Pray Like This…

Pray Like This…

Pray like This: Learning to Pray “Quietly”

Levi Sisemore, Texas Normal Singing School

Of the many titles Jesus wears, preacher is not insignifi­cant. Jesus was a public preacher and teacher, sharing the “good news of the Kingdom of Heaven” and what it means for us to live in that Kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is the essence of those messages on “kingdom living.” Jesus would teach the human heart and inform the mind about how people of His Father’s kingdom think, feel, and live.

In our world, we do much for show. “Appearance is ev­erything,” we’re told. We dress up, make up, and live it up all for the benefit of other people’s perception and the adulation that follows. Yet Jesus teaches us that to truly live we must give up the pursuit of these flatteries and not hang on the approval of others. It is only then that we are free to practice true spiritual liv­ing – when we’re living for the commendation of God rather than of men. When we learn that God’s approval is the only approval that really matters, we will leave the trappings of this world behind and be fully satu­rated and enamored with spiri­tual living.

Jesus said, “Beware of practic­ing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (6:1). Righ­teous living is not completely useless when practiced “before other people,” but when we do so, we invite a certain temp­tation to parade our actions before others. To combat this temptation, Jesus encourages us to practice subtly and discretely.

This kind of modesty is not just for our prayer life: “Do not let your adorning be external —the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hid­den person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (I Pet. 3:3f).

Chose for yourself from whom you want your reward for these acts of righteousness (he specifically mentions prayer, charity, forgiveness, and fast­ing). Would you rather have men’s praise – and praise you they will if they see you doing these things – which lasts for only a moment, or would we rather be received by God?

Jesus teaches quiet righteousness.

In contrast to those who “love to stand and pray … at the street corners, that they may be seen by others,” Jesus instructs his disciples to pray simply, yet sincerely. This is how he taught us to pray:

Our Father… When you and I pray, how do we envision God? Is he sitting on a faraway heavenly throne, removed from your concerns and life? Without taking anything away from the biblical portraits of a high and holy God, enthroned in maj­esty, Jesus tells us to consider him as “Father.” As Father “he knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt. 6:8) and he gives “good things to those who ask him” (Mt. 7:11). This does not envision him as a “heavenly Santa Claus,” gifting us at our whim, but as a Father whose genuine love compels him to act on behalf of his beloved children.

Perhaps there is something to observe in the usage of the plural pronoun “our.” He is our Father, not just my Father. Acknowledging that God has other children might keep our prayers from being self-focused and help us to pray for our Chris­tian family rather than just our­selves.

In heaven… Our Father is in heaven. At once he is both in­timately near and also divinely other. While God puts on flesh to dwell among us (Jn. 1:1, 14), he does so with the intention of bringing us into closer proxim­ity with himself (rather than staying with us here forever). He sanctifies us to meet the holy qualifications of living in His eternal presence. Heaven is His throne (Mt. 5:34) from which he rules down upon this earth, his footstool. When we pray we need to understand that we’re addressing the Lord of the uni­verse and we’re petitioning “the Great I Am” Himself.

Hallowed be your name… Be­cause Fathers are to be honored by their sons (and all the more the Heavenly Father), we bless the name of God. This phrase asks God to help us keep his name sanctified and sacred, to respect the One for Whom stands as supremely holy. Thus, we recognize God as unique and dedicated the pure virtue.

Your kingdom come… What does God do in heaven? Mat­thew 6:36 described heaven as the throne of God. It is from there that He rules over the universe and in the affairs of men (“The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man…,” Ps. 14:2). God has al­ways been sovereign; it’s essen­tial to His very nature as deity. Although He reigned over Israel from the Exodus onward (Dt. 33:5), Psalm 9:7 tells us, “the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice.” God has always been king (Ps. 10:6; 11:4; 29:10). What God seeks is not power over men, rather He searches for the submission of men’s hearts to Him. The righteous prayer de­scribed by Jesus seeks the reign, rule, and sovereignty of God to be made manifest here and now.

Kingdoms have laws and ter­ritory, subjects and monarchs. For us to view God as king is to be subjected to His rule, to be­come the territory of His reign as His kingdom is expanded into our hearts.

Your will be done… “Whose will? My will? Of course!” Friends, how often do we prac­tice our own will, say a prayer over it, and pass it off as God’s plan? We must be more con­scientious about truly seeking the will of God. Too often our question is, “What is God’s will for my life?,” as if there is some special and unique destiny that God has for each of us. I would suggest that our time would be better spent on conforming our lives to the already-revealed will of God rather than trying to fit the “will of God” around our own life’s situation (Ro. 8:28f).

On earth as it is in heaven… To what degree shall we seek the will of God here? I wonder, do those who inhabit the heavenly places resist God? When God speaks, doesn’t heaven listen? This could be a brazen prayer indeed if we have no intention of the will of God starting first with us and letting it spread out from our own lives.

Yes, let Your will be done here and now … and let it begin with me!

It is significant that the first 22 words of this model prayer (out of 52 total) are focused on God: His worship, holiness, and sovereignty. I imagine that our own prayers would be worded quite differently if we prayed less about ourselves in ratio to how much worship, adoration, and deference we gave to God in prayer.

Aside from ascribing to God His own worthiness, the model prayer is simple and uncompli­cated: necessities, forgiveness, and protection from sin – this is the gist of the part of the prayer in which we pray for ourselves.

Give us this day our daily bread… In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses reflects upon God’s pro­vision of manna (bread) for Is­rael in the 40 years of wilderness wanderings, saying, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” It’s not that man lives by bread plus the word of God, but man lives by bread according to the word of God. Without God’s sustaining word (He. 1:3), there is no life, let alone bread! When Jesus’ dis­ciples pray for daily bread, we’re praying for God’s provision of what we need, one day at a time, to make it.

Why is the bread “daily”? For the same reason that the Israel­ites were made to gather manna each day (Ex. 16), so that they would not grow confident in their abilities to gather, or their stockpiles of manna – but that each they would once again feel and know a dependency upon God.

Let us pray that God will take care of us and our loved ones, but let us learn to depend on God through that process and prayer!

…and forgive us our debt. Christians ought to be very aware of their own moral failings, sins – moments and attitudes in which we fail to live up to the glorious and holy standard of living to which we have been called (Ro. 6:23). Becoming a Christian does not mean that we never sin; it does mean that when we do, we have one who speaks to the Judge on our behalf (I Jn. 2:1), whose testimony renders the verdict to be “justified” (Ro. 4:23-25) and the sentencing “no condemna­tion” (Ro. 8:1).

This petition towards God for forgiveness confesses the ugly truth about sin, that is has been committed, that it comes with an awful price (death, Ro. 6:23), and that we attempt to hide nothing from God. For the one who has been again born into God’s fam­ily through faith at baptism (Jn 3:5), for the one who has been put “into Christ” (Ro 6:3, Gal 3:27), forgiveness is a spiritual blessing and reality. It is a component of the great grace which God offers those to those who, seeking him in faith, find him (He. 11:6).

…as we also have forgiven our debtors. Closely connected with the grace we have received must be an attitude of grace towards others. The forgiveness we have received from God informs and teaches our conscience of our need to forgive others also. One cannot expect to receive grace without showing it as well. Such a one has refused to allow forgive­ness to change his life, evidencing a lack of appreciation and grati­tude for what his own forgive­ness cost the Forgiver. Read Jesus’ story in Matthew 18:21-35 about the servant who was shown such mercy, yet failed to pass it on.

…and lead us not into temptation. We noticed earlier that a high per­centage of this prayer is about God and His acclaim rather than our own requests. We should also consider that the “daily bread” section is the only one focused on our own tem­poral, physical needs. “Lead us not into temptation” is another state­ment of spiritual significance. How out of balance are our prayers as they trend towards a focus on our­selves and earthly situations?

I think we probably understand “deliver us from evil” more readily than we do “lead us not into temp­tation.” We ought to view the two statements as an example of paral­lelism (they say the same thing, just in slightly different words or word order). The original language words “lead us not” have the flavor of “car­ry us not.” Also “temptation” is not the only sense of the Greek word here (cf. Jas. 1:13 for the idea of God tempting someone). The same word is just as often translated “trial” in the New Testament.

This prayer is not a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for an easy (trouble-free or sin-free) life. James 1:2 uses the same word when were told to rejoice in all “trials” and I Peter 1:6, where Christians are described as “grieved by trials.” It’s more of a re­quest not to be dropped off and left alone on the front porch of calamity. “Lord, do not abandon me to trial!” I wonder if it’s not in the spirit of Psalm 38:21f, “Do not forsake me, O Jehovah! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!”

…but deliver us from evil. There are good textual possibilities for un­derstanding this to be “from evil” or “from the evil one” (the word “evil” is in adjective form and is looking for a noun to complete its thought). How ever we understand this this text, we should not forget that it is God who holds evil and the evil one at bay. Just as He commands the wa­ters, setting a “boundary that they may not pass” (Ps. 104:9), so He can protect us from that which is truly evil. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:7f).

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