The Lord’s Prayer: To the Father

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

We’re all about prayer this week. More specifically, we’re all about Jesus’ Matthew 6 teaching on how we should do this thing called “prayer.”

hands_350First step: Pray for God’s ears, not other people’s. Praying in public makes some people nervous. I don’t really blame them for saying silly things to God in those moments, but you can sometimes tell they’re worried about “sounding right” to the people around them. They work in a few churchy phrases because they’ve heard everyone else do it. Jesus told his listeners to do their praying behind closed doors – in secret.

Why? For one thing, it weeds out all the wrong motives. The Jewish religious leaders gave each other spiritual brownie points for style and form in their public prayers, but they were missing the point of talking to God. When you’re alone, you know you’re not impressing anyone with your prayer-talk. You’re more likely to talk to him straight out of your own life, not out of someone else’s prayer fashion handbook.

Of course, you’re not going to pray in secret unless you’re convinced God is listening. Prayer in secret is an act of greater faith in the God who cares so deeply about you. Jesus promised that our invisible Father listens and rewards those prayers. You don’t need to step up to the microphone for him to hear and answer you.

Think: If you ever pray in front of people, do you pray any differently than you do when you’re alone? Are you ever tempted to try to impress people with your prayers? How likely are you to pray when nobody is looking?

Pray: Ask God to help you talk to him more often when nobody else is around.

Do: Got a closet handy? Try praying in it today. No, you don’t really need to pray in a closet for God to hear you, but trying it once or twice might make you more aware of how you’re talking to God.

The Lord’s Prayer: Stop Babbling

“And 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.” (Matthew 6:7-8)

Some idol worshippers believed their gods were more likely to give them what they wanted if they prayed by the hour. That is, some would chant the same things over and over and over and over and over, hoping to impress their gods with their dedication or desperation.

hands_350Jesus said our God doesn’t need that from you. He’s not running a word count on your prayers to measure how serious you are. In other words, we can keep it simple. Tell God what’s on our minds and believe that he heard us and will answer (one way or another). It’s another act of faith, isn’t it? Jesus said the Father already knows what we need. He doesn’t require us to write it on the board 900 times before he responds.

Does that mean we should never ask the same request more than once? Or more than once a day? I don’t think that was Jesus’ point. In fact, one of his parables encourages the practice of repeatedly knocking on the door until you get an answer. He’s talking here about senseless and/or superstitious repetition of prayer. But he doesn’t want us to stop talking to him, just to be in the moment, to be present with him in the conversation.

Think: Do you ever catch yourself praying without really thinking about it? What does it say about our prayers if our minds don’t have to be involved with the words we’re saying?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to fall into mindless repetition when you pray, but to be real and present when you talk to him.

Do: To avoid falling into the pattern of mindlessly saying the same thing to God over and over again, try making a “cheat sheet” of talking points before you pray. Make a list of things you want to say to him, then pray through the list. Come back to it when you find yourself distracted by other thoughts.

The Lord’s Prayer: Holy

“This, then, is how you should pray: ” ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,’ ” (Matthew 6:9)

It’s no wonder so many people have memorized the “Lord’s Prayer.” What a huge opportunity! When the Son of God says, “This is how you should talk to my Father,” we should write it down on our brains and never forget it. Still, Jesus did not mean that we should only ever pray these words in this order. He gave his disciples a plan for approaching the God of eternity in conversation.

hands_350First, he said, remember who you’re talking to. Address your prayer to your Father, the one who lives in your future home in heaven. I know some people are more comfortable talking to Jesus in prayer because we have a better idea of who he is. We can relate to him more personally – and I don’t think it’s wrong to pray to him. But he’s the one who told us to talk to our Father, our “abba,” our daddy.

But the Father is not just any daddy. His name – his being, person, essence, identity – is “hallowed” or holy. As modern Christians, its sometimes hard for us to understand what “sacred” really means, but our Father is sacred to the core. Strong, powerful, and untouchable with anything impure or sinful. Our prayer begins with remembering we’re talking to our close and distant, approachable and unspeakably holy Father.

Think: How do you tend to picture God when you pray? Do you need to adjust your understanding of him?

Pray: Ask God to help you to remember to approach him as your loving “daddy” and as the absolutely holy God of all.

Do: Practice saying to God “your name is holy” when you pray this week.

The Lord’s Prayer: On Earth

“. . . your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

How should we pray? That’s what the disciples asked Jesus in Luke 11. So he showed them. The phrase in this verse fits perfectly with Jesus’ worldview. He often said that every word he spoke and action he took came straight from the Father. Jesus’ mission on earth was to do the Father’s will.

hands_350Jesus knew better than anyone that planet Earth was out of whack. He’d lived in heaven. There, God’s will always got done exactly as God wanted it and exactly when God wanted it and exactly how God wanted. Everyone there devoted themselves to obeying and pleasing God. On earth, not so much.

We can view this phrase as a plea for God to convert the earth to be like heaven – and he will do that fully one day. But it also makes sense to take this line personally. Father, please help me to do your will while I’m on earth as willingly and effectively as I would if I were in heaven with you. Change my heart so your will is accomplished in my life every day.

Think: Can you imagine our planet being a place where God is acknowledged as the king of all? Can you imagine what your life would look like if you never challenged his right to rule over you?

Pray: Thank God that he always accomplishes his will in his way and in his time. Thank him for giving you the chance to be part of his plan, and ask him to help you willingly obey him today.

Do: Write this phrase on a piece of paper and put it on your bathroom mirror (or somewhere you’ll see it every day this week): “What is God’s will for me today?”

The Lord’s Prayer: One Day’s Food

“Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

In spite of what all those TV preachers want to tell us, Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question “how should we pray?” did not include naming or claiming one single XBox or SUV or even a nice steak. “Please give me enough food for today.” That’s the only request for anything physical. It’s like he’s speaking a foreign language. If I didn’t know where next month’s food was coming from, I’d be on my knees asking God for help. I clearly have different financial and security goals for my life than Jesus’ prayer suggests.

hands_350In another passage, he tells his followers not to worry about food and clothes. God provides for the birds and flowers, he said; he will provide for you. I love these lyrics from Rich Mullins’ song “Hard”:

Well, His eye’s on the sparrow
And the lilies of the field I’ve heard
And He will watch over you and He will watch over me
So we can dress like flowers and eat like birds

I don’t believe it’s wrong to ask God for anything if I’m willing to let him tell me “no” when that thing is not his best for me. But what percentage of my praying is asking for things that go way beyond “enough food for today.”

Think: What percentage of your praying involves asking for things or security or other “wants”? How does that percentage compare with the percentage of requests for material things in Jesus’ prayer?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be thankful for all the good gifts he’s blessed you with. Ask him to help you need him more than any of them. And then ask him to help you know how much to pray for your “wants.”

Do: Calculate how many days worth of food you have in your house right now.

The Lord’s Prayer: Debt

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. . . . For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15)

This line from Jesus’ model prayer is such a head-spinning contradiction to what many of us know as the gospel. We’re saved by faith, right? Not of ourselves? How can Jesus say the Father will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others?

Theologians suggest it might have to do with the fact that Jesus said this before he had died for all of our sins (including the sin of unforgiveness) on the cross. Others say the statement has to do with a break in our fellowship with God here on earth is we refuse to forgive those who hurt us – not an eternal separation. It’s an important question.

A more important one: If we understand that because of Jesus, God has forgiven our unpayable debt of sin to the Father – an amount so staggering we can’t even imagine the horror of it – how could any one of us have the arrogance not to forgive another human being for anything, at all? Forgiven people should be forgiving people. Period.

Think: Jesus told a parable about a much-forgiven, unforgiving servant. Which character are you in that story? What can you do about it?

Pray: Ask God to so overwhelm you with an understanding of his forgiving grace that any grudge you’ve got against someone else just feels ridiculous to you.

Do: Use Wikipedia or something to look up the current American national debt. Then call your local library to ask what they charge for an overdue book for a week. Compare the two and think about the difference between what you owed God for your sin and what anyone on earth could possibly owe you.

The Lord’s Prayer: Temptation

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)

Jesus ends his famous “disciple’s prayer” with a model request for deliverance from temptation and the enemy. Jesus had seen it first hand. During his 40 days in the wilderness, the evil one took his shots at Jesus, delivering up several temptations in attempt to derail Jesus’ mission on earth. Jesus didn’t give in, but he understood the power of Satan’s strategy.

hands_350We know the devil can never force us to sin. That’s our choice. (See James 1:13-15.) But the Satan’s job description includes using temptation in an attempt to “devour” Jesus-followers, to bait us into sinful choices and worthless moments that derail our opportunities to be used in God’s mission on earth.

One result of giving into temptation is that we tend to pray less – the exact opposite of what we need most. Pray for help to avoid temptation, to resist it when it comes, and to receive God’s forgiveness and grace when you fail. Whatever happens, don’t stop praying.

Think: When are you most likely to talk to God – asking for strength when faced with temptation or seeking renewal after you’ve given in?

Pray: Ask God to deliver you from the evil one – and to steer you clear of temptation to sin.

Do: If you’ve given in to some temptation recently and/or repeatedly, find a way to pray this line of the “Lord’s prayer” every time you eat this next week. Try memorizing 1 Corinthians 10:13 and making those thoughts part of your “temptation prayer,” as well.