Hudson Taylor was the missionary to China who founded the Inland China Mission which touched multitudes of Chinese with the gospel. When Taylor was home in England, a young man who was interested in the ministry decided to go and see him at a meeting at his headquarters. He wrote:
“His appearance did not impress me. He was slightly built, and spoke in a quiet voice. Like most young men, I suppose I associated power with noise, and looked for physical presence in a leader. But when he said, ‘let us pray,’ and proceeded to lead the meeting in prayer, my ideas underwent a change. I had never heard anyone pray like that. There was a simplicity, a tenderness, a boldness, a power that hushed and subdued me, and made it clear that God had admitted him to the inner circle of His friendship.”
I think it must have been that way to hear Jesus pray too. Isaiah says He had no outward appearance that we should be attracted to Him — and yet there was such power evident in His prayers, that His disciples came to Him and said: “Lord, teach us to pray.” They didn’t ask Him: “Teach us to preach”; or “teach us to heal”; but “teach us to pray.” They knew that prayer was the source of His spiritual power. And it is for us too. Prayer is THE highest activity of the human soul (MLJ) and we will never be all that we should until we learn to pray.
And that is why Jesus took time here in Matthew 6 to teach His disciples — including US! — how to pray. Two weeks ago we looked at some “Keys To Effective Praying” that Jesus gave us in this text, and now today we are going to study the Model Prayer He gave us in :9-13. This Prayer is very well known; perhaps about as much as any scripture in the Bible — and yet many who “know about it” don’t really understand what this amazing prayer is.
I. WHAT THE MODEL PRAYER IS:
To understand what the Model Prayer IS, we need first of all to understand what it is NOT. It is NOT a written-out prayer that we are to use word-for-word every time we pray to the Lord. Remember, Jesus had just said: “And when you pray, DO NOT use meaningless repetitions as the Gentiles do.” As I said a couple of weeks ago, it is amazingly ironic that people have taken the very Model Prayer Jesus gave us, after He said “do not use meaningless repetitions”, and made a meaningless repetition out of it! Jesus did NOT give this to us so we would pray these exact same words over and and over as our prayer to God. And He certainly did not give it to us so that we would pray it 10 times in a row, like some religions prescribe. That is a total distortion of the purpose of this prayer.
No, Jesus did NOT say, “Pray this.” Notice that He said “Pray then, IN THIS WAY.” What we find in this prayer are the kinds of things that God wants us to include when we talk to Him. If you notice, after the introduction of the prayer, in which Jesus teaches us to refer to God as “Our Father who is in heaven,” there then follow SIX REQUESTS which form the body of this prayer:
— the first is: Hallowed be Thy name
— the second is: Thy Kingdom Come
— third is: Thy Will Be Done on earth as it is in heaven
— fourth: Give us this day our daily bread
— fifth: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
— and finally, the sixth: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
(And after the 6 petitions, then there is the conclusion, “for Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory.”)
But you can see that the main body of this prayer has SIX REQUESTS. These six requests form an OUTLINE that Jesus gave us for prayer. We are not just to repeat these same words over and over; they are an outline; they are like “bullet points”, or “talking points”, or agenda items for a meeting, which lists the topics you are going to discuss.
Now I didn’t just “make up” idea on my own. I believe my first exposure to this idea of the Model Prayer as an outline came when I was reading British preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ messages on The Sermon on the Mount. When he came to the Lord’s Prayer/Model Prayer he wrote:
“There is nothing more exalted, and more elevating, than this wonderful prayer which the Lord Jesus Christ taught His people. Let us also remember that He taught it, not that they might just repeat it mechanically for the rest of their lives, but rather that they should say to themselves, ‘Now there are certain things I must always remember when I pray… There are certain things I must always bear in mind. Here are the headings for my prayer; here is the skeleton which I have to clothe; these are the lines along which I must proceed.’” (MJL p. 51)
In other words, the six requests of the Model Prayer are like the agenda for a meeting — they list the topics we are going to talk about. For example, when Jim & Keith & Amanda & I have a staff meeting, I usually make some notes in advance about what items that we need to discuss, and I’ll have those notes in front of me as we talk.
— Perhaps the first agenda item might be: “Review Sunday’s services” — is there anything we need to talk about that happened Sunday? If there is, we may discuss that for a while.
— Then when we’ve finished that, I might glance down at my note page and see what the next item is: “OK, we need to talk about our upcoming Sunday School teachers meeting.” So we talk about that; everyone gives their ideas and input, and we nail the details of that down.
— Then when we’ve finished that, I’ll glance back at my note page again, and the next item is: Discipleship Training; we need to plan that for next semester. So we coordinate the schedule, the day we are going to begin, etc.
And so on through the meeting. I don’t just sit there and READ my note headings to the staff; that would be boring and unproductive. No, those notes are a GUIDE, a list of the topics we need to discuss in the meeting.
What we need to understand is that THAT is very much what this Model Prayer is. It is an OUTLINE; these verses are not the exact words that we are to pray back to God; they are the headings of the topics the Lord wants us to discuss with Him when we pray. He wants us to talk to Him about His name, and His Kingdom, and His will, and our needs (our daily bread), about forgiveness, and not being led into temptation. Just like I don’t go into staff meeting or deacons meeting and just read the agenda topics verbatim to those who are there, we don’t just quote the Model Prayer back to God. No, IT IS AN AGENDA; an OUTLINE of the topics that God wants us to discuss with Him when we pray. Understanding that, let’s look at what these 6 topics are:
II. WHAT THE MODEL PRAYER TOPICS MEAN
“Our Father, Who is in Heaven, Hallowed Be Your Name”
“Hallowed” is not a word most of us use often; but it basically means “make holy.” It is praying, God make Your name holy — it is praising His name. So this teaches us that the first part of our prayer is to be given to praising God — which is just what Psalm 100:4 teaches us: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.” In other words, Jesus is telling us to begin our prayer time with praise and thanksgiving. There are several practical things we can use to do this:
— You can read a Psalm of praise to Lord; personalize it and pray it
— You can sing a song of praise: a hymn or chorus you have learned in church
— and you can thank God for the good things He has given you.
All three of these are good, Biblical means of praise.
B. “Your Kingdom Come”
This part of the prayer asks for God to advance His Kingdom in our world: that happens as God’s people, ministers, and missionaries share the gospel and make disciples, so this is where we pray for our churches, pastors & staff, ministries and church programs, as well as our missionaries and countries where the gospel is being shared.
NOTICE that the first requests Jesus teaches us to pray are for HIS KINGDOM — NOT the things we think we need. There is a place to ask for requests later — “give us this day our daily bread” — but our requests come after. His Kingdom is first — just like He taught us in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first His kingdom … and all these things will be added unto you.” We do this in a practical way in our prayers by seeking His kingdom requests first, and our own later.
C. “Your Will Be Done”
Here we pray for God’s will to be done: in our own life, in the “big” decisions we have to make; but also for God’s leadership in our life in the “little” things that day. We should pray that we would do His will with our time that day. And if we have friends or loved ones who have decisions to make, we can pray for God’s will to be done in their lives too.
D. “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”
THIS is the place where we ask for the things we need or want. But notice, it is NOT the first thing we do in prayer! Asking is way down in 4th place. FIRST we pray “THY name … THY Kingdom … THY will …” — and only then “give US this day our daily bread.” Jesus didn’t put it this way in His outline by accident. The things of God are to come first in our prayers. But there is a place for us to ask — and this is it!
E. “And Forgive Us Our Debts As We Forgive Our Debtors”
The 5th request is obviously asking for forgiveness of sin. We need to confess our sins at least daily to the Lord. Sin always puts a “cloud” between us and our fellowship with God, so Jesus made sure to put confession of sin in our daily prayer, to keep that “cloud” from building up between us.
And do not overlook that Jesus teaches to pray “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” As we confess our own sins and ask forgiveness, we need to remember to forgive anyone who has harmed us in any way, and if we don’t, God will not forgive us — it’s that important (we will look at that some more next week!)
F. “And Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil”
And then the last request of the six is a prayer for spiritual protection. We just confessed our sins; now we pray, “Now lead us not INTO temptation.” Help me not to have to keep asking forgiveness for the same things over and over; help me not to be led into it in the first place. Guard me, and my loved ones, from the temptations and attacks of Satan and his demons.
So I hope you see how these 6 requests are not to be prayed word-for-word right back to God every time we pray, but they are the “agenda”; the “general outline” of the “topics” He wants us to discuss with Him when we pray. We are to personalize it, and “fill in the outline” with our own words and requests.
So understanding that, we DO need to memorize the Model Prayer — it is one of the first and most important scriptures every Christian should memorize — and we should say it together from time to time to help us do that — but we are NOT to memorize it just so we can pray it countless times over & over to God as our prayer, but so that we have God’s “agenda” for our prayer time memorized, so we are always ready to use as our outline when we talk with God in prayer in the mornings.
III. HOW TO USE THE MODEL PRAYER
So this prayer is the model for the block of time that you should spend with God every day in prayer — preferably in the morning. Jesus prayed early in the morning, as we saw before in Mark 1:35; David said “In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice.” Great people of God give time to Him first thing in the morning in prayer.
And there are indications that this Model Prayer is a MORNING prayer. Notice it says: “Give us THIS DAY our daily bread;” it would be kind of funny praying that at the end of the day; it is obviously a morning prayer that Jesus intended here. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6 about how we are to put our spiritual armor on, and pray — well you put your armor on BEFORE you go into the battles of the day, not after! All these things point to the importance of a morning time with God in prayer — and this Model Prayer is the outline for that block of time we give to God in the morning.
Now, let me also add that the morning should not be the only time you pray during the day. You should start off the day with this “block” of time in prayer, and then get up from that time and just continue to “breathe” prayers to God all through the day. Now as you do that, you don’t have to run through the whole Model Prayer outline every time you whisper a prayer. You can just pick up the conversation with God where you left off, and say: “Oh, there’s Alan, Lord he needs you to help him today ….” and so on with everyone you meet. You don’t need to repeat the prayer outline for every individual, spontaneous prayer you pray.
ALTHOUGH — and let me add this as well: it CAN be helpful when you are praying for some specific prayer request, to run that request through the grid of this Model Prayer. Say for example you run into a difficulty at work, and so you stop and pray for that difficulty. You can use the outline of the Model Prayer to pray for that problem. For example, you could pray:
— Lord, here this is problem, but I pray that Your name would somehow be glorified in it.
— Let Your Kingdom somehow be advanced through this — that someone might be saved or grow spiritually through this.
— Let YOUR will be done as this is resolved.
— “Give us our daily bread” in this — provide the answer that we need to this.
— Forgive any sin in my life that might have contributed to this problem, and help me to forgive anyone else whose sin might have caused it.
— And Lord, lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil: keep us from bickering and blaming and accusing, and dividing over this. Keep the devil and his forces from using this for evil purposes.
May Your Kingdom, and power, and glory be shown in this problem I pray, in Jesus’ name.
Can you imagine how different our workplaces might be, if we had hundreds and thousands of Christians out there praying through the outline of the Model Prayer for every difficulty that came up on the job — and the same with our schools and homes too! But you can see how you can use the Model Prayer to pray effectively an individual prayer request, as well as an outline for your morning prayer time.
MANY people have told me that using this Model Prayer as an outline has revolutionized their prayer time, helping them to both a better QUANTITY and QUALITY of prayer time.
Many people want to pray, but they don’t really know what they are supposed to say to God. Here Jesus gives us an outline; not just words that we are to repeat back to Him verbatim, but an outline, an agenda of what our Father wants us to talk with Him about.
Many others say, I can pray, but I can’t pray very long. They say things like, I’ve heard people talk about praying for an hour, and I think that would be great, but I don’t see how I ever could. You may be like the man I talked to some time ago who decided he wanted to pray for an hour, and went outside, got down on his face before God, and prayed for everyone and everything he could think of — three times!! — but he looked down at his watch and saw he had only been praying for EIGHT MINUTES! Maybe you’d think; I just don’t see how somebody could pray for a whole hour.
But if you use this outline Jesus gave us, it is a lot easier to see how you could pray for an hour, isn’t it? There are 6 outline/agenda items; pray for an average of 10 minutes each, and you will have prayed for an hour. And you can do that with these:
— Take the first 10 minutes and praise God: read or quote a Psalm of praise, then sing a hymn or chorus that the Psalm brings to mind, then thank God for things — you can see how you can take 10 minutes or more with that, right?
— Then begin praying for God’s Kingdom work: pray for India and Abraham, and the pastors who are preaching at our wells there, and for Stefan & Rodica & Sara and that the gospel would spread in Romania. Then pray for your church, or pastor, or staff member, and whatever Kingdom work you are involved in here. I’ve gradually added different missionaries over the years, so that I pray for several different ones each day. So you can easily pray 10 minutes for God’s kingdom’s work.
— Then pray about matters of God’s will for your life: “Lord, what do YOU want me to do today? What do you want me to include on my schedule today? Help me to do these things, and be productive.” Ask God to help you make out your schedule for the day, and that He would bless your schedule as you do His will. And if you are facing some decision in your life, pray for God’s will for that. And if your kids are like mine, they are all facing decisions about God’s will; pray for them: “Lord, help David find Your will for a church to serve out of seminary”; “Lord, direct Michael to find Your will for His life at college”; “Lord, help Paul to find a wife if it’s Your will for him to have one”, and so on. Pray for people you know who need God’s will and direction in their life. That’s easily 10 minutes for most of us.
— Then pray for NEEDS (“give us this day our daily bread”). There are countless needs in your own life, your family’s life; our church members who have health and other needs — usually I pray on Wednesdays for all the individual requests of our church members, but at this point in the Model Prayer I pray every day for the top 5 or 6 the most crucial prayer requests for our church family — maybe those who are currently in the hospital, or facing a big surgery, or recuperating, or whatever. Most of us could pray for personal and family and church requests for 10 minutes without any problem.
— Then ask for FORGIVENESS — again, if we get serious about this, and don’t just flippantly pray “Lord forgive all my sins”, this could and should take some time. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind the sins of the past day — I have found that He has no trouble doing that! — and He will bring scenes from the previous day to mind: things you said, thing you did; things you thought; things you left undone that you should have done — it’s not hard to spend some time here, if you get serious about it like you should.
— And then finally, spend your last few minutes asking God to protect YOU, your marriage, your kids & family, your church, and others from the attacks of the enemy: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
So you can see how spending just a few minutes with each of these topics in prayer will give you a substantial block of time with God in prayer. Like I said, if you spent 10 minutes on each one, that would be a solid hour in prayer. If you spent only 5 minutes on each topic, that would still be 30 minutes in prayer. But even if you spent only 2 minutes on each — which would really be running through it quickly — that would still be 12 minutes — more than the average Christian in America today spends in prayer. If you haven’t been praying much, start with a smaller goal of time for each section, and gradually increase it. But following the Model that Jesus gave us will go a long way towards increasing the length of our prayers.
But we also need to remember that “quantity is not everything.” This isn’t a game to see who can pray the longest. It’s the quality of our time with God that is the most important. And this Model Prayer helps us to have quality time with God we should have, by leading us to pray about the topics that God says He wants us to talk with Him about when we pray. This Model Prayer is THE best guide to quality time with God.
That’s why He gave it to us. More than anything else, God wants us to spend quality time with Him in prayer. As we have said many times, this is why God created us in the first place: to know Him, and spend time with Him. We walked away from God when we sinned. But He loved us, and bought us back to Himself through Jesus’ death on the cross. And what He brought us back TO was the relationship that He originally made us for with Him. And the way we TALK to Him in that relationship is prayer. That’s why there is nothing more important than worshiping and praying. That is what you were made for.
Now that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be hard to do. The sin nature in us is still working against us, to separate us from God. Satan and his demons are working against us, because they know if we really get to praying, it will go hard for them. And this whole world system is working against us: throwing tv shows, and endless entertainments and distractions against us which make it harder to pray. So “the world, the flesh, and the devil” are all working to keep us from praying. But we’ve got to know how important it is, and be committed to it.
And the harder you do work at it, the better at it you’ll become. At first it may be just a discipline; at first you’re just making yourself do it. But eventually you’ll start to enjoy it more and more, until it is a delight that you don’t want to miss.
It’s like running for exercise. When you first start out, it can be extremely hard. Try starting to run again when you’re 58 years old, and 40 pounds overweight, like I did earlier this year — at first every step of every run was like pulling teeth, and I just had to make myself do it. But I know from past experience, if you’ll discipline yourself, it gets easier over time. Psalm 19:5 says the sun “rejoices as a strong man to run his course.” And there’s truth in that: as you get in shape and get stronger, every step is no longer an agony. There is joy in it. And after 5 months of running, I’m starting to get there. I ran the other day and thought, this feels better; I’ve lost a little weight; I’m in better shape, and now it feels pretty good to do that run. It’s still a discipline, but I’m starting to enjoy it a little bit. And I can remember years ago, being in really good shape, and finishing a run, and those endorphins were going, and I just sprinted in at the end, and held my arms out like Superman as I ran, and it felt SOOO good! I’m not there yet with my running, but I’m working on it, and Lord willing I’ll be there again some day soon.
And don’t you see, that’s how it is with our morning prayer time as well. When you first start it, and get up earlier than you have been, it may feel like a drudgery. And it may take you some time to learn to pray along with the outline Jesus gave us here in this Model Prayer. But if you will stick with it, and learn to do it every day, it will become more natural to you, and soon you will rejoice in that prayer time — and it will become the very best part of your day.
I am not by nature an early riser. As a young man it was very hard for me to get up and have my quiet time at anything like an early hour. But over time, I have gotten up earlier and earlier, and now I just rejoice to get up. I can’t wait to get my cup of caramel coffee, and get into God’s word, and worship, and pray. It’s not just a “discipline” any more; it’s literally the best part of my day, every day, and I look forward to it. And it can be that way for you, too, if you’ll stick with it.
And the reason it will become the best part of your day, is because this is what God made you for: to worship Him, and talk to Him every day. That is why Jesus gave you this Model Prayer — to help you have that time with Him that He made you for. THAT is why He commanded us here: “Pray then, in this way …”!