, because I knew that these were the things my father wanted to talk about with me. I didn’t just hit “reply” and send his same letter back to him — that is not what he wanted. He wanted me to talk with him about the topics that he gave me.
I believe that is exactly what the Model Prayer is. Jesus did not give it to us so that we could just memorize it and hit “reply” and send those same words back to Him — just like Dad didn’t want me to send his same note back to him. He wants us to personalize it; to use it as an outline. Just like my dad’s e-mail, the things we find in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” are an outline of the categories of things our Heavenly Father wants us to talk with Him about when we pray: His name, His Kingdom, His will, about our needs, forgiveness, and spiritual protection. Let’s look at these categories together for a few minutes:
II. The OUTLINE of the Model Prayer
A. PRAISE & THANKSGIVING: “Our Father who is heaven, hallowed be Your name …”
Jesus teaches us that the FIRST thing we should do when we pray is to praise God. “Hallowed” is the Greek “hagiostheto” — it means “to make holy.” So the first thing we are to do in our prayer is to reverence, or worship, the name of God.
— Psalm 100:4 teaches us the same thing: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.”
— I read a great example of this in my quiet time some time ago in II Kings 19:15, when King Hezekiah and Judah were threatened by Sennacherib’s invasion. The Bible says that Hezekiah began his prayer: “O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” Despite the great distress he faced, he began his prayer with praise to God.
— This is the same thing we see from the disciples in Acts 4, when they had been threatened by the Jews. They gathered together and began to pray, and despite the problems they faced, they did not begin by bemoaning their problems; they began their prayer with praise. Verse 24 says “When they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, (AND NOTICE HOW THEY BEGAN: ) O LORD, it is You who made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is …”. They began with praise. They had some big problems — but they had a bigger God — and starting their prayer with praise reminded them of that.
It will help US too, if we will begin our prayers the way Jesus instructed, with praise.
But HOW can we praise Him as we open our prayer? Many would admit they do not know how to praise God like they should. Let me suggest 3 scriptural ways to praise:
That is what we just saw that the disciples did. Those words of praise in Acts 4 were from the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:11). There are many other scriptures we can use for praise too:
Many Psalms are songs of praise, like Psalm 150, “Praise the LORD … let everything that has breath praise the LORD”, or Psalm 100: “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth, serve the LORD with gladness, come before Him with joyful singing …” or Hezekiah’s, or other Biblical prayers of praise. Using one of these Psalms or other praise scriptures can be a great way to begin your prayer with praise to God.
I believe that God gave us music specifically to worship Him with. And when we sing songs to Him (vertically) those songs are prayers! Some of the best “prayers” we can pray are songs of praise to Him: He wants us to sing to Him, and the Psalms are full of commands for us to sing, like Psalm 30:4, “Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name.”
One of the best way sto praise God n your praise is to sing to Him. Use some of the hymns or praise songs you have learned in church, and sing them vertically, to the Lord.
3. GIVE THANKS
Psalm 100 says “give thanks to Him … enter His gates with thanksgiving ….”. Commands to give thanks are all through scripture. That’s easy; the smallest child knows how to thank God for things — like our son Paul who gave God thanks one time for getting to smash the bugs on his grandma’s back porch! Spend some time just thanking God for whatever you are grateful for.
This gives us a very simple, and do-able prescription for praising God in our own prayer times. We don’t have to memorize complex Hebrew names for deity in order to praise God effectively! Just read a Psalm or other praise scripture, sing songs of praise to Him, and give Him thanks.
There is more to prayer than just praise, but praise is vital. If we didn’t have time for anything else, we should spend our time praising God. Jesus said here in Matthew 6 “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” It is more important to praise God than to do anything else.
Praising God “sets the tone” for the rest of our prayer time by reminding us who God is, and what He can do. And on top of that, He is just worthy of our praise! It is what we were designed to do, and will be our continual, joyous occupation in heaven. But you don’t have to be a Hebrew scholar to praise God. Just use a scripture, sing some songs, and give Him thanks.
When we’ve done that for some time, then we can move on to the next elements of the Model:
B. KINGDOM REQUESTS: “Your Kingdom come”
Here Jesus commands us to pray for the Kingdom. “The Kingdom of God” is literally the “rule” or “reign” of God. God’s Kingdom spreads here on earth as the gospel message is spread, that although we have separated ourselves from God by our sins, that He sent Jesus to die on the cross to forgive our sins, so that whoever would turn from their sins and receive Him as Lord & Savior would be saved. So we should pray for God’s kingdom to spread through those who are sharing that message: pastors and staff members, church Kingdom ministry work, mission points and missionaries — and the Kingdom work we ourselves are involved in. Pray for the advance of God’s kingdom.
It is not coincidental, of course, that Jesus has these requests in the order that He does.
NOTICE that He begins with the requests for GOD first, and for US second:
— Hallowed be THY name; THY Kingdom; THY will …
— THEN it is “OUR daily bread; OUR debts, lead US not …”
It is THY, THY, THY first — then OUR, OUR, OUR! That goes against our tendency to put ourselves first — and I think He’s doing that on purpose. He’s trying to get us to focus on things greater than ourselves, and especially His kingdom. So just like Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Pray for God’s Kingdom’s requests first.
That means we should spend time praying for our pastor and other staff members as they do God’s kingdoms’ work; pray for the work our church is doing; our services;
Pray for mission points, missionaries, those who are going on mission trips, and various ministries, and whatever Kingdom ministry YOU are doing. (And if you don’t have a Kingdom ministry, this is the place where you should ask God to show you what you should be doing!)
So you can spend a good deal of time here, praying for ministers and churches and mission needs. You may want to split them up, doing several for each day of the week. But Jesus teaches us that it is important that we pray for God’s Kingdom’s work.
C. GOD’S WILL: “Your will be done”
This is another important part of our prayer time, because in it we ask for God’s direction for our lives. This is significant, because this is just the OPPOSITE of what many so-called “Christian” teachers would have us do. They teach that you can just pick out whatever “vision” you have for your life, or business, or ministry, and ask God to bless that for you; that He wants you to be successful at living out “your dream.” But that is just the opposite of what Jesus actually teaches us here. He does NOT teach us to pray, “God bless our will.” He teaches us to pray, “THY WILL be done.” We need to remember that God Almighty is not our little “genie” up in heaven who exits to bless our plans. He is the King, and we are to submit ourselves to HIS plan, and pray, “Thy will be done.”
We need to pray that we would do God’s will in the day ahead of us. Last week we talked about Charles Kimmel’s article, “The Tyranny of the Urgent”, in which he says that many people just get lost in the pile of all of the so-called “urgent” things that are foisted upon them. But he says what we really need is to do what Jesus did: get up each morning and spend time with the Father and ask HIM to give us the priorities He has for us for the day. At the end of the article Kimmel said that Jesus didn’t heal every blind person in Palestine — but He could come to the end of His life and say, “I have finished the work that YOU gave Me to do.” We will be able to say the same thing — IF we will start our day asking Him to show us His will for the day. And that’s what we should do during this part of the Model Prayer.
And of course, from time to time we need help from God for specific decisions we need to make that will affect our lives greatly: what job should we take, or what person should we date or marry, etc. And we know other people who are struggling with God’s will as well. This is the place where we can pray for them too. Here is where we say to the Lord at the beginning of the day: “Thy will be done.”
Jesus modeled that for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. His flesh recoiled at the thought of facing the wrath of God in His body for our sins. But in perhaps THE climactic moment of all history, He called out to the Father, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” There is a sense in which Jesus is calling us here to a “Daily Gethsemane” — a point in our prayers in which every day we say to God, “Not MY will, but YOURS be done today.”
D. REQUESTS: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
As we see from this outline that Jesus gave us, our prayers are NOT to consist only of our needs and requests. We are to pray for God’s glory, kingdom, and will first. But there IS a place for our requests, and this is it. God DOES want us to bring our requests to Him, and that is what we should pray for during this fourth segment. Ask Him for the needs that are on your heart.
But notice that even these last three are not “MY … MY … MY …” — they are plural: “OUR”! That means that we are not only to pray for our own needs, but for those of others as well. Oftentimes we are too self-centered and selfish with our prayers.
I remember when I had graduated from seminary back in the 1980’s, and it was almost a year before I got an opportunity to serve at my first pastorate. I was praying every day for God to open the right door for me to a church. But one day as I praying, God nudged my heart with the thought: “What about Craig?” Craig was a friend of mine who had been out of school longer than I had been, and he had not been called to a full-time place of service yet either. But how much had I prayed for him? I was so focused on my own need, that I ignored the very same need in one of my friends. God convicted me of that, and I have never since that time, neglected to have have pastors and other ministers on my prayer list. It is not just our needs we are lift up here, but “our” needs — the needs of other brother & sister Christians as well.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time here, because we all know how to ask. We need to learn to pray for scripturally, and with the right motives, as James says, but we won’t take the time to go into that today. But this is the place in the Model Prayer where we are to bring our requests.
E. FORGIVENESS “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors”
This is the point in our prayer where we are to confess our known sins to God. Just ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the sins of the previous day which you need to confess to Him, and He will bring them to mind! And when He does, claim I John 1:9 (“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”) and know that you are indeed forgiven. This is an area that maybe we don’t want to spend as much time on, but we need to — NOT because we will be “lost” if we don’t confess every sin, but because we don’t want unforgiven sin to accumulate and become like a “cloud” that clouds our relationship with God. We need to stay current in confessing our sins to the Lord.
AND NOTICE ALSO: it is NOT just “forgive us our debts” but “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” If you think about it, that condemns a lot of people — because what that prayer is saying is, “Forgive me the way I have forgiven others”! Let me ask you something: if God forgave you the way that you forgive others, what would that mean for you?
We need to hear what Jesus said immediately following this Model Prayer: “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.” This is a vital teaching. If you do not forgive others, there will remain a cloud between you and God which will hinder your fellowship with Him. You need to take care of any bitterness, and any unforgiveness you may have towards anyone at this point in the Model Prayer.
F. PROTECTION: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil …”
I don’t think it is a coincidence that this comes where it does. There is a real order throughout the Model Prayer. Having just prayed for forgiveness of our sins, NOW we pray: “lead us not into temptation.” I have just confessed my sin; now help me to guard against doing it again. It seems somewhat akin to the old proverb: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, we are asking Him to protect us spiritually from the temptations of Satan. Implied here is that if we would spend more time in prayer guarding against sin and temptation, perhaps we will spend less time asking for forgiveness next time! Twice Jesus told His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Pray, that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:40, 46) Hence there must be temptation that can be avoided if we will pray in advance — and that is what He teaches us to do here.
And again, it not for ourselves only that we are to pray this part of the Prayer. It is “lead US not into temptation.” We are to pray for others as well. In John 17:12, Jesus said, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name … and I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled …”. Jesus said He “guarded” His disciples in prayer, and in this prayer He teaches us to do the same for ourselves and those we care about.
Thus, by following these 6 sections of the Model Prayer, we can talk with God each day about the things He indicated He wanted us to visit with Him about when we pray: praising His name, praying for the work of His kingdom, seeking and submitting to His will, asking for our needs and those of others, asking for forgiveness (and the grace to forgive others) and praying for spiritual protection for ourselves and those we love. So it is important to memorize this prayer: NOT so that we can pray it word-for-word back to God, but so that we can use it as a guide for our prayers, just like I did with my dad’s e-mails. Just as I would refer to the different categories my dad wanted to talk about, and write to him about them, so we can refer to the different sections of the Lord’s Prayer, and spend some time on each of them, before moving on to the next one. That is what this prayer is: a MODEL to guide us in our daily prayers.
III. USING THE MODEL PRAYER
A. Help to Pray Longer Prayers
So many people say, “I don’t know how to pray”, or “I don’t know see how anyone could pray for 30 minutes, or for an hour.” Many people are like the guy I talked to at the men’s retreat, and find it difficult to pray for any length of time. But it is not hard to see how you could spend more time with God if you follow the outline that Jesus gave us. There are 6 basic segments in the outline of the Model Prayer. If you spent just 5 minutes on each one, that would be a 30-minute prayer! And it is not difficult to pray much longer than that. During the “praise” portion, you can read a praise Psalm; you could sing several songs; if you spend much time at all giving thanks, you would be well over 10 minutes just for the praise section. You can do the same thing with the other sections too. If you follow Jesus’ outline, and talk with the Lord about the things He said He wanted you to talk with Him about, it is not difficult at all to spend an hour each day with the Lord in prayer. In fact, when I take following the Model Prayer outline seriously in my morning prayer, I find it pretty difficult to pray for less than an hour. And since we have begun our Wednesday night series on the Model Prayer, several of you have written or told me that you have have been able to spend more time in prayer, by using Jesus’ outline.
B. Help to Pray Better Prayers
But it is not just about how “long” we pray; it is about praying better quality prayers — the kind of Kingdom prayers that the Lord would have us pray. I have seen many people over the years use different models to pray: ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication), etc. But I have always wondered: why don’t we just use the outline Jesus gave us? It is so well-rounded and complete; surely no one thinks we can improve on it? We just need to USE it each day! We have printed a copy of this Model Prayer outline for everyone here today. I hope you will take it home with you and fill it out: write some prayer requests in each space, and start using it to pray. You might want to make copies and put different requests in it for each day if that will help you. Or if you are already very familiar with the Model Prayer, you can just go over it in your mind each day as you pray. But I believe that using the outline Jesus gave us will help us to pray better, more quality prayers.
C. It’s an Outline For Morning Prayers
Now let me clarify: this should be kind of prayer with which we start our day, every day, like Psalm 5:3 taught, and which Jesus modeled for us in Mark 1:35, which is vital. And be careful that you don’t become too mechanical about it. Remember, all of our prayers are to be an expression of the relationship that we have with God,they are not to be merely a “religious deed.”
But as important as praying in the morning is, we are not just to pray once in the morning and then forget it! We are to continue to pray little “spontaneous” prayers all through the day, and Lord willing, we are going to look at that discipline next week. But I don’t want you to feel like every single time you pray, you have to follow an outline of the Lord’s Prayer; you don’t. There are times when all you have time for is “God help!” — and that’s a good prayer for those times! But for your longer prayer times, and especially for those daily morning prayer times which are so vital, I hope you’ll take Jesus’ Model prayer and begin to use it tomorrow morning as you exercise “The Discipline of Ordered Prayer.”