This is an edited manuscript of a sermon that I preached at Calvary Baptist Church, West Campus. To watch the video click here.
I believe that the experience of relationships, connecting with others, is central to fulfilling our deepest desires as human beings.
I remember the first time I met Laura. She walked into the bible fellowship home group that I had joined, and when I saw her I was “done”. I wanted to know who this woman was. So, that morning we did the usual, we shared prayer requests; we studied Scripture together, and closed in time to make it to the worship service at back at the building. I admit that I did not pay much attention that morning because I was plotting, strategizing, how I would talk to this woman. As everyone was gathering their things to leave I noticed that her walk into the kitchen. I thought to myself, “this is my chance!” So I quickly grabbed a piece of paper out of my Bible, balled it up and headed to the kitchen to throw it away. I walked in and there we were, just she and I. I tossed my paper into the trash can (the reason I was in there) and introduced myself.
- Hi, my name is Matt.
- Hey, I am Laura.
- I froze. My mind went blank.
- There was an awkward silence.
- Then Laura said, well…it was nice to meet you and walked out.
- I blew it.
Not only am I not smooth. But, I had nothing to talk about. Why would I? I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me. There was no relationship to provide the grounds for a conversation.
What Does This Have To Do With Prayer?
Laura and I have now been married for over three years. Now that we have a true relationship it is much easier to talk. In fact it happens naturally. I don’t need develop a mini production involving strategies with “balls of paper” to talk with her. The same is probably true of your spouses, family, and friends. I think this is instructive for our prayer lives. As I have studied prayer I keep coming across the same definition for prayer, “prayer is simply talking to God.” Well, we all talk, right? We all communicate. But., why do we talk? We talk because we want to connect. We want to share our problems, joys, pains, concerns, and celebrations with others. In the situations of life we seek to understand our world by “talking” to others. I think this is important for understanding prayer. Consider this question.
What is really going on inside of you when you sit down with someone you know and love dearly, and talk about the things going on in your life?
What really happens when we share with those we know and love? I think what happens is that we find the desire for relationship, to connect, being met at its most basic level. There is fulfillment and great comfort in knowing that we have someone else is there to listen, to celebrate with, to comfort us and help carry our burdens. Well, this is just like prayer. But here’s the thing. That deeper desire to experience relationship, to connect will never be fulfilled in our human relationships. Other people, even the ones we love and trust most are mere shadows, though they are true shadows, that point us to our inner desire to connect with our Father, God. When it comes to our relationships, it is inevitable that others will eventually let you down in some way or another.
But there is one who will never let us down. And that is our heavenly Father. Yet, if you are like me you probably find it hard to pray. Even worse, you have probably found that, after beginning to pray you find that your mind wanders and you forget that you were praying altogether. Now, in my experience it seems that most of the books and teachings on prayer focus on defective practices or discipline. The effect of these examples it usually that you walk away with a desire to try harder and be more discipled, but it is usually short lived. Let me propose to you that the power of, and passion for prayer comes in loving and knowing God as Father. I believe that “the more aware we become of the one to whom we pray, the more we are drawn to seek his face”.
This is where I think most books and teachings on prayer fail us. They focus on the techniques or discipline of prayer, but this is where the Lord’s Prayer is so beautiful. First and foremost, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is revealing who Father God really is to his disciples, to us. So, if you are not already there, I encourage you to turn to Matthew chapter 6, where we will primarily focus in on verses 9-13.
The Context of The Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer is found in the middle of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus has gathered his followers and is showing them, by teaching, what it looks like to live in the presence and power of God’s kingdom. This sermon is given in the context of Jesus condemning the religious leaders of the day who did everything, even prayer, out of prideful and selfish motivation. Jesus gives two examples, in chapter 6, of ‘vain’ prayer often practiced by those religious leaders.
- vv. 5-6: Grandiose Attention Seeking Prayer – these religious men “had it all together”, were self dependant and they liked to flaunt it.
- vv.7-8: Thoughtless Repetitious Prayer – these prayers were used as some type of magical incantation to manipulate God to get what you want.
In either case, their motivation in prayer shows their independence from God and is using God as a means build on their own self interest. But, then you come to verse 9, where Jesus introduces the “Lord’s Prayer” by saying: “this [then] is how you should pray”. See verses 9-13:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
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 also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
- We pray to a Holy God who is also our Loving Father (v. 9)
Foundational to all prayer is that there is a God who reveals himself personally to creation so that we can know Him. I find it interesting that in verse 9 Jesus calls us to focus in on attributes of God that seem, in contrast to each other, like they don’t fit together. Jesus not only teaches the disciples to address God as father, but also as holy, and in heaven.
- That God ‘is in heaven’ speaks of his transcendence or independence. From his position of transcendence he acts upon the world as one who is distinct from it. Unlike us, since we are dependant creatures, He is completely independent of creation. To be candid, God does not need us. He is the creator and sustainer of life.
- God’s holiness communicates his absolute and unique excellence above all of creation. He is pure and without sin, absolutely perfect. When Jesus teaches us to pray ‘hallowed be your name’, he is declaring that God is indeed Holy, but is also showing us that our desire should be recognize and acknowledge God’s holiness and the reverence that is due to his name. 
Jesus, at once, paints this picture of God as being “in heaven” (distant from us), and “holy” (separate from us), and at the same time he is a “Father.” Do you see tension there? In many ways this tension is worked out in the story of God’s people through the Old Testament. After Adam and Eve were exiled out of Eden, their descendants were always wandering and looking for provision and protection. They often turned to idols, but when those failed, they always came back desiring to be reunited with God the Father, and live under his care. However, while they wanted God to be near, they also knew that they could not endure his nearness because of their sin. This continues all throughout Israel’s history. This is why you hear the Psalmist cry in one Psalm, “be near O God, yet then in another: “show mercy, O God…For I know my transgressions. If we are honest, many of us fear being near to God – mainly, because we love our sin so much. But we also recognize that when God is absent there is disaster, just like when God removed his presence from the Israelites. Enter Jesus.
Jesus comes and claims to be the solution to this paradox. He claims to be the resolution to the tension between God’s holiness and nearness. Early in the gospel accounts we read that Jesus addressed God as his own, actual, Father in an affectionate and very intimate way (as Abba). He even claimed that “he and the Father are one.” And something significant happens here in the Lord ’s Prayer. Jesus declares that the disciples are to address the Holy God of Heaven as their own true father. We have to imagine that for those listening, calling God father might seem extremely presumptuous or uncomfortably personal. So what is Jesus doing here? If prayer is talking to God, then in prayer we address God as a person. In revealing his name, as Father, to men, particularly sinful men, God shows the wonder of his grace. Remember that in ancient culture someone’s name was bound up with the qualities associated with that person. When God tells his people that he is to be addressed personally as Father He is making himself extremely accessible, he allows the connection, and provides a foundation for a deep relationship.
Some of us have been blessed to have good loving fathers, some of us have come from broken homes where the father was absent or continually failed the family. Even though we live in a broken world, God still uses broken images as shadows to point us to himself, the perfect father. See, the very fact we know that earthly fathers do not live up to the expectation of “father” confirms this. Fathers are supposed to be the ones who willfully protect, provide, and lovingly nurture their children. I believe these are things that all of us desire in the deepest way, even as adults, we desire God as Father. So, let’s return to the two aspects of God revealed in the first line of the prayer, namely that God is, on the one hand, transcendent and holy, but on the other hand a father. Let’s look at the problem, and the solution.
- The Problem: God is pure and undefiled. Yet we are sinners. We are sinful, and this is a curse that is deeply embedded in the human heart. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, rebelled they rejected the Father’s love and declared their independence. Essentially, they orphaned the entire human race. They cut us off from the life sustaining protection and provision of our heavenly father. So that’s the problem.
- The Solution: So, how do we find our way home? This is the good news of the gospel! We have an older brother, Jesus, who came to bring us back to the father at the cost of his own life.
What gives us even more hope is knowing that it was God who sent him, his only Son. The good news is that God has not left us as orphans. When Jesus says, “no one comes to the Father except through me.” He is proclaiming that it is only through him that we have the right to call God father! And, Galatians 4 teaches us that when we believe in Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s family. Even more, we not only become God’s children legally, but we receive the Spirit in order to experience our sonship. What does this sonship entail? What does it look like?
- We pray to a Sovereign God who’s Perfect Will for His creation is Good. (v. 10)
For many of us our childhood is a distant memory. But imagine with me for a second the freedom of summer when you are a small child. When I reflect on my own childhood summers, I remember a time of being carefree, unburdened, playful, relaxed, etc. Doesn’t the very thought of it bring a smile to your face? I look back and some of the things I enjoyed in those days. It was the he silly things like running through the sprinkler, enjoying the beautiful colors of the sky during bike rides at dusk, playing and building in the woods with my closest friends, enjoying the cool wind during a nap on the lawn; that gave me the sense of summer’s freedom. Now, if I reflect on ‘why’ I was able to enjoy these summers so freely, I open up the picture to understand what was really going on there. My dad worked and provided for our family. That doesn’t seem very profound does it? Well, let me put it another way.
- I had a Father who assumed the cares of the world so that would not have to.
- It was because of my Fathers loving provision that I could live burden free.
I think this is the type of romantic notion that we should have about God’s kingdom. The biblical theme of God’s kingdom can be described as “God’s people living in relationship with God and enjoying his provision.” This is the Eden paradise that was lost. In a very real sense, experiencing the Father’s love and provision is experiencing life in his kingdom. This notion of our father’s love is terribly inviting isn’t it? When we pray for “God’s kingdom to come” and for “God’s will to be done”, we hope and trust that these kingdom realities are indeed going to be. To pray that “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is also to long for connecting with what is now being experienced in the presence of God the Father in heaven. Consider the inter-Trinitarian experience that the God enjoys now: comforting peace, true freedom, everlasting fulfillment, perfect joy, deep intimacy, perfect love. Many of us look at our lives and the world around us now and long for these things. We see the effects of sin (personal and collective), of living in a fallen world (broken systems, chaotic environment) on a daily basis. As Christians we know this world is broken because our rebellion has driven us away from our Father, and many of us still feel far from home. Perhaps you feel homesick as you read Revelation 21.
Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Do you not long for this? Do you not long to be at home, under the care of the loving Father God? This brings us back to the good news of the gospel. When Jesus began His ministry he declared that “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus said “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Peter also urged us to “cast all of our anxieties on him, because he cares for us.” See, God sent Jesus to carry the burden of our sin on the cross, and when Jesus walked out of the grave –defeating sin and death – God’s everlasting kingdom was ushered in. When we come to Jesus as our only hope, he brings us into God’s family, his kingdom, where he provides all that we truly need. This is the good news; Jesus carried the burden of sin so that you could enjoy the eternal freedom of summer in God’s family, under the good Father’s provision.
Learn to trust that your Father is sovereign over all things and that in his timing he will bring to consummation the kingdom that Jesus ushered in. Even though you may find you situation hard at this moment, when you back up and consider the kingdom, you see that your Father’s perfect will is good. For the here and now, we are not just left to dream of home. We are not left abandoned, just longing to be in the presence of God the Father later. In Prayer, we are able to go there now. In prayer we are able to find comfort in the arms of our Father as we wait for Jesus to come “and make all things new.”
- We pray to a Trustworthy God who Forgives and Sustains us. (vv.11-13)
As many of you know Laura and I have an 18 month old son, Solomon. As his father I have experienced his helplessness, and understand that he is fully dependant on me as his “Da-Da”. I work to provide a him a house and to put food on the table. We child proofed the house to protect him from hurting himself. We choose to buy food that gives him the proper nourishment. We prepare (well, Laura) prepares breakfast, lunch, and dinner so that eating will be enjoyable and fulfilling. We dress him, we bathe him, we change his diapers, and we change his diapers. The list goes on. Our son Solomon is pretty good at being helpless. Well of course, he is a baby; he has needs that he cannot meet himself. And as his father I love him, find joy in, and desire to provide for, protect, and nurture him. I love it when he comes running to me in joy and in tears because when he does that I know that he loves, trusts, and depends on me. This is very instructive for the last section of the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, I would like you to consider the last few verses as a model for the way that we, his children, should approach our loving Father. Essentially, what Jesus is saying here is that we should come to the Father as helpless children, dependant for daily needs, for forgiveness, and for protection from temptation and evil.
Think about it, “to ask for bread is to acknowledge our dependence on God for routine daily provision. In a similar sense, we see this with Israel in the Old Testament, right? When Israel was exiled and journeyed to the Promised Land they had to learned first hand that ‘man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from he mouth of the Lord.’ (Deut. 8:3) See, God provided manna from heaven to meet their daily needs and Jesus teaching to pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’ has the same idea to it. We must come to God as helpless children in need of daily provision. I need to come to God in the same way that Solomon comes to me with his empty “bup” and asks for more juice. When he comes to me hungry and needing something to eat. He trusts that I have it and that I am going to give it to him. Remember Jesus words:
Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Think about the need of forgiveness. Before we can approach Holy God as Father, we need forgiveness. The Bible is clear that this is our first and most serious need, to be reconciled to the Father. And the only one who can do that is God himself! And he did by sending his only son. Seeing the beauty of the gospel comes in understanding that we do not merit forgiveness, but it is a gift from the heavenly Father. C.S. Lewis once wrote that “Christ did not die for men because they were intrinsically worth dying for, but because he is intrinsically love, and therefore loves infinitely.”
When Solomon runs into my arms he comes as he is. Sometimes he comes messy, sometimes he comes crying, sometimes he comes laughing, and sometimes he comes because he simply misses me and wants me to hold him. But no matter how he comes, I always accept him in love as my son. This is how the gospel works. Because of Jesus, you are forever accepted into Gods arms. When we come to God through Christ, we come as helpless children in need of love and forgiveness. And when we receive it, it melts our hearts and changes us forever. It changes everything. Let me pause here and say this. Some of us need to forgive others. To withhold forgiveness from someone, after you have been forgiven by God, is essentially elevating our selves above the God of the universe. See, once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, [and at the same time his acceptance and grace] the injuries which others have done to us should appear, by comparison, extremely trifling.” Over and over we see our need for our loving Father, which shows us how helpless we are.
We also come to the Father knowing our inability to persevere without him sustaining us. “There are two great assumptions in this” last petition to protect us from temptation and evil; “our trust in God and our distrust of ourselves.” Admitting these two things requires a childlike humility that recognizes our weakness, helplessness, and dependence on him. We can trust our father, we can trust that he will protect us from being led into any testing that our faith will not be able to survive, we can trust that he will rescue us from evil. And while we pray in faith we, at the same time, acknowledging that he has promised to do so. Just as we read in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
You see, I baby proofed the house before Solomon arrived so that he would not hurt himself. We bought gates and outlet plugs so that he would not even have the option to do anything that would seriously hurt himself. Beyond that, we also keep an eye on him so that if he does indeed fall or get hurt on his own accord, we are right there. He does not necessarily know all these things, but he trusts me and that allows him to live freely under our care, and come to us as he is. I think there is much wisdom in reflecting on ‘baby Solomon.’ He knows that he is a baby, he knows that he is dependant, and in many ways helpless. Now, if you know that you cannot do life on your own, then prayer makes complete sense. Does it not?
- Simply Talk To Your Father
There is no technique or ‘secret’ to an effective prayer life. This may be one of the most freeing truths. You don’t have to ‘put on a production to come to God.’ He knows you, and sees right through all pretense like he saw through Adam and Eve’s fig leaves in the garden. When you come to God, you come naked, with all your shame. In Hebrews we read that Jesus is the High Priest of our confession, who stands in the presence of the Father to intercede on our behalf. And as Hebrews 4:17 tells us:
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.
As a child of God you have complete access to the Father through Jesus. You have true intimacy, based not on your own goodness, but on the goodness of Jesus – therefore, the relationship is never in question. Prayer is simply the medium which we come talk to God. So talk to your father in an “uncensored manner, expressing the real you and the thoughts you would not dare utter to others.” We are to come without pretense, like little children, just as we are. Come to God expressing what’s on your mind, that’s what little children do. I think if we truly understand that God wants you to come to him empty-handed, weary, heavy-laden – we will run to his arms more often than not.
- Get To Know Your Father
John Calvin argued that believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief. I think he is right. I think that the main reason we have a hard time with prayer is because we really don’t believe that:
- We pray to a Holy God who is also our Loving Father
- We pray to a Sovereign God who’s Perfect Will for His creation is Good
- We pray to a Trustworthy God who Forgives’ and Sustains us
I am talking about deep down belief, not lip service. See, what you feel deep in your soul depends on what you believe to be reality. Let me give you an example. It is one thing for me to tell you that there is a hungry, 8 foot tall, black bear outside your door. It’s another thing for you to actually believe me. As soon as you truly believe, it changes your posture, it changes your emotions, it changes how you act. If it is true that what you feel deep in your soul depends on what you believe, then I call you to believe these truths about prayer, and let them change (fuel and motivate) your prayer life. Get to know your God. Meditate on the truths of this prayer until your heart leaps in worship. Think about what it means for God to be Father, for God to forgive you, for God to sustain and protect you. Get to know him, enjoy him, after all he is a person. I believe that the experience of relationships, connecting with others, is central to fulfilling our deepest desires as human beings.
God fulfills that deep desire in a way that not one else can when we talk to him.
-  Edmund P. Clowney, A Biblical Theology of Prayer, beginningwithmoses.org.
-  2 Corinthians 3:18.
-  Craig Blomberg, Matthew, NAC, 117-118.
-  Graeme Goldsworthy, Prayer and the Knowledge of God, 90.
-  Graeme Goldsworthy, Prayer and the Knowledge of God, 91-92.
-  Now, Calling God ‘father’ is not a major theme in the Old Testament. Where “father” does appear, in reference to God, it is used by way of analogy, not a direct address. It is used to explain how God acts towards his people, like a father, just as God’s people were sometimes referred to as ‘God’s Son’.
-  Psalm 78.
-  Psalm 51.
-  See Donald Hagner, Matthew 1-13, WBC, 147-148.
-  John 10:30.
-  E.P. Clowney, Prayer, NDBT, 691.
-  John 14:18.
-  Tim Keller, Prayer and the Gospel, redeemer.com
-  It’s interesting that outside of Eden the primary prayer of God’s people under the Old Covenant was for deliverance and to be restored to God.
-  Mark 1:15.
-  Matthew 11:28.
-  1 Peter 5:2
-  Darrell L. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture, 140.
-  In contrast to Romans 1.
-  This may be hard for some of us to understand. But, in the immediate context of Jesus listeners this was much easier to comprehend. Many first-century workers were paid one day at a time, and a few days illness could spell tragedy.” This highlights the preciousness and urgency of one who lives from “hand to mouth.” (D.A. Carson, Matthew, EBC, 171.)
-  In Romans 1 we see that failure to honor God and give him thanks is an expression of human wickedness.
-  Matthew 7:9-11.
-  See D.A. Carson, The God Who Is There, 41.
-  C.S. Lewis, Miracles, 52.
-  D.A. Carson, Matthew, EBC, 172.
-  John 16:33.
-  Edmund P. Clowney, A Biblical Theology of Prayer, beginningwithmoses.org.
-  1 Corinthians 10:13.
-  Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, 44.
-  Eugene H. Peterson, Prayer, DTIB, 617
-  Hebrews 3:1.
-  Hebrews 7:25.
-  Josh Branscomb, Personal Email.
-  John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, III.ii.15, 17.