Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” – Matthew 6:9
The Lord’s Prayer. Most of us are familiar with. Many of us can easily quote it. Some may even use it as kind of a stand-in or substitute for their own prayers. But how many of us actually use it in the way Jesus probably intended it – as a model for prayer? In the Gospel of Matthew, we have recorded what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. Chapters 5-7 contain a series of teachings from the lips of Jesus that cover everything from the Beatitudes to the Golden Rule. As He sat on the mountainside, Jesus taught on a wide range of topics, dealing with anger, divorce, lust, fasting, love of enemies, judging others, and living as salt and light. This was radical stuff. And the controversial nature of what Jesus had to say did not escape his audience. Matthew records: “And when Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29 ESV).
In a lot of ways, Jesus was the antithesis of the scribes, Pharisees and other religious leaders of His day. In fact, He would constantly expose them as hypocrites, accusing them of having exterior conformity, but lacking true hearts for God. So much of what He said was a direct attack on the legalistic and outwardly moralistic example of these so-called religious leaders. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was upping the ante. He was revealing that the Kingdom of God was about much more that outward adherence to a set of rules or some form of behavior modification. It was about heart change – something that men were incapable of on their own. The Lord’s Prayer lies smack dab in the middle of His sermon, tucked in with some rather harsh words regarding the hypocritical, self-centered motivation of so much of what the religious elite did in the name of spirituality. He exposed their prayer lives as little more than a poorly veiled attempt to get noticed by others. They were looking for recognition from men. They prayed to impress others, rather than to get to know God. So Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” And then He gave them a short, succinct example of what a selfless, God-centered, humble prayer looks like. And He did not provide this as a prayer to be prayed by rote. It was never meant to be a substitute for our own personal prayers. But it does give us a wonderful outline around which we can customize our conversations with our heavenly Father.
Jesus starts out His prayer with a focus of the Father. He sets the tone for prayer by reminding us that we are entering into the presence of our heavenly Father – a staggering reality that was made possible by His death, burial and resurrection. It is because Jesus gave His life that we have been made right with God. His death atoned for our sins. His sinless life made Him the perfect sacrifice – allowing Him to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. And as a result, we are now God’s children. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). Paul takes it a step further. “And since we are his children, we are his heirs” (Romans 8:17 NLT). “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT). So when we come to God in prayer, we must come to grips with the astounding realization that we are God’s children. He loves us. He desires to be with us. But Jesus seems to want us to understand that we must never forget that while God is our Father, He resides in heaven. There is a stark differentiation between God and man. He is spiritual in nature. He exists elsewhere, outside of time and space. He is divine and we are human. He is the great creator God of the universe. Which should make our position as His children that much more remarkable to us. We are children of God! And that designation is not shared by all mankind. While all men have been created by Him, only those who have placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior from sin can claim the unique designation as sons and daughters of God. John writes in his Gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV). So when we come to God in prayer, we must remember that He is God. Yes, He is our Father, but that intimacy should always be tempered with respect and recognition of His majesty and glory. We should also recall that our entrance into His presence is a privilege, not a right. We enter by virtue of the blood of Christ, not our own self-worth or any intrinsic value. We have been adopted by God. That should blow us away. We can come freely, gladly, boldly, expectantly, but it should always be reverently, with a unwavering recognition of God’s holiness. But we’ll talk more about that tomorrow.