First time hearing prayer in a Bible Church like ours I was taken aback. You can pray not from a book? i had only heard group prayer in the Catholic Church I had gone to sporadically as a kid. So I was like, who are these people who freely talk to God? how do they know what to say? And especially, they must really know God to talk to Him so freely.
And I stuck around, and I became a Christian. Like, a real Christian. And a proud Christian. I looked down on churches that had formalized prayers. After all, I had been in a church with formalized prayers and never once heard the gospel. So I cam to believe that there was a difference between religion - stuffy, formalized, ritualized prayers, and churches that taught that you needed a relationship with God - which meant spontaneous, informal, personal prayers. And I hated recited religion-y prayers.
There was probably a lot of factors in my mindset changing a bit. Probably maturity helped. A lot. In many areas. But I really had a bit of a mindset change on Japan. Let me tell you about our church in Japan. The recited literacy was the only way to participate in the service. Gave me a language to pray.
That’s exactly what recited prayers are supposed to do - give us a language to pray, to literally teach us to pray. Not to become ritualistic, but to teach us how to do something that to be honest, many of us are not good at. How do we speak to God?
Over the last couple months we’ve been going through the classic passage on prayer from Matthew 6, the Lord’s prayer, looking at the larger meaning and concepts behind each segment. We’ve looked at everything from praying together with and for others, to our position as children of God through the cross, to God’s greatness and His Kingdom to be established, to our daily need for provision and forgiveness that flows out to others. Today we will be tackling the last major chunk in the prayer: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. What is this temptation? What does it mean to not be lead into it? What does it mean to be delivered from evil? And what was our example in Jesus
Canadians know about personal financial debt. A report this winter revealed that household debt levels higher than any other country. Statistics Canada reported that the ratio of household credit-market debt to disposable income rose to 171.1 per cent last fall. We’re deficit spending. We borrow from one to pay off another. We put the balance for our loans on our credit cards and fold them into our mortgages. Many people simply feel they can never keep up or are a step from financial ruin. The word “debt” in the Lord’s prayer suggests that we are in a state of moral deficit spending. That we owe God our perfect love, our perfect allegiance, our perfect righteousness, yes we fall short, we cross that line daily. And so we say, I know I fell short today, but tomorrow I’ll make it up and do better. But tomorrow comes, and we’re no better than we were today, so we just add to that deficit. We have accumulated a debt of sin that we can never pay off. It bears down upon us, and so we do with our moral debt the same thing that some people do with our financial death, we deny it and ignore it and bury it until the collector comes and we have no choice but to face financial ruin. And the reality of life is that each of us will have to stand before God and give an account of what we have done in our life to love and glorify him, and we will all be crushed under the weight of our moral debt.
That is the prayer of “And forgive us our sins” - I recognize the weight of my sins and my need for the grace of God. This is the forgiveness offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God has promised us that for the sake of the life of his son, he will offer to freely forgive any who come to him in repentance and faith. That through Jesus, death and resurrection, he has secured for us an eternal inheritance greater than the debt we owed.
The world needs a robust understanding injustice and suffering, otherwise we will inevitably prescribe the wrong cure for our pain. I remember that before I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, the doctor initially though that I needed to go on a high fibre diet. So I was eating tons of breads and grains, in other words, tons of gluten! It was making my condition worse. Jesus understood how discouraging this world could be, and in teaching us to pray did not evade or avoid this human reality, but taught us to pray in a way that faces injustice and suffering head on. This is of course the second petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom Come.”
I want to start today by mentioning two barriers to prayer that I think that today’s portion of the Lord’s prayer addresses.
First, Do you find that prayer is easier when you have a dire need, or going through trial, but that it is hard to pray when things are going well, went you don’t have any sever need? How do you foster a prayer life in the monotony of the work week, in the day in and day out, when we live in a country of relative safety, prosperity. It’s true that trial drives us to prayer, but how do we maintain prayer when we’re not driven to God through trial.
The second barrier to prayer, is often that we don’t know what to pray for when we come to God with petitionary prayer. Jesus told us that if we should ask anything in his name, according to his will, God would provide, but its that, “according to his will” part that gets us. How do we know that the things we pray for are according to his will? Some of us get so frustrated by that question that we give up in prayer.
I believe the first petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Hallowed be Thy Name” sets an agenda for our prayer that provides an explosive means of overcoming those barriers to prayer.
We are going to start by looking today at the preface to the Lord’s prayer. This is our approach to God, how we address God, in the ESV four words, “Our Father in heaven.” What do we learn of prayer through these four words? How are we to address and approach God?
First, we learn that prayer, at it’s heart, as Jesus defined it, is communal. Second, that prayer is relational. And third, that prayer is effectual. It is communal in respect to who prays. It is relational respect to whom we are praying. And it is effectual in respect to the exalted position of the One to whom we pray.
Now over the next series we will look closer at the Lord’s prayer itself, but this week I want to focus in only on verse 1, the request of the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It was Howard Hendricks who, several years ago in a message at a pastor’s conference, called our attention to the fact that if we were to open our Bibles and read starting with Matthew and were to read through John we would never find an instance where the disciples asked, “Lord teach us how to witness,” or “teach us how to perform miracles,” or “teach us how to teach.” But in this passage, we do find one of the disciples asking, “Lord, teach us to pray . . .”