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Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount – Study 4,

17/01/2012

Prayer in The Sermon on the Mount – Study 4,
Text. Matthew 6:9

We have seen that Christian prayer is to be different from any other form of religious entreaty.
We are not to be like hypocrites when we pray! They loved to pray, but the purpose of their prayers was to be seen and praised by other people for their piety. They had their reward, and their prayers would go unanswered. Instead, we are to find a quiet place, where we can pray unobserved and undisturbed, knowing that God is with us, and that he who sees us in secret places will reward us openly, as His will is accomplished in our lives.

Neither are we to pray like pagans, who endlessly repeat meaningless words and phrases, thinking that their ‘god’ will heed them because of the verbosity of their pleas. Instead…

* Christian Prayer must be Thoughtful. VAIN repetition is the problem. – Empty, meaningless babbling. Prayer without thinking. Going on and on, with plenty of verbosity and no sincerity. It can happen to us all, and there is great danger in it. So Jesus warns us that we are not to be like the heathen, (Ecclesiastes 10:14: A fool multiplies words, though no man knows what is to be, and who can tell him what will be after him?), – our prayers are to be heartfelt and thoughtful, a sincere communication with our heavenly Father. And there is a very good reason for this…
* The Christian’s God is Different from any Pagan Deity. Jesus tells us why we are to pray differently. It is because of the nature of our God, our heavenly Father. For this God, a string of mechanically repeated empty words won’t do, for our God is OMNISCIENT. Our God see into our hearts, and he knows out needs, even before we bring them to him. In this we see…
* The intimate knowledge that God has of his people. Our God is the Creator God, the One who is not only omniscient, and omnipotent, and who is able to help is in times of need.
* The real beneficiaries of prayer. Why then pray? We might ask, if God already knows all our needs, why ask at all, why pray at all? Because Jesus told us to! So sincere, heartfelt prayer is of great benefit to the believer.

So,we move on now to look at the model prayer itself, and before we begin to examine the petitions in the prayer, let’s make a few important general observations about it..

* The Purpose of the Prayer. Matt 6:9 After this manner therefore pray ye:
Firstly, this a prayer for the disciples of Christ. I’ve always had problems with saying this prayer in open meetings, where unbelievers are present, for the only people who can address God as their Father are those who truly are his children. There is no point in encouraging people to address God as Father, when in reality they are children of their father the devil. In John 8;44 Jesus said, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” It was the disciples who asked the Lord to teach them to pray, and it is the disciples whom he instructs in the passage, and the prayer is for his disciples alone.

Secondly, it is a prayer for praying. Despite the reluctance of some evangelicals to use the words of the prayer in public worship, in case they might be guilty of vain repetition, I firmly believe that this prayer is intended for us to use as a form of prayer. In Luke, Jesus actually tells his disciples that when they pray they are to say, ‘Our Father… Luke 11:1-2, Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

Thirdly, this is a prayer to TEACH us to pray. It is a model prayer for Christians. It is interesting that the prayer teaches us to address the needs of the Kingdom of Heaven before we address our own needs. It follows Jesus’ own pattern of life for the true disciple in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. The prayer properly instructs us to put the things of God first.

A teacher was teaching her class to pray. She asked them to put their hands together, in an ‘attitude of prayer’ and then asked them NOT to shut their eyes. Then she asked them to look at their hands. What part of the hand was first, – closest to them? It was the thumb. It reminds us to pray for those who are close to us, like parents and family. Then next comes the index finger – the finger that points, so we pray for those who point us in the right direction, our teachers and our Sunday School teachers and our pastors, then there’s a big long finger, so pray for those who are over us, our government. Next comes the ring finger, and it’s a known fact that this one is the weakest finger on our hand, so it helps us to remember to pray for those who are sick or weak, and finally comes the little finger – the last and the least, and that should remind me that only after Ive prayed for others should I pray for myself, after all the Bible says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.”

A nice wee object lesson for kids, and good as far as it goes. It just leaves out one vital thing, – that before we ask God for anything for any of us, we must address Him in praise, and pray for his glory and his purpose to be accomplished. Nevertheless…

Fourthly, it is a prayer focused on community. There cannot be such a thing as a solitary Christian. We are saved from our sins as individuals, Christ died for us as individuals, but salvation and conversion place us in God’s Kingdom, and within God’s Church, the Body of Christ. We can never separate our prayer life from that understanding, and so Jesus’ model prayer is couched in plural language throughout.

You cannot say the Lord’s prayer, and even once say “I”. You cannot pray the Lord’s prayer, and even once say “my”. Nor can you pray the Lord’s prayer and not pray for another. For when you ask for daily bread, you must include your brother! For others are included in each and every plea. From the beginning to the end of it, it does not once say “me”.

Now, let’s see…

* The Structure of the Prayer.
There is an amazingly precise structure to this prayer. Matthew Henry notes that the prayer falls into three sections, – the Preface (in which we address God in opening and say, ‘Our Father’). The Petitions (there are six) and the Conclusion. The six petitions are a complex fabric of intensive instruction, and they fall into two groups of three.

Petition group 1. Petitions about God and his kingdom.
Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. It’s important that we address God and his will first, – this is a model prayer, we heed to learn that in our lives, God comes first – that our will but always be surrendered to his will.

Petition group 2. Petitions about our needs.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
Notice that this petition group deals with our most basic human needs, and addresses our human past, present and future. Bread is ‘the staff of life.’ It is the most basic food. We need it to live and we need it in the present. The promise of bread in the future won’t feed us now, and living on the harvests of the past won’t nourish us in the present. When we pray this we bring our present need to sustenance to God. Forgiveness is needed if we are to deal with our past. Help when temptation comes along is a prayer for God’s preserving grace for the future. So when we pray this prayer, we bring our past, present and future needs before God, our Father and our needs are addressed right throughout life and into eternity.

There is another aspect to the three petitions about our needs – for the prayer is Trinitarian in nature.

* In asking for bread, we are forced to consider that God is our Creator, Sustainer and Provider. We are acknowledging that everything that we have is His, and that every breath we take is a gift from God. In 1st Corinthians 10, Paul reminds us that even foods which appear to belong to some other ‘deity’ actually belong to God and are given by him. We may not believe in the Corinthian false gods, but how many of really believe that we are ‘self made’ men and women? – That everything we have we have earned ourselves? Instead we are reminded when we pray this prayer that ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.’

* When we pray for forgiveness in the prayer, we are again acknowledging God our Saviour, and specifically remembering that forgiveness only comes to us through Christ, who died at Calvary, so that our sins could be forgiven. Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

* When we pray for God to help us in times of temptation, we are acknowledging the work of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Sanctifier, who indwells the believer and who strengthens him in times of need. The Shorter Catechism, Q. 35. What is sanctification? A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for all of our lives to be surrendered to God, and we pray for God in all His Trinitarian fulness to be in charge of our lives.

In our next study, to be published (DV) in February, we will begin to look in detail at the different clauses of the Lord’s Prayer.

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