Posted on June 8th, by Doug Ponder in God, Life, Mission. 1 Comment


Written by on June 8, 2013

The Lord And His Prayer

Jesus had to teach his followers many things, including how to pray. At its most basic level, prayer means talking to God. It means intentionally conveying a message to God to praise him, to thank him, to confess sin, or to ask for his help. In prayer we abandon our pride, admit our need, and acknowledge our dependence upon God for all things. Some have said that prayer is like ‘practicing the presence of God,’ since he is with us wherever we go, and we need him whether we recognize it or not. Here’s what Jesus had to say about prayer.

Don’t Babble On And On

When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matt. 6:7-8)

Jesus tells us that we don’t have to twist God’s arm to listen to us by using many words, or “heaping up empty phrases.” Talking to God doesn’t work like that. He listens to our prayers not because we have the right to talk to the God of the universe, but because Jesus has earned that privilege for us. “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. . . . Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14, 16).

Jesus also reminds us that prayer is not informing God of what we need. He says, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” So why pray? Two reasons. First, asking God for help (sometimes called “supplication”) is not the only point of prayer, as we shall see in a moment. Second, the Scriptures teach, “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). Wondering why we need to ask God if he already knows what he need is like wondering, “Why do I need to hit the nail with the hammer if I already know what a hammered nail looks like?” Hitting the nail with the hammer is how the nail gets into the board, and asking God for things is how we receive what God knows we need.

Remember Who You’re Talking To

So this is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
May your name be honored. (Matt. 6:9)

Older translations say, “Hallowed be your name,” but since we don’t use that word much anymore, I find that people have no idea what Jesus was talking about. Jesus was saying that God is holy, and we should honor him as such. To honor God is to respond to him in the way that is fitting or worthy of who he is.

In other words, Jesus says that prayer begins with recognizing who it is that we are speaking to. When you pray, you are praying to your Creator who made you, your Redeemer who saved you, your Lord who commands you, and your Father who loves you and has adopted you into his heavenly family. That’s an awful lot to praise and thank God for—even if you feel like nothing else is going right.

Seek First The Kingdom

May your kingdom come,
May your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:10)

When Jesus spoke of the “kingdom of God,” he was not referring to a place or a time, but to the redeeming rule of God (Psalm 145:11, 13; Matt 6:33). But what are we praying for when we pray for God’s kingdom to come? Jesus tells us in the very next sentence, “May your will be done.” To ask for God’s kingdom to come is to ask for God’s will to be done.

You may be thinking, “Isn’t God’s will done everywhere, no matter what?” That’s true. “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3). “God does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand. . .” (Dan. 4:35).

But Jesus does not say, “Pray that God’s will is done—period.” Instead, Jesus tells us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven God’s will is obeyed by his subjects voluntarily (willingly) as they fulfill his desires “from the heart” without coercion of any kind. In other words, in heaven people obey God because they want to, not because they are forced to. Obviously, not all people in the world today obey the will of God “from the heart.” This is why Jesus taught us to pray: “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

Therefore, in praying, “May your kingdom come,” Jesus was not saying, “Get me outta here!” Instead, Jesus taught us to pray that God would do God’s work of colonizing the earth with the life of heaven. Jesus invites us to join him that amazing mission, and our work begins with prayer.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask

Give us this day our daily bread, (Matt. 6:11)

Jesus says that it’s OK to pray for daily needs, even basic ones like food (“bread”). God doesn’t only offer “spiritual help,” for he is the God of the physical and the spiritual, the Lord of the entire universe. Our problem is that we get to the asking part too soon. Many of our prayers sound a wish list for Santa. “God, please give me this, and also this, and help me with that, and fill my life with your blessings. Amen.”

It’s not that God is unwilling to help us. Jesus says, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to you children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” (Matt. 7:11). Rather, Jesus knows that the ultimate help we need is more dependence on and trust in God—not more stuff from God. You see, God is not like the stranger you meet on Halloween, hoping to get candy from him without caring one bit about them after you leave their doorstep. Getting know God is the whole point. Jesus even says, ‘eternal life is knowing God’ (John 17:3).

So don’t feel like you can’t ask God for things in your life. You absolutely can, and you should. But you also ought to remember who it is that you are talking to, and what he says the ultimate blessing is (more of himself). To go asking God for something that you want more than him is a failed effort from the start.

Confess And Forgive

And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors. (Matt. 6:12)

To have a debt is to owe something to someone. To forgive someone of a debt, therefore, means to absolve them of their responsibility to pay you back. This is true even when what is owed is something other than money. I sometimes wonder if Jesus uses money as an illustration so often because it cuts right to our heart’s deepest desires. Perhaps we think, “I can forgive someone for lying to me.” And perhaps you could. But Jesus says, “Forgive someone of whatever they owe you,” and when it comes to money, you may be less likely to do so.

In fact, Jesus uses money as an illustration of forgiveness in one more than parable. He tells the story of a servant who owed the king a stupidly large sum of money. (Somewhere around 3 billion dollars!) The servant couldn’t pay back his debt, and he was about to be thrown into prison when the king let him go. He forgave him of his debts. Then Jesus switches up the story. The servant who had just been forgiven of a multi-billion dollar debt goes looking for a lower servant who owes him some a few thousand bucks. (This lower servant owed his master about 600,000 times less than what that man owed the king.) When he finds the man, he has him thrown into prison for being unable to pay back his debt. But when the king found out what had happened, he called in the first servant and rebuked him harshly. He then had him thrown into jail until he could pay back the entire sum of money he originally owed. (See Matthew 18:21-35.)

This is why Jesus adds the following words to the end of his prayer: If you forgive people the wrong they have done, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you what you have done wrong. (Matt. 6:14-15)

Jesus isn’t talking about earning God’s forgiveness. He’s talking about understanding the forgiveness you have received. If you know how much God had forgiven you of, then you can more easily forgive others. But someone who refuses to forgive another person demonstrates that they don’t understand the forgiveness of God. They imagine that someone’s sin against them is worse than their sin against God, and that is completely contrary to the heart of the gospel itself.

But why pray for forgiveness if we have already been forgiven at the cross of Jesus? The biblical word for this is confession. Confession is acknowledging our wrongs, owning up to faults, and pleading the mercy and grace of God for our sins. In prayer we are not ridding ourselves of the guilt of sin—the cross of Jesus has already done that. Instead, prayer rids us of the lingering feelings of guilt, by reminding us once again of the forgiving love of God as seen in the life and death of Jesus.

Keep Us Safe As We Live On Mission

And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from evil. (Matt. 6:13)

To pray, “Do not lead us into temptation” does not mean, of course, that God himself causes people to be tempted. The Scriptures say the very opposite (James 1:13). Instead it means “do not let us be led into temptation that we will be unable to bear’ (compare with 1 Corinthians 10:12-13), and it means ‘enable us to pass through the testing of our faith so that we may be found genuine’ (compare 1 Pet. 1:7 and Jas. 1:2-4).

This is quite different from what people often think it means. Jesus explicitly says in a prayer for his followers, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from evil” (John 17:15). This is why Jesus joins the two phrases here. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” is not our way of asking God to snatch us away from dangerous places or difficult people. Rather, it is a way to pray, just as Jesus did, that God would not take us away from the world but preserve us as we live for him in the midst of a fallen world.

In other words, Jesus is not merely telling us to ask for protection against petty personal sins. He is telling us to pray that as we live on mission, as we are sent by Jesus to live as he lived (John 17:18), we ask God to keep us safe and to help us fight against the temptations we cannot avoid. There is a world of difference between praying this prayer like ostriches with our hands in the sand, and praying this prayer as those sent into the world to live for Jesus in the power of the Spirit. After all, there’s not much sense praying the Lord’s prayer if we have no desire in following the Lord’s example and obeying the Lord’s commands.

Closing In Prayer

Will you pray this with me now?

Our Father in heaven,
May your name be honored.
May your kingdom come,
May 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 forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

For his truly is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.

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