When a man is speaking to God he is at his very acme. It is the highest activity of the human soul, and therefore it is at the same time the ultimate test of a man’s true spiritual condition. There is nothing that tells the truth about us a Christian people so much as our prayer life. Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer. It is not so difficult to give alms – the natural man knows something about that, and you can have a true spirit of philanthropy in people who are not Christian at all. Some seem to be born with a generous nature and spirit, and to such almsgiving is not essentially difficult. The same applies also to the question of self-discipline – refraining from certain things and taking up particular duties and tasks. God knows it is very much easier to preach from a pulpit than it is to pray. Prayer is undoubtedly the ultimate test, because a man can speak to others with greater ease than he can speak to God. Ultimately, therefore, a man discovers the real condition of his spiritual life when he examines himself in private, when he is alone with God. We saw in verses 5-6 that the real danger for a man who leads a congregation in a public act of prayer is that he may be addressing the congregation rather than God. But when we are alone in the presence of God that is no longer possible. And have we not all known what it is to find that, somehow, we have less to say to God when we are alone than when we are in the presence of others? It should not be so; but it often is. So that it is when we have left the realm of activities and outward dealings with other people, and are alone with God, that we really know where we stand in a spiritual sense. It is not only the highest activity of the soul, it is the ultimate test of our true spiritual condition. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount; 322)
Prayer is HARD. It’s not natural, it doesn’t really equate to anything else in life, our natural being seems to rebel against it, and it doesn’t entirely make sense logically. Yet we know from God’s word that it is an awesome and wonderful privilege, and only by engaging in it will we walk before Him with renewed minds. Because of that, it’s worth working through and learning about as much as possible. Prayer is hard but its reward is priceless.
Its reward is actually one of the reasons it’s so difficult. The Enemy knows how important prayer is and so will do anything to thwart it (make us think that we don’t have time, make us think of 1000 things every time we try to pray, bring interruptions, etc.). It is actually a sign of its importance that we sometimes have to fight so hard to do it.
This text is amazing because Jesus clearly and directly addresses our troubled prayer lives. He has just said how not to pray and that we shouldn’t be like the hypocrites (thus acknowledging that prayer is fraught with opportunity for the Enemy to tempt us). Now He goes on to say how we should pray – Pray then in this way – because He knows we need help beyond simply knowing what not to do. That He finishes His words on prayer with an actual model we can follow is a sign of His great compassion and love – and a sign of how much He wants us to pray.
Think about how important prayer is to God: He tells us to pray continually (I Thess 5:17), tells us how not to pray (6:5-8), prays for us through His Spirit (Rom 8:26-27), and here gives us a complete model to follow. Prayer is not something God grudgingly allows or allows only under strict conditions; it is something He LONGS for us to do, and wants to help us do in any way possible. Think about that – God WANTS us to pray. It’s perhaps the clearest sign that we serve a personal God who wants a loving relationship with each of His children.
Jesus not only tells us how to pray – He practices it continually throughout His life on earth. Matt 14:23, Lk 5:16, Lk 6:12, and Lk 9:28 are all references to Him going away to spend concentrated times in prayer. He craves intimacy with the Father and as a submissive Son depends on His guidance. Throughout His life it’s clear He cannot go long at all without prayer. He will say that He only speaks what the Father tells Him to speak (Jn 12:49), so He spends time with the Father to know what He wants (just as we should).
As we study the specifics of the prayer, note the plural pronouns – our and us. While prayer is personal, we are not meant to pray in a vacuum. We are to pray for ourselves but also to intercede on behalf of others (and as we mature we likely will spend more time on others than on ourselves – simply because there ARE more others). The pronouns also seem to point to the appropriateness of praying with others. We are not to pray as the hypocrites do to be heard by others instead of God, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray with others to God. There seems to be a power in corporate prayer that can’t be replicated individually, so we should engage in both types of prayer throughout our lives.
- We are His children and can approach Him, unlike someone not in the family.
- We can come boldly before His throne bathed in the blood of Christ (Heb 4:16). We don’t earn our way into His presence – our relationship is not in question (Rom 8:15).
- He knows us, loves us, and wants what’s best for us as a father does his child. He won’t give us what is bad for us, even if that’s what we ask for (Matt 7:9-11).
- He longs to comfort us, protect us, encourage us.
- Inherent in this address is thankfulness for our redemption. We approach God only because of the gospel, so every time we say Father we understand the debt of gratitude and love we owe Him. Jesus does not specifically include thanksgiving in the model prayer, but to come to God without it is incomprehensible if we grasp what it means to call Him Father.
- That Jesus tells His listeners to address God as Father most likely astonishes them. Yahweh may be considered the Father of Israel, but to address Him as a personal Father demonstrates an intimacy foreign to the Jews.
Who art in heaven
- He is the almighty God.
- He is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent.
- He is the sovereign Creator/Sustainer of the universe who called all things into being.
- He is capable and unlimited. Nothing we bring to Him is outside of His authority or power.
- He is in heaven; we are on earth (Ecc 5:2).
- He’s not our buddy, not “the man upstairs.”
- Though we can come boldly before His throne, it is in fact a throne. He is our Father and King.
The remaining prayer is made up of petitions. The first three focus on God, the second three focus on us and those we pray for. He makes it very plain with the order that even our prayer life is to reflect our understanding that this life is not about us. Everything exists for God’s glory, and the prayer of a citizen of the Kingdom must be based on this reality.
Hallowed be Thy Name
- Hallowed means holy, sanctified, set apart, revered.
- Name encompasses all that God is – His character and attributes (Ex. 6:1-8).
- God’s Name is holy – we pray that it will be treated as holy in our lives and in the world.
- Note that this is a petition, not an acknowledgement – we ask God to ACT.
- The very FIRST and FOREMOST thing Jesus tells us to pray for is for God to make His Name magnified in our hearts and lives, and the hearts and lives of all mankind.
- The number one concern in our prayer life is for God to magnify Himself in the world.
- Every time we pray (no matter how desperately), we are to have the mindset that says our over-arching concern in this life is to glorify our Father. That’s number one – every other request is AFTER that.
- This does not mean that every time we pray we have to start with this petition. There are certainly times when a perfectly appropriate prayer is simply, “Father, help!” But even in that kind of prayer we should be aware that His glory comes before our needs. And it probably does mean that in our initial times of concentrated prayer each day we should start with this. It establishes our perspective for thoughts, actions and further prayers throughout the day.
Thy kingdom come
- Pray that His kingdom – His reign – will be extended in our lives (that we will live as the Sermon on the Mount tells us to – as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, not of this world).
- Pray that His kingdom will spread in the hearts and lives of those who do not yet know Him. We don’t just pray for ourselves, we pray for the lost. It seems appropriate with this petition to pray for the salvation of specific individuals by name.
- Pray that His kingdom will come soon in the person of the returning Christ.
- What is His kingdom? It is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).
- If we are citizens of the kingdom we should long for the day when it is fully established.
- II Peter 3:12 – …looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God…
- 22:17,20 – …the Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” Come, Lord Jesus.
- Praying this petition affects our behavior as our perspective becomes eternal rather than temporal. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless (II Pet 3:14).
- This flows right out of the first petition. For His Name to be fully glorified throughout the earth His kingdom must be established.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
- This petition will be fully consummated when God’s kingdom is established on earth.
- It is a prayer for His will to rule the earth but also for it to rule in our lives.
- It assumes we know His will as it is laid out in the Scriptures.
- As it is in heaven – totally, completely, instantly, perfectly.
- When we do His will in our lives we experience our own little slice of heaven.
- Not our will – His will be done. We pray always with the understanding that our requests are contingent on His will. Just as Jesus in Gethsemane will ask God to spare Him the cup of God’s wrath but then qualify it with, “…yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk 22:42), so we must understand that we approach an infinite God with finite requests. Yet if we truly understand the privilege of prayer we will not begrudge God His will. Instead we eagerly ask for it because it’s always what’s best for us – even if we don’t understand how. We’re actually much safer asking for His will than we are asking for our own. We get to ask the One who is Omnipotent and Omniscient and eternal to do His will, and to do it even if it goes against our will because He knows what’s best absolutely. It would be extremely dangerous if God always answered prayer as we wanted Him to – like a parent always doing what his 8 year old child wanted. Thus we don’t have to be fatalistic when asking for His will to be done. We can be excited and enthusiastic because it’s a great privilege of being His child. “Do Your will and glorify Yourself because that’s always what’s best. Here’s what I’d like you to do, but do Your will regardless of what I want because that’s much better.”
Interspersed throughout these three petitions should be praise. As we ask Him to magnify Himself, we focus on His attributes and character; as we focus on His attributes and character our natural reaction should be to praise. If our request is for God to glorify Himself in our life and community, it makes sense to glorify Him in our prayer.
The world says that we should make sure our name is treated with respect, that we should work to increase our authority wherever we can to increase our influence, and that we not allow our rights or desires to be trampled by anyone else. Our King says that HIS Name, HIS Kingdom and HIS will are preeminent. Whether we can pray these petitions with integrity is a searching test of the reality and depth of our Christian profession. (John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount; 148)
In all three of the remaining petitions we should be SPECIFIC. It makes no sense to hold something back from the omniscient God who is everywhere and sees all. The more specific and precise we are, the better we align our will with His.
Give us this day our daily bread
- Request for personal needs (not just food – not just physical).
- Interesting that this comes first in the order of self-based petitions – we are taught to pray for our personal needs even before confession/forgiveness.
- With our mind renewed, and our perspective correctly focused after the first three petitions, Jesus encourages us to ask our heavenly Father to meet our personal needs. Praying through HIS NAME, HIS KINGDOM and HIS WILL should affect what we categorize as needs for ourselves.
- Daily bread harkens back to an agrarian society where a laborer is paid his wages daily – typically just enough to feed him for that day. God wants us to understand our DAILY dependence on Him. By praying this we acknowledge that all we have is from Him and every need we have must be met by Him.
- This also points to our Father’s desire to answer our requests. Though Jesus says our Father knows our needs before we ask (vs. 8), He still encourages us to ask. Our Father wants our fellowship and He loves to meet our needs. Our response to His actions is to give glory and thanks back to Him.
- Per Paul in Phil. 4:6, we should bathe our requests with thanksgiving.
Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors
- Though we are saved, confession and asking for forgiveness should be regular parts of our prayers (specific and surgically precise – we can’t mourn over our sin if we don’t fully acknowledge it).
- If we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).
- Regular confession is a protection against further sin. Coming to God shines light on our sins such that we more clearly see their awfulness in contrast to the beauty of the gospel. I won’t have a renewed mind that’s repulsed by sin without continual prayers of confession. We must turn from sin in order to turn to prayer. Sin inhibits prayer as infidelity inhibits love. Prayer seeks God’s presence, while sin turns away from God’s presence. We must turn from sin in order to pray, just as we must turn from prayer in order to sin. So the habit of prayer is our strongest protection against sin. Sin and prayer are opposites; they are darkness and light. (Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners; 83-84)
- If regular confession does not produce an increased confidence and joy in your life, then you do not understand salvation by grace, the essence of the faith. (Tim Keller, Prayer; 115)
- When we understand the enormity of our sin and the enormity of our own forgiven debt to God, we can’t help but forgive others any sins committed against us (which pale in comparison to our offenses against God – Matt 18:23-35). If we do not forgive, we do not understand or appreciate our forgiven state (goes right along with the beatitude on mercy – it’s when we appreciate how merciful God is to us that we’re merciful to others – Matt 5:7).
- This is understood on two levels – as a believer, if I’m holding a grudge I must deal with that (asking for God’s help in removing it) before I can expect to come to God to ask for forgiveness (for I’m refusing to deal with sin in my life while asking God to forgive me for all the other sins). On a different level, however, if I consistently refuse to forgive or will not give up a grudge, I cannot claim to be a forgiven child of God.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (evil one)
- This does not mean that God can tempt us. Per James 1:13, He can’t be tempted nor does He tempt anyone. Jesus’ words here draw a contrast.
- It is a plea that unlike our hearts or the Evil One (which lead us into evil), our Father lead us away from temptation and deliver us from falling into evil and from the power of the Enemy.
- It is an acknowledgement of our vulnerability to sin and our utter dependence on His Spirit to keep us in His will. It is a plea that nothing interrupt our fellowship with Him.
- It is another area where specifics are important. We know where we have failed and are prone to failure, so we should pray specifically for protection in those areas.
- How arrogant not to pray this petition continually – how can we ever start a day without it? We do not know our hearts if we do not regularly pray this.
God’s name magnified.
God’s Kingdom realized.
God’s will obeyed.
Our needs met.
Our sins forgiven.
Our hearts protected and delivered.
EVERYTHING we need to think and act as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven is encompassed in this prayer. What an AWESOME God to give us this teaching. He wants us to come to Him, He provides the means, and He shows us the way. How can we not take advantage of it?
There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. (Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners; 18)
“Father in heaven, thank You that we can come before You because You redeemed us. Thank You that we are Your children and You love us. Help us to honor Your name in our lives today, to reflect Your holiness in all that we do and say and think. Please rule in our lives and make this day about Your kingdom and not our own. Make the gospel spread throughout our community and the world and make it real to the following people – help us to testify to it in both words and actions. Help us to submit to Your will regardless of what it means for our comfort and prosperity – to trust that all You do is for Your glory and our good. Through Your Spirit give us the ability to obey You in this life as we will obey You in the next. Please provide our needs but provide according to Your will, not ours. We are sorry for these sins and ask that you forgive them because of Christ, and help us to remember our continual need for forgiveness as we interact with others. Protect us from sin today and keep us from temptation. Protect us from what we can’t anticipate and help us to respond as Your children. Don’t allow us to be deceived and led away by the Enemy. Thank You that we can pray. Thank You that You hear. Thank You that You love us. Amen.”