Do you remember the first time you prayed in front of people? I’ve shared that my first time was when I was on my college baseball team. I was asked to pray, never even attempting out loud prayers in my life. I had only been a Christian for about two years, so I still wasn’t very developed in a lot of areas. In my panic, I strung together a series of phrases, “Let us be all we can be…so we can just do it.” Things like that. Being around a bunch of guys, when I was done, they all started to laugh, asking me, do you just use the army slogan? Do you just use the Nike slogan? It was an embarrassing moment in my life and afterwards I started to look into what God desired from us in prayer, so that I could be a better prayer.
And it’s God’s expectation in prayer and other areas of our spiritual development that brings us to back into our Matthew series, where we are going to return to the same passage we did last week, which was Matthew chapter 6 starting in verse 1. The reason for returning to this passage, is because Jesus makes some assumption about our faith walk and he gives us some practical ways to walk it.
And as we get back into our Matthew series let’s see how the first six and a half chapters have gotten us to where we are now. In the first four chapters, we saw the identity of Jesus being revealed. This was done through proclamations, through challenges, and finally through Jesus’ own self-revealing. Then in chapter 5, we saw the standard of God, which is perfection, and how we are called to meet that standard. But when we realize we cannot meet that standard, we come to a place where we can become Jesus’ disciples. A disciple of Jesus is someone who recognizes their inability to attain the standard of God, and therefore must rely on Jesus as their Savior.
Then last week we talked about how, though the saving work of Jesus in our lives is freely given, our response is still to do good. I heard a great quote this week from Reformer John Calvin, “Faith alone justifies, but the faith which justifies is not alone.” In other words, Jesus’ work of saving those who realize they can’t save themselves is done without our good deeds, but from that saving work of Jesus, good deeds flow out from us as a result.
It’s with this that we return to Matthew chapter 6. This week we are not going to read through the entire twenty-four verses that we did last week, instead I want us to recognize Jesus’ expectations and his applications.
In verses 2, 5, and 16, Jesus gives us two words that speak to his expectations about our spiritual lives. Jesus says, “when you.” Those two little words carry with them some pretty big expectations.
When Jesus says, “when you” he’s pointing to two things. First he’s pointing towards future moments. “When” is the time. When this thing occurs is what Jesus is saying. There will be a time or times in the future when, what Jesus is going to point towards, will happen. The second thing Jesus points to, is us, or more specifically his disciples. The “you” is anyone who has accepted Jesus as their Savior. These our those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are peacekeepers, those who are salt and light. So, Jesus is saying, in the times in which my disciples do “x”, that thing Jesus is going to now say, this is what you are to do.
And so he gives us three examples. “When you given…when you pray…when you fast…”
These are three activities that Jesus expects his disciples to participate in. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus expects his disciples to do many things. The obvious ones are commands that he gives. In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Then there are more subtle ones, like when Jesus says in Luke 22:19, concerning taking communion, “…do this in remembrance of me.”
And one that I think gets past over the a lot, because it’s awkward, is Jesus words after washing his disciples’ feet. In John 13:15, Jesus says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
Jesus has expectations of our spiritual walks, and when we shy away from them, because they are awkward, financially difficult, or we just feel incapable, what we are really doing is saying that I don’t take seriously the expectations of Jesus in my relationship with him. But our awkwardness and inabilities don’t deter Jesus. No, instead we are called to these expectations, and therefore must seek him to work them out in our lives.
So we must give, we must pray, we must fast, we must commune, we must wash, we must love. Why? Because its within these things that our relationship with God builds and grows as it was always intended to. Fulfilling the expectations of Jesus, by obeying his examples, invigorates our relationship with him.Those thoughts of, I don’t hear God, I don’t feel God, I don’t see God at work, get replaced with a waited anticipation of God’s activity, because we are working out the work he is doing in us. These expectations are not what brings salvation into our lives. That is only done through Jesus free gift of imparting his goodness to us. But what fulfilling these expectations does do, is enliven that salvation work and renews it daily so that we may see what Jesus has done to bring us closer to himself.
And so, in these three expectation examples that Jesus gives, the central one is prayer. This prayer has been called the Lord’s prayer. I myself like to call it the disciples’ prayer. This is because Jesus says in verse 9, “This, then is how you should pray…” This prayer structure is pointed at us. Now we can see this same prayer pattern in Jesus’ and other biblical figures prayers, but here Jesus is saying this is for you, the disciples to know what is expected from you in your prayer life.
In fact, in Luke’s recognition of a similar prayer, it is the disciples who ask, “Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus responds with, “…When you pray… (Luke 11:1-2)”
This prayer pattern is for us as disciples, and when we recognize what Jesus is expecting from our prayers, praying becomes so much easier. It’s no longer haphazard, like stringing together a bunch of slogans, but has purpose and meaning. So let’s take a brief look at Jesus’ pattern for his disciples’ prayers. The prayer goes,
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
What do you notice about this first part of the prayer? Who is about? It’s directed at God the Father. This speaks of the intimacy of our prayers. This isn’t to a God out there beyond us; a God who we are clamoring to reach. He is our Father, therefore our prayer needs to be based on this familial relationship with him.
Yet at the same time, God is holy. The name of God is representative of the totality of who God is. By saying, “hallowed be your name,” Jesus is pointing us towards the holiness of who God is. This is something our cultural tends to miss. The biblical God is both close and separate. He is both the Lover of humanity, and its righteous Judge. Both are true. When we lean to either side we develop a skewed view of who God is. If he is just Father, the one who wraps his arms around us to love us, then we skew his love, because we make accommodations for sinful behavior. On the other hand, if we fall on the other extreme of God’s holiness, then the wrath of God has no quenching, and Jesus’ work becomes a task to be achieved and not a gift to receive. So Jesus teaches us both, “Our Father in heaven, hollowed be your name.” Both of these are wrapped up in worship. Worship is recognition of who God is and what he has done, and giving him praise for it. This first sentence of prayer, is a balanced worship of who God is. The Father who is holy.
From there we get our second line, “…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I don’t know about you, but I tend to be pretty quick in my asking God for things in my prayers. Yet in the second sentence of the prayer, Jesus directs our prayers to seek the will of God in our lives. Everything flows out of God’s will, and if we are his people, then we need to desire his will above all else. I might be struggling with my job and finances, I might be hurting because a loved one is sick, I might be needing some divine intervention right at this moment, but what we need to do is to ask for God’s will to be accomplished in our lives. When we have the accomplishment of God’s will in focus, it does not get ride of our need, but helps us to accept whatever happens in those situations to come. So, we are first to worship and then seek his purpose in our lives.
It is here that we move our attention from the worship of God to our need.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
Daily bread, can be interpreted in a number of ways, but at it’s core, it’s our day to day sustenance. The obvious ones are food, water, and those things that we need in our lives to sustain us physically. And at the same time it is the Word of God, Jesus, which is the bread of life (John 6:35). Jesus is calling us to rely; trust in God to supply that which we need for sustaining our lives, its sustenance for both the physical and spiritual needs. This helps us to leave behind our wants and cares for the world. When we have this kind of reliance, whatever is given to us, we recognize are gifts from God and we should be content with them.
Next, Jesus goes into a little more detail about our spiritual needs that need to be met, the first being, we need forgiveness from God. There are things that we hold onto, even as believers accepted into the family of God by the free gift that Jesus gives. This is a Psalm 139 attitude, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (v.23-24).”
But this spiritual need extends to our relationships. Following this prayer, Jesus explains that there is a connection between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness of others. If we are called to the life of God, it’s a life of forgiveness that flows from the throne of God, down to the people of God, out to the world around us. And so far, I believe, this is the hardest part of the expectations of Jesus. This goes back to the anger issue in chapter 5 of Matthew, where Jesus said, “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift (5:23-24).”
Reconciliation of relationships is key in our relationships with God, and I know it’s hard, but Jesus expects us to extend the forgiveness we have been given to those around us. And when we realize the depth of forgiveness that Jesus has extended to us, “…forgive us our debts…”, we are more open to forgiving others, “…as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
What follows this, is Jesus calling us to another spiritual matter, the spiritual battle. The sentence, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,” is a call for God’s strength. His hand in moving us out of those situations that would bring us to encounter evil things. This has a dual function. First it gets our minds on God to be the deliverer, and second it gets us prepared for the coming temptations. This is what Paul talks about in Ephesians 6, about putting on the armor of God. When we are both reliant on God and aware of what is happening around us, the spiritual battle that is inevitable, becomes one where we are prepared for the encounter, rather than becoming a casualty of the conflict.
Now in our text, this is where it ends. The reason for this is because of textual choices by the translators who are working from manuscripts that are quite old. Yet there are manuscripts that contain the words, “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” This is what you will find in a King James translation of the Bible, but most all translations have this at least as a footnote.
And I want us to include this sentence here, because it seems to finish Jesus’ thought. We started out with a balanced worship of God, and in these final words, we return to that worship. Like the identity of Jesus’ disciples being sandwiched in who Jesus is, a disciples’ prayer must be sandwiched in the worship of God. God is our Father in heaven, his name is holy, we desire his will to be done here as it is done in heaven. Because everything is God’s, it is his kingdom, and it is by his power that all things are accomplished and it is his glory that we should seek for eternity.
So at the end of our prayers, we are to worship God, directing our eyes on him and not on ourselves.
Jesus’ expectant prayers from us, recognizes our physical, relational, and spiritual needs. But these needs are couched in the worship of God. He needs to be our focus in our prayers. Both at the beginning and end of them. And when we do this, we place God in his rightful position in our lives. Our identity, our very being needs to be surrounded by God.
This takes the burden off of us, because now we rely on him, trusting in his work.
This is the model by which a disciple of Jesus is to pray. I try to pray like this in my prayers, and you might hear some of these elements. A modern application of this prayer might sound like this: Father, you are great and glorious. You are beyond me, yet you’re right here. I ask that your will be done in my life today, so that others may see your living work and praise you. Lord I have a lot of wants, but strip those away so that I can see clearly what I need from you. Let me trust you that those needs will be met. Lord I thank you for your forgiveness in my life, that I was brought out of death and into your life, help me to forgive others. I struggle with forgiving those that hurt me, help me, then, to know how much I hurt you, so that I can see how deep your forgiveness for me is. And I know that there is a battle around me, and there is a struggle to return to my sinful past, Lord strength me by the Holy Spirit, that when temptation comes, I will respond in the power of the Spirit. You have saved me, and are cleansing me, for you are a loving and holy God. I praise your name, so that others may know you as well. Amen.
This model can take on a number of unique characteristics, because God’s people are unique characters. The model is there, for those that struggle with the words, and those who can apply its intention as an outline for effective praying.
So my challenge for you this week to is work through this prayer each day. Using it as a guide, pray it everyday this week with different words, but the same structure. If you stumble, praise God that it isn’t required for salvation, but work through it. Prayer is one of those expectations that Jesus has, and through it, we may come closer to him in relationship.
Let us be a praying people. That the glory of God is lifted up, the needs of ourselves and the people around us are brought before him, and that his worship is sounded from the lips of his people. Amen.