May 5, 2020

Matthew 6:5-13

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

 “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.

One of the earliest Christian commentaries on Scripture was written on the Lord’s Prayer by Tertullian who referred to the prayer as “a compendium of the gospel.” Early on, Christians began using the Lord’s Prayer as an essential component, along with the Apostle’s Creed and Ten Commandments, for catechizing children and new Christians. Thomas Watson, the great English Puritan, wrote an entire volume focused on the Lord’s Prayer. Indeed, in Watson’s magisterial three-volume work on the Westminster Confession of Faith, The Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer, the later volume is the lengthiest.

Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is – and no more.” J.I. Packer writes, “It is not too much to say that God made us to pray; that prayer is (not the easiest) but the most natural activity in which we ever engage; and that prayer is the measure of us all in God’s sight.”

It seems odd to many contemporary evangelicals that they would need to be taught to pray much less be given a specific prayer to recite periodically. But this was the request put to Jesus by his disciples: “teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). The Apostle Paul acknowledged that there are times when God’s own people will not know how to pray (Rom. 8:26). Certainly, the Lord’s Prayer is not to be used as some magical incantation conferring spiritual power and blessings upon those who repeat it. But we ought not assume that sincerity must always be spontaneous and unscripted. Sometimes a well prepared prayer gives to us the language we require when our lives confirm our great need to open our heart to our Heavenly Father.

The Lord’s Prayer provides us not only with a pattern for prayer but also a treasury of Christian doctrine. The Lord’s Prayer may well be considered the first example of systematic theology in the New Testament. Thus, the prayer that Jesus taught us is a model of theology in service to devotion and doxology. The prayer begins where all good prayer begins, by acknowledging the God to whom we pray: “Our Father…”

When we pray let us remember that God is Our Father. While we often do relate to God as individuals we must never lose sight of the fundamentally connectional nature of Christianity. Since the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12, 15, 17) God has chosen to relate to us primarily as a people rather than disconnected individuals. To be a Christian is not to have my own private little thing with God. If you are a Christian you are part of a people; a household of faith. And so it is right that we pray to “Our Father,” particularly when we gather for corporate worship.

And when we pray we must also remember that God is our Father. There are times in the Old Testament where God is portrayed as a Father to his people. But none of the prophets taught God’s people to address him as father. So how remarkable it is that Jesus teaches us to pray to the holy and almighty God as “Father.” Jesus came to complete God’s redemptive plan; a plan which makes sinners sons and daughters of God.

Christians pray to a very different God than do hypocritical legalists and self-indulgent libertines. Christians do not pray to a spiritual energy force or a universal intelligence. We pray to a God who is simultaneously unapproachably holy and merciful to the degree that he spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all. We pray to a God who is simultaneously over and above us and closer than our very breath. And Jesus teaches us to begin where all good praying begins, by acknowledging the God to whom we pray: “Our Father…”