And when you pray…

PrayingIt has been a couple of months since we last looked at prayer. Since then, we’ve been reviewing Sovereignty of God, His Word, the Gospel of Jesus, Discipleship… and I think it is important to revisit the topic of prayer. So, lets start with a quick review of how our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, taught his disciples to pray:

Matthew 6:7-15 (ESV)
7 “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. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Notice the first half of the prayer begins in full acknowledgement and praise of the sovereignty of God. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name sets the stage for the foundational basis of prayer. Jesus prayed to His Father in Heaven and He taught us to do likewise (because in/through Jesus we are made free to call the Lord God our Father). The next part of the prayer is where I really want to focus on today. Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Our first request does not come from us. Our first request is that God’s Kingdom come, and that God’s Will be done on earth, as it is done in Heaven. His Sovereignty. His Will.

God’s Will is done in Heaven. Jesus isn’t instructing us to pray that God’s will be done in Heaven, we are to ask that God’s Will be done on earth, in the same way that it is done in Heaven. This is to keep us, and our prayers, firmly rooted in the Will of God. Any attempt to twist this into somehow us giving God permission to execute His Will on Earth is false. The sovereignty of God is immutable. This is an acknowledgement that while we will make our petitions to God in prayer, He remains sovereign, and we acknowledge that above all else, it is His Will we desire to be done on earth just as it is done in Heaven. This is about submission to God, our Heavenly Father, in prayer. Now, I encourage you to take some time to read the context of this instruction fully, so start in Matthew 5 and read all the way through Matthew 7. I believe that the overall theme of this sermon is to clarify the role of Jesus Christ (to fulfill the Law & Prophets Matt 5:15), even to the extend that He clearly makes the case that apart from Him no one has access to Heaven because they are incapable of fulfilling the Law themselves (v22). In Chapter 6, Jesus moves into the need for total submission to God the Father in all things, even our good works according to the Law, and that we stop doing good things for our own glory. Including how we are to pray by specifying that we pray in accordance with His Will.

Matthew 6:3-4 (ESV) 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:6 (ESV) 6 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.
Matthew 6:16-18 (ESV) 16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And now, Jesus moves into addressing our motives. So, we’ve seen Jesus address the practice of good deeds not for recognition of men, but in full submission to God who sees in secret. Now he’s moving our motives.

Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV) 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Interesting. We’ve been taught how to be blessed by God if we improve the way we give to the needy, pray, and fast… and immediately Jesus addresses money. Often, blessings are interpreted as money. Why? We walk in the flesh and are easily tempted. But Jesus makes a very strong point here, that we are NOT to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth; rather, we are to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. You see, when we seek the blessings of God in such a way that demands we receive our blessings on earth, we are trading permanent, heavenly treasures for temporary ones where moth and rust destroy. But it isn’t just about making a poor trade, it’s about who we are submitting ourselves to. No one can serve two masters… Jesus didn’t leave a third option, either you are serving money (wealth, prosperity, Mammon), or you are serving God. Again, you cannot serve God and Mammon.

Jesus moves straight from there, back to addressing the basic needs of mankind. He does so, by highlighting again the Sovereignty of God, but also His Goodness.

Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV) 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Seek first the kingdom of God… and again, take another look at how we are told to pray up in v9-14. “Your kingdom come” is also included in the prayer taught in the account in Luke 11 when the lesson is a response to the disciples asking Jesus how they should pray. That prayer is shorter, and I believe that praying for God’s kingdom to come is praying for God’s Will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven, and no doubt it served as a reminder of the full lesson Jesus taught here in Matthew. Because nothing happens in God’s Kingdom that is not within His Will. Nothing. That is the immutable sovereignty of God.

Whenever the topic of prayer comes up, the enemy will attempt to silence you and your prayers. He does so in many ways, but we’ve seen here a few already

  • Unforgiveness (v14)
  • Vanity/Self-righteousness (v1,5,16)
  • Lust of the eyes (v22)
  • Slavery to Mammon (v24)
  • Anxiety (v25)

These are big items found in this one chapter. Now, let me take a moment to ask you to turn to James 4. You may have read this a few times before, but take a moment now to read what James had to say in light of Matthew 6, 7 (I know we didn’t really cover Ch7 here, but I will leave that for your study, or if God allows, a subsequent post).

James 4 (ESV)
4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

The question or objection that comes up whenever the subject of prayer is discussed generally falls under “yeah, I tried that, I prayed, and nothing happened”. Now there are so many reasons why a prayer may not have been fulfilled, that I generally take a deep breath and wait for a softening in the countenance of the person posing the question (because it’s normally presented as an accusation). Against whom is the accusation being levied? Is it against me? What have I taught that is of myself? Hopefully nothing; therefore, there is no need to be offended, or to take offense at the accusation neither should I worry about defending myself. But I was sharing what Jesus said in Matthew Ch 6. So, is the accusation against Jesus or God, the Father? I don’t need to speak for Him. James cuts to the heart of the matter, and I think it reflects the instruction we received in Matthew 6.

Prayer was an essential part of Jesus’ life, and should be an essential part of our lives. There are no secrets to prayer. There are no secrets to unlocking the key to prayer. Jesus openly taught how to pray, and again gave instruction to His disciples and God the Father ensured that the lessons would be preserved for us in His Scriptures. We must submit to God’s sovereignty, and make our petitions to Him fully acknowledging His Will. We don’t always get our way, because it’s not our will, but God’s Will. Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane:

Matthew 26:39 (ESV) 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.

In closing, I don’t want to pluck prayer out as some request roulette mechanic. The goal of prayer must be submission to God, and He does speak to us through His Word and by His Spirit so that we are not left completely unaware of what His Will is. Your kingdom come... He has shared so much with us already if we would just… read… the… Bible. Anyway, I love the way the Apostle Paul closes the letter to the Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 (ESV) 12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
25 Brothers, pray for us.
26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, too.

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