Monday, June 12, 2017

The Lord's Prayer - Matthew 6: 7-15

This passage, seems to contradict Himself. He begins by saying that we should not use “vain repetitions” in prayer, then He gives us the most repeated prayer in history. If Jesus is against repetition, why does He give us a prayer to repeat?

The Lord’s Prayer isn’t just for saying, it’s also a model of what prayer should be. Jesus really isn’t opposed to us repeating a prayer, but prayer for the wrong reasons. It’s not the repetition of prayer that matters, but the attitude of the heart when we pray. 

Many people treat prayer like a vending machine which doesn’t have any prices listed. We want a candy bar or pack of gum so we start pushing the button, but nothing happens. So we put in more quarters. When we run out of quarters, we borrow some off someone else. We have this idea that God will give us anything we ask if we just pray enough prayers to get it. If we still don’t get it, then we find someone else to pray for us. We think if we pray long enough, God will have to give it to us.

There’s plenty of Biblical support we could muster to defend this view. Jesus says in Luke 11: 9, “Ask and keep on asking, seek and seek on seeking.” Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” In Luke 18 there’s the parable of the unjust judge and the widow who pestered him until he gave her what she wanted. There’s the parable of the man who came asking for bread at midnight in Luke 11. There are literally dozens of texts that can be misused to support the idea of heaven as a giant vending machine that gives us exactly what we want.

God is certainly capable of giving us exactly what we want—there’s no problem with God’s hearing. The problem is that we don’t understand what prayer actually is. Prayer is not asking, from God, it’s being with God.

 Suppose you have a friend who never calls you unless he wants a favor. If you don’t do it right away he keeps pestering you until you do. Asking favors is not friendship. Friends are people who like to be around us. If we want a friendship with God, our prayers will be more than just “asking sessions.”  They are conversations that involve listening as well as speaking. 

The prayers Jesus warns us about are self-centered not God-centered. They are about what we want, not what God wants. 

In response to this, Jesus gives us an example of the kind of prayer God wants to hear. It isn’t just a prayer, but a prayer sequence to follow. We don’t have to repeat it, but we should use the sequence whether we are praying for ourselves, one person or the whole world. This sequence has five steps.  

Step 1--Know Who you are talking to. “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.”

Jesus reminds us of two important facts about God. First, He’s our Father. He takes a personal interest in us as we do with our children. We aren’t just a part of a group—He knows us personally and loves us always.

When my children sang in a choir or chorus, I could pick out their voices from all the other children. Our Father can pick out our voices from seven billion souls on earth. What’s more, He has a unique and special relationship with us. He knows our needs before we ask.

Some people worship God like He’s a celebrity in a parade. We wave to Him and call out His name, but we don’t expect Him to see us. He does see us though. He looks for us because He is our Father. He sees us among seven billion souls and waves back.

Second, He is Holy. He is the ruler of the universe. We have no idea how powerful, fantastic, and mighty He is. Before you rush into prayer, take a few minutes to contemplate that. He is more than our “Dad”—He’s the ruler of the universe! 

What if you had a chance to talk to Einstein, Shakespeare, Jefferson, John Calvin, or even Stephen Hawking? Would you do all the talking, or would you listen to them? We would let them talk, because we know they are geniuses. So, why do we monopolize the conversation with Almighty God?  We should approach the throne of God without talking, but listening, learning and yielding. Why should we tell God His business on how He should run the universe? We need to seek His will, not our own.

Step 2--pray for His Kingdom to come. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is a prayer that God will exert His will universally. At creation, the world was under God’s rule. But when the Fall occurred, and sin entered and humanity rejected Him. The world fell out of His kingdom. In Christ, God is restoring His kingdom again. The prayer, “Thy kingdom come” is a call for God to restore that rule everywhere. 

Our usual pattern of prayer is to begin with what is personal—prosperity for our family, personal health conditions, and so forth. But we should start by praying for things that seem farthest from our personal lives—the universal victory of God. It’s about His will, not ours. 

This sequence forces us to look at the world differently. The problem with the world is not that it doesn’t conform to our wishes, but that it isn’t conforming to God’s will. Prayer brings the world in line with God’s perfect will. 

Prayer is an exercise of the imagination, not just a sequence of words. Imagine something you pray for—your church, for example. Now imagine how it would look if God ruled it perfectly, where every member acted like Jesus Himself. Put those two visions together—the church as it is now, and the church that could be if it were fully surrendered.  Now, pray for it! Don’t worry about how to get it there. When you pray for something, you don’t need to know the details of how it will happen. You just believe that God can do it. That’s what kingdom praying is—asking God to bring what now is into conformity to His kingdom. 

Step 3--Trust God to give what is needed to bring it into His kingdom. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

 Notice the world “daily”. Why don’t we pray for our weekly, monthly, or yearly bread? Because what we need to recognize is that God will provide for us this day what we will need. 

 We are anxious people. We worry about the future, so we want to see everything we need tomorrow today. But God says focus on today and let Him handle tomorrow. Earthly security is an illusion.  The only security we need is a secure relationship with God. 

God is managing our future. Even now, He is working His will on future events to provide for us what we need. We don’t have to worry about it. We only have to trust Him.

Step 4—Pray to be released from the past. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”
In the verses following the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells us, “If you do not forgive others their debt, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive your debt.” He isn’t laying some harder moral obligations upon us. He’s simply stating the obvious—before anyone can be transformed they must let go of the past.

 Debts bind us to our previous life, whether we owe them or ae owed to us. Debts are moral obligations that bind both the lender and the debtor.  The debtor is bound to make payments to the lender until the debt is paid. But the lender is also bound to collect that money until he gets it back. They are mutually bound together until the terms of the contract are completed. The only way out is for the lender to forgive the debtor. The lender has a way out that the debtor does not have--he can always forgive the debt. If he does, he will be free of the debtor forever. 

If you don’t forgive others, you are still bound to them. But to enter the ideal world that Christ wants for us, you need to become unstuck to this one. We must let be free of the debts we owe or are owed, so we can be reshaped and remade.
Fortunately, for us Christ has already set us free from our debts. We don’t have to repay God for our sins, but simply accept the repayment made on the Cross. 

Step 5—Pray that our spiritual bondage will be broken. “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.”

The Greek does not indicate evil in general here, but “the Evil One” or Satan. In order for the Kingdom to come we must be delivered from the addictions and obsessions by which Satan has entered and controlled our lives, and we must avoid becoming entangled in the future.

It isn’t enough to be delivered from temptation, though. We also need to be delivered in temptation. God could take one temptation from our path, but seven new ones will likely appear to replace it. We need to develop an immunity to temptation, not just avoid them.

Our bodies are daily exposed to harmful bacteria. But our bodies’ defenses keep us from getting sick. Most harmful germs are eradicated before they can cause trouble. If we lived in a sterile environment, our bodies would not know how to deal with germs. Just so, if we lived in an environment that was sterile of temptation, we would fall for the first one we encountered.

God doesn’t take away all temptations—only the worst ones. If we feel ourselves falling for a temptation, we should run away. But remember “there is no temptation but what is common to man, and God will with each temptation give us the power to resist.” 1 Corinthians 10: 13. James says, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” James 4: 7 says, “For the kingdom of God to be victorious in us, we have to resist temptation.”

Prayer is an important part of resisting temptation. The temptations God does not remove He expects us to resist. Fortunately, we can call upon the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to give us the power to resist even the worst temptations.  

The Lord’s Prayer is not a vain repetition. It’s a prayer pattern that all of us need to be reminded of every time we come to Christ. Prayer is about the coming of the Kingdom of God. It’s based on who God is and how much He loves us.  

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