Do you struggle with your prayer life? Do you think that it is a waste of time, or an enjoyable time of refreshment and labor for the kingdom of God? Many find their prayer time difficult and wonder whether or not they are even praying for the right things. Others get distracted in prayer and fall asleep or end up daydreaming on unrelated things. How can you learn to pray and pray effectively? These are the topics Jesus addresses in Matthew 6:9-15. This section of Scripture is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer; however, it should probably be called the disciple’s prayer because it is a model prayer for Christ’s disciples.
I hope that as a result of this study I can challenge, encourage and focus you to be more effective in your prayer life. I believe prayer is a very important aspect of your growth and maturity in your Christian life. But, is prayer important to you? Do you see how essential it is for your communion with God and strength in your daily life? This is exactly why Jesus expands his teaching on prayer after talking to the disciples about giving, prayer and fasting. Remember, Jesus never talks about something, unless it is important. The disciples at this particular point don't have a clue of their need for prayer. Why do I say that? If you turn over to Luke 11,which is about halfway through the ministry of Christ, notice what happens. Luke records, “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.’ So He said to them, When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” He teaches them the exact same thing found in our text here in Matthew 6. Isn’t it interesting that at this particular point, halfway through the ministry of Christ, as the disciples watched Him go off over and over again to pray, that now they see their need to pray? The disciples probably thought, Why is He doing that? Why does He do that so much? This is why they now ask Him, “Teach us to pray.” Before this they had no idea of their need for prayer. But, now He teaches them how to pray. So have you ever asked the Lord to teach you to pray? I hope so, because you need it. If not, ask Him now!
What should be your focal points in prayer?
How should you understand this prayer given by Jesus? It is a model prayer. In other words, it gives you the major focal points that you should have in your prayer time. This is why Jesus said, “In this manner, therefore, pray: 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 forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
First notice this phrase, “in this manner.” The Greek word means, in this fashion, or after this example. Therefore, this is only an example or pattern for prayer. It is not a prayer that should be recited repetitiously as though there is some benefit from praying this word for word as many do today in the church. Why do I say this? If you go back to Matthew 6:7, Jesus warned the disciples, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.” Consequently, Jesus does not want this prayer, or any prayer, to be turned into some religious ritual to be said to gain God’s favor. Vain repetition of any prayer is worthless, because God wants you to talk to Him from your heart not some religious ritual. In addition, these same words, “in this manner,” are clearly used to describe an example. Peter wrote, “For in this manner in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands” (1 Peter 3:5). In this passage you can see the intent of Peter, using the same Greek phrase, so that the women would follow the example of the holy women of the past to be submissive to their husbands. The Lord’s Prayer is to be an example of how you should pray, and each of the critical issues that you should be praying about are included in this prayer.
The two sections of this prayer
This model prayer is broken into two sections: God's concerns and your concerns. It's very interesting that the Ten Commandments are separated in this very same way. The first four commands address your relationship with God, and the last six commands deal with how you should relate to men. In addition, the two great commandments are divided similarly. You must first love God and then love your brother.
What should you pray about?
There are seven concerns that Jesus wants you to pray about. These must be your prayer focus. Let's look at them individually.
1. Acknowledge the Father who loves you and who is sovereign over all. “Father”
When you begin to pray do you begin by first setting your focus on whom you are talking to? This is very important, because you are talking to the One who created all things. He is the one who created the billions of galaxies in space, and He is the one who created you. He is the one who possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is also the one who loved you enough to redeem you from your sin. He is the one who sustains you and every living creature on this earth. And He is your Father! Do you see Him as your Father, or just some impersonal God? Which is it? But, make no mistake, there's nothing wrong with addressing Him as Lord or God. I'm not saying that this is wrong, but what I am saying is, how often do you hear yourself address Him as Father? Do you cry out to Him as you would to your earthly parent? I believe that this is a critical place to begin in your prayer life, because you must see Him as the entire reason you are here and are redeemed from your sins. In Romans 8:15 Paul taught, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, Abba, Father.” Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba Father.’ ” 'Abba' is an Aramaic word for father. And the latter word, 'father' is the Greek word for father. So it's Father, Father. Why does Paul make such a big deal about our prayer life and using the term Abba Father as we cry out to Him? Jesus also used this same phrase when He prayed in the garden. He said, “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36). This terminology is to describe the affection and fondness of a child for their own father. Jesus is teaching us to come to our Father with childlike faith and assurance of His love. This is how a child cries out to his or her own father. Why? Because they are assured that their parent loves them. They know that you, as a parent, are the one who will always take care of them, provide for them and satisfy their needs. Seventeen times, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the Father. That's not a coincidence. Christ’s intent was to lead us into that same relationship that He had with His Father. Therefore, think about how you are addressing the One to whom you pray. Are you talking to the One who loves you with all that He has, someone who created you and redeemed you, and who has all the power needed to answer your prayer? Get your eyes fixed correctly on your great God.
2. Praise and worship of the Holy One. “Hallowed be your Name”
Second, Jesus is encouraging you to acknowledge and worship the Father Who is holy and Who deserves to be revered. The word 'hallowed' means holy, or revered. His name is to be acknowledged as holy, because He is holy, pure and righteous. Your name represents who you are, and what He is like is very important. He is holy. He is separate from anyone or anything. There is no one like Him (Deut. 33:26; 1 Sam, 2:2). I am very different. I am corrupt and in need of His holiness. Holiness must be my ultimate personal goal in life. To ever experience His holiness, I must revere Him as the Holy One. When you come to Him in prayer, do you come with the intimacy of knowing Him as Father, yet also as the Holy One? This is very important. You must have an intimate fondness of Him as your Father, but also a respect of Him because He is the Holy One. This duel attitude is something very important. It is the balance necessary for a right relationship with the Father. It’s recognizing His love and His holiness as the holy God who has, “A name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-11). Most Jews would never speak the actual personal name of God. They would just say, The Name. They felt His name was so holy, that their corrupt lips could not speak His personal name. I believe this is one of the reasons why Jesus spoke to Him as “Our Father” to balance the people’s concept of God. Do you see the Father as the Holy One, and is your ultimate personal goal in life to be like Him? This is why Peter said, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Therefore, in all your prayers you must acknowledge and worship Him as the Holy One, and remember that every request should be motivated by the desire to be like Him.
3. Surrender to His Kingdom and His will. “Your Kingdom come, your will be done”
The third general aspect of prayer that Jesus was stressing to His disciples was that of surrender. It is acknowledging that His kingdom and His will are supreme over you. This is also critical for your prayer life, so that you are not just seeking God to bless your kingdom and your will. God wants your priorities to be correct. He wants your heart surrendered to these priorities. When you come to the Lord in prayer, acknowledge Him as your loving Father. Rejoice in the love that He has for you. Acknowledge His holiness and surrender to His will and His kingdom, so that everything you pray for will magnify His will and plan. As you acknowledge this truth in your heart, and live it out in your life, you will find the real satisfaction and happiness in life. Why? Because you are in harmony with the reason God created you in the first place. This is the reason why you exist. Until you acknowledge that you exist for God’s will and kingdom, you will never find real life. Notice what the people acknowledge in heaven as they are before the throne of God in Revelation 4:11. The people declare to God, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” Note, “all things”, everything that He created, He created for His will. The Greek preposition translated ‘by’ in the phrase ‘by Your will’ can also be translated “through” or “for”. Depending on the translation that you have, it will be translated either “by” or “through” or “for.” I like the way the old King James Version translates this phrase, “All things were created for Your will.” We were created for God’s will and pleasure, and to fulfill God’s will and pleasure. Until you surrender to His will, you will never find the happiness, the joy, the purpose and the meaning for which you were created. When a Christian realizes this truth they will acknowledge it regularly to God in prayer. So come to your Father, and acknowledge it's all about His will and His kingdom, and surrender to that. Jesus said, later on in this very same sermon, in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God.” When you put His kingdom first, all the other things in life fall into the right perspective and order. His kingdom and will must be your ultimate goal as a disciple of Christ.
4. Your daily provision and personal needs. “Give us this day our daily bread”
The next aspect in prayer is to make your petition for your daily personal needs. So whatever the daily need is, for food, a job, strength for your day, or whatever the daily needs come up, ask God for them. As you pray for your wants, desires, or needs, you must always surrender them under the authority of His kingdom and will for your life. Your petitions must be in accordance with His holiness, and in the timing of His love toward you. But, remember what Jesus also said about making your requests. He said, “Your Father knows what things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:8). Now you may be thinking, If the Lord knows everything I have need of before I ask Him, why should I ask Him for anything at all? Why doesn’t He just give it to me? The answer is very simple. First, Jesus commanded you to ask Him for your needs. That's the most obvious reason. The second reason God wants you to ask of Him is so that you will acknowledge your need in humility. It is acknowledging your dependence upon Him to provide your needs. So when you see His provision on your dinner table each night you will really mean it when you say, “Lord thank You for Your provision.” Remember that you could be living in Somalia or Sudan, where people are starving. So, are you really thankful, believing that God has provided for you? Not asking God for your daily needs is a sign of unbelief and self-sufficiency. The Apostle James taught, “We have not, because we ask not” (James 4:2). So I need to ask, and I need to keep on asking. Asking God in prayer is an acknowledgment of my faith and humble dependence upon Him. In 1 Peter 5:6-7, the Apostle Peter said, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” The phrase, “casting all your care upon Him,” clearly implies prayer. You are casting your worries and your cares upon Him believing that He cares for you as your heavenly Father.
5. Forgiveness. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”
Forgiveness is another essential aspect of prayer. Forgiveness is such a necessity because of our sin nature, which continually craves to live independent of God and to do as we please. Granting others forgiveness is also one of our greatest struggles in life, because people hurt and offend us. I have had more people talk to me about their struggle with forgiving someone who has offended them, hurt them, or talked about them behind their back than any other subject. This is a constant struggle for a child of God. Jesus made it clear in this teaching that if you can’t forgive, then you will not be forgiven by God. He wanted us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus expands on this truth in verses 14 and 15. He says if you don't forgive, don't expect to be forgiven. This must be a vital part of your prayer life. Sometimes people read this statement and think, “Well, then am I earning His forgiveness? Because if I don't forgive then He will not forgive me?” No. Absolutely not! You cannot earn anything. The Scriptures are emphatic from the Old Testament to the New Testament. All that I experience is by grace. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, and you have found grace in the eyes of the Lord. That is the only basis upon which you have a relationship with Him. But, if you have received the grace of His forgiveness, then you will give that grace of forgiveness to others. This is a natural fruit of grace. In Matthew 18 there is extensive instruction by Jesus on the subject of forgiveness. Remember, Peter asked Jesus about how many times he should forgive someone who offends him. Jesus responded by giving him this long parable. Jesus taught that there was a king, which ultimately referred to Himself, and then another man owed the king 10,000 talents, which in today's money would be billions of dollars. This debtor came and said to the king, “I don't have anything to pay you with.” He asked the king to forgive the debt. The king did so just because he was asked. Then the man, who was forgiven this great debt, went out and found another man who owed him a very small debt. The forgiven debtor took the man by the throat and said, “Pay me all that you owe me.” That man also begged for forgiveness of his debt, but the man who had been forgiven refused to forgive this second man his debt. Jesus then taught in Matthew 18:32-33, that the king called the debtor who he had forgiven and said to him, “You wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” Jesus establishes here that if you have been forgiven, then you must forgive. Don’t miss this! If you really see you have been forgiven, then you will forgive. Notice that Jesus called this unforgiving man, a wicked servant. Unforgiveness is wickedness. It is the worst wickedness! Every one of us have been forgiven of our wickedness, you must do the same!
I know what you are thinking, I can’t do this. You don’t know what they did to me. They don’t deserve to be forgiven. Well, I have found the simplest way, when my heart is hard, and I don't want to forgive, this is what I do. Yes, I've been in this place many times, just as you have! So what I do is this. I just say, “Lord, would you please open my eyes to what You have forgiven me for?” That will break your hard heart faster than anything. If you have a hard heart today as you are reading this, and are unforgiving towards someone, obey Christ’s command. Jesus said, “If you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). Note, this is a command; it's not optional. Do it now! Ask the Lord to open your eyes to the incredible forgiveness that has come your way, and your heart will soften.
6. Temptation and the evil one. “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”
The sixth aspect of this model prayer is to ask for help in temptation and for deliverance from the evil one. We all need to seek God's help when temptation comes our way and for deliverance from the evil one. Notice that Jesus makes a connection between temptation and the evil one. Why is that? It is very simple. Where ever there is temptation, Satan is also at work tempting your fleshly nature to choose sin. What Jesus wants us to pray is that we might be free from the demonic work of the enemy of our soul.
But, then people ask why did Jesus say, “Lead us not into temptation.” Does God tempt His people and lead them to temptation? No, never does God tempt you. The Scripture is clear on this fact. James taught us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James. 1:13). What does this mean then? This phrase is what's called a synonymous parallelism. A synonymous parallelism is something that you find quite often in the Old and New Testament. These parallelism’s declare a truth and then in the very next statement, a similar or synonymous statement is made, which helps you to understand what that first statement meant. Most of the Proverbs are set up this way. You will see in the book of Proverbs synonymous parallelisms, antithetic parallelisms, and synthetic parallelisms. Antithetic parallelisms make a statement of truth, and then the next statement is the exact opposite truth. Again this helps you to interpret and understand what the first statement meant.
What Jesus is declaring in this prayer are two similar statements. Pray that I will lead you, that I will guide you in such a way that you will not get into trouble, that you will not get yourself in a place where you will be tempted, and I will deliver you from the evil one. Compare this prayer with what James also said on the subject of temptation. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14). Note that James is teaching that you are tempted when you are drawn away by your own desires. Your own heart needs to be led in another direction, not in the direction your desires may want. The Lord is the one who will lead my heart in another direction so I will be delivered from the evil one. James also acknowledges the work of the evil one in temptation. You are drawn away of your own desires and “enticed” by Satan. This is the demonic influence in temptation. James addresses two issues here: your own flesh, and the demonic influence that is seeking to tempt and draw you away. Jesus was tempted by the devil, and you are tempted by demonic forces every day. It says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Therefore, you have within you a sinful nature that easily can lead you astray. You also have a demonic influence in this world that wants to destroy you, and it is constantly seeking to do just that! He wants to lie to you, condemn you, and do everything and anything to entice you to depart from the Lord. That is reality.
Another way to understand what Jesus is teaching in this prayer is found in Psalm 141:4. There David prays, “Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity.” The word incline is a Hebrew word that means ‘to cause or to bend toward.’ David is saying, “Lord keep my heart from following after wickedness, or wicked people.” That is exactly what Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray here in our text.
So how can you deal with this reality? You must pray and deal with these two issues, your fleshly nature and the demonic influence around you. Paul encouraged believers to, “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). Also, in Romans 8:13, Paul warned, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” This is how you deal with your fleshly nature. Reckon yourselves dead with Christ to the sin you desire, and by faith and by His Holy Spirit, allow Christ to make these old desires die inside of you. Then take authority over the wicked one, who is seeking to tempt you, lie to you, and condemn you. Declare in faith, “The Lord rebuke you in Jesus’ name from all your activity around me. I take authority over you and all the demonic powers who are seeking my destruction” (Zech. 3:2; Luke 10:19). This is what Jesus wants us to pray. Pray boldly and with confidence in His total victory over all the power of the enemy!
7.Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever!
The seventh and last principle in this model prayer is that God finishes with the acknowledgment that He wants us to remember when we finish praying. It’s the fact that all that I pray about really must be focused on His kingdom, that all will be done with His power, and that His glory will be exalted. These are my ultimate goals. In other words, if my petition doesn't further His kingdom, His glory, then forget it. I don't want it, because it won't be worth anything in the end. It will all perish. It will neither help nor satisfy me, nor will it be good for me. God promises that He will not withhold any good thing from me. If He's withholding something from you, you can be absolutely assured it's not good for you, or at least not good at this time. Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights. So be assured that this is His heart, and this is His desire for you.
Some helpful hints for your prayer life.
Let me give you a couple of helpful hints that I believe will help you become more effective in your prayer time. These are issues I have found in my own prayer life that are extremely effective. These help me to stay on track and to stay focused when I pray.
First, discipline yourself to a specific time daily when you can have a quiet time for prayer. If you don't discipline yourself to a specific time to pray, you won’t do it. Your day will fill up with all the other things of life. If you don't discipline yourself to a specific time when you are going to read your Bible, again, you will never do it. If you don't discipline yourself to come to church, then you'll rarely have any corporate fellowship, worship, or teaching from the Word. It's something that you need to discipline yourself to do, because it benefits and builds you up. Set aside a time to pray. We all have hectic days that require us to set our priorities. When I had small children at home, I would drive to the park before work. I would sit for just a few minutes for prayer and reading my Bible. If there is no quiet place in your home, try this or some other creative way to make this quiet time. You wives are probably thinking, “What about me, I need some quiet time too.” Well, when the children take a nap you must discipline yourself to take that moment as your quiet time in the Word and prayer. Or when the children get a little older and they are off at school, that's your time. Discipline yourself to take that time. If you don't do it then, you will not do it. When you take a quiet time turn off your phone and all your electronic devices. This will make it a truly uninterrupted time for God.
Second, if you get distracted easily, or fall asleep when you pray, then you need to pray out loud. I have found this to be very effective. I know what happens, you think, I will just lay down on the couch for a time of prayer. And the next thing you know, you are fast asleep. Or, maybe you sit up to pray but find your mind is thinking of the lists of things that you must do that day, or you just day dream. I know that experience. This is why praying out loud is so effective, because it keeps your mind disciplined. Your mind must follow where your lips are going. You cannot day dream if you're your lips are speaking about something else. You just can't do it. So, try praying out loud and see what happens!
You can also day dream when you are reading your Bible. Have you ever read a chapter in your Bible and then think, What did I just read? So, do the same thing, read out loud. You will find that it is very effective in controlling your thoughts. Remember, your mind cannot go off in a day dream if your lips are reading His Word out loud. Reading out loud helps to focus you on what you are reading. It's very effective.
Let me give you an interesting side note on this topic. I was reading a book on President Abraham Lincoln not too long ago. I read a statement from Lincoln's law partner whose name was William Herndon. One of the things he said that really bothered him about Abraham Lincoln when they worked together in their law office was that every day when Lincoln would come into the office he would read his legal books out loud. Herndon said that it drove him crazy. He asked Lincoln why he did this. Lincoln replied that he read out loud because it focused him on what he was reading so he could assimilate the material better. I hope you will try this yourself. It's very effective. I pray out loud, and I read out loud. I don't get distracted anymore, and I cannot go to sleep.
My third helpful hint, is that if you want to stay on track while you are praying, make a list of the important issues you want to cover while you pray. Change this list often, so you won’t become routine about what you are praying about. A prayer list will keep these principles that I have gone over with you in perspective. Begin with an acknowledgment of your Father, and that you trust that He loves you as His son or daughter. Worship and acknowledge Him as holy and your desire to be holy. Ask Him to keep His kingdom and His will as the supreme priority of your day. Trust Him for your provision that day in everything. Take authority over the prince of darkness and your own flesh that would tempt you to disobey. Surrender to His Spirit to rule in your life and then petition Him for those He has put on your heart. You can list issues, people you want to pray for, and the things that God has been talking about to you in your Scripture reading. Putting these things on your list will make your prayer time very effective.
My fourth helpful hint is thankfulness. Make another list of what prayers God has answered. This will bring you to thankfulness, which should be up there at the top of your list. How can you remain thankful if you can’t remember what you should be thankful for? Answered prayer is one of the most important issues you should be thankful for. In Philippians 4:6, it says, “Be anxious for nothing, but everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Where has God answered your prayers? Acknowledge His power and His responsiveness to you. This makes your prayer life very sincere.
Fifth, be persistent. In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus taught, “And He said to them, ‘Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you'? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. ‘So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" After Jesus gave this model prayer, He ended with an encouragement to persistence. His point is simple. If you had a friend come to you in the middle of the night who was in desperate need, but you didn’t really want to get out of bed to help, you would get up if your friend persisted knocking on your door. But, Jesus is saying that your heavenly Father is just the opposite. He wants to give to you. He wants to give to you an abundance of His Spirit in your life. Why not go then and ask, seek, and knock on His door? These three verbs, ask, seek, and knock are all in the present tense, which means Jesus wants you to continually ask, seek, and knock upon His door, and He will pour out a blessing that you cannot contain. He won’t give you a stone if you ask for bread. If you ask for a fish, He won’t give you a serpent. In other words, He won’t give you what would harm you or mock you. He wants to give good gifts to you. Come boldly to the Throne of Grace and receive from Him (Heb. 4:16)! He is waiting for you now!
Let's pray. “Father I thank You, because I know that You love us and want to give us your good gifts. Open our hearts that we may believe your great goodness and care for each of us. Give us a heart to pray. Give us a heart to believe. Give us a heart to pursue you.”