I don’t know how long the Lord will give me to live. I had a grandma who lived to be around 90 years old and I had another grandma who died of cancer in her late 50’s. I do not know how long I have to live on this earth but I do know this…as long as I live I want to grow in my relationship with God and learn to love Him, and those around me, better than I did the day before, than the year before, and even the decade before.
One of the things that I feel as though God is constantly calling me deeper into is the whole area of prayer and my view of who God is while I pray. Prayer is the central action of the Christian life and it has power. It seemed fitting to talk about prayer on this Sunday when there is a county wide prayer gathering scheduled to take place at the fair grounds at 11AM.
I love the prayers of the Bible. When I read the prayers of Paul I see a glimpse into Paul’s heart for people & God. When I come across a prayer in the Scriptures I am challenged to pray in such a way as well. If you are taking notes some of Paul’s prayers are in Philippians 1:9-11, Ephesians 1:16-21, Ephesians 3:14-19, and Colossians 1:9-12. I love the prayers of Jesus. John 17…the longest prayers of Jesus. And then the book of Psalms which has a ton of prayers to God in it. It is the church’s inspired prayer book. The Psalms are so varied in their prayer focus that there isn’t a life experience that isn’t prayed about in the Psalms. You can experience the deepest darkest valley or the most joyous event in your life and you’ll be able to find a prayer in the book of Psalms that clearly communicates exactly what you are feeling. I love the prayers in the Bible.
But, The Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6, If you have your Bible open it to Matthew 6:9-13, is where I first discovered prayer in the Bible and actually processed through what was being prayed and it’s structure. Why Jesus taught us this way to pray.
The Lord’s prayer is very true to life…here’s what I mean. Life is a combination of spectacular things and simple things. In almost everyone’s life there are breathtaking things and boring things. Fantastic things and familiar things. Extraordinary things and ordinary things. Awesome things and average things. Exotic things and everyday things. That’s the way life is and that is the way this prayer is isn’t it?
Look at the prayer that Jesus prayed in Matthew 6, but we’ll start back in verse 5 to catch the background…
“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. 6 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. 7 “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. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
If we look at the Lord’s prayer as being true to life we very quickly see that it has two parts. Almost everyone notices that it has two parts. The first part (verses 9–10) has three petitions; and the second part (verses 11–13) has three petitions. The first three petitions are:
- hallowed be your name
- your kingdom come
- your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We are asking God to bring about these three things: cause your name to be hallowed; cause your kingdom to come; cause your will to be done as it’s done by the angels in heaven.
The second three petitions are:
- give us this day our daily bread
- forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors
- lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
You can see the difference — and feel the difference — between these two halves. The first three petitions are about God’s name, God’s kingdom, God’s will. The last three are about our food, our forgiveness, our holiness. The first three call our attention to God’s greatness. And the last three call attention to our needs (my hunger, my sin, and my temptations). The two halves have a very different feel. The first half feels majestic and lofty. The last half feels mundane and lowly. In other words, there is a correspondence between the content of this prayer and the content of our lives. The big and the little. The glorious and the common. The majestic and the mundane. The lofty and the lowly.
“God has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
I take that to mean that the world and the human soul are iridescent with wonders linked to eternity. Every now and then you can see, feel, and even taste the wonders of eternity…and then they go away. Our humdrum, ordinary, mundane experiences of this world keep us from seeing the wonders and from soaring the way we dream from time to time. Even we believers who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God — even we say, “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). We believe that there is something glorious inside of ourselves…and sometimes we see it…but too often we see the ordinary and mundane of life which Paul called “Jars of Clay”. All of creation eagerly awaits for the Children of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19 says). Our spirit is alive with God’s Spirit, but our bodies are dead because of sin (Romans 8:10).
That’s the way life is. And that’s the way this prayer is — iridescent with eternity and woven into ordinary life. Let me restate this prayer again.
- Verse 9: Father, cause your great and holy name to be honored and reverenced and esteemed and treasured above all things everywhere in the world (including my heart).
- Verse 10: And cause you glorious, sovereign, kingly rule to hold sway without obstruction everywhere in the world (including my heart).
- Verse 10: And cause your all-wise, all-good, all-just, all-holy will to be done all over this world the way the angels do it perfectly and joyfully in heaven — and make it happen in me.
That’s the breathtaking part of the prayer. And when we pray it, we are caught up into great things, glorious things, global things, eternal things. God wants this to happen. You might feel so absolutely ordinary and I do as well but I want to in this message to call you up into the first half of the Lord’s Prayer. He wants your life to be enlarged like that. Never forget that you need food for your lives. Never forget that you need your sins forgiven. Never forget your longing to leave the realm of temptation. Never allow your feet to leave the ground…you are a human being and you need to focus on the mundane. But don’t stay there. Come out of the ordinary and experience the glorious. God wants you to taste this. To have your heart captured by his Kingdom and his will. No matter how sinful and ordinary you feel he wants you to come up into the first half.
But then we pray the second half:
- Verse 11: Father, I am not asking for the bounty of riches. I am asking for bread. Just enough to give me life. I want to live. I want to be healthy, and to have a body and a mind that work. Would you give me what I need for my body and mind?
- Verse 12: And, Father, I am a sinner and need to be forgiven everyday. I can’t live and flourish with guilt. I will die if I have to bear my guilt every day. I have no desire to hold any grudge. I know I don’t deserve forgiveness, and so I have no right to withhold it from anyone. I let go of all the offenses against me. Please, have mercy upon me and forgive me and let me live in the freedom of your love. And, of course, we know now what Jesus knew when he said this. He knew he would also say of his death: “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). When we pray for forgiveness, we expect it not merely because God is our Father, but because our Father gave his Son to die in our place.
- Verse 13: And Father, I don’t want to go on sinning. I’m thankful for forgiveness, but, Father, I don’t want to sin. Please, don’t lead me into the entanglements of overpowering temptation. Deliver me from evil. Guard me from Satan and from all his works and all his ways. Grant me to walk in holiness.
That’s the earthy part of the prayer. The mundane, daily, nitty-gritty struggle of the Christian life. We need food and forgiveness and protection from evil.
And I think these two halves correspond to the two things said about God in the way Jesus tells us to address him at the beginning in verse 9: “Our Father — in heaven.” First, God is a father to us. And second, he is infinitely above us and over all — in heaven. His fatherhood corresponds to his readiness to meet our earthly needs. His heavenliness corresponds to his supreme right to be given worship and allegiance and obedience.
For example, in Matthew 6:32, Jesus tells us not to be anxious about food and drink and clothing because “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” In other words, Jesus wants us to feel the fatherhood of God as an expression of his readiness to meet our most basic needs.
And then consider Matthew 5:34, where Jesus says, “Do not take an oath . . . by heaven, for it is the throne of God.” In other words, when you think of heaven, think of God’s throne, his kingly majesty and power and authority.
So when Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:9 to pray, “Our Father in heaven,” he is telling us that the prayer-hearing God is majestic and merciful. He is high, and also dwells with the contrite (Isaiah 57:15). He is a king, and he is a father. He is holy, and he humbles himself. He is far above us, and ready to come to us. He has plans for the whole earth and for the universe, and wants us to care about these great plans and pray about them; and he has plans for your personal life at the most practical level and wants you to pray about that.
So how is that translated into how we live our lives? I think this prayer is best reflected in this statement:
My heart’s desire is to be used by God for
- the hallowing of his name and
- the coming of his kingdom and
- the doing of his will
- To that end I pray for
- Health — give me daily bread
- Hope — forgive my debts; and
- Holiness — deliver me from evil.
In other words, it seems to me that the great designs of God are first and mainly about God. His name being hallowed, his will being done, his kingdom coming. And the rest of the prayer is how I can be fitted to serve those great designs. My bread, my forgiveness, my deliverance — my health, my hope, my holiness — are for the purpose of being part of God’s great purposes to glorify his name and exalt his rule and complete his will.
But there was one more exegetical insight that came as I pondered and prayed this prayer again and again. There is something unique about the first petition, “Hallowed be your name.” It’s not just one of three. In this petition, we hear the one specific subjective response of the human heart that God expects us to give — the hallowing, reverencing, honoring, esteeming, admiring, valuing, treasuring of God’s name above all things. None of the other five requests tells us to pray for a specific human response of the heart.
If you combine this fact with the fact that this petition comes first, and that the “name” of God (“hallowed be your name”) is more equivalent to the being of God than is his kingdom or his will, my conclusion is that this petition is the main point of the prayer and all the others are meant to serve this one.
In other words, the structure of the prayer is not merely that the last three petitions serve the first three, but that the last five serve the first.
So with the Hallowing of God’s Name in mind. I think as we pray the Lord’s Prayer we seek to live it out this way:
I have ONE Great Passion! Nothing is more clear and unshakeable to me than that the purpose of the universe is for the hallowing of God’s name.
- His kingdom comes for THAT.
- His will is done for THAT.
- Humans have bread-sustained life for THAT.
- Sins are forgiven for THAT.
- Temptation is escaped for THAT.
There is nothing greater in this whole universe than that God’s Name would be Hallowed. Nothing greater. Having God’s Name Hallowed should be our greatest desire once we have seen and tasted his greatness.
Sooner or later life almost overwhelms you with pressures and problems — physical problems (give us daily bread), relational and mental problems (forgive us our debts), moral problems (lead us not into temptation). And what I want you to see is this. You have a Father. He is a thousand times better as a Father than the best human father. His fatherhood means he cares about every one of those problems, and he beckons you to talk to him about them in prayer, and to come to him for help. He knows what you need (Matthew 6:32).
That’s the way we usually attack our problems. And so we should. We attack them directly. I have this financial problem, or this relational problem, or this bad habit problem. Father, help me. That is right and good. However when we focus upon our problems and attack them directly in prayer (skipping verses 9 & 10) our lives shrink in around the problems…our world…our spiritual world…shrinks. We wake up in the mornings and think about them. We drive to work and think about them. We go to sleep while thinking about them. Yes, we are adding God into the mix…but we are 100% focused on the things of this earth.
In me saying that I’m not saying stop praying about these things. Keep praying. But this is what I’m saying…
Jesus offers us more in this prayer. There is more — not less than that, but more. There is an indirect attack on our problems. There is a remedy — not a complete deliverance from all problems in this life, but a powerful remedy — in the first three petitions of the Lord’s prayer, especially the first one.
God made you be a part of hallowing his name, extending his kingdom, and seeing his will done on the earth the way the angels do it in heaven. In other words, he made you for something magnificent and for something mundane. He made you for something spectacular and for something simple. He loves both. He honors both. But what we fail to see often is that when we lose our grip on the greatness of God and his name and his kingdom and his global will, we lose our divine equilibrium in life, and we are far more easily overwhelmed by the problems of the mundane.
In other words, I am pleading with you not to lose your grip on the supremacy and centrality of hallowing the name of God in your life. I am urging you from the Lord’s prayer that you go to God for bread, and for healing of relationships, and for the overcoming of besetting sins, and for the doing of God’s will, and for the seeking of God’s kingdom — all of it, all the time for the sake of knowing and hallowing, reverencing, honoring, valuing, treasuring God’s name (God’s being, God himself) above all things.
Keep your feet on the ground. That’s why the second three petitions are there. But let your heart rise into the magnificence of God’s global will, God’s kingdom, and most of all God’s holy name — his being, his perfections.
You may not see it clearly now, but I testify from the Scriptures and from experience, there is more deliverance, more healing, more joy in the hallowing of his name than perhaps you ever dreamed. Let’s pray all year in the fullness of this prayer.