This is our second week in our new series on prayer. We started last week by answering the question, “Why Pray?” Today, we ask another question, and I hope the answers will be just as clear. How do we learn to pray so that our prayers will be effective, so we can expect an answer to our prayers, so we know that God is at the other end?
This message is based on Matthew 6:9-13. Click here to read now.
This is our second week in our new series on prayer. We started last week by answering the question, “Why Pray?” The answer is that when we pray, things happen, and some of the things that happen we put in the acronym PRAY. When we pray, we Prove that God exists to us, we Reconnect with God, we Admit that we need God, and in the act of prayer, we Yield to God’s will. These are four pretty good reasons why we should take the time to pray. And all of that, of course, is over and above the answered prayer you receive when you pray.
Today, we ask another question, and I hope the answers will be just as clear. The question is, “How do you pray?” How do we learn to pray so that our prayers will be effective, so we can expect an answer to our prayers, so we know that God is at the other end? How do we pray so that we are truly connected with God in the prayer, so that we truly admit our need before God, and so that we might truly yield to God’s will? That’s the kind of prayer we all want, how do we go about that kind of prayer?
Well, when you want to learn to do something new, or if you want to get better at doing something you don’t know much about, the best way to do it is to seek out someone who does it really well. If you want to learn to use the sound system, don’t come to me and ask me to spend time with you showing you everything I know about the sound system. Because when we’re done, you won’t even know how to turn it on. But if you talk to Randy, who has done it for several years, he can teach you what you need to know. If you want to learn something, you seek out someone who knows a lot about what you want to learn, and you learn from him.
When it comes to prayer, who knows more about prayer than someone who could regularly be seen in prayer, someone who would regularly go off by himself to pray, who would sneak out early before anybody else was up to go out and pray, who would pray all night with such an intensity that his sweat seemed to drip like blood. Who could better teach us prayer than Jesus?
Last week I gave you a definition of prayer: Prayer is talking with God. This week I want to draw a little bit more out of that. Prayer, at its best, draws us to God. It’s one of those things in life that God has given us that draw us to God.
There are so many things in life that kind of push God off to the side, there seems to be the message of this life that says that God is not that important, there is our own sinfulness that tells us that we’ve failed, and there are a host of things that combine to push a little further from God.
But prayer is the opposite. Prayer is what draws us back to God. When all the other things in life can be pushing us away from God, prayer is there drawing us back. So prayer is important, it’s absolutely necessary if we want to be a follower of Jesus. It’s absolutely necessary if we want to be right with God. But again, how do we do it right?
In our reading this morning, we see what we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gives us a model, a format, that if we follow this general format, our prayers will be effective, and we’ll be drawn closer to God. Now if you look at your translation, notice it doesn’t say pray these words, or pray this prayer. It says something to the effect of “this, then, is how you should pray…” Not what you should pray, this is how you should pray. Jesus isn’t telling us to recite this prayer all the time, He’s telling to pray a prayer like this, follow this format; this is a model for how to pray. Follow this guide and your prayers will be right on.
We recite this prayer monthly, and I’m a little concerned that the prayer kind of looses it’s meaning with time. We say it over and over again so often, we don’t think about it anymore, and I’m worried about that. I want you to remember this is a guide to our prayer, this is a format that we should follow, this is not something to recite out of memory, something we say so often that we don’t think about the meaning anymore. Please be careful of that.
We’re going to start with the actual model of prayer. Let’s look at it now. I’m going read it through quickly, then we’ll break it apart and see what Jesus is really telling us to pray about… (Matthew 6:9-13).
That’s a very simple prayer, it took less than a minute to read it. Very short, very simple. What’s really in it?
The first thing we see is worship – verse 9 says, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Literally in the Greek it says “Let your name be revered.” This is a form of praise, of worship. Start your time of prayer by praising God. Lift Him up, lift up His name, He alone is worthy.
It also has a sense of intimacy. Our Father. Our Dad. That’s kind of intimate, it shows a family relationship. It shows as messed up as we are, as far beneath God as we are, there is still a connection there through Jesus. It shows a closeness, through faith in Jesus, we are brought close again. We’re reconnected with the God who created us, who adopted us, who wants us to call Him Father.
“Hallowed be thy name” – God deserves respect. We’re supposed to feel this intimacy, this sense of closeness to God, but at the same time we realize that God is God, He is holy, there is not a flaw in God, He is perfect. His name is praised, it’s hallowed, we respect God. In a sense we’re asking God to help us keep His name holy, to help everything we do in His name be worthy of His name, we don’t want to dishonor God’s name, we proclaim His name, we tell Him how great he is, how much He means to us, prayer gives us that opportunity. We worship His name. His name means everything to us.
The next line reads “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is a section of surrender. Last week we talked about Yielding our will to God’s will, we surrender; we fall before God – Your kingdom come, not ours. Your will be done, not ours. Lord, we want you to do what you want, not what we want you to. We fall down before God and we give him control of our lives.
Obedience and surrender are very important in our faith. It really is important that we surrender control of our lives. God needs to be in control if we are going to walk with Him. But truth be told, we kind of like control. We want to be in control. We worry a lot if we aren’t in control. Have you noticed, the things we tend to worry about are those things that are outside our control? But to really walk with God, we need to let him be in control. We have to give it all to God, God wants complete surrender – God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
That brings us to the next line, where we talk about trust. We place our trust in God, and in God alone. Give us today our daily bread. He doesn’t want us coming to him just because we think we should, or even because we think we need to. He wants us to come to Him because we trust Him completely, because we know that He will provide everything we need.
Exodus 16 gives us an example of how much He wants us to trust Him. In Exodus 16:2, we see the whole community is grumbling against Moses and Aaron. In verse 3, the Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” It’s like, yea, we were slaves, but at least we ate well. Here there isn’t any food, and we going to all die. They missed that God wanted them to trust him. In fact, they didn’t know they even could trust God yet.
Moses went to God in prayer, and God’s answer was to provide them with manna in the mornings, and quail in the evenings. And they were instructed to only take what they could eat that day. There was enough for everyone each day. If they tried to take more than that, it spoiled, they literally had to trust God for their daily bread. Every morning there was enough manna for that day, every evening, enough quail for that night’s meal. As long as they listened to God and trusted in God, they had all they needed.
They had to trust in God every day. If they tried to store it for the next day it was full of maggots and began to smell. They had to trust God. They were called to trust him every day, except the 6th day, then they could get enough for the seventh day too. If you’re familiar with this story, how long did they have to trust God like this? How long were they totally dependent on God for each meal? Forty years. They had to trust in him every day, for forty years! That’s 12,523 days that they got up each morning without a thing to eat that day. Could we do that? Could we face every day with nothing but that which God gave us? Knowing the only way we were going to get through the day was by trusting in God? Can we live like that? Can we completely set aside our agenda for each to let God do His thing? Can we trust Him to do His thing in our lives?
That’s really what we’re called to do. And that’s what we’re to pray for every time we pray. We’re supposed to trust God completely for everything that we need. We’re supposed to ask Him for everything we need for today. We ask him for our daily bread, and for everything else we need. Prayer is an act of faith. It’s an act of surrender; we come each and every day to God, asking for everything we need. We trust God completely, for everything, every day.
So Jesus calls us to worship, to surrender, to trust. The next line tells us to confess. Part of our prayer should include a time of confession. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Some translations read, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
We might like to think we’ve got it all together, that we have a handle on things, but the truth is, none of us are perfect, we’re all flawed individuals. As Paul says in Romans 3:23, “we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In fact, one of the ways we can be reminded of this, look at any game you have, any game you like, if you don’t follow the rules, you’re out, right? If you mess up enough, you’re done. In baseball, three strikes and you’re out. In basketball, five fouls you sit down, tennis, if it bounces twice you lose the point, in chess, if your king gets cornered and you can’t move anywhere, you lose the game. There is always a point, in every game, where if you mess up, you’re done.
Sometimes, as much as we like to project perfection, we think we can come to that point with God, too. We’ve really blown it this time. He won’t forgive us this time. We think we’re done. We think we’ve hit that point where God is done with us. But what Jesus says is that even when you feel that way, don’t run away from God, run back to him, come back to God, seek his forgiveness, confess your sins and you will be forgiven. You can’t mess up so bad that you’re out. You’re never done, you can always come back to God, confess, and receive his forgiveness. That’s really important to know.
But there is another part to that verse. We need to offer forgiveness as well, “Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.” “Forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.” Look ahead in verses 14-15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Wow. That’s how seriously God takes forgiveness. God will forgive you time and time again, but, hey, you’ve got to forgive others time and time again, too. That’s a lot harder, isn’t it? God forgives us, as we forgive others. If we don’t, God won’t.
Worship, surrender, trust, confession, the last is seeking God’s strength. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Don’t let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from evil. We need God, we need God to strengthen us, we need God’s strength so we don’t give in to sin when we get frustrated, we need God to strengthen us so we don’t give in to the temptation to keep control of our lives, so we can turn over control, to empower us to live for Him. So we can live a life worthy of His calling. We’re so weak when it comes to temptation. We need God’s strength. And so in prayer, we seek that strength.
Here’s what I want you do to do this week. Pray the Lord ’s Prayer everyday this week. But I don’t want you to just recite it, I want you to pray it. I want you to take some time every day and come to the Lord in prayer, and really pray through the Lord’s Prayer, as He intended it, as a model for your own prayer. Pray every line, thinking about what each line means. Thinking about worship, surrender, trust, confession, and strength. Pray through it, really meaning it. Really understanding what you’re asking.
And here’s how I want you to do it. Just start a conversation with God, and after each line of the prayer, just expand on that thought, focusing on the line, using it as a model to start a conversation with God:
I’d like you to try that for one week. That’s all I’m asking. Just for one week, if you don’t like it, if it isn’t helpful, do something else after that. But for one week, make a concerted effort to pray the way Jesus instructed us to pray, and see if it doesn’t bring you closer to God.