– the kingdom is based on trusting relationship
– prayer is a gift of the kingdom
– get praying this!
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word. Let us pray:
Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and captivate our hearts with the ways of the kingdom.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen
I don’t know about you but in my life, there are things that I’d love to see change, love to see ways that I would mature and grow in bits and pieces and the same is true in my faith. In my faith I’d love to mature and grow in different areas of life. And so, when we read passages like ours today, we instinctively think ‘Well, I need to get better at prayer’ or ‘I need to pray more often’ or something like that and I wonder, if you had a choice between growing in prayer or growing and reading the bible or just some other aspect of faith, what would you pick? What would you pick? If you feel brave enough, why not turn to your neighbor and share with them what you would pick. Would it be prayer? Would it be bible reading? Would it just be to know God is there? Whatever it is, if you can pick one of the two or go for something different. So, over to you just for 20 or 30 seconds. Over to you.
I’m not going to ask you to do a hands-up or anything like that, but those are maybe a conversation to carry on afterwards and just explore that a bit. Often when we get asked these kinds of things I probably, if you’re anything like me, ends up making you feel a bit guilty, a little bit like ‘Oh, I’m not as good a Christian’ or whatever, as you maybe think you should but, as we’ve been seeing throughout this series on the Sermon on the Mount, behind everything Jesus teaches is an invitation, an invitation to more, know more of the life of God’s kingdom, that He wants good for you and for me. So, yeah, today might include one or two challenges. You wouldn’t expect anything different from me after three and a half years, after all. But there’s invitation here. There’s invitation into the life of the kingdom and last week’s passage, at the end of it, we saw that Jesus brought a particular challenge to one practice that the hypocrites were doing and He flows now onto the next couple of practices where the hypocrites are abusing the ways of God, in different ways.
And so, he says ‘and when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. When you fast do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others their fasting.’ And so, Jesus brings this critique of the hypocrites of the Jewish leaders of His day to say ‘Well, they are turning the practices of prayer and fasting, they’re turning them inwards, they’re turning them into a show, a pretense by putting on this mask and faking it before God so as to be looked at and esteemed by others.’ They’re corrupting these practices through their selfishness.
But Jesus also has a critique for the pagan practice of prayer and he said earlier ‘and when you pray do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many word,’ One of the most convincing comments I found on this, doing my reading during the week, was one commentator saying that there was a pagan practice where you would try and find just the right name of God and so you would keep repeating names of God to try and get power over that God or pronounce the name just in the right way so as to again get that power and then have control over the God. And so, it was all about manipulation again, taking prayer and corrupting it for self, for selfish purposes and Jesus holds up both these practices to say well, neither is what you should be about.
There’s a third way, the way of the kingdom and so we read earlier ‘but when you pray go into your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen. Do not be like them for your father knows what you need before you ask him. When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting but only to your father.’ There are a few things we need to note here in passing. The ‘you’ that’s used here is not meaning a group of people but an individual and so this is about our individual practices. It’s not a ban on public prayer so, Rachel, you didn’t do anything wrong here sister, you’re not sinning, good job so you’re fine, Also Jesus is not banning us repeating our prayers nor is he banning us having long times of prayer around a particular issue. I know this because He did it. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, prayed three times for the same thing so, it’s obviously allowed. He prayed through the night before choosing the apostles so, that’s allowed too. It’s not a ban on either of those practices when it comes to prayer and clearly, when He mentions fasting, He has an expectation that we’ll fast but for all you foodies amongst us I’m not going to speak about that today so we don’t need to worry about that so much. All these things aside, what is this passage revealing about the kingdom? Because, remember, we saw a few weeks ago that everything that’s going to come here has got to reveal something about the kingdom. It’s about the ways of the kingdom. So, what is Jesus revealing?
Well, he reveals that the kingdom is based on trusting relationship. He says ‘Your father, who is unseen’ is about relationship. It’s not about reputation and status, like the Jewish hypocrites. He says ‘Your father knows what you need.’ It’s about trust, not about manipulation, like the pagans. And so, core to the kingdom, is this basis of trust, of having a trusting relationship. It’s there within the Godhead. It was there at the beginning of creation but lost this trusting relationship that we’re called into. Called into a trusting relationship with God as our Heavenly Father. With a Heavenly Father who knows what you need before you ask. A Heavenly Father who sees you in the secret hidden place and knows the deep hidden things of your soul, of your heart, the aches and the joys, the worries and the stresses, the questions and the griefs. He knows it all. H sees you like no one else sees you. He sees you to the depths of your being. He sees the things you hide away and the mask that you put on. He sees behind it such is His love for you and He calls you into trust and relationship with Him. So, can I ask you this morning, do you know that? Do you have that kind of relationship with God? Or are you keeping God at arm’s length? Are you keeping Him at arm’s length? There might be many reasons you do that. Maybe it’s something from your past. Maybe there’s something there maybe.
I was watching a program, it was the Chosen program, I’ve mentioned it before, and I was mentioning a recent recording, I’m watching a recent recording they did with some Gen-Zed young people, whatever that is, what? early twenties, late teens, that kind of age range, and they were speaking not only about the pain of fathers but also the pain of mothers and so, I don’t want to assume that it can just be one or the other that actually it can be either, that we’ve maybe had a difficult background and it warps our picture of God and we end up seeing God in what was portrayed to us by parents or by a faith leader or by whoever it might be, and we get this warped picture of God that matches nothing like what Jesus teaches. Or maybe you’ve been to church before or it was religion at school, with school assemblies and school times of prayer, whatever it might be, and it just left you cold and unmoved and it just seemed like people were just going through the hoops, but it meant nothing, and it was empty, and it’s just you think ‘Well, I want nothing to do with God.’ If that’s what it is. But that’s not what it is. That’s not what Jesus comes to reveal. He comes to reveal a God who wants a personal relationship with you, who wants to be in that place of trust with you, and has tried to prove that to you by dying for you and for me, and that’s the invitation of Jesus this morning, to take up that invitation into trusting relationship again.
Now, we might wonder ‘Well, why did Jesus teach it at this point in the Sermon? Like, ‘Why did he not include it earlier in the Sermon? After all, if trusting relationship is so important, why not after the Beatitudes? Why not include it there? So, cuz you’ve got that great high of the of the Beatitudes, of this great welcome into the kingdom and the blessed life, why not include it at that point, this great invitation to trust in relationship.’ Or, why not include it at the end because well, You know Jesus, if I was Your PR agent, You’ve ended on a bit of a downer? Like, if I don’t trust You if I don’t follow Your teaching it might not be the best. Like, that’s a wee bit morbid. So, like, let’s end on a high. Let’s end on this trusting relationship thing.’ Why, why does he have it in the middle?
Well, maybe it’s exactly where it needs to be. Maybe it’s in the center of the Sermon because of all that came before and all that’s going to come next because, after all, if you scan through this Sermon, you can’t be salt and light without God’s help, you can’t seek to try and follow the ways of the kingdom with a righteousness greater than the Pharisees without God’s help and, when you mess up, you’re going to need to know His forgiveness and, rather than seeing these as a bunch of laws that just weigh you down, to see it as an invitation into the goodness of God’s kingdom you need to know the Father’s love. Maybe that’s why Jesus puts it there. And then, if you go on into chapter six and seven it’s all about trust and so, this prayer is a springboard into that whole section of trust because prayer is that expression of trust. So, it’s right where it needs to be. It’s right in the center. And maybe that’s where it needs to be in our lives, in the center, in the center of our lives and the rhythms of our days, of our weeks, of all the rhythms of life and maybe that too is the invitation of Jesus to see prayer as this gift not as a burden, not as an obligation, not as just another tick box exercise or an empty religious practice but to see it as a gift, a gift of love for you to open and to have at the center of your life, not as something that He beats you up with, not as something to wear you down with, but a gift to bring you into life. And so, maybe there’s an invitation to be vulnerable again with God, to be vulnerable in that place of prayer with Him and carve out some time to be in that place now, if you’re ready, if you’re ready to pursue God in either the secret place, maybe in your room or in a walk or you’re ready meet with God in times of corporate prayer. What might we pray? How might we pray?
Well, Jesus gives us this prayer but you can pray in different ways. Did you know that? Did you know that because Matthew says ‘This, then, is how you should pray…’ like, here’s a model, here’s an example, here’s a rough structure and some kind of kickstart. A kickstart for you. If you look at, look he says ‘When you pray say ‘Our father who art in heaven.’ Nuance difference there. Are they contradictory? Well, No, because both examples can lead to life and we’re going to look at that just in a moment. They’re not contradictory. One is a model and one’s a set prayer, and both can lead to good things. But let’s look at the specifics of this prayer and this is going to be a whistle stop tour. I’m going to get through it pretty quick and you might want to go back to the recording just to pick up on some things that can’t catch your attention.
So, Jesus says ‘Our father in heaven’ and I don’t know about you but father feels a bit formal. I don’t know about you, I never called my dad ‘father’ and if I did, as I say, it feels quite formal. And, actually, the word that Jesus uses here doesn’t have quite the same connotations that His Hebrew word would have been Abba. Abba, as I was saying to the children earlier, Daddy, Daddy God and that would feel a bit maybe too informal for us but Abba might work. That intimate relationship with God and in heaven well, we end up thinking ‘Well heaven, in heaven means up there somewhere. He’s so distant and far away’ but that’s not what it would mean in the original, in Jesus’ day. They didn’t picture God in that way and ‘in heaven’ it was their way of saying that He had authority and power that He was omnipotent, God Almighty. So you might want to change the language here to ‘Our Abba Almighty’ that would be a more fitting way to capture what He means there. ‘Our Abba Almighty, hallowed be your name’ is to honor, is to treasure something and we treasure God’s name because His name represents His character, His person much more than you or I’s name. My name, Scott, means from Scotland, which, okay, is technically true but not every Scott is from Scotland and so it often doesn’t carry any great meaning for us but not the same with God. Every one of His names reveals something of His character, something of how He wants to relate to us and so we hallow His name above all other names.
‘Your kingdom come’. There’s two parts to this prayer. One is asking for more of God’s kingdom to come into the present, to change our world, to make our world less broken than it has been and we saw that, when Jesus comes, He comes preaching saying that the kingdom has come near and so, we’re asking for more of that to come. The other side, that the more long-term bit, is actually saying ‘Well God, we want you to end this current age and for Your kingdom to come in all its fullness. And, I don’t know about you, but that feels like a pretty radical prayer but sometimes we need to pray that and want to pray that because of the brokenness we see in our day.
‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ And when we speak of God’s will here, we’re meaning His divine purposes, of what He is seeking to accomplish through all of human history. We’re praying that for that to be done on earth as He’s promised, as He’s outlined, as it is in heaven and we can see here that the start of this prayer is very God-focused. It starts with praise and adoration and moves on to kind of God’s agenda, God’s concerns and that might be a helpful place for us and we’ll come back to that in a moment.
But then He goes on and gets very personal about our own lives. He says ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ and sure, this does include food and I’m sure in the day of Jesus folks would have been thinking ‘Well, we’re needing food’ because they lived from day to day, literally. But it was Martin Luther, the reformer, who said that this could mean so many other things. It could include all that’s necessary for life. He included things like the weather and, in Scotland I’m certainly praying for slightly less heat, but you might prefer it. But we could also include home and family here. We could include peace and government. All that’s necessary for life is what we could be praying here.
‘Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ I don’t know about you but I mess up and I need God’s forgiveness but, as we, as we receive that forgiveness, if it’s more than just a casual asking God to forgive us, then it should change our hearts, it should change our hearts and enable us to be more forgiving towards others, it should overflow and so this bit and the later verses in verses 14 and 15 it’s not about earning forgiveness, because you’ve been forgiven, but Jesus is talking about someone who has become so bitter that they refuse to forgive and they want to hold on to a grudge and so they haven’t really appreciated what God is offering them and His forgiveness and so we pray ‘forgive us as we forgive our debtors.’
And then ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.’ And the more traditional phrases ‘deliver us from evil’ but, actually, saying the evil one is quite a helpful translation because, we know from the book of James, that God does not tempt us. He doesn’t do that. He’s a good God, a loving God and so, Jesus is not implying that but saying ‘lead us not into temptation’ is about asking God’s help for us not to succumb to temptation. That when the evil one tempts us with things, that we don’t go into rebellion, we don’t distrust God and break our relationship with Him because we listen to the lies of the enemy and so we ask to be delivered from his influence when those temptations arise and that looks like the good life rather than the good life of God’s kingdom.
So, that was the whistle stop tour and I’m sure there’s many questions. There might be three questions I want to just tease out with you very briefly.
You might be wondering ‘Well, do I just pray as it’s written?’ You can do. It might be exactly what you need to pray. You might just need to pray ‘God, Your kingdom come’ but, you know, you might want to just use it as a launching board into other things. ‘God, Your kingdom come. Would healing come in a situation. God would Your kingdom come, would You bring reconciliation. God would Your kingdom come, would You bring peace amongst the nations.’
Another question might be – Do we pray in this order, and only in this order? And again, you can do because, I don’t know about you, but my so many of my prayers are quite selfish, quite me-focused, God help me, help mine, that kind of thing, and it can help at times to start somewhere else, to start with God and His priorities and set our issues in the context of that, of what He’s doing and not only to us, to get good priorities but it helps us be hopeful when we get on to praying for ourselves and our loved ones but, equally, like the Psalmist, you might begin with what you need. God, I need daily bread, the daily bread of wisdom and you might pray into that and eventually you might come right around to praise and say ‘Our Father, You’re the God who provides wisdom. You’ve promised to provide wisdom and I thank you for that. I praise you for being this faithful God who promises to be with me, to be my good shepherd and lead me through into green pastures’, and before you know it, you’re praising God, but you started with what you needed. There are different ways to pray.
Final question is ‘Well, can I pray anything else?’ Of course, you can. Of course, you can. The Bible is full of other prayers but equally it has been said that everything you might want to pray about, every concern, every situation you can come across in life there is something in this prayer. You can pray every situation. So, here’s a challenge for you this week – as you go about praying for stuff, your day, your loved ones, situations at work or in the world, come back to The Lord’s Prayer and see if you can find something that fits and let me know if you find anything that doesn’t fit. But, I’m pretty sure you will.
At the beginning of this week just as I was beginning my preparation, I came across a news article and in this news article it was of a 16-year-old lad and he is now this international DJ. He goes off to Ibiza and plays there in front of thousands of people at the age of 16. and it in the story, in the article he shares that he’s only been doing this for about four or five years. Clearly has, I guess, clearly has applied himself to this but what started it was that four or five years ago, for his birthday his dad, not making this up, his dad bought him his first DJ equipment and it has led to this incredible life, this incredible joy in his life, but it began with that purchase, that gift. And imagine if he got that gift, and I imagine a lot of teenagers like what I was like, were like ‘Hmm, not sure about that? Just put that to the side, thanks very much. What’s next?’ Or imagine he got a gift and he tried it for a wee bit but, you know, all the dials and all the faders and just too complex, I’ll just put that to the side as well. Imagine he’d done that. He would have missed out on this great life. He would have missed out on something that brought him great joy. And the same is true of prayer. If the kingdom is based on trusting relationship, if prayer is a gift, then we need to get using it. We need to get praying. We need to get into that secret place with God and sure, at times, it doesn’t come easy and it raises so many questions but He invites us into it just like that young lad was given a gift and I don’t know what that looks like for you. Maybe it’s as you walk somewhere or as you drive somewhere. Maybe it is set aside some time and you close the door just to get away from distractions. Maybe it’s setting some time to join in to the Thursday Live Prayer and I know it’s online but you don’t need a smart device or a computer to join online, you can literally use your telephone to join in and listen to that and you don’t have to pray out loud. Maybe it’s coming to the 10:15 prayer on a Sunday morning and again, you don’t have to pray out loud, you can just sit in there and listen and as you listen you’re encouraged and you learn what to pray as you listen to others and be in that environment.
But if the kingdom is about trusting relationship and if prayer is a gift, we need to get praying, we need to press in and really appropriate what God has given us that we might know that life and that others that we know and care for, might know the life of God’s kingdom as well, So, may we be that kind of people. May it be so. Amen.