FacebookTwitterRSS FeedPinterest

By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am Worship service, 2017-11-05

Text: Matthew 6:9-13 

In the 16th century one important aspect of the church which needed reformation was its prayer life. For centuries people had been reciting and chanting traditional formula prayers that were prescribed by the church. There were prayers to be recited a certain number of times at certain times of the day. When Luther was a monk in an Augustinian monastery he had to recite these formula prayers 8 times a day, and he took this very seriously. But as he studied the Scriptures he soon recognised that these practices were unbiblical and hypocritical. He realized that prayer is abused when it is not based on what God has revealed in His Word. The Lord Himself must teach us how to pray and what to pray. And that is what our Lord Jesus did in Matthew 6:9-13. This prayer is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer.” Actually, this may not be the best name for this prayer. It was not meant for the Lord Jesus to use for His own praying, but for the disciples to use. It is only the Lord’s Prayer in the sense that it originated from Him. Hence, some Bible teachers prefer to call it “The Disciples’ Prayer” rather than the Lord’s Prayer.

 

Jesus used this prayer to teach His disciples the right way to pray, in contrast to the wrong ways of praying that He had just mentioned in the verses before this. In v.5 Jesus spoke against using prayers to impress people around us as this would make us hypocrites. In v.7 He spoke against reciting formula prayers repeatedly, as this is how the heathen would pray. And then He introduced the Lord’s Prayer by saying “After this manner therefore pray ye.” He was actually reforming the prayer life of His disciples.

 

Our Lord’s teaching on prayer is therefore meant to effect reforms that are needed in our manner of praying. It will help us to avoid many wrong ideas and false teachings on prayer. Do you tend to make prayers that are very long and elaborate? Has your prayer life degenerated into a means of impressing others? Have your prayers become too self-centered? Or has it degenerated into merely repeating the same stock phrases over and over again, without meaning?

 

If any of these are things that have come into your prayer life, then learning from the Lord’s Prayer may bring about a much-needed reformation of your prayer life. Martin Luther used it extensively during the Protestant Reformation. He preached and wrote about the Lord’s Prayer at least 21 times. One year before he nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, he preached a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer. In 1519 he published a book entitled, “An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer for Simple Laymen.” All this helped to reform the prayer life of his congregation. May our prayer life be reformed too as we learn about the Lord’s Prayer this morning.

  1. It is a Useful Pattern for Praying.

This prayer is not meant to be recited mechanically without thinking or understanding what is being said. Some people think that as long as they can find just the right combination of syllables or words to recite whenever they pray, they will get whatever they need. Some of us may have been treating the Lord’s Prayer that way. It is wrong to think that it is simply a magic formula prayer we can use whenever we pray. There is a very easy way to prove this: Just compare the words of Matthew 6:9-13 with the words of the same prayer Jesus taught His disciples in Luke 11:2-4– “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”

 

You will notice that the ending of the prayer is not found here: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.” The obvious differences in wording reveal that it is not the exact words used in praying that matters. The Lord’s Prayer is meant to teach disciples a pattern for praying. It is a guide that displays all of the elements of prayer, such as worship, reverence, obedience, penitence, unselfishness and humility. In a similar way, some Christians like to use the acronym ACTS as a pattern for praying. This stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. The Lord’s Prayer provides us with a useful pattern for our prayers. Hugh Latimer, the English reformer who was burnt at the stake, said: “As the law of love is the sum and abridgment of all other laws, so is this prayer the sum and abridgment of all other prayers.”

 

But one may ask the question – How about our church practice of using the Lord’s Prayer for congregational praying during worship services every Sunday? Would that not also be a mere reciting of this prayer? Yes, it certainly would, if we say it without understanding what it means and without meaning what we say. According to Westminster Larger Catechism “The Lord’s prayer is not only for direction, as a pattern, according to which we are to make other prayers, but may also be used as a prayer, so that it be done with understanding, faith, reverence, and other graces necessary to the right performance of the duty of prayer.” (Q.187)

 

Therefore reciting the Lord’s Prayer together will not render it ineffective – it is the heart attitude that matters. We use it in our worship services each Sunday for two reasons: Firstly, when it is used in congregational praying, it serves as a unified cry to God, similar to the manner in which the early church prayed in Acts 4:24 – “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said…” You will notice that all the first person pronouns in this Prayer are plural. (“Our Father…”; “Give us this day…” “Forgive us our trespasses…” and “Lead us not into temptation…”). That makes it well-suited for united congregational praying.

 

The use of this prayer in public worship was recommended in the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. This directory is related to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Shorter and Larger Catechisms which we use as our doctrinal standard. The directory of worship states: “And because the prayer which Christ taught His disciples is not only a pattern of prayer, but itself a most comprehensive prayer, we recommend it also to be used in the prayers of the church.”

 

Secondly, using this prayer in worship services on Sunday serves as a weekly reminder to us and our families about the elements we should include in our praying during the rest of the week. It re-aligns our personal prayers with the Prayer that Jesus taught His disciples. This can help to prevent our own prayers from going off course and degenerating into a selfish tirade of complaints and petitions.

  1. It Teaches Us the Right Way to Pray.

First of all it teaches us to have the right priority in our praying. Sometimes we approach God’s throne of grace in the same way that we approach an ATM or dispensing machine. We pray as if we are going there just to get all the items we need from Him. “Dear God, please give me a good day, traveling mercies, good relationships with everyone I meet, good health, and a good night’s rest. Thank you. Amen.” Do your prayers tend to be like that?

 

If they are, then you must learn from the Lord’s Prayer to place God before yourself. This priority is reflected in the way this prayer is structured. It can be divided into two sets of three petitions. The first three petitions (“Hallowed be Thy name,” “Thy Kingdom come,” “Thy will be done”) all deal with God’s glory, and the second three petitions (“Give us this day our daily bread,” “Forgive us our debts,” “Lead us not into temptation”) deal with Man’s need.

 

Worshipping God should be the very first thought that we have when we approach Him. And our prayers should end by focusing Him. God should be more important to us than our own needs and petitions.

 

From the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer we also learn to have the right motives for praying. Firstly, it is to honour the name of God. Secondly it is to advance His rule on earth. And thirdly, it is to do His will. What are the means by which God’s name is hallowed, by which His rule is advanced and by which His will is done? As God provides us with our daily bread, as He pardons our sins and as He protects us when we are tempted, He is exalted in His glory, kingdom and will.

 

God must be sought for no other motive than the fact that He is God, worthy of our highest regard, worthy of our worship and reverence. Whenever we pray we ought to be seeking the Giver rather than the gifts. Whether He gives or blesses us or not is not important. What really matters most to us is that He is God, and therefore we ought to seek Him for Who He is, and not for what He does for us or gives to us.

 

One example of a person who sought the Lord with such pure motives is the Old Testament patriarch, Job. He was severely tested because Satan wanted to prove that he was seeking God purely for selfish reasons. As long as God was blessing him, his ardent devotion would continue, but once God stopped blessing him, that devotion would die a natural death. This was what Satan tried to prove, but failed utterly because in response to the severe trials that came upon him, Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (Job 13:15)

Let me ask you this question: If God does not bless you, and does not provide for your needs; if He does not grant you any of your prayer requests and does not help you in times of trial, will you still trust in Him? Will you still seek Him in prayer, honour Him and praise Him? Or will your prayer life slacken just because you find that it is most unprofitable to pray?

 

If your prayer life suffers whenever you suffer setbacks in life, is this not an indication that you have been seeking self rather than God in your prayer life? Let us be honest with ourselves in this matter. Perhaps we really need to ask the Lord to help us to seek Him with God-centered motives from now on.

 

Now, besides teaching us about the right priority and right motives for prayer, the Lord’s Prayer also teaches us about the right content of our praying. It shows us what kind of things we should be asking God for. You will notice that the last three petitions in the Lord’s Prayer deal with three aspects of time – past, present and future. The petition for “our daily bread” has to do with the present. The petition to “forgive us our debts” refers to past sins. And the petition to “Lead us not into temptation,” looks into future protection. The Lord’s Prayer therefore encompasses the past, the present as well as the future sustenance that we need from God.

 

It also deals with three different aspects of life – physical, mental and spiritual. The petition ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ speaks of our physical needs. We ask God to grant all that we need each day to sustain our physical life.

 

The petition for forgiveness of our sins as we forgive others brings effective relief from the mental distress that is caused by guilt and broken relationships. The peace of mind that we need comes from having all our sins forgiven and being able to forgive others. And the petition ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’ is about God’s protection in as we live in a world of sin and evil. This petition therefore deals with our spiritual needs.

  1. It Reveals Our Close Relationship with God.

This can be seen in the way that the prayer begins: “Our Father which art in heaven.” When I was very young my Dad said to me, “Son, I want you to know that you actually have two fathers.” This was something entirely new to me at that time, and so I asked him, “Dad, what do you mean by that?” He said, “I am your earthly father, and God is your heavenly Father.” That was one of the best lessons which I my Dad taught me. From that time onward I began to appreciate what it means to know God as my heavenly Father. I made a little file where I kept all my Sunday school lessons and I labelled it, “Me and my heavenly Father.”

 

What a wonderful privilege it is to call God our Father! Isn’t it amazing that the Most High God who created the entire universe out of nothing, and who is so great and sovereign, should even bother to listen to us? When we pray, we are bringing our appeals right up to the highest authority of all, for no authority can ever be higher than God’s.

 

We all become painfully aware sometimes how difficult it is to make an appeal to authority. If we have a problem we cannot just walk into the Prime Minister’s office and ask Him to help us. He is too far removed from us to deal directly with us. We would have to go through many layers of government officers before we can reach him. But God has much greater authority than our PM. Why should He pay any attention to insignificant creatures of dust like ourselves? Who are we, that we should have the privilege of calling Him, “Our Father?”

 

Few religions in the world allow their adherents to use such an intimate term of address for God. It was only in the Scriptures that God revealed Himself to us as a personal Father. Jesus referred to God as His Father or as our Father a total of 51 times. As our father, God wants us to look up to Him and to depend entirely upon Him. As our Father, God takes great delight in hearing all our prayers and our petitions. We can come to Him at any time – night or day – and He will always welcome us into His presence!

 

Listen to what Jesus said in Luke 11:9-13, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” These verses present a very heart-warming picture of prayer: The picture of a loving father who desires his children to come and ask him for all the things they need, and he is ready and willing to grant what they ask from him for their good.

 

But please understand this well: This wonderful privilege is reserved only for God’s children. Only those who stand in a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ are His children. They are the only ones who can enjoy the great privilege of talking with their Heavenly Father in close, intimate prayer. Thus, the Lord’s Prayer is not for all people to use. The very first two words of this prayer – “Our Father” – defines exactly who can use it. Not all people have God has their Father. The unbelieving Jews who opposed Jesus tried to claim that God was their Father. But Jesus told them who their father really was. He said, “Ye are of your father the devil…” (John 8:44)

 

Therefore, you must first become a child of God before you can use this prayer. How can you become a child of God? The answer to this question is found in John 1:12,13 – “But as many asreceived Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

 

If there is anyone here who is not a child of God yet, please let me urge you now to become one by receiving the Lord Jesus into your heart. As long as you have not done this, you don’t belong to Him and you are still a child of the devil and you are living in sin. You need to turn from your sins now and turn to Jesus Christ who died on the cross to pay for those sins. Will you come to the Lord Jesus and be become a true child of God today?

 

Romans 8:15 says that all who are born again receive the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry out to God, “Abba, Father.” And when you are born again you will have a natural desire in your heart to communicate with God in prayer. Prayer will become the natural breath of your spiritual life. A prayerless Christian is actually a contradiction of terms. Let us all therefore give ample evidence that there is real spiritual life throbbing in us, by constantly looking to our Heavenly Father in prayer.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

January 21 & 28 - The Power of Prayer

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16