Introduction to the Model Prayer (Matthew 6:1-13 sermon)

(Preached at the First Baptist Church of Angleton, TX 9/13/20)

The pastor who married Cheryl & I, Bill Elliff, tells of how a mentor of his, Ron Dunn, was visiting Scotland with his wife, Kay. They rented a car to drive but had to pay careful attention, because in Scotland, they drive on the left hand side of the road instead of the right like we’re used to here. He said they did fine until they came to a stoplight, and they were talking. When the light changed he instinctively went to the right-hand side of the road. He looked up and saw a car coming at him in his lane. He shouted: ‘Look at that idiot!’  His wife said: ‘Wrong idiot. Move over!’ He said later that he didn’t intend to go to the wrong side, but it was simply natural because he had driven over there for so many years.

That story is in many ways an allegory of the Christian life. We have all, in a sense, been “driving on the wrong side of the road” in life for a long time. Because of our sin, we are used to the ways of the world and not the ways of God. And so prayer, which ought be the most natural thing in the world, is like driving in “an unnatural lane” to us! So we have to LEARN how to “drive on the right side of the road” in a sense; we have to LEARN to pray.

For several weeks, we looked at Luke 10 and the story of Mary & Martha, where Jesus told Martha that there are few things in life that are necessary, and really, only ONE, and it was what Mary was doing: sitting at His feet, and listening to His word.  We saw that that needs to be the most important thing in OUR lives too — but the question many of us have is, HOW do I do that? How do I “sit at His feet” in worship? HOW really do I pray?  

Thankfully, we don’t have to just come up with our own best “guess” as to how to pray. There is a place in scripture in which Jesus specifically teaches His followers how to pray — and it is here in this famous passage in Matthew 6, that we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” or “The Model Prayer.”  So for the next 6 weeks or so, we are going to be looking in-depth at the Model Prayer that Jesus gave us here to teach us how to pray.  This morning, we’ll look at on overview of prayer, from Jesus’ words in the first part of the chapter — and then we’ll spend the next 6 weeks studying this Model Prayer line by line, so we can learn better how to pray every day. 

I.  The Context of the Model Prayer: Principles of Praying

The larger context in which we find the Model Prayer is the Sermon on the Mount. In the greatest of all sermons, Jesus is instructing His disciples about the kind of people we are to be as His followers. The more immediate context is Chapter 6:1-8, where Jesus teaches His disciples about the way that we are (and are NOT) to practice our faith, in our giving; in our praying; and in our fasting. He gives us several principles about praying in these verses:

A. Do NOT be hypocritical

:5 begins: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”  

So Jesus is saying, don’t be hypocritical when you pray. Don’t pray for the approval of other people; pray to God. Now, we need to understand what He is and isn’t saying here. He is NOT saying, “Don’t ever pray in public.”

One time I asked a man if he would pray during an upcoming service. He said he wouldn’t, because Jesus commanded us not to pray in public — and he quoted this verse. But that is a mistaken application of these words.  JESUS HIMSELF prayed in public: In John 11 at the death of Lazarus, and other times as well, Jesus prayed in public — and so did His disciples. So He was NOT issuing a general prohibition against ever praying in public. Rather, He was saying: be sure that you don’t pray for the purpose of public attention.

If you look at the verse, you can see it specifically says that the hypocrites “LOVE to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners SO THAT they may be seen by men.”  TWO things here indicate their proud intentions:

1) it is not just that they pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, but that they LOVE to stand and pray there.

2) the words “SO THAT” are what we call a “purpose clause” — they indicate the purpose for what is done.  WHY do they pray on the street corners or in the synagogues? It is SO THAT/FOR THE PURPOSE THAT they might be seen by men.

So it is not “praying in public” in and of itself that is wrong; it is praying in public FOR THE WRONG MOTIVES: to be seen by men, instead of talking to God, which He warns us against. Pray to talk to God. This is the next thing we see:

B.  DO pray alone

:6, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  

Here Jesus encourages us to pray most of our prayers when it is just us and God alone. And again, we don’t want to be legalistic about it. Jesus wasn’t saying that the ONLY way to pray is to go inside a house into an inner room. In fact, we see that Jesus Himself prayed in other ways:  Mark 1:35 says that He went OUT of the house and into the wilderness! And near His death, He famously went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  So Jesus Himself did not always pray in an inner room inside a house.

But the point was, He prayed ALONE with God. This is what He is saying that we should seek for. Seek to “sit at His feet” in prayer, alone! 

— some do have a little room or office at home where they can pray alone

— some go out to prayer walk

— we should all pray spontaneously all through the day, wherever we are 

But the point is, make sure that most of your prayers are between you and God alone.

To me, there is one question which gets to our heart of whether you are a hypocrite in your praying or not: where is most of your praying done? If most of your praying is done in church, and in other public settings, when you are around other people, then you may very well be a hypocrite. But if most of your praying is done when it is just you and God alone, then you are most likely NOT a hypocrite at all.  

 The point is, our public prayers should be only “the tip of the iceberg” of our praying. Only about a tenth of an iceberg is what we see on the surface of the water; 9/10 of it is hidden, underneath. THAT is the way our praying should be: if you are really praying for God and not for other people, then your public praying will be the smallest portion of your prayers — maybe a tenth, like the iceberg.  9/10 of your praying — if it is really for God — will be when it is just you and Him alone.  

C.  Do NOT use meaningless repetition

“and when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do …”

Now, many of us might think we are not guilty of what Jesus commands here, but it might actually apply to more of our prayers than we think!

We don’t have to look too far for examples of “meaningless repetition” in prayers that are used in many religions even today.  Cheryl & I served for 12 years in Southwest Louisiana, which has a very strong Catholic influence, and they would be told to pray the “Our Father” prayer or the “Hail Mary” prayer so many times. They would repeat these prayers word-by-word hundreds and eventually thousands of times — and you know that any time you repeat something verbatim like that, over and over, it eventually loses its meaning. Just repeating these words over & over does not give us some kind of “credit” with God. 

The ironic thing is that they have taken the very prayer that Jesus gave us after commanding, “Do not use meaningless repetition”, and have made a meaningless repetition out of it! That is NOT why He gave us this prayer, as we shall see momentarily.  

Now, many of us might say, “Well, this doesn’t apply to me, because I don’t do those ‘prescribed prayers.'”– but in truth it probably applies to more of us than we might think.  We may not pray a “memorized” prayer, over and over, but if you think about it, many of us DO pray basically the same prayer over and over: the same old dinner prayer; the same old SS prayer; the same old offertory prayer — EVERY SINGLE TIME!  You may not have it written down, but you may as well have, because it is always the same!  I’ve had people in churches tell me, “I know what so-and-so is going to pray” and just nail it word-for-word! So we ALL need to be careful that we don’t become too repetitious in our praying. The key is the next point:

D.  DO focus on the relationship in prayer.

Jesus says in :8 “So do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him”. and then He begins the Model Prayer in :9 with “Our Father …”  

The key word here is “Father.” In prayer we are speaking to our FATHER in heaven. He is a Person, with whom we have a real relationship through Jesus Christ. 

This is what so many religions are missing.  The Buddhists in Nepal have what they call “prayer wheels.” We saw these when we were there on mission trips. Some were handheld, and some were huge wheels many feet around. The key to it was that you would write a prayer and insert it into the wheel, and whenever it would spin around, the “prayer” was supposedly going up to God.  So we would see people passing by the Buddhist temple, and they would just thoughtlessly “spin” the prayer wheel as they went by, to make the prayers that were inserted “go up.” Or you could sit there with a prayer wheel in your hand, and watch tv or read the comics, and all the while, be “spinning” prayers up to God!

The problem with that is that it overlooks the fact that God is not some “mechanism” that you just thoughtlessly “send prayers up to.” He is not like a heavenly “vending machine” that if you put the right coins into, He’ll give you what you want. God is a PERSON; He is our “Father in Heaven”, and we are to talk to Him as we would a person. Now, that is not to imply that we are free to speak to Him disrespectfully, because we are not; He is a HOLY God. But it does teach us that He has personality, and that prayer is to reflect our relationship with Him.  

It is easy to get into “rut” in our prayer life, and just “say our prayers” or “read our Bible” — instead really focusing on meeting with the PERSON of God, which is what Jesus teaches us to do here.  

Jesus told us in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may KNOW THEE”. The great privilege of Christianity is the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ.  This is what He made us for: to have this relationship with Him. That is what our sin destroyed: it separated us from that relationship with God. And that is what Jesus came to die on the cross to pay for, to restore. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, and are saved, we are saved to come back to this RELATIONSHIP with God that He made us for!  

This relationship with God is what our prayers are about, and should always be the focus of our prayers. Even as we follow the Model Prayer that Jesus gave us — as I hope that you will learn to do — never lose sight that it is a RELATIONSHIP with God that you are furthering with your prayer. 

So that’s the CONTEXT in which the Model Prayer was given to us, and some principles Jesus gave us on how to pray. Now, let’s look at:

II.  The Purpose of the Model Prayer

This is NOT, as we have seen, a rote prayer, to be prayed word by word, over & over. But what it IS, is an outline of the things God wants us to speak to Him about when we pray.

Jesus said, “Pray then, in this way.”  Notice He did NOT say: “PRAY THIS”, but “Pray IN THIS WAY.”  There is a big difference. The words the Greek Bible uses here are important. “Houtos” is an adverb that means “like this”. There is another word “touto”, that means “this” — and God did not choose to use that word, because it is not what He wanted.  Dr. Chuck Quarles in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount says that the adverb (houtos) indicates that “it is a model to be emulated, not a script to be recited.”  

Jesus was purposefully telling us NOT to pray this same thing over and over, but rather He was giving us a model of the kinds of things that we are to pray when we talk to God.

So what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer” is really a MODEL — which is why many (myself included) prefer to call it “The Model Prayer.”  We are not merely to repeat these words to God, but we are to use it as an outline, a model, of the things that God wants us to speak with Him about when we pray.  

The illustration I like to use is of the e-mails I used to exchange with my dad. When he was still alive, we communicated a lot by e-mail. Dad would send me a note, and he would talk about the weather where he was for a while, and then about his health; then maybe what he had going in his garden. If it was football season we’d always talk about the latest OU game, and he’d ask about Cheryl & kids, and so on.

So when I got his e-mail, I would read it, and then I would hit “reply”, and what I would do, is I would look at what he wrote, and then reply with my own thoughts about each section:

— What was the first thing he talked about? It was the weather. So I would comment on the weather for a minute, and tell him how the weather was where we were. 

— When I had finished typing a paragraph about that, I would go back to his e-mail and look: what was the next things he talked about? 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 dad 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 had given to me.

I believe that is exactly what this Model Prayer is. Jesus did not give this prayer to us so that we could just memorize it and hit “reply” and send those same words straight back to Him.  God wants us to personalize this prayer, and use it as an outline as we talk to Him.

III.   The Outline of the Model Prayer

Understanding what the purpose of this prayer is then, let’s briefly look at this outline. The Model Prayer is composed of 6 requests, and each request is an outline point we should use to talk to God.  We’ll spend one week on each of these points for the next 6 weeks, but let’s look at just a brief overview of each of these 6 for just a few minutes today:  

A. Praise: Hallowed be Your name

“Hallowed” means to make holy.  So we are to make God’s name holy — this teaches us to begin our prayers with praise.  Next week we’ll look at 3 Biblical ways to begin our prayers with praise. There are many ways for us to praise God, but the important thing is to begin our prayers with praise and focusing on Who God is — it will make a huge difference in the kind of prayers that we pray.

In fact, NOTICE: the focus of the first 3 requests of the Model Prayer is GODWARD: “Hallowed by THY name; THY Kingdom come; THY will be done.”  It begins: “THY …THY … THY.”  The focus of our prayer, especially at the beginning, is not on US, but on GOD.  

So this first section starts us off right by focusing on God as we begin our prayers with praise.  

B. Your Kingdom Come

The word “kingdom” (baseleia) means the rule or reign of God. So we are to pray for the rule of God to increase in the world — for people to be saved, for our churches and missions, and for people to grow spiritually so that God’s reign in their hearts is increasing.  In a couple of weeks we’ll look some more at how we can pray for pastors and staff members and for missionaries and mission points all over the world, who are working to spread the Kingdom — and for YOUR work for the kingdom as well!

C. Your Will Be Done

This is where we pray for God’s will in our own lives, and in the lives of those we care about. This is a crucial thing that needs to be included in our prayers every day. There is much to be said about it. 

D. Requests: Give Us This Day

As we can see from this outline, our prayers are not merely to be a list of requests for our needs — but there is a place to ask God for requests, and this is it.  

AND NOTICE: This begins a shift in the prayer: the first 3 requests were all “God-focused”: “Thy … Thy … Thy” — now it is “our … our … our.”  

So we ask for our needs here.   And notice again it is still not “MY … MY … MY …” in our requests, but “OUR/OUR/OUR“! So we are not to be selfish in our prayers; we are to include OTHERS in our asking. We’ll look at this some more too in a few weeks. 

E. Forgiveness: Forgive Us Our Debts

We should spend some time every daily asking for forgiveness of our daily sins — but it also reminds us to forgive OTHERS for their sins they have committed against us. Jesus adds a strong word about just after the Model Prayer in :14-15, which should be very convicting.  

F. Spiritual Protection: Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Jesus has us close the prayer with a request for spiritual protection: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Having just asked for forgiveness of sins, we then ask God to help us from going back into more sin again protect us from sin — and again, it is not just “lead ME not into temptation”, but “lead US not” — so we should pray for spiritual protection for those we love: our spouse, our children and grandchildren, our church staff, and others. Jesus is teaching us to engage in spiritual warfare by protecting our loved ones in prayer. 

So we are not just to “memorize” the Model Prayer just to pray it right back to God; we DO need to memorize it, but so that we can use it as an outline: How do I begin talking to God? “My Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name” — I begin with praise: a praise Psalm, thanksgiving, singing praise. What do I talk to Him about next? “Thy Kingdom” — pray for our church, missionaries, etc. What’s next? “Thy will be done.”  See, we memorize these 6 requests to use them as an outline of the things God wants us to talk to Him about.  And beginning next Sunday morning, we will look at each of these 6 a little more in-depth, one week at a time.

NOW JUST A COUPLE OF THOUGHTS IN CONCLUSION:

— This model is for the longer, DAILY-type prayers we pray. Jesus says here: “give us this day our daily bread,” which indicates that this prayer is a morning kind prayer, in which we spend a block of time praying to start the day. It seems that those longer prayers like that, are especially what Jesus had in mind for this Model Prayer.

There are other, more brief prayers that we pray — spontaneous prayers — which we don’t necessarily need to use this outline for. We don’t have to worry about praying through the whole Lord’s Prayer outline every time we see an ambulance go by, or pray some quick prayer.  It’s ok to just pray “God help me”, or “God help them,” or whatever. Don’t feel like you can’t pray because you can’t go through the whole outline every time you talk to God.  This is outline for those longer type prayer times.  

— But when you DO have those longer times (hopefully in the morning) it WILL take some time! Samuel Chadwick said: “‘Hurry is the death of prayer.” (Bill Elliff, Simply Prayer, p. 91)  If you are hoping to revolutionize your spiritual life in 30 seconds or less, and you are not willing to give God some time, then I hate to tell you, you are going to end up like the Rich Young Ruler: you are going to go away from Jesus sorrowful, because you are not willing to take the time that it takes to know Him. And it does take time. A.W. Tozer famously said there are “no shortcuts” to knowing God. YOU MUST TAKE TIME to be with Him. It is the only way it happens. If you do not take that time, you will never find The Pearl of Great Price. You will miss out on what you were created for. You must take time to pray. 

— And don’t be legalistic about it. Don’t look down on people who don’t use this Model; and don’t stick so rigidly to it that you never deviate from it. I know there have been a number of times when I have praised God at the beginning of my prayer, and it immediately led to me confessing my sins right after — instead of praying for the Kingdom, which “should come next,” according to the outline, because His holiness and glory was so convicting. I don’t think God didn’t hear the rest of my prayers because I got it in the “wrong order”!  I still prayed for those “kingdom requests;” I just did it in a little different order, and that’s ok. Don’t get too legalistic about the Model.  

— But that being said, it really IS the best model — it is the one Jesus gave us. I used several different outlines for prayer as a growing Christian in my teen and college years, like the “ACTS” model of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication, and so on. And I did ok praying with those. But one day I was reading British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, and came to his sermon on this passage, and I saw that the Lord’s Prayer was really an “outline” for our prayers — and it really impacted me. And I thought, “Why are we looking elsewhere for a model to pray by, when Jesus Himself has given us a model right here in His word?” 

And His model is more complete than any of those others: it praises God like they do, and has confession and requests, but it also focuses us more specifically on God’s Kingdom work, and His will, and spiritual warfare — elements that many of those models don’t have in their outlines. It is the perfect Model Prayer that has been given to us by our Perfect Teacher.  And I think we would do well to start learning and using the Model Jesus gave us as the outline for our daily prayers.

CONCLUSION:

As we said, you were MADE to talk to God. He WANTS you to come near to Him every day. It is our greatest privilege we have in life.

In Amity Schlaes’ biography of Calvin Coolidge, she writes of how, while he was President, Coolidge lost one of his sons to an infection. One day, one of Coolidge’s staff found a little boy, with his face pressed up against the White House fence. This man asked the boy what he was doing, and he said that he heard the President has lost his son, and was hoping to tell him he was sorry. He took the boy straight to Coolidge, who broke into tears. And Coolidge told that man: “Always let the children come to me.”

When I read that, I thought of the Lord. He always wants us, as His children, to come to Him. It’s what He made us for. It’s what Jesus died for: so that we could come to God, and spend time with Him, and know Him. And the way we do that, is through prayer.  Prayer is hard for us, because we’ve spent our whole lives “driving on the wrong side of the road.” But Jesus gave us this prayer to “get us back on the right side,” and to teach us how to come to Him. Let’s use this prayer to begin to do that every day!

INVITATION:

As we bow our heads, let’s take some time to think our our walk with the Lord:

— Maybe you’d say you have not been spending time with God in prayer every day, and you need to start THIS WEEK! Ask Him to help you do that

— Maybe you HAVE been praying some, but it’s not been the time you should have: not the quality or quantity it should be. Talk to Him about that …

— I hope you’ll us this outline for your daily prayers this week … (more)

— Or maybe you’d say you’ve never been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. If not, ask Him to forgive your sins and save you right now! And if you do, tell someone about it. And begin to use the Model that Jesus gave you to talk with Him in prayer every day.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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