Jesus is delivering his sermon while on the mountain to his disciples and the multitudes have gathered to hear him. He is teaching the people about what true righteousness in the kingdom of God looks like. In our last lesson we notice that Jesus taught a warning about performing acts of righteousness so that you can be seen by others. One of the righteous acts is prayer, about which Jesus goes into more detail.
I believe most Christians admit that prayer is a difficult discipline. There is a reason that the disciples as Jesus to teach them to pray. I want to slow down over this section where Jesus teaches about how to pray as a way to help us improve our prayer life and encourage a greater desire for prayer.
How Not To Pray (6:7-8)
First, Jesus teaches that when we pray to not heap up empty phrases like the Gentiles do. The NASB reads, “meaningless repetition.” The Greek meaning is idle, thoughtless chatter. So the concern is that meaningless words are said without mind or heart. Notice that the Gentiles do this because they think they will be heard for their many words (6:7). They believed that the longer the prayer, the better to get their gods to listen. Jesus teaches us something very important. Saying certain words does not activate God or get his attention. But think about how often this model prayer that Jesus gives is used as meaningless repetition or thinking that these words activate God. Nor does saying more words make God more apt to listen. Nor does making the prayer really long get God to listen. We are called to just talk to God. So do not pray thinking that you have to say certain words or make your prayer a certain length.
Second, Jesus reminds his disciples that the reason you do not have to pray like the Gentiles is because “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” How wonderful this is for us! God is not ignorant so that we need to instruct him nor think that we need to persuade him. Many will ask what the purpose of prayer is since God already knows. The purpose of prayer, at minimum, is the opening of our hearts to God, inviting him into our lives. Prayer pushes us to depend on God. When we do not pray, it is often because we are relying on ourselves. Prayer is a function of faith. One of the most important elements of effective praying is the deepening of our relationship with the Father. So do not pray as if God does not know what you need. Pray in faith for God to act regarding your requests.
How To Pray (6:9)
Before we consider how Jesus begins this prayer as he teaches his disciples, it is useful for us to consider the structure of the prayer. You will notice that there are six requests in this prayer. There are three requests directed toward the glory and praise of God: hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, and your will be done. Following this there are three requests directed toward the daily needs of the disciples: give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our debts, and lead us not into temptation. These six things teach us how to pray. Notice that Jesus does not say to repeat this pray or say these words. Rather, Jesus says to “pray like this.” This is the form and basis for how we pray.
But now we see something very special as this prayer begins. “Our Father in heaven” is how we are taught to begin. To be able to call God our Father speaks to the intimate personal relationship disciples can have with God. This relationship exists to those who are his children. They are the ones who can say, “our Father.” This reminds us of what we read in the opening of the Gospel of John.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 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 1:11–13 ESV)
To those who received Jesus, he gave them the right to become children of God which means that God is our Father. Only those who have received the gospel are privileged to say this. I hope we can appreciate this idea when it is presented to us in the scriptures.
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)
Now the idea of God being Father is not new to the scriptures. In Psalm 68:5 God is called “a father to the fatherless.” God calls himself Israel’s father in Deuteronomy 32:6. But very few people every personally called God as their father in the writings we have. It is so special that God is called our Father which should draw us into prayer. Our God constantly pictures himself as a loving father. Think about the parable of lost things that Jesus told in Luke 15. Regarding who we call the prodigal son, consider that God is pictured as a longing father desiring and waiting for the son’s return. Our Father is the Lord God who is welcoming us into his presence. Think about all that God does as he shows himself to be the perfect loving Father. God does not merely forgive us, which is amazing in and of itself. God transforms our relationship with him so that we are his children and not slaves (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:4-5). This is the idea that God gives about us bring adopted. God cleanses us from our sins and gives us a new name (Revelation 2:17; 3:12).
These are beautiful concepts regarding our adoption. Our relationship is transformed from outsiders to children, and we are given a new name, just like the adoption process. Adoption is amazing because it shows the love and will of the parent. He chose you and made you his. There is no such thing as an unplanned adoption. With your spotted past and messy life God chose you to belong to him, to be his child belonging to his family. Why did God adopt you? Simply put, because he wanted to.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will. (Ephesians 1:3–5 NRSV)
God has done everything so that you can be his child. An adopting parent does not ask the child if he can provide for his own clothing, college tuition, and place to stay if adopted. The adoption means that God is stepping in and taking care of what we could not take care of ourselves. God’s declaration is that he loves you, wants you to belong to him, and has signed the adoption papers so that you are his. God did not make you his child because of what you have or what you did.
Now I think it is important to say something right now and it is shame that we need to, but it is necessary because of our culture. Do not confuse your earthly father with your heavenly Father. Here is what I mean by that. I will fail my children as a father, as much as I love them. But God never fails. God as Father always does good by you. God does not have a bad day and take it out on you. No good father says, “You made a mistake and are therefore no longer my child.” But think about the parable of lost things and how that prodigal son was so hateful to his father and yet the father did not disown him, but loved him. What a broken thought we often bring into our relationship with God that we would think we were chosen because we were good and are rejected because we are bad. He chose us while we were still sinners and its not over when we slip. This is the message of Romans 8:38-39. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Think about this with the history of Israel. God chose them, not because of who they were or what they did. The people of Israel sinned one day after God delivered them from Egyptian slavery. They are backed up against the Red Sea and they turn against Moses and God. The people rebel and sin at Mount Sinai. They sin repeatedly in the wilderness. The judges of Israel were a disaster and the people did what was right in their own eyes. The kings of Israel and Judah were extremely sinful, some worse than others but none of them were close to perfection or sinlessness. Judgments are befalling the people because of their sins. Yet what does God tell them over and over again? Return to me. He chose you while you were a sinner and its not over when you sin. God says if you will return to me I will heal you. In fact, God offers his true son as an offering for sins so that we can be forgiven.
Now why would we not pray to him? What an amazing grace that God has opened the door and said for us to come in and speak to him! Jesus has made it possible for us to come into the very throne room of God, and to come before him, not in fear, but as our father.
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 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. (Hebrews 4:14–16 ESV)
Notice what the throne is called: the throne of grace. It is the throne of grace that we can approach with confidence. How can it be that we have gained this access and this status as children of God! How deep the Father’s love for us! Let us come to our loving Father. Let us draw near the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need. How could we not want to pray all day long!