This Sunday, we learned from the model prayer Jesus left for His followers:
“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. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:5-15).
As we studied the passage together, we learned of three fundamental things prayer requires:
- Spiritual Perspective
Let’s review our first point…
Prayer Requires Sincerity
Notice the invocation (or the address) that Jesus begins His model prayer with in verse 9: “Our Father in heaven.”
Throughout our series here in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, it’s been mentioned that Jesus expounds on kingdom living as we sojourn on this earth. In other words: Because we are citizens of heaven—because we are people who belong to Christ and God’s kingdom through faith—we are therefore to live in a certain way as we wait to enter our heavenly homeland to live with Christ, forever.
Jesus’s teaching here in His Sermon on the Mount has been about living on this earth in light of our future hope, and it’s no different here: For those who belong to Christ, the first Person of the Trinity—God the Father Himself—will be and is already our Father! It’s a kingdom reality we live out, today. Addressing Him as Father, then, alludes to the already present reality of our collective adoption. He’s our Father! It’s telling us that our Father’s kingdom is simultaneously a family; one family; our Father’s family!
Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:5-6 both point to our collective “adoption as sons.” This adoption spoken of by the Apostle Paul would have meant at least a couple of things in the Roman world:
- A receiving of an entirely new identity and status, with all the rights and privileges of the new family.
- A permanence of new status: Parents could legally disown biological children, but they could never give back an adopted child.
These amazing truths help us understand the magnanimous nature of God and the infinite beauty of the grace we’ve inherited in Christ, for in our new identity as adopted children of God, we have received:
- All the rights and privileges of Christ.
- The title of heir of God.
- The title of coheir with Christ.
Through our adoption, then, we are receiving all of heaven, including God as our Father, and He will never give us back. We are entirely His and He is entirely ours. No wonder Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:5-6 both show us we’re now able to address Him as “Abba! Father!” (Aramaic for “Daddy”). As our Daddy, then, we are reminded of both His nearness to us as His children and also His willingness and eagerness to lend His ear to our praises, confessions, thanksgivings, and supplications, all because there is warmth and intimacy in our new relationship with our Father.
This is what praying in Jesus’s name is all about: Approaching the Father just as Christ—as sons of God who now have free access to Him through Christ.
But notice that He’s also our Father in heaven, again reminding us of our future dwelling place. For the time being, we are merely pilgrims here below, but we look forward to being where our Father is.
So when we pray, we pray as beloved children who can freely and confidently approach our Father in heaven with the sincerity of a true child. What does this look like? Well, to our benefit, Jesus provides some examples for us right here in our text.
In verses 5-8 of our text, the first thing to notice about sincerity is humility.
In verse 5—similar to what we saw last week in regards to our giving to the needy—we’re informed that true children of God (and true citizens of heaven) understand the gracious reward of eternal sonship they’ve received in Christ. As such, their prayers are not motivated by a desire to be seen, heard, and praised by others.
Now, Jesus does mention praying in secret in verse 6, but the emphasis isn’t so much the place of prayer as it is the sincere attitude of the heart. Prayer has always been a pillar of Jewish piety. Public prayer was commonly practiced in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings, as alluded to in Psalm 55:17, Daniel 6:10, and Acts 3:1. So, it’s important to mention: Jesus did not condemn all public prayer. He Himself had a habit of praying publicly, as seen later in Matthew 14 and 15 in His prayerful thanksgiving for food. Therefore, the central concern Jesus raises here is one’s internal motivation.
In Jesus’s famous parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector—seen in Luke 18:9-14—it wasn’t that Christ condemned either the Pharisee nor the tax collector for praying in public, it was that He condemned the Pharisee for his self-exaltation. So again, the emphasis isn’t so much the place of prayer as it is the attitude of the heart, for if one were to pray privately—even behind a closed door—and one were then to advertise the practice in order to receive praise, the purpose of entering a secret place would be defeated.
So approaching God with sincerity means humility—the exaltation of God, not the exaltation of ourselves. And it also means trust-filled conversation.
Notice verses 7 and 8 in our text: “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.” Historically, idol worship has involved either the repeating of the names of false gods or the repetition of the same words over and over without thinking. A clear example of this is found in 1 Kings 18, where Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal. In the narrative, the idolatrous prophets sacrifice a bull and then call on the name of Baal—a false god—from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!”
That’s the kind of mindless, mechanical repetition that Jesus is prohibiting here, not the earnest repetition that might flow from an imploring heart, as seen in Mark 14:39 in Jesus’s own prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, just before His betrayal and arrest. There is even repetition in Jesus’s high priestly prayer for His followers in John 17, where we may observe His repetitive-yet-thoughtful prayer for the unity of those who belong to Him.
Why does Jesus prohibit mindless repetition? The answer is found right at the end of verse 8: “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” As with the previous example of sincerity, where the emphasis isn’t so much the place of prayer, but rather the attitude of the heart, so here the emphasis isn’t so much the length of prayer, but rather the sincere outpouring of trust.
Indeed, there are examples of both brief and long prayers in the Bible. Length is not the issue. The issue is that God already knows what we need. This truth should be acknowledged in our prayers. Whether our prayers tend to be shorter or longer, we must pray trusting that He truly knows our needs.
So, approach your heavenly Father sincerely, as a child. It’s a call to humility and trust-filled conversation. Whether you’re in your private study, the very public break room at your place of employment, or your weekly Bible study or growth group, pray with the sincerity of a child; approach God with the confidence of Father-son warmth and intimacy, with sincere humility-of-heart and wholehearted trust.
After all, God desires your sincere conversation. So much so that He gave His one-of-a-kind Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross for your sins, that through faith you might not only be eternally forgiven, but that you might also be adopted as a son of God to enjoy continued conversation with Him, forever. What a wonderful grace of God: He gives us prayerful fellowship with Him to be enjoyed by us as sons of the eternal God.
Approach Him. Approach Him freely; approach Him confidently. But approach Him with sincerity. It’s a fundamental requirement for talking with God.
But prayer also requires spiritual perspective, and this leads us to our second point…
Prayer Requires Spiritual Perspective
After addressing the Father in His model prayer, Jesus then moves on to give six petitions. The first three petitions—seen in verses 9 through 10—highlight the preeminence or supremacy of God, while the last three petitions—seen in verses 11 through 13—highlight our needs and dependence on God. Pausing for a moment on the first three petitions dealing with God’s preeminence, notice the priority of God’s name, reign, and will: (1) “Hallowed be your name” (v. 9); (2) “Your kingdom come” (v. 10); and (3) “Your will be done” (v. 10).
The First Petition:
Jesus’s concern in the first petition is that God’s name would be treated with the highest honor and set apart as holy. But, it’s not that God has a need for His name to become holier. As Martin Luther has written: “What are we praying for when we ask that His name become holy? Is it not holy already?” He then answers that of course it’s holy, but that “in our use of it his name is not kelp holy.” As all Christians have God’s name put upon them, thus representing and reflecting a good and holy God to the world around them, this first petition raises the Christian’s desire to keep from dishonoring God’s name—the very name by which Christians are called.
But it’s also a request for God’s name to become wondrous to us. Tim Keller affirms: “To ‘hallow’ God’s name is not merely to live righteous lives but to have a heart of grateful joy toward God—and even more, a wondrous sense of his beauty.” John Calvin would agree: We do not revere His name unless He first “captivate[s] us with wonderment for him.”
The Second Petition:
Jesus’s concern with the second petition is the continual advance of God’s kingdom. While it is true that He’s reigning now—individually in Christians’ hearts and collectively through Christ’s body, the church—it is also true He will ultimately reign when His kingdom is ushered in in final form, when Christ makes all things new and brings ultimate restoration in our eternal, heavenly homeland described for us in Revelation 21-22.
So, as Martin Luther has stated, to pray “Your kingdom come” is to “yearn for that future life” as citizens of heaven; it is to ask that our “future kingdom may be the end and consummation of the kingdom [God has] begun in us.” Until then, this second petition is asking God to add souls to His kingdom through the faithful preaching of the gospel.
Furthermore, this second petition is also a lordship petition. It is asking God to extend His royal power over every part of our lives—our emotions, desires, thoughts, and even our commitments. Thus, to pray “Your kingdom come” is also to pray that God would fully rule us that we would want to joyfully obey Him with all our hearts.
The Third Petition:
The third and last petition in this first set of petitions is concerned with God’s will. As in Ephesians 5:17, the focus here seems to be God’s revealed will—the Word of God—and our obedience to it. It is here where we understand the importance of the initial address, for unless we are profoundly certain God is our Father, we will never be able to say, “Your will be done.” Being certain that God is our Father in heaven, we will then, like Martin Luther, be able to ask the Lord to give us obedient, God-seeking hearts in the midst of difficult circumstances: “Grant us grace to bear willingly all sorts of sickness, poverty, disgrace, suffering, and adversity and to recognize that in this [His] divine will is crucifying our will.”
God must have the preeminence, so we petition for the priority of God’s name, God’s reign, and God’s will. Our personal needs take second place. It is a spiritual perspective required in prayer. So, approach your heavenly Father with a properly oriented view toward Him. The self wants to take center-stage in our prayer lives, but, as Jesus models out for us, we must have a proper spiritual perspective when praying; the Father—not our needs—must have priority.
Why? Well, with the final ushering in of God’s kingdom in view, we recall again that Christ died for the Father’s desirous will that none should perish, but that all might be saved. And so the gospel itself reminds us that Christ submitted to the Father, for us.
Similarly, we are called to prioritize the Father, that we might have a correct, gospel-centered spiritual perspective when we pray. It’s a fundamental requirement for talking with God. As you pray, therefore, pray with sincerity and with the priority of God in view, but pray also with a surrendered heart.
This leads us to our final point…
Prayer Requires Surrender
Moving forward to the second set of petitions in The Lord’s Prayer, we now find Jesus dealing with our human needs (vv. 11-13):
The Fourth Petition:
The fourth petition is concerned with our daily bread and, by extension, all of our needs. When we petition for our needs, however, we do so with satisfaction in God and trust of God, that God would be continually glorified in our prayers. John Piper expresses it this way: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
So we petition for our daily needs, but not just for our own, we petition also for the needs of our fellow Christians, with complete Spirit-empowered satisfaction in Him.
The Fifth Petition:
The fifth petition is concerned with the restoration of our personal fellowship with God and one another. It is important to mention that forgiveness here is not so much a reference to initial salvation, or initial justification. According to Romans 5:1 and 9, believers are justified once for all at the moment of faith. Therefore, the petition cannot be a supplication for salvation or justification on a daily basis. Rather, the petition centers on fellowship with God that has been hindered by sin. We call that confession.
But, as we trust God to be “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” as 1 John 1:9 states, we are also reminded of the importance of forgiveness being extended to others in our own lives, when others’ sin against us brings a hindrance in our relationship with them.
Consequently, we are reminded, as citizens of God’s kingdom who are recipients of great forgiveness in Christ, to be eager to forgive those who are debtors to us. It’s the proper response to God’s great grace in Christ, and the response sought by the Lord in His Parable of the Unmerciful Servant found in Matthew 18:21-35. Furthermore, it’s the reason why Paul commands us in Ephesians 4:32 to forgive one another “as God in Christ forgave [us].” So important is this principle, that Jesus reemphasizes the importance of forgiving others in verses 14-15 of our text.
The Sixth Petition:
Finally, the sixth petition concerns itself with deliverance from temptation and evil, including the evil one; namely, Satan himself.
“Give, forgive, and deliver us.” In all three petitions, three of our greatest needs are highlighted:
- We need God’s provision.
- We need God’s forgiveness and His spiritual empowerment for our own forgiving of others.
- We need God’s protection, both from temptation and from evil.
We are needy, helpless people, and we need God to intervene for us.
So when you pray, approach your heavenly Father with total helplessness. After all, prayer, by definition, is an acceptance of one’s weakness and dependence. Every time we pray, it is a reminder that we—in sin—were unable to reconcile ourselves with God, so God became flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ to be our strength in our weakness, to defeat great enemies we could never defeat on our own. We depend on His death, burial, and resurrection to now enjoy peace with God; to now enjoy fellowship with God; to now enjoy continued conversation with God. And this extends to the rest of life. We need God to lovingly, sovereignly, and providentially work on our behalf, according to His redemptive purposes.
Yes, we desperately need Him!
So, approach Him as the helpless, needy child you are. It’s a fundamental requirement for talking with God, done through the very Spirit of God that makes us adopted sons of God.
Jesus has graciously given us a model prayer, that through its pattern we might further experience the nearness of our Father’s presence in our lives. We’ve learned it requires sincerity, spiritual perspective, and surrender. But there’s one more thing worth mentioning: As you put into practice these three basic requirements for prayer, you’ll find that prayer itself also creates sincerity, spiritual perspective, and surrender.
Isn’t that interesting? Through our spiritual encounter with our majestic Father through prayer, prayer itself gives us more humble-and-trust-filled sincerity, more desire to prioritize God in our lives, and more surrender of our total lives to the One who has given us eternal life in Christ. In the end, prayer both requires and creates sincerity, spiritual perspective, and surrender.
Dear church: Let’s pray as Christ modeled prayer for us. Let’s pray with these three elements in mind, that our hearts might be filled with more knowledge, awareness, and gratitude of God and His grace as we seek to continue in conversation with our eternal God in heaven.
A Book to Read
If you find yourself with a desire to grow in your prayer life, allow me to suggest Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. Click here to order it on Amazon’s website (currently available for $11.55).
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Large Catechism, tr. F. Samuel Janzow (St. Louis: Concordia, 1978), 84.
 Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), 111.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeil (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 903-4.
 Martin Luther, “Personal Prayer Book,” in Luther’s Works: Devotional Writings II, ed. Gustav K. Wiencke, vol. 43 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1968), 32.
 Luther, “Personal Prayer Book,” 33.
 John Piper, “Christian Hedonism: Forgive the Label, But Don’t Miss the Truth,” Desiring God Foundation, accessed July 23, 2017, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/christian-hedonism.