Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries, July 2020
For this month’s letter I’m going to write up a few things about one of the most important (but often one of the most problematic) duties of the Christian life. That duty? Prayer. I have been thinking about this an awful lot recently and talking about it with Claire and several friends. It has been so much on my mind that when I was recently asked to fill in for a vacationing preacher, I chose Luke 11:2-4 as my text, that brief passage that contains what is universally (yet incorrectly) known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” I’m going to share with you just a few notes about that text along with some practical options that might help improve the quality and consistency of your prayers. I hope so.
Luke 11:2-4 (which has a parallel passage in Matthew 6:9-13) presents a prayer pattern for the use of Christ’s disciples, not for Jesus Himself. Indeed, the beloved preacher J. Vernon McGee once preached on this text with a sermon called “The Prayer That Jesus Never Prayed.” Catchy title. And accurate. After all, remember the spotless Lamb of God had no need whatsoever to ask the Father to forgive His trespasses. No, the text that does qualify for the title of “The Lord’s Prayer” is that moving appeal Jesus makes in the Garden of Gethsemane; namely, the high priestly prayer recorded in John 17. What we’re considering today is “The Disciple’s Prayer” since it contains a model of how followers of Christ should conduct their prayers.
Note too how the context (the verses immediately before and after these two passages) shines important light on our understanding of how to apply this prayer pattern. For instance, in the Matthew passage, the context includes the warning against praying as the hypocrites, the encouragement to pray in private as opposed to “showing off,” and the avoidance of using vain repetition in prayer. That last item is particularly ironic as this prayer is so terribly misused in this very way — being repeated word for word, over and over, and to the point that it too often becomes a purposeless ritual rather than guiding one into an honest, wide-ranging, personal talk with God. And the context surrounding the Luke 11 verses? Well, that includes the matter of perseverance in prayer, the goodness of God Who delights in giving good gifts to His children, and the fact that the disciples were making a direct appeal to Jesus – “Lord, teach us to pray.”
So, let me repeat; we disciples of Jesus should see these two Bible passages as presenting a model of prayer, a pattern which we can (and should) customize to fit our personal needs. It is not a formula prayer that possesses, in itself, a sacrament but rather it is a foundation upon which we can build our own prayer life. Let’s break it down a bit.
* “Our Father.” This title does not represent the ethereal counterpart to “the brotherhood of man” as nowadays visualized by the soft-headed folks who paste COEXIST stickers on their electric cars while sneering at Jesus’ claim of being THE way, THE truth, and THE life. Oh no; God is the all-powerful, all-wise, all-holy God. He is the Creator of all that is, including mankind who is made in His image. However, God is Father only to those who have been redeemed from the curse of sin through personal faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Make no mistake on this point.
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,” (Romans 8:14-16, NASB) and “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7, NASB)
Therefore, one of the key lessons here in the very opening of the prayer model is the awesome reality that God loves us. Those who have received Christ as Savior (by simply trusting His atoning sacrifice on the cross to pay the whole debt of their sins) are given the Spirit of God, are adopted as sons, are brought into an incredibly intimate relationship with God. He is our Father! And we have open access to Him through prayer. He wants to be involved in our lives always. He wants our communication. He’s ready and eager to listen to us and deliver His blessings. What a motivation to pray!
* “Who is in heaven.” God is our Father, yes. But He remains the sovereign, righteous King Who commands (and fully deserves) our reverence and trust and loyalty. This emphasizes the seriousness of our sanctification, of course; but it also shows the confidence we can have that God not only cares about our praises and petitions, but that He is the omnipotent God Who can accomplish everything that is needed for our blessing. Everything! Again, what a tremendous motivation this presents for His adopted children to come and talk things over with Him.
* “Hallowed be Thy Name.” Oh boy, there’s a lot that can be unpacked from this short phrase. You might do a Bible study on holiness, for example, or the various names the Hebrews used for God. But since I have so little space here, let me suggest that the starting point for “hallowing” God’s Name is simply this – obey Him. That’s right, true spiritually comes down to this: find out what God says in the Bible and do it! Thus, in my customized versions of the “Disciple’s Prayer,” I make sure I spend time talking to God about my battles, my duties, my victories and failures, my vows, my needs, my fears, my hopes, and everything else that helps me stay faithful to His Word.
* “Your kingdom come.” Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He was making a legitimate offer of the long-promised Messianic kingdom to Israel. But alas, that was not to be. Israel rejected the kingdom by rejecting their King. But this phrase in the “Disciple’s Prayer” retains a purpose for believers in the Church age too. Do you truly want Christ’s kingdom to come? If so, most assuredly, your life will be transformed in the here and now. Plus, you will receive special rewards from the Lord in the future. Check out this promise: “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8, NASB)
And this one: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” (Titus 2:11-13, NASB)
And yet another: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (I John 3:2-3, NASB)
* “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will, of course, is going to happen. Ain’t nobody stoppin’ it! So this area of prayer is a place where we joyfully, gratefully declare God’s sovereign power and purpose. It is also a place where we are pulled into the praise of His will rather than trying to manipulate Him into making our will the last word.
Another crucial point. It is pretty easy for us to passionately desire that God’s will be done on earth when it comes to Washington, D.C. or Beijing or Moscow or Damascus. But do we truly yearn for God’s will to be done on earth — in our cars…in our television dens…in our kids’ education…in our businesses…in our consumer decisions…and so on? You get the point. Honest, humble prayers that genuinely seek God’s will help us find the right priorities in life — and the motivation to get them done.
* “Give us this day our daily bread.” This, of course, means a lot more than “saying grace,” especially when grace is said only on holidays or at meals when company is present! No, this opens up the big picture of God’s faithful provision for all of our needs. And it stimulates a lifestyle of dependence, trust, hope, and the development of an ongoing “gratitude attitude” that makes you a more consistent disciple of Christ Jesus.
* “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Let me illuminate this phrase by giving you the meaning of some of the original words 1) “Forgive” means to “send away” as in God’s promises that whosoever believes in Jesus’ atoning death has their sins “cast into the deepest sea” and removed “as far as the east is from the west.” What a liberating truth! 2) “Debts” points to legal obligations which require satisfaction. The Bible tells us in Romans 6:23 that the “wages of sin is death.” That’s exactly what we owe to God’s holiness. But that same verse goes on to say, “but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Our debt, which we could never in our own efforts pay, Jesus satisfies in full (and forever) by dying in our place. 3) “As we forgive our debtors” is actually presented in the past tense; that is, as we have forgiven our debtors. This emphasizes the connection between our ongoing obedience to God and keeping open channels of intimate fellowship with Him. We do not pray, then, to beg forgiveness. We pray because, through the blood of Christ, He has already purchased our forgiveness. Yet, of course, our ongoing sanctification (character, obedience, growth in Christ, spiritual service) requires the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us in His will.
* “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” James 1:13 makes it clear that God never tempts anyone to evil. Also note that the word here does not necessarily mean a solicitation to wickedness. Rather, it means a trial or a test. So, what’s involved in this portion of the prayer model is talking to the Lord about protection, guidance, grace, deliverance, wisdom, and so on – all the things that we need to pass with flying colors every test, every challenge, every opportunity He brings our way. It is an acknowledgement that we are daily engaged in spiritual warfare and that we require His mighty love to warn us, equip us, and empower us to live fully for God.
* “For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.” You’ll note that this phrase is absent altogether from the Luke passage and, in the Matthew passage, your Bible likely has a note in the margin saying that it is not in the best biblical manuscripts. There is nothing wrong with this phrase, but I don’t believe it was part of the model prayer that Jesus delivered to His disciples.
So, let me summarize. The “Disciple’s Prayer” is a model, a general pattern for our prayers. It is something we customize ourselves for different times, needs, and purposes. It is a great stimulant and help to our prayers, reminding us of God’s free access to believers, His mercy and love, His power and holiness, His coming again to take us home to heaven, His ever-available provision, His overwhelming forgiveness and opportunity for endless fresh starts.
And one more thing – could you use any other tips in developing and maintaining your prayers? I know I am always grateful for any help I can find in this task. So, here are a few things that Claire and I have found extremely helpful.
1) A regular devotional or quiet time or Bible study. For instance, we receive in our email every morning a brief piece from Joni Eareckson Tada which includes a prayer. It’s always a good prayer. But though there’s value in simply repeating it to the Lord, He loves to hear us put things in our own words, reflecting our personal thoughts.
2) We use a prayer list which is especially helpful in keeping track of our friends who are dealing with intense and immediate needs. (There’s a lot.)
3) We have told you several times before about our Thanksgiving Jar in which notes are dropped in describing specific things we’re thanking God for. This has been a terrific way to sharpen our awareness of God’s work in our daily lives.
4) We have made it a habit to pray a bit whenever we’re in the car.
And 5) Our late night practice of prayer includes each of us taking a specific number of items which we, in turn, pray about. These items involve people, issues, and plans, many of which are recurring, but it also allows for spontaneity and freshness.
Give one or more of these things a try. Or devise your own approaches. But, whatever you do, ask the Lord to help you improve your experience of prayer. However long you’ve been a Christian and whatever levels of success you’ve had with prayer in the past, we can all move forward in these crucial areas of confession, worship, and intercession. Until next month…
Denny (for Claire too)