Lord, Teach Us To Pray - Part 4

Matthew 6:5-15

Tom Pennington  •  January 22, 2006
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We come this morning again to Matthew 6, and to these beautiful and profound words of our Lord as He instructs us on the crucial issue of prayer. Prayer is, to the Christian life and experience, what breathing is to the physical life. It is imperative that as believers this be a huge part of our experience in our relationship to God. You remember that several weeks ago we looked at that passage in Acts where the apostles summarized their entire life, their entire ministry, by saying that "we will devote ourselves to the ministry of the word and to prayer."

In Matthew 6 our Lord is teaching us exactly how to do this. As we saw, this is not a skill that comes naturally. It is, however, a skill that can be learned.

In Luke 11 a disciple said "Lord, teach us to pray" and he used the classic Greek word for oral instruction. Lord, give us oral instruction on how it is that we are to pray. The outcome of that of course, are these words that we commonly refer to as The Lord's Prayer, which can also be called the Disciple's Prayer, because it's intended for us.

Let me read it for you. You follow along and I'll read just the prayer itself this morning. Matthew 6 beginning in verse 9.

Pray, then, in this way: "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we … have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.'""

Jesus, here in this great part of the Sermon on the Mount, is teaching us how to pray. Several weeks ago we looked at the way He begins this instruction, with the motive of prayer in verses 5 - 8. He explains exactly what it is that's to drive our thinking as we come to Him in prayer. The motive that's to lie behind it. And then, of course, we come to the prayer itself, and that's where we find ourselves. We began last week to look at the prayer, beginning in verse 9.

Now, as far as how we're to use this prayer, you remember that Jesus, in His introductory comments, both here in Matthew 6 and in Luke 11, tells us that there are two legitimate ways to use this prayer. Here in Matthew 6, He tells us that we are to use it as a model, as a pattern of what all of our prayers should be like. Notice in verse 9, He says "pray in this way," or after this manner. This prayer condenses everything that should ever be a part of our prayer life into one beautiful, profound prayer. It gives us the categories of prayer. A pattern; a model we're to follow in shaping our own prayers.

But there's a second legitimate use of The Lord's Prayer. It's found in His introduction in Luke 11 where He says, "when you pray, say." Or we could paraphrase it "when you pray, use these words." So, it is absolutely acceptable to use these exact words both in private and in corporate prayer, even as we did this morning, as long as, provided that, they don't become meaningless repetition, but instead our minds are engaged as we commnicate these words.

Now, as far as the structure of the prayer itself, we discovered there are three parts. It begins with a preface, "Our Father who is in heaven." And then you have six petitions. You remember that there are some who believe there are seven petitions, and they divide verse 13 into two different petitions, but I think it's best, following many, if not most, of the commentators in the history of the church in uniting verse 13 into one petition, which gives us a preface and then six petitions, or if you will, six categories that are to consume our prayers. And then, finally, a conclusion: "for yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen."

In our study this morning, I want us to complete the study we began last week of the preface; those words found in verse 9, "Our Father who is in heaven." From the fact that the prayers recorded in Scripture often begin with an invocation or a preface, we learn that we must be very careful, we must be very thoughtful, in how we approach our great God. We talked about that extensively last time, and here, Jesus is teaching us exactly how it is we are to approach God.

There is a particular mindset that we are to have, specifically, he prescribes here in this preface, in these brief words, three attitudes that should permeate every prayer we ever pray, whether it's the prayer in which we simply speak out to God in the midst of the flow of our day, or whether it's the time set aside for prayer, as we've talked about. Regardless of the kind of prayer, these three attitudes should be part and parcel of every prayer that we lift up to our God.

The first attitude, as we saw last week, is, we are to pray as a member of a family. As a member of a family. Jesus says "Our Father", Our. Legitimate prayer is always plural. It's always thinking of the fact that we are connected to others because of what God has done for us in Christ. We are to pray for others. That is, we are to pray on the behalf of others, not merely for our own concerns and interests and desires. We are to pray with others, as we saw patterned through the early church. And the amazing thing is, to pray as a member of a family means we can also pray as our elder brother prays, as Christ Himself prays. We can pray with Christ. We can join our voice as it were with His, in praying these words. Obviously, as I mentioned last week, He doesn't pray for His own forgiveness, but He does pray for others' forgiveness, and so these words are also an expression of His heart, and went we through each petition last week to see that. So, we are to pray as a member of a family.

Today, I want us to examine the two other attitudes that should characterize every prayer we pray. Not only as the member of a family, but when we pray, we are to pray as a child of a father, Our Father. I remember reading a 1996 Newsweek article about the plight of today's father. Kenneth Woodward wrote in Newsweek these words: "These are tough times to be a father. The media are full of stories about abusive fathers, fatherless children, and deadbeat dads. This is an age when fathers get little respect, and you don't have to look farther than the biggest father figure of them all, God. God the Father is out, unless coupled with God the Mother.

Few theologians these days seem to want a God who takes charge, assumes responsibility, fights for His children, makes demands, risks, rebuffs, punishes, as well as forgives. In a word: "a Father." He's exactly right. The concept of God as Father, in many parts of Christianity, falsely so called, has come on hard times. But this is exactly how God has taught us to think about Him.

Now, the concept of God as Father does occur in the Old Testament, although not very frequently. For example, in Deuteronomy 32:6 Moses says "Do you thus repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you." In Psalm 103:13 David reminds us that "Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him." The image of a father is how we're taught to perceive of God. Isaiah 63:16 "For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, And Israel does not recognize us. You, O LORD, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name." So the concept of God as a father occurs in the Old Testament, but from the few number of times it is used, it's clear that this was not the primary way that Old Testament believers thought about God.

But when Christ came, everything changed. Because this was the primary way that Jesus addressed the first member of the Trinity. In the gospel, Jesus refers to God as His Father more than 60 times. In fact, it's fascinating to think of it but the only time that you can find Jesus not referring to God as His Father, was on the cross, during those six dark hours when He cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" But after He had paid the debt for sin, and after He had incurred God's wrath against your sin and mine, He ends His life by saying "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

Jesus not only referred to God as His Father, but He even chose at times a term of deepest intimacy. Abba is the word. It's been transliterated for us into English. Abba is an Aramaic word. It's best English translation is probably not daddy as you've heard it. Greek has a word for daddy, "pappas". But Jesus apparently didn't use it, and the New Testament authors, under the inspiration of the Spirit didn't choose to use that Greek word. They, instead, brought an Aramaic word into the New Testament because of its meaning, because of the fulness of its meaning. Abba was a word that mature, grown, Jewish children used for their fathers. If you were an adult speaking to your father, this is the word you would have used. There's no clear English equivalent, but perhaps the best translation would be something like this: Dear father, or dearest father. It blends both intimacy and reverence or respect. This is how Jesus referred to His Father.

But you know, the amazing thing about the fact that Jesus spoke of God as Father isn't that He spoke that way. Obviously, He was the eternal, unique Son of God. But what's even more amazing is that He taught His disciples to speak to God this way, or to think of God this way, and certainly to speak to Him in this way. In Matthew 28:19 you remember after His resurrection, Jesus is giving the great commission to His disciples, and He says, I want you to go everywhere, and I want you to make disciples, and I want you to baptize those disciples in the name of Jahweh. Of course, that's not what it says. God's great Old Testament name, the Eternal He Is. No, He says I want you to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is how I want my disciples to think of the great eternal I Am, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, we are to approach our God as we would a father. We are to pray with the attitude of a child to a father. But what exactly does that mean?

I want to unpack that expression a little bit. I want us to look at the nuances of what it means to pray as a child to a father. First of all, I think it means we're to pray in awareness of our adoption, in the awareness of our adoption. Now, I'm not going to spend much time on this point this morning, because I hope to address adoption in detail next Sunday night. On Sunday nights, we're studying of course through the great doctrines of salvation, and we come to adoption next Sunday night, so I'm just going to touch on it. Let me give you just sort of a thumbnail. In one sense, it is appropriate to say that God is the father of all men. Paul makes this point, you'll remember, on Mars Hill in Acts 17, speaking to the Athenian philosophers. He says,

"for in … [God] we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, we also are His children. Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of men." [In other words, he is saying to these pagan, idolatrous philosophers, there is a sense in which all of us are the children of God, in the sense that He is our creator. That we are made in His image.]

But in the New Testament term, in the fullest sense of what it means to be children of God, or sons of God, only believers can legitimately call God Father. Our Lord put it this way in John 8:42. Jesus was speaking to those who didn't believe in Him, and He said, "If God were your Father" [and He's not] "you would love Me." So, it's only those of us who have come to genuine faith and repentance that can call God Father. It's only those of us who love Christ that can call God Father. The Apostle John, and also in his first epistle, 3:1 says, "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are." It says we who have come to embrace the Messiah, the Christ, the one that we have seen and touched and handled, we can be called rightfully children of God.

You see, once you came to faith in Christ, this morning, if you are in Christ, if you came to repent of your sins and to believe in Him, to embrace Him as Lord and Savior, then at that very moment, God made a legal decision. Not merely the decision of justification that we talked about last Sunday night, but He made another legal decision, and that was, to adopt you. At the very moment of salvation, you became a part of the family of God. Now we too can call God our Abba, just like Jesus did. Paul makes this point over in Romans 8. In Romans 8 notice how he puts it, verse 14: "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" It says, if you have the Spirit, and if you're being led by the Spirit in a path of obedience, then you are truly a son of God a daughter of God. "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"

Over in Galatians 4:6 Paul makes the same point. He says "because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying," (through us as it were) "Abba! Father!" Dearest Father. You see, here's the amazing truth. The same kind of intimacy that exists between God the Father and His unique eternal Son can be ours as well. Jesus puts this in different words over in John 14 on the night before His crucifixion, speaking to His disciples. John 14:18,

"I'm not going to leave you as orphans. [You're going to have a father.] I will come to you. … you will see me, [and] because I will live, you will live also. In that day you will know that [watch this] I am in my Father, [there's a unique statement of His intimate communion with the Father, of His identity with the Father] and you in Me and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." Verse 23, "… If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him."

What an amazing promise. When you pray, and when you say Our Father, you are praying in the awareness that you have been adopted by God. That you have entered a different relationship with Him than that which you knew before you came to faith in Christ.

What does it mean to pray as a child to a father? It means you pray in awareness of your adoption, but I think there's another thing it means. I think it means you pray in confidence of His gracious response, in confidence that He will graciously respond to you as a father. By using the image of a father, Jesus is comparing our relationship to God to that of the best of human fathers and their children. You'll notice, back in Matthew 6, the context, in verse 8 Jesus says "your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him." The implication is obviously, He's every bit as concerned about that as you are. In fact, He's more concerned about your needs than you are. Just as an earthly father would be about his children. With that sort of background, look at Matthew 7. Just a little bit further in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:9,

"… what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf," [wants some bread] "will give him a stone?" [Of course you don't do that. That's not how earthly fathers act. If there's a legitimate need and the son comes to you with that concern, you are moved to meet that need.] Verse 10, Or if he asks for a fish, he won't give him a snake, will he? [Here son, I know you wanted a fish, but have a snake. Jesus is saying that's ridiculous! Now what's his point?] Notice verse 11, "If you then, being evil," [that's us] "know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"

You see, when we come to our Father in prayer, not only do we come recognizing that new relationship which we have which is adoption, but we also come in expectation that our Father is good, and that He cares about us, and that He is going to meet the needs that we legitimately have.

Phillip Ryken, in his excellent book on prayer, writes: "Jesus teaches us to call God Father and to do so with confidence, even if we have never known a father's love." Pause a minute, perhaps you're here this morning, and when you hear this term "father", it brings up the worst of images and the worst of pictures because of the kind of home in which you grew up. Listen to Ryken as he continues.

"We are to come with confidence, even if we have never known a father's love. This is because Jesus knows that a father's love is what we have always longed for. He invites us to become God's beloved child. He teaches us to speak to Him as our dear father. Think of the best of earthly fathers, and then magnify that an infinite number of times, and that's what God is to you and to me. Our Father. When you come before God, always come to Him as a child to a father, and that means you come not only in awareness of your adoption, but you come in confidence that He will graciously respond to you. That He will give you what you need. That He cares about you more deeply than you can ever imagine."

Is that how you think of God? Is that how you perceive of God as you come into His presence in prayer? As the best imaginable father, as the greatest picture of a father that your mind can conceive? That's how God has taught us, in the person of His Son, to think. If we're honest, for most Christians, that's not how they think about God. I think the words of Mark Pierce quoted in Andrew Murray's little book With Christ in the School of Prayer, these words I read when I was in college, and they still haunt me. Listen to how he pictures this reality.

"Our Father, alas, we speak of it only as the utterance of a reverential homage. We think of it as a figure borrowed from an earthly life and only in some faint and shallow meaning to be used of God. We are afraid to take God as our own tender Father. He is instead, to us, a schoolmaster, or almost farther off than that, and knowing less about us, an inspector who knows nothing of us except through our lessons. Now open the ears of the heart, timid child of God. Let it go sinking right down into the innermost depths of your soul. Here is the starting point of holiness, in the love and patience and pity of a heavenly Father. God loves you not because you are clever, not because you are good, but because He is your Father."

To come as a child to a father means that we come eagerly anticipating a gracious response from someone who loves us more than we can ever imagine.

It also means that we come in the spirit of submission. To come as a child to the Father means that we recognize our position before Him. You'll remember that Paul makes it very clear in Ephesians 6 that we have two twin duties to fathers, to earthly fathers. That is to respect and honor them, and to obey them. We owe the same to our Heavenly Father. Jesus often reminded His hearers while He was here on earth that as a Son He willingly submitted Himself to His Father's will. Perhaps nowhere is that put in a more gripping way than in that prayer in Gethsemane when He cried out in Mark 14:36, "Abba! Father! … remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will"

To pray to God as to a father is to have the same spirit as our Lord Jesus Christ, our older Brother. It's to submit our will to His. So, learn to pray, not only as a member of the family, but also as a child of a father. What does that mean? It means that you pray in awareness of your adoption, in confidence of His gracious response, and in the spirit of submission.

Now that brings us to the third attitude our Lord touches on at the beginning of this prayer, a third attitude that should characterize all of our prayers. Not only should we pray as a member of a family. Not only should we pray as a child to a father, but we should pray as a subject of a king, as a subject of a king. Our Father who is in heaven. Now, what does Christ mean when He refers to God as being in heaven? It's important that you think rightly about God, and Scripture is clear that God is omnipresent. That is, He is present everywhere at the same time. God is not bound by space. He created it, and He lives outside of space.

Second Chronicles 2:6, "Who is able to build a house for Him, for the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain Him?" So God can't be bound by space, and yet Scripture also teaches that He fills all of the space that He did create. Jeremiah 23:23 "Am I a God who is near, declares the LORD, And not a God far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places, So [that] I do not see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill the heavens and the earth? declares the LORD."

So, it's important to understand that God isn't confined to one place. God isn't in heaven in the sense that you're sitting here this morning and are nowhere else. Scripture tells us that God is everywhere and at the same time He is outside of everything that can be called 'where', or a place. But God specifically manifests His presence in heaven. Think of it if you will as God's address. He specially manifests His presence, though He's present everywhere. He's as much fully in this room this morning as He is in heaven. But He specially manifests His presence in heaven. Here, Jesus tells us that when we begin to pray, we're to remember that Our Father has specifically chosen to manifest His presence in heaven. Why? What's the point? Why does Christ here emphasize this?

Well, when the writers of Scripture use this image of God as being in heaven and us being here on the earth, it serves a very definite purpose. It's to mark the gulf that exists between God and His creatures. Listen to 2 Chronicles 20:6. Jehoshaphat prays "O LORD, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You." The idea of our Father being in heaven points to His sovereign rule, to His Kingship. He is the King of the universe. Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 66 of his prophecy. "Thus says the LORD, Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool," Think of that picture for a moment, that word picture. Heaven is My throne, and the earth is simply a stool for My feet.

If we only thought of God as Father, our approach to Him could easily become too familiar, too chummy. I've heard some Christians pray in this way. We might lack the fear and reverence that we really owe this great Being that is our Father. So, when we pray, Jesus says that we are to keep in the very forefront of our minds that we are approaching our adopted Father, and that's a wonderful thing, but we're also to remember that our adopted Father happens to be the King of the universe, the Creator of everything. As the commentator, France, writes, these words express forcefully the tension in the disciples' attitude to God, who is at the same time, in heaven, that is transcendent, all powerful, the Lord of the universe, and yet our Father, concerned for the needs of each disciple, and entering into an intimate relationship with him.

Now, as we did with the other attitudes, let's see if we can unpack this a little bit. What does it mean to approach God as the subject of a King? What are the nuances of meaning that are here? Well, I think there are a couple of things we can observe. First of all, I think to come to God as a subject to a King means we come with an apprehension of His majesty, an apprehension of the majesty of God. When the Bible refers to God as being in heaven, it's attempting to help us grasp the awesome unfathomable majesty of the being of God. Turn to Psalm 113, which I read in your hearing this morning for our Scripture reading, Psalm 113. Listen again to how the Psalmist puts it. Verse 4,

"The Lord is high above all nations. His glory is above the heavens. Who is like the LORD our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold The things that are in heaven and in the earth?"

You know, it's an amazing picture we're given here by the psalmist. God is so high, He's so majestic, He's so exalted, that He has to stoop, not only to look at the earth, but to look at heaven itself. It gives us a picture of His majesty, of His greatness. He is an exalted King, a Sovereign Ruler, an absolute Monarch. Our minds struggle to comprehend this reality. We live in a democracy. And I'm grateful that we live in a democracy. But I'm afraid sometimes our politics slip over into our view of spiritual things.

We begin to think of our God in terms of our political structure. Listen, never for a moment think that God's Kingdom is a democracy. It is an absolute Monarchy. Nobody gets a vote. If you want a picture, the best picture I can think of is the one given to us of a man that God said was a head of gold. He was the greatest monarch, human monarch, that ever lived. Turn to Daniel 5. Daniel 5. This man Nebuchadnezzar was a pagan until God, I believe, gloriously saved him. I think we'll see Nebuchadnezzar in heaven. But listen to how Daniel, a generation or two later, (actually Belshazzar, to whom he speaks here is probably the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar,) listen to how Daniel describes his friend Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 5:18,

"O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory, and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father," [Now watch what absolute monarchy looks like.] "Because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations, and men of every language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed, and whomever he wished he spared alive; and whomever he wished he elevated, and whomever he wished he humbled."

Now don't misunderstand here. This isn't an expression of some kind of capriciousness. Instead, Daniel is drawing a picture of absolute, unrestrained power. Nebuchadnezzar had no political handlers. He had no focus groups. He didn't check out the latest surveys to see which way he should go. He had within his grasp the power to do whatever was in his mind to do. And while he was simply a human, flawed king, our God, in the same way, but in a much higher and exalted way, has absolute unrestrained power.

Psalm 115:3 says "our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. Psalm 135:6, "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps." Listen, if we can begin to comprehend in the smallest way the awesome majesty of God, it will have a profound far reaching effect on every part of our lives, but especially on our prayer lives.

Let me show you what it looks like. Turn back to Ecclesiastes 5. In Ecclesiastes 5 Solomon draws for us a picture of what it looks like to come before God as the subject of a king. Ecclesiastes 5:1,

"Guard your steps as you go to the house of God, and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools" In other words, keep your mouth shut. Verse 2: "Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few."

Listen, Jesus is saying in that brief expression "Our Father who is in heaven" that you and I are to understand that yes, we come to a father, but we come to a father who is all powerful, who is majestic beyond our comprehension. The same message by the way as in Ecclesiastes 5 is in the New Testament in different words.

First Peter 1:17, Peter says, "if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth;" In view of who He is, in view of the reality that you'll stand before Him, conduct yourselves in fear, even though he's Father. To come before God in prayer with the attitude of a subject of a king means that we have an apprehension of God's majesty.

Another nuance, the second thing I think it means is that we have a deep sense of our own unworthiness, a deep sense of our own unworthiness. Genesis 18:27, Abraham, whom Paul calls the father of the faith, Abraham is talking to, I believe Jesus Christ, a pre-incarnate appearance of the second member of the Trinity. And he says this " I have ventured to speak to the LORD, although I am but dust and ashes." Is that how you think when you come before God. Listen, prayer is not a right, it is a privilege, and we are totally unworthy to come before the King of the universe. If Abraham was, how much more are we.

But I think there's another nuance of meaning. Not only does it mean that we should come with a sense of the majesty of God, and a deep sense of our own unworthiness, but I think to come before God as the subject of a King means that we come in joyous expectation of His generosity. I love Psalm 81:10 where God says, "Open your mouth wide…." The implication is because I am great and able to do whatever I choose. "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it." To come to God recognizing His greatness, recognizing His sovereign control over everything, and we can ask audacious requests because of the greatness of our God. In Ephesians 3 Paul says I want to remind you who God is. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above what, all that you can ask or even think, even imagine.

We come to a Father. When we come to a Father who is in heaven, a Father who is infinitely exalted above us, our King, are these the attitudes in which you pray? When you pray, do you remember that you are a member of a family, or do you simply lift up your own selfish concerns and needs? When you pray, do you come to God as a child speaking to his Father, aware of the fact that He has adopted you into His family, that you can expect Him to care for you and love you and be concerned about what's on your heart? Do you come as a child submitting your will to His? Do you come to God as the subject of a King, recognizing His awful majesty, recognizing your own unworthiness, and yet still anticipating His being generous because of the greatness of His riches? Jesus says, as you are opening your mouth in prayer, make sure your attitude is right: Our Father Who is in heaven.

You know, this week as I was contemplating God as our Father, I was thinking how unimaginable it really is that we get to use that phrase, and that there's a reality behind it. That we have been literally adopted into God's family. That He sees you and me, if you are in Christ, as one of His own dear children.

And that led me to remember that the reason that's possible is because of the death of Christ that we celebrate in the Lord's table. You call Him Father. And every time you call Him Father, your mind should go to this sacrifice, this picture in these elements we partake today.

God help us if we partake in a way that's unworthy of Him, still holding on to sin, still clinging to something that we want more than we want His glory. Take a moment if you would as the men come, and prepare your hearts to partake of the Lord's table.