Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How to Pray

Part 19 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:9-15

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (v. 9). 

What's the Purpose of Prayer?

Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer [1] by saying, “Pray then [2] like this” (v. 9). Jesus intended this prayer to be a model for our prayers, not a prayer to mindlessly repeat. In Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). [3] What does the Lord’s Prayer teach us about the purpose of prayer?

Prayer should be more about honouring God than helping us. 

This is seen in the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. The first half is about God (“your name,” “your kingdom,” “your will”), and the second half is about us (“Give us,” “forgive us,” “deliver us”). [4]

Our Father 

The Lord’s prayer is addressed to “Our Father in heaven” (v. 9). [5] Our prayers should be characterized by both love and reverence. “We address God intimately as ‘Father,’ but we immediately recognize his infinite greatness with the addition ‘in heaven.’” [6]

In the Lord’s Prayer, there are three requests about God’s honour. (1) “hallowed [7] be your name” (v. 9); (2) “Your kingdom come” (v. 10); and (3) “Your will be done” (v. 10). The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” probably applies to all three requests.
Prayer is not first and foremost an exercise to vindicate the disciple’s causes, meet the disciple’s needs, fulfill the disciple’s desires, or solve the disciple’s problems. Rather, one’s priority must be the promotion of God’s reputation, the advancement of God’s rule, and the performance of God’s will. These three petitions are essentially one expression of burning desire to see the Father honored on earth as he is already honored in heaven.” [8]

Our Needs 

There are also three requests about our needs: (1) “Give us this day our daily bread [9]  (v. 11); (2) “forgive us our debts [10], as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v. 12); and (3) “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (v. 13). Verses 14 and 15 offer a comment on the request about forgiveness: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

A couple of common questions emerge from the last two requests. Does this mean that God will only forgive the forgiving? No, we don’t earn God’s forgiveness. But “If we don’t forgive, it is evidence that we haven’t experienced forgiveness ourselves.” [11]

Would God ever lead us into temptation? No. The Greek word for “temptation” (perirasmos) can mean either testing or temptation. [12] Any circumstance that tests us can also tempt us to sin. God does allow us to be tested, but he doesn’t tempt us. “The meaning here most likely carries the sense, ‘Allow us to be spared from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin.” [13]

Seeking God's Honour in Our Prayers 

What can we do to make God’s honour a priority in our prayers?

1. When we pray, we should ask ourselves, “How will God be honoured if he grants this request?”

Sometimes getting the things we ask for from God would result in God being dishonoured. For example, we might think that God would be honoured if we were wealthy, but Proverbs 30:8-9 says that both poverty and wealth can lead us away from God: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me [i.e., daily bread], lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” [14]

2. When we pray, we should remind ourselves that sometimes God is most honoured and we are most helped when God denies our request. 

In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul writes that he once prayed that a “thorn” would be removed from him, but God denied his request. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). By not removing the thorn from Paul, God would be more honoured and Paul would be kept from pride. Prayer is not about coming to God with our personal agendas; rather, it is seeking his agenda for our lives.

[1] Some Christian prefer to call this prayer “the disciples’ prayer.”
[2] “The connecting ‘then’ indicates that the following words will express the trust in a heavenly Father which has been stated in verses 7-8 to be the basis of true prayer” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 244).
[3] Scholars often debate whey there are many differences between Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. D. A. Carson suggests, “The reasonable explanation is that Jesus taught this sort of prayer often during his itinerant ministry and that Matthew records one occasion and Luke another” (“Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 168).
[4] In the KJV, verse 13 ends with a doxology: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.” This doxology is not found in the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts, which suggests that it was added later.
[5] The plural pronoun “Our” indicates that this prayer was intended to be prayed with other children of God, not in isolation.
[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 144.
[7] “To hallow God’s name means to hold it in reverence” (Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 276).
[8] David Turner, Matthew, 187.
[9] “Daily bread” is “a metaphor for a person’s daily needs” (Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 227).
[10] “Debts” are our sins against God.
[11] Wilkins, 279.
[12] See James 1:2-5, 13-15.
[13] ESV Study Bible.
[14] “The Old Testament prayer for daily bread comes in the context of a believer asking to be kept from temptation” (Bryan Chapell, Praying Backwards, 41).

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