GOD'S MEN AT PRAYER - PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT
GOD'S MEN AT PRAYER - PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT (Mt. 6:5-8)
In these verses preceding the Lord's Prayer, Jesus gives directions for praying, which represent a totally new point of departure and a completely fresh view.
The context is set in Jewish piety and devotion. First comes the giving of alms, second prayer, and third fasting. Alms reminded the pious Jew of his obligation to help the destitute, prayer reminded him of his need for communion with God, and fasting reminded him of his need for a broken and contrite heart. These traits should also be characteristic of Christian piety today.
Prayer is essentially communion between God and man. When you consider who God is, the perfection of His holiness, glory, wisdom, love and power, and then who you are, sinful, finite, ignorant, selfish, and weak, you come to recognize the need to prepare your heart, mind, and spirit. This includes the Holy Spirit's searching of your heart under the light that breaks from the Scriptures. Under the Holy Spirit, the Lord himself prepares you in four ways to pray:
Sincerity: "When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites,"
Secrecy: "And having shut you door, pray,"
Simplicity: "And in praying use not vain repetitions as the gentiles do," and
Sincerity: "Your Father knows what things you have need of before you ask Him."
With this frame of mind and attitude of heart, bring yourself under the Spirit of God to pray.
Understand the truths contained in the prayer which the Lord gave to his disciples. When He said, "pray in this manner," he offered a method and a pattern for prayer:
1. INVOCATION. "Our Father in heaven." In these words, we are told that we have been adopted as God's children, Jesus makes it plain that this is the foundation and essence of life. This is the first time in the Bible that such words are addressed to God in prayer. Only those who are children of God through His saving grace can go on to pray, "hollowed by Your name," which is why the Lord's prayer is a Christian prayer.
John Calvin wrote that all prayer should be addressed to God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and while this is not explicit in the Lord's Prayer, it is nevertheless implicit for we have access to God through the Son.
2. PETITION. Jesus offers six different petitions. The first three refer to God: His name, His Kingdom, and His will.
God's name, "hallowed be Your name."
The fundamental basis of all Christian prayer is not what we want or wish, but the name of God. This is reflected in Jesus' own practice of prayer, and it is worthwhile to remember the importance of God's name. This petition means that you will endeavor to keep holy and sanctified in your heart the name of God.
This petition may be put in these words, "Enable me to worship aright by giving to You the glory which is Your due, by allowing my mind and spirit to be penetrated with a sense of the perfection of Your grace, holiness, and power." All of this is implied when you ask God to hallow His name.
God's Kingdom, "Your Kingdom come."
This statement recognizes that the Kingdom is already present because Jesus Christ has come. In terms of the holy rule of God, it is here. But, at the same time, it is coming. Prayer for growth in grace and usefulness in the Kingdom is always to be a part of the way in which you pray.
When you pray for the coming of the Kingdom, you also recognize that the Kingdom is not an end in itself, but only the beginning. You must turn your eyes toward the world where evil forces work to bring God's Kingdom to nothing. His is a Kingdom of grace, and you as a Christian in fellowship with other believers in the Church must pray and work for the coming of that Kingdom in the hearts of others.
The Kingdom is also in the future for we look to the time when it will be established. In the New Testament, a new heaven and a new earth suggest that the Kingdom includes the hope of eternal life and an eternal reign of righteousness. This is serious and demanding prayer because it involves serious personal responsibility.
God's will, "Your will be done on earth as in heaven."
The will of God is the key to understanding the whole of life. When offering this petition, pray that God will strengthen you with might by his Spirit to be able to unite your will with His, and to purpose steadfastly in your heart to do God's will in everything. This petition is the peak to which everything that goes before leads, and is the fountainhead from which everything else in the Lord's Prayer flows.
To this point in the Lord's Prayer, God has been the center. Now those who offer the Prayer become the center. The motive that prompts the following petitions must be that that which is granted will be used to bring glory to God. These three petitions refer to our bread, our forgiveness, and our victory.
Our bread, "Give us our daily bread."
By asking for bread, you ask the Father to supply the material requirements of your life, and to do that on a daily basis. Your request is not for bread to cover the coming days, but for the need of each day as it comes. This is the controlling principle, especially among Christians who hasten to enrich themselves. The Lord reminds us not to be over anxious concerning temporal needs.
Our forgiveness, "Forgive us our debts."
In the word "debt," can be seen an accurate description of the moral significance of sin. A great debt has been incurred because your sins are against God. Every sin is a blow to the heart of God, and is a part of the appalling debt which you incur with him. This is a debt which you cannot pay; therefore, you must either suffer the consequences or have the debt forgiven.
Notice also that procuring forgiveness from God is no easy matter. If you wish to be forgiven, you must also forgive. The best rendering of this petition is "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors," which is to say, forgiving your debtors must be a completed act before you can begin to pray for God's forgiveness. Forgive by casting from your heart all rancor and spite which a wrangling sense of injury engenders, any desire to be avenged, and any nursing of a sense of wrong.
Our victory, "Lead us not."
God allows you to be brought into circumstances where you are tested and tried. What God allows is an act of God.
Many Christians have a problem with the word "temptation." Temptation may originate from those evil passions and desires which spring from our fallen human nature. Temptation may emanate from those things, which although not evil in themselves, may if allowed to master us, bring us into a bondage that is sinful. Or, temptation may originate in the hard experiences of life in the shape of trials and sorrows either physical, moral, or spiritual.
In which of these senses is the word "temptation" used in the Lord's Prayer? If you like, it can mean that you desire that God will not lead you into places that are difficult to deal with. If, however, the whole phrase is offered as a single petition, the word "temptation" can better be understood to mean a test or trial in which God is proving you.
You will never reach a point where temptations and trials disappear. Count them, however, as all joy. Without trials, the Christian life would become a supine affair. We constantly require stimulation and exhilaration. Trials become a rock of offense and a stone of stumbling unless you overcome them. In this petition, your are really praying for God to draw close in the times of trial and sorrow from which victory comes.
3. DOXOLOGY. The Lord's Prayer begins and closes with God. In the doxology, "yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory," is found more than a hint of the Trinity. "Power" directs your thoughts to the Holy Spirit by whose power the Son's Kingdom is extended. "Glory" directs your thoughts to the Father whose glory has shone in the face of Jesus Christ. The "Kingdom" directs your thoughts to the Son who rules over His Kingdom. These are three great declarations of Christian faith:
"Yours is the Kingdom," has become faith's affirmation that the King of Kings will deliver to you the Kingdom of the Father, and that He will put down all rule, authority, and power, and subdue all things to Himself.
"Yours is the power," is the power of the Holy Spirit who works incessantly to advance the Son's glorious Kingdom. This is an inward spiritual dynamic that establishes Christ's kingly rule in your heart.
"Yours is the glory." Glory means reputation and esteem which derive from excellence of character and power of action. Glory is ascribed to the Father because He has obtained glory in the Church through His redeeming work in Jesus Christ.
The Lord's Prayer starts with God the Father and is concerned with His name, His Kingdom, power, and glory. God does not ignore your needs, sins, or trials, but they are not to be dominant. Your primary concern is God's glory, God's Kingdom, God's will, God's power, God's love, God's sovereignty, God's wisdom. As you murmur, "Lord, teach me to pray," the Master will say, "Pray in this manner."
Rob Norris, 1996 Men of Fourth Conference.