When I was fifteen years old, I attended the Moody Bible Institute Pastor’s Conference. I do not remember the daily speakers like John MacArthur and Howard Hendricks and Stuart Briscoe and E. V. Hill (he spoke in the evening, dressed in all white from head to toe). I do not remember the mound of Twinkies available as late night snacks. I kind of remember this being so much better than spending an entire week at school. But I really remember holding my Dad’s hand.
At the end of the conference, it was the last evening, Joe Stowell, then president of Moody Bible Institute, led these hundreds and hundreds of pastors in one final song. It started out slow and somber. Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (and right here the organ or piano repeats the last few notes, building in anticipation of what is to come). And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (At this point each voice grew louder and louder as each man grabbed the hand of the man next to him and together raised their hands). For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory…forever…Amen. Heads were lowered. There were some tears. But men were still holding hands.
We are setting aside our study of Genesis for a moment. We will soon pick it up again with Genesis 43. But today, after much thinking on the beach and after much praying on the beach, we are going to spend time on a mountain. It was where it was first heard – The Lord’s Prayer. It is Matthew 6:9-13. And my hope is that by the end we are holding hands. And my hope is that this will not be the end, but rather we will be found still holding hands in the weeks and months and years to come.
The Lord’s Prayer Was Not Even Prayed
It is important to know that when The Lord’s Prayer was first heard, it was not sung. There was no organ. There was no choir. There was no one directing music. It is even more important to know that when The Lord’s Prayer was first heard, it was not even prayed. Instead, when The Lord’s Prayer was first heard, it was taught.
Matthew 6:9-13 are just five verses. And these five verses are a part of the greatest sermon ever preached. This sermon is recorded for us in Matthew 5, Matthew 6 and Matthew 7. But just listen to how this sermon is presented for us. It is Matthew 5:1-2. “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them.”
Jesus was sitting. Jesus was not standing, but sitting. And his disciples came to him. What was their posture? I think there is something different to be felt when a teacher (the disciple-maker) sits among the students (the disciples). Jesus teaches about being blessed by God (Matthew 5:3-12). He teaches about how his disciples are for the good of society (Matthew 5:13-16). He teaches about the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus teaches about anger and lust and divorce and making promises (Matthew 5:21-37). Jesus teaches about love…the kind of love that loves enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). It is here in this uncomfortable section about loving your enemies, people who hate not in general, but people who hate you, that Jesus first brings up the subject of prayer. “Love your enemies and pray.” Pray how? “…for those who persecute you” (5:44). It is also the first time that he mentions God the Father in relation to praying (5:45). It is something, too, to consider that as Jesus hung on the cross, he cried out to his Father and prayed for those who were persecuting him. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Why did Jesus do that? Why did he mention prayer when he did? He does so briefly, then quickly moves on to a couple other points. And when he did mention prayer, he talked about praying for those who are my enemies, those who seek to do me pain. What were the disciples thinking? What were the disciples feeling? Were they thinking, “Love my enemies and pray for them?! Pray for those who cause me pain?! Why would I do such a thing?! How could I do such a thing?!” And is that why? Is that why Jesus mentioned praying when and how he did? Was it to get them to feel and to think?
And When You Pray
It is not until Matthew 6:5 that a few minutes later Jesus then said, “And when you pray…” In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus will give us the how to pray. But before the how Jesus first gives the when. This is Matthew 6:5-8. Listen closely.
Listen to verse five. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.” The word hypocrite is a theater word or a movie, television word. It is an actor or actress. In Jesus’ day, it would be an actor who would put on a mask to play a part. It was not real. It was pretend, trying to be someone you were really not. This kind of person wants to be seen praying by others and wants their praying to be heard by others (6:5-8). And for what reason? It is to impress. But the big question is, when do you pray?
Listen to verse six. “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” When do you pray? It seems that Jesus is encouraging private prayer. It seems this way because Jesus is encouraging private prayer! What is private prayer? Private prayer is a set aside time with no distractions, no interruptions to pray, just you and your heavenly Father. And since Jesus is encouraging private prayer, part of my aim even as we get into The Lord’s Prayer is to encourage private praying. So, when I ask, “when do you pray?” I am not asking for a time, but rather I am asking, do you have a time? The Bible exhorts that we always be praying and pray without ceasing (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). You can pray in the car; at work; at school; while doing dishes or yard work or…but do you have a time set aside with no phone; no tv; no wife; no husband; no kids; no distractions and no interruptions to just be with your Father? Have your Bible with you for this is how your Father speaks, this is how you hear his voice. And pray, for prayer is how God hears your voice.
Pray Then Like This
But then there is The Lord’s Prayer. It is Matthew 6:9-13. And we need to hear Matthew 6:5-8 before we hear Matthew 6:9-13. We need to hear Jesus encourage us and exhort us to be praying privately. After encouraging us and exhorting us to be praying privately, Jesus then says, “Pray then like this.” So do not pray to be seen. Do not pray to be heard by others. Instead, pray privately and pray privately then like this: Our. Stop there.
If I am to be praying privately, why would I begin by saying our and not my? Who is the our? Notice that the prayer begins with “Our Father.” Throughout his sermon, Jesus refers to God the Father seventeen times. So, it seems that this relationship with God the Father is to be pretty important to the sermon. But who has the right to call God Father? Can anyone simply call God Father? Listen to John 1:12-13. “But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name [who he is], he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Listen, too, to John 8:42. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me’” (John 8:42). So, to be able to call God Father you cannot get around or past Jesus! You must deal with who he is, if you are to call God, Father.
So, the our are all those who have been given the right, because of and through Jesus, to call God, Father. But notice the rest of the prayer. This is what has first and only recently gripped me about this prayer. There are what look like six petitions in this prayer. A petition is a request. And the person praying is the petitioner and the person being petitioned is God the Father. So, this prayer or this kind of praying is about asking God to do something. We can view the prayer and the petitions in two parts: the first three petitions (6:9-10) and the last three petitions (6:11-13).
The first three petitions are God-centered. “Our Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The last three petitions are different. These petitions are we-centered. “Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The point is to see the words “our” and “us” and “we.”
Do not forget Matthew 6:5-8. Jesus encourages and exhorts that his disciples be engaged in private praying. And in this private praying, I am making requests, heart-felt petitions. But who is involved in this private praying? It is me, but it is also we and us and our! And for us, who are the our and us and we? It is my spouse. It is my children. It is other believers, other disciples, but especially those who I see every Sunday and call “members one of another” at Calvary Community Church.
We Are To Pray Then Like This
But there is more. And it is just how Jesus teaches. Jesus teaches so that we think and God blesses thinking (cf. 2 Timothy 2:7). In this kind of praying, Jesus is encouraging and exhorting private prayer. But he is also encouraging and exhorting group prayer. In my private praying, I am to be praying, like this, for me and you and us and our and we. But…is there something contradictory about praying with the words “our,” “us” and “we,” but never experiencing the “our,” “us” and “we”? And what about group prayer? What about praying together?
Listen closely, for this is really important to hear and understand and remember. Group prayer is not a replacement for private prayer. Nor is private prayer a replacement for group prayer. In fact, private prayer richly affects group prayer and group prayer richly affects private prayer. Think. What can be had in praying with those that I have been praying for? And what can be had in praying for those that I have been praying with? I have to admit that I have never understood this until thinking upon it on the beach and praying about it on the beach.
What is group prayer? Here is how I am thinking about group prayer and I am sharing it with you in order to cast a vision before us for private prayer and group prayer at Calvary Community Church. It is to encourage both private prayer and group prayer among us because we need both. This makes for a healthy, vibrant and living local church. Group prayer is a husband praying with his wife. Group prayer is a dad and mom praying with their children. Group prayer is women praying together. Group prayer is men praying together. Group prayer is elders, our servant leaders, praying together. And it is evenings and mornings and whenever to set aside any distractions and interruptions to simply pray. But pray how?
If We Pray Then Like This
It begins with that very first petition. The whole prayer is asking God to do something. But it all begins, and I think ends, with that first petition. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” The word hallowed is an imperative. It is us asking God to hallow his own name. Hallow is an old word which simply means to make holy or revere. The Bible tells us that God’s name is holy (cf. Leviticus 22:2; 32; 1 Chronicles 16:10). So what does it mean to ask God to hallow his own name?
I want us to think on that, but with the question, what could happen if we pray then like this in both private prayer and group prayer? I want to know. I want to know this kind of praying and experience this kind of prayer and it is because personally in my private praying, I have not known this kind of praying.