Two weeks ago almost immediately after my sermon on the basics of prayer, people came to me and expressed their feelings of inadequacy when it came to addressing God publicly. I remember one individual spoke to me as she left the 11:00am service, saying that after hearing my sermon she now understood what the other members of her Sunday School class meant when they insisted she lead the opening prayer that day. Apparently everyone else in the class had attended the 8:30am service and they told her that after hearing my sermon, they were afraid they’d not pray correctly so they asked her to do the honors that morning. And this individual wasn’t alone. Several of you indicated that the sermon made you kind of afraid to pray, especially in public, lest you mess up in some way.
As I’ve thought about that, I’ve come to the conclusion that your “fearful response” to my message was both good and bad. It’s bad because, I would never want to do anything that made you hesitant to talk to God. Remember, God loves to hear our prayers! In the same way an earthly father loves the lumpy ceramic coffee mug his small child made him in art class our heavenly Father loves our prayers and cherishes them! In God’s eyes it’s impossible to pray incorrectly as long as you pray sincerely. So, never be afraid to pray! But your “fearful” response was also good, because if we are to benefit from prayer, if it is to be a meaningful activity that blesses us in all the ways that God intends, we do need to learn to pray correctly. We need to learn how to properly structure our prayers. So, if the sermon made you afraid to pray that’s bad but if it motivated you to learn how to pray more meaningfully then that is good!
The purpose of these sixty-six wonderful words, words that comprise some of the best known verses in the entire Bible, the purpose of the Lord’s Prayer, was to teach us to pray by giving us a model to follow. This prayer is meant to serve as a pattern to look at to help us build our own prayers, such that they include all the things that it takes to make prayer purposeful and effective.
I’m part of a dying breed because I’m a Word Perfect fan. There are not many of us left. In fact, I’m the only one in the church office “wise” enough to use this program. Well, like most word processors, Word Perfect comes with several templates to use as guides to build your documents. I have a resume template, a fax template, a template for labels, one for various kinds of letters, etc. And the purpose of those templates is to remind me of all the things I need to include in those documents to make them say what they need to say. For example the fax template asks me the name of the person I’m sending it to and their company name and phone number and fax number. It asks how many pages the fax will be. Then it gives me a space to write my comments and even reminds me to include information like my name, title, address, etc. Let me put it this way. This Word Perfect fax template helps me prepare a “meaningful fax, ” a purposeful fax that says what I need to say and gets it to the right person.
In a similar way the Lord’s Prayer serves as a “template” to help us prepare meaningful prayers, effective prayers, that mature us by touching on all aspects of our lives. And as you look at the “Lord’s Prayer” you’ll note several things that make it a perfect “prayer template.” For example, we see this in the way that it is arranged, because it’s very obviously divided into two sets of three elements each.
The first three: “Hallowed be Thy name,” “Thy kingdom come,” and “Thy will be done” each deal with God’s glory.
The second three: “Give us our daily bread,” “Forgive us our debts,” and “Lead us not into temptation” each deal with man’s need.
A second reason The Lord’s Prayer is a great “prayer template” is because it is structured such that it reminds us to steer clear of self-centeredness. And it does this with its exclusive use of plural pronouns: “Our Father, give us our daily bread .Forgive us our debts ”
I found a bit of prose this week that emphasizes this aspect of the Lord’s Prayer. It goes like this:
“You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘I.’
You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say ‘My.’
Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer and not pray for another;
For when you ask for daily bread you must include your brother.
Others are included in each and every plea;
From the beginning to the end of it, it does not once say ‘Me.'”
Another thing, this prayer model also focuses on life from every angle: the present, “Give us today our daily bread,” the past, “Forgive us our debts,” and the future, “Lead us not into temptation.” I could go on, but suffice it to say that as Dr. David Jeremiah puts it, “There’s no better teaching on prayer than the Lord’s Prayer. It is perfectly in balance. It teaches us Who [God] is, who we are, and how to come to Him in prayer.”
Now, one thing I hope you understand after sitting through these sermons is that learning to pray is indeed very important for the Christian disciple. If we are to grow in Christ-likeness we need to learn how talk to God and listen to Him so we can access His power and guidance. Think of prayer as an “essential vitamin” for your proper spiritual growth and development!
Martin Luther once put it this way, “Just as the business of the tailor is making clothes and the business of the cobbler is making shoes, so the business of the Christian is praying.”
And he’s right! So, my first question to you this morning is, “How’s business? How’s your prayer life?” If it’s not where you’d like it to be and you want to learn how to improve you came to the right place, because for the next several weeks we are going to study Jesus’ template for prayer! We’re going to discipline ourselves such that we become experts at using it!
But, before we get into the Lord’s Prayer itself, I want you to note a few things that the Bible does not teach us about prayer as taken from John MacArthur’s book, Jesus’ Pattern For Prayer.
a. First, it does not teach us a required posture of prayer.
The Bible tells of people who prayed in all kinds of postures: while standing, or while lifting their heads, or while sitting, or while lying down, or while kneeling, or while lifting their eyes. It tells of people who prayed while bowing, while pounding their chests, and so on. So, as Christians we don’t have to worry about getting in a certain position to pray. No, we can talk to God from any posture and be assured that He hears us.
b. Second, God’s Word does not teach us that there is only one place we can pray.
The Bible records the fact that people prayed during battle or in caves or in closets or in a garden on a mountainside or by a river or by the sea, or in the street, or in bed, or on a rooftop, or in prison, or from inside the belly of a fish or in solitude, or on a cross. We can literally talk to God from any place! I think this is one thing Paul was getting at in 1st Timothy 2:8 when he wrote, “I will that men pray everywhere!”
c. And then finally, the Bible does not teach us that there is only one time to pray.
In the Scripture we read about people praying in the early morning, midmorning, in the evening, before meals, after meals, at bedtime, at midnight, and so on. In fact, in Luke 18:1 we read that Jesus said, we should “always pray.” So suffice it to say that we can talk to God from any posture, in any place, at any time under any circumstance, and be sure that He welcomes and hears our praises and petitions.
Okay, take your Bibles and turn to our prayer template as recorded for us in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. This morning we are looking at the verse 9 where Jesus says,
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name ‘”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I like how John Ortberg breaks this first verse down, so we’re going to use his outline as a framework to “hang” our study on this morning. He insightfully points out that in this verse Jesus begins to help us learn to pray effectively by teaching us the who, the where, and the what of meaningful prayer. Let’s begin with “the Who.” Who specifically does Jesus say we pray to?
(1) Jesus says we address our prayers to, “Our Father ”
Now if you’ve studied this text before you probably already know this. But in case you don’t, please note this word was not the normal Greek word for “Father,” but rather the Aramaic word, “Abba.” Of course this has nothing to do with the 70’s disco band of the same name! No, this was the word a small child would have used back then when referring to his or her father and it is a very intimate term that literally means “Daddy!” The Talmud confirms this when it says that when a child is weaned, ” it learns to say ‘abba’ and ‘imma’ ” which means, “Daddy” and “mommy.”
So Jesus was saying that effective prayer, prayer that meets our needs, begins with us praying to “Our Daddy our Abba.” And we need to understand that this teaching would have shocked Jesus’ hearers. The people sitting on that mountainside would have thought it would be absolutely scandalous to refer to God as their “Father” much less as, “Daddy.” Of all the things the disciples had heard about prayer this was certainly not one of them, because the Jews of that day both feared and revered the name of God.
To show you how much they reverenced God’s name, when the scribes who copied the Old Testament Scriptures wrote the word for God, “Yahweh,” they would throw away the pen they were using and never use it again. They reasoned that once it had written the word, “Yahweh,” the pen was disqualified to write anything else. So, when Jesus said this, they would have thought, “Surely we didn’t hear Jesus correctly. How could we possible refer to our Holy Almighty God like that!?” No Jew in the first half of the Bible ever addressed God directly as, “My Father.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. God is referred to as “Father” in the Old Testament, but only fourteen times, and always as Father of the Nation of Israel not as the “Abba” of any individual. As David Jeremiah says, “The people of Israel had a filial relationship with God, but it was national, not personal.”
When Jesus God’s only Son came to earth, He changed all this. He began referring to God as “Father” from the very beginning. Do you remember what He told Mary and Joseph when He was a little boy and they lost Him and then found Him in the temple? He said, “Hey where’d you expect to find Me? I must be about my Father’s business.” In fact the only time Jesus did not refer to God as Father, was in His prayer from the cross when He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” reflecting the fact that when hung there He became sin for us and in that moment His relationship with the Holy Father was temporarily broken. Jesus was forsaken by God so we wouldn’t have to be Godforsaken! In this template for prayer, Jesus says, we can speak to God the way He did. We can call God, “Our Abba” “Our dad.” This is “the WHO” our prayers are addressed to.
And, please don’t make the mistake some make by confusing God with imperfect earthly fathers who so many times fail to live up to their parental calling. I’m reminded of the story about a father trying to help his son to pray, and his son said he was having trouble praying because he couldn’t see God. So his dad said, “Just picture me when you pray.” The boy asked his dad, “Does that mean God just grunts and nods when I try to speak to Him?”
Of course, most of us have wonderful earthly dads, but even the best of us mess up at times. So think of God as not just a Father but rather as the perfect father, because nothing, not physical fatigue from a long day at the office, not a bad temper from the frustrations of life, not preoccupation over as to how to pay the bills, those things that so often distract our earthly dads, nothing keeps God from giving us His undivided attention. Nothing keeps us from His love. As Romans 8:3839 says, ” neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I also want you to note that inside we all long for the love of our Father God. The entire world changes when we know our earthly dads love us, but this is especially true when we know that the Dad who loves us most is our Heavenly Father.
Shortly before his death, the American novelist, Thomas Wolfe referred to this when he wrote,
“The deepest search of life, it seems to me the thing that in one way or another is central to all living is man’s search for a Father. Not merely the father of his flesh; not merely the father of his lost youth, but the image of a strength and wisdom, external to his need and superior to his hunger, to which the belief and power of his own life could be united.”
Well, whether he knew it or not, Wolfe was describing our Heavenly Father, because ever since the fall all people have longed for the relationship with God that we lost when sin entered the world. So I believe that while they were shocked that Jesus would say we should address God in this intimate way well I think the disciples were also sort of hopefully happy to hear this. They must have thought deep inside, “Really? We can really talk to God as our Dad? He loves us that much? He loves us in that personal way?”
And of course He does. But I want you to note only Christians can pray this prayer, only Believers can pray, “Our Abba ” because as John 1:1213 puts it, this privilege is reserved for those, “who received Him, Jesus, those who believed in His name, He gave these people the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
You see, Jesus’ death on the cross is what made it possible for us to become God’s children. Galatians 4:47 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit Who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son ”
As these and other verses in the Bible tell us when Jesus took our sin upon Himself, the veil that existed between sinful people and our Holy God was torn. And when that happened a whole new way of approaching God was opened up to us. Now when we access this way by accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, we can approach God as His adopted children. In that decision we given the access that children always have to their dads.
You know, my secretaries are very good at screening my calls. They can smell a salesman a mile away and this is important because I get dozens of calls from these people, calls that would eat up my precious time. They also know that when I’m studying or counseling someone and have my “do not disturb” button pushed, they know to leave me alone. When I get calls during those times they courteously ask people if they’d like to leave a message on my voice mail or call back another time.
But one exception to that rule is my kids. If my children call, no matter what I am doing, my secretaries know to put their calls through. They’ll come up and knock on my door and tell me because they know I always take their calls. You see, a special bond exists between me and my kids. They can walk into my busy life any time they choose. They always have access to me and always will. Well, Jesus says that’s the way it is with God. When we become Christians He adopts us as His children, and from then on we can enter His presence any time knowing we get His full attention. Aren’t you thankful for that fact!!!
And, you know, the wonderful thing is that our adoption by God shows us the depth of His love. You adoptive parents out there know what I’m talking about. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to put down biological parents. We love our kids dearly, but most of the time as Lucado puts it, “our cribs were filled relatively easily.” We decided to have a child and nine months or so later a child came. In fact, sometimes children came with no decision or planning. We think it’s car sickness and find out it’s morning sickness!
But that’s not the way it is with adoption. There is hoping and planning and waiting and striving and focused intent. Usually an enormous price is paid. Lucado writes,
“I’ve heard of unplanned pregnancies, but I’ve never heard of unplanned adoptions. Adoptive parents understand God’s passion to adopt each of us. They know what it means to feel an empty place inside. They know what it means to hunt, to set out on a mission, and take responsibility for a child with a spotted past and a dubious future. If anyone understands God’s ardor for His children, it’s someone who has rescued an orphan from despair, for that is what God has done for us. God has adopted you. God has sought you. God has found you, signed the papers and taken you home.”
I’m sure Ephesians 1:35 inspired Lucado’s insightful words here because it says, “Long ago, before God made the world, God chose us to be His very own, through what Christ would do for us; Way back then He decided to make us holy in His eyes without a single fault so that we could stand before Him covered in His love. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us. And He did this because He wanted to.” (TLB)
So, through our faith in Jesus Christ, God adopts us as His Sons and because of that, we should begin our prayers by addressing them to Who? “Our Father, Our Dad, Our Abba!”
Before we move on to the next point I want you to note one final thing about the “Who” of prayer. I want you to understand that these first two words set the proper context for all that is to follow. You parents out there, biological or adoptive, when the phone rings and it’s a someone trying to get you to subscribe to a magazine your first thought is, “How can I get rid of this guy?” When you’re busy and a longwinded friend calls and wants to talk about something that doesn’t concern you, you listen but not really. No you pull out your laptop and quietly check your email or play solitaire while they drone on. But if the first word you hear when you put the receiver to your ear is, “Dad ” you drop everything don’t you? Anything your kids say any confession they share any request they make all takes place in the context of that relationship.
So it is no wonder that Jesus said we should always begin our conversations with God with these two words “Our Father Our Abba our Dad”
(2) Okay let’s move on to the where of prayer. Jesus says we pray to Our Father Who is where? Right! In heaven.
As we get into this second point I want you to note that the most essential word in this prayer template is also the shortest. Lucado writes, “Be careful you don’t miss it. A lot of people do. The word is so brief it will sneak right past you if you aren’t careful. What is the word? I’ll give you a hint. You just heard it. Is it in this sentence? Yes, it is.”
Of course the word he is referring to is ‘is’. We are to pray, “Our Father Who is in heaven, not was, not will be, not could be or should be, but God IS. He is the God of the present tense.” Isn’t that a comforting fact? When we say, “Our Father Who is ” we’re proclaiming the truth that our all-powerful, all loving, all-knowing, completely sovereign ABBA IS on His throne.
The news papers and news anchors may make it sound like things are out of control but they’re not because our ABBA IS on His throne. The doctors may tell us things that make us afraid such that we fear for our very lives, but we don’t need to be afraid because our ABBA IS in charge. There may be times in life when the continued darkness of deep depression makes us feel alone but we’re not because our ABBA IS!
But back to the main point: Where is our Abba? Well, according to this model for prayer, He is in Heaven. But where is that? Sounds far away from our fallen world, doesn’t it! We have to be careful here because when we say our Abba is in Heaven, we tend to think that means He is far away remote distant hard to access, but that’s not what Jesus is saying. Let me explain. The Greek word for Heaven here is “uranos.” We get the word for the planet Uranus from that word, that big planet that is way out in space too far away to see with the naked eye. But here in this prayer the word is in the plural so literally it means, “Our Abba, the One Who is in the heavens.” In the New Testament, this word for “the Heavens” is used in a variety of ways. It’s used to describe the sky we can look at from any perspective there, there, there, and there. And it’s also used to describe the atmosphere the air all around us that we breathe.
Well, I believe this is the sense Jesus used in His prayer. He wasn’t saying, “When you pray, say, Our Abba Who lived a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ” No, Jesus was saying, “When you pray, you’re saying, ‘Our Abba, Who is all around me .closer than the air I breathe, our Father Who is sovereignly in charge right here, right now.”
And this makes sense, because we read of our God’s promised nearness throughout the Bible. But I think David puts it best in Psalm 139 when He exclaims:
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; If I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, even there Your eyes saw my unformed body.”
And then do you remember some of Jesus’ last words before His ascension? He promised, “Lo I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Ortberg tells of a time he was counseling a woman in his church concerning her fear of flying. Well, he quoted this verse to remind her of Jesus’ promise to always be with her. She said, “Yes, I’ve heard that verse but that’s part of the problem. After all, what Jesus said was, ‘LOW, I am with you always ‘” Well, this fearful woman was misquoting this verse wasn’t she because we know that our ABBA, our Heavenly Father, is always with us no matter where we are High above the earth or low with both feet firmly planted on good ole terra firma. God is always near.
Brennan Manning tells the story of a pastor who visited one of the members of his church, a man who had a terminal disease. In one of their visits the man said, “Pastor I want to ask you about something. When I pray it helps if I imagine God sitting in that chair right next to my bed and I turn my head and talk to Him as if He were sitting there. Is that appropriate? Is there anything wrong with praying like that?” The pastor said, “No of course not. God is everywhere. As the Psalmist says, He is an especially present help in times of trouble. So sure, pray to God as if He were sitting in that chair.” A few weeks later the pastor was in his office one morning when he got a phone call from the man’s daughter telling him her father had passed away in the night. She said, “Pastor, it’s strange he died with his head resting on the seat of the chair next to his bed.” The pastor realized that as death came, this Christian man simply laid his head in the lap of his Abba, Who he was talking to at the time, our Abba Who is always near.
Okay, that’s the who and the where, let’s move on to the what. What are we to pray about? What are we to say? Well as we’ll see in coming weeks, this template for prayer tells us several “what’s” that we should include in order for our prayers to be meaningful, but in verse 9 Jesus says the very first “what” should always be, what?
(3) Right. Our first what should be, “Hallowed by Your name.”
Now we don’t use this word, “Hallowed” very much and because we don’t, people often buy into several misconceptions of this particular “what.” I’m reminded of the deacon in the church who was known for always beginning his prayers by shouting, “Dear God!!!!” When asked why he yelled at God like this he explained, “Well that’s how Jesus said we should do it. We should pray, ‘Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hollared by Thy name. ” And then there is the little boy who tried to follow this template by praying, “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, how’d You know my name?”
Okay, enough of that, what does this old word really mean? Basically when we say, “Hallowed by Thy Name ” we’re ascribing to God His proper worth, because to “hallow” something means to attach appropriate value. This reminds me of a story I came across about a man who went into an antique store. This guy was an antique expert so as he walked around he quickly saw that the inventory of this particular store was basically junk. He was about to leave when he saw a cat drinking milk out of a saucer. But he realized the saucer was actually a vase from the Ming Dynasty in China and worth a vast fortune. He thought, “This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Since this guy is feeding his cat milk out of this thing he must not realize how much it’s worth.” So he went to the owner and said, “That’s a great cat you have there. I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a hundred dollars for him.” The shop owner said, “Well, the cat isn’t really worth anything but sure a hundred bucks sounds good.” The man handed him the money and picked up the cat and said, “Oh yes I’ll need something to feed him in. I’ll give you another ten bucks for that saucer.” The owner said, “Oh, I could never do that. You see, that’s actually a vase from the Ming Dynasty in China. It’s worth a fortune. But you know the strangest thing. Ever since I’ve started putting milk in it I’ve sold 17 cats!”
Well all kidding aside, Jesus says we need to begin our prayers by ascribing the proper worth to God, and the best way to do this is to remember Who God is. This is why we are to pray, “Hallowed be Thy name” because in Jewish culture a name was a way of referring to someone’s uniqueness. For these people a name was more than a designation, it was a declaration of someone’s unique character. It was a way of saying what this person was worth. And as the prophets of the Hebrew nation got to know God more, as they came to understand His uniqueness, they kept giving Him more and more names, each as a way of celebrating one more aspect of God’s nature. This is why there are more than 80 names for God in the Old Testament alone. For example, first they knew God as “Elohim,” which means “Creator.” Generations later Jacob came to see God as “Jehovahraah” which means “caring shepherd.” In Genesis 48:15 Jacob told his family, “God has led me all my life.” Abraham saw something else in God and called Him, “Jehovahjireh” which means, “The Lord Who provides.” Remember, God provided a lamb so he wouldn’t have to sacrifice his son. Gideon gave God the name “Jehovah Shalom” which means “The Lord is peace.”
So, this part of the template, “Hallowed be Thy Name,” is a reminder of the fact that meaningful prayer begins with a time of proclaiming the special, unique worth of God. We begin by praying something like, “Father You are worthy because of Who You are. You help me to not be afraid when life gets rough. You help me know what to do when I face a tough decision. You always provide for my needs and so much more. And I can talk to You this way because You provided my salvation by sending Jesus.”
But perhaps the best way we hallow the name of God is when we commit our daily lives to His Lordship. As Martin Luther put it, “God’s name is hallowed among us when both our doctrines and our living are Christian.”
The Psalmist was hallowing God’s name when He prayed, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) We show how much we value God when we value His instructions enough to pattern our lives after them. We Hallow God’s name when we obey our Abba. We Hallow God’s name when we say, “Lord, this day of my life is Yours. Let me live in such a way, do my business dealings in such a way, interact with my family and my neighbors in such a way, that when people see me they say, ‘I know what family he comes from He belongs to the Father.”
Let us pray,
Abba Father, Thank You for adopting us as Your children. Thank You for loving us enough to send Your only Son to pay the price of our adoption so that we could become Your sons and daughters. Words can’t express how wonderful it is for us to know that You love us nor to they convey how reassuring it is to know that You are always with us. As we come to this time of decision, I pray that we would all feel Your nearness and I ask that You would speak to us remind us of all the ways You bless our lives and then tell us the things we need to do to truly hallow Your name. Show us what we need to do and say to be obedient. I ask all this in the name of Jesus. Amen
This morning if you don’t know God as Father, you can by simply claiming the forgiveness for sin that was made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross. So if you’re not a Christian, come forward and I’ll tell you how to become one and we’ll pray together.
And then if you’re a child of God and He’s told you something you need to do to hallow His name, do it. That may involve joining this church or committing to serve here in some way, but obey God– Hallow His name publicly or privately by doing what our Abba says to do.