The Lord's Prayer

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The longer I live as a Christian and serve as a pastor, the more impressed I am with the value of careful attention to Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, commonly known as The Lord’s Prayer. Many, if not most, Christians struggle with prayer. Two reasons come to mind. The first is that we live in a time when prayer is not strongly emphasized, in part because most of us do not have great troubles in life, at least outwardly so. The second reason is a perennial one, namely, the warfare between the flesh and the spirit. Prayer simply is difficult and it requires attention and effort. This is precisely why I find the Lord’s prayer to be so helpful.

Jesus prefaces his prayer with two warnings. The first is that our prayer life should be primarily private: “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues,” etc. (Mt. 6:5). Jesus is not opposed to public prayer, especially in church. But the heart of our prayer life is to be private, and prayer should never be offered merely for show. The second warning is that we must pray intelligibly: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words” (Mt. 6:7). Prayer is not made more effective by meaningless fervor or repetition; we should speak to God intelligibly when we pray.

What important words come next, as our Lord declares: “Pray then like this.” What follows is not merely a formula for prayer – although we rightly follow this teaching verbatim, especially in congregational settings. What is most important are the priorities and ideas that Jesus notes.

Jesus’ first priority in prayer is that we should approach God as children approach a loving Father. This is possible only for those who are God’s children through faith in Christ (cf. Jn. 1:12). But believers should never approach God fearing reluctance or disfavor on his part. He is our loving Father, and He delights to hear us when we pray.

Secondly, when we come to God in prayer, our first concern should always be to worship and adore Him: “Hallowed be your name,” Jesus begins (Mt. 6:9). This means, “May your name be regarded as holy.” It is a good practice to always begin a time of prayer by worshiping God. A good way to do this is by praising and thanking God for His attributes – love, holiness, truth, faithfulness, goodness, etc. – and for His great saving works. If all we did in prayer was thank and glorify God for His wondrous gift of salvation, then prayer would be very worthwhile. Moreover, Jesus wants us to have a great concern for God’s work in the world: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). We should pray for the success of the gospel, for the holiness and blessing of the church, for protection for missionaries, for the faith of children, for the godliness of marriages, and for our own witness to the world. Concerns like these should occupy a priority of concern in our private prayer lives.

Next, Jesus urges us to pray for our needs. He teaches: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Mt. 6:11). Notice that bread speaks to needs, not merely to wants. Notice, too, that it is daily provision that we are to seek. But Christians should unburden themselves will all kinds of care, including health, relationships, material needs, sorrows, and struggles. The apostle Peter urges us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).

Moreover, we need to confess our sins to the Lord and seek His forgiveness. Jesus is not teaching an automatic approach to forgiveness, whereby only the sins we remember and confess will be forgiven. Instead, he is teaching us to deal with our sins in relationship with God. We are to seek and gain the cleansing of our consciences for sins we have committed, knowing that “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7). We are also to keep our consciences tender by not neglecting to face our sins and sinful tendencies. God cares so much about our holiness, and He wants us to bring our sins into His presence for cleansing and also to empower us for repentance and new obedience. Additionally, Jesus wants us to realize that our own forgiveness obliges us to have a forgiving attitude towards others: “as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12).

Finally, Jesus urges us to speak about our temptations. How important it is in our private prayers for us to discuss candidly with God the ways we tend to enter into sin. We should pray for God to strengthen us against temptations – especially ones we are aware of – and ask Him to help us to walk in the light. “But deliver us from evil,” Jesus concludes (Mt. 6:13). Interestingly, in the Greek original there is a definite article here: Jesus says “deliver us from the evil.” Surely this points to the presence of spiritual enemies, including Satan and also sinful structures in society.

Let me encourage you to look to the Lord’s Prayer for a well-balanced, rightly prioritized prayer life. And let me encourage you to pray. What a difference it makes to our lives when we spend time with the Lord, and what a pleasure it is for Him to fellowship with our trusting hearts.

Posted April 7, 2008 @ 1:48 PM by Rick Phillips
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