Praying Like Jesus: Prayer is simply talking with God. But more than that, prayer is an opportunity to spend precious time in communion with and awareness of God’s presence. Jesus was constantly praying and taught his disciples how to pray. Want to learn how to pray like Jesus? Listen here. Recorded on August 28, 2022, on Matthew 6:5-15, by Pastor David Parks.
This message is part of our sermon series “The Unexpected Way,” from the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7 in the Bible. The way of Jesus is totally unique; it’s different from every other way of life, philosophy, or religion. Why? Because the teaching of Jesus — emphasizing holiness, humility, justice, faith, and sacrificial love — leads to a whole new gospel-centered ethic. This ancient ethic, if actually practiced, has the power to bring abundant love and joy and peace to anyone, anywhere today. This is the way.
All year, we’re focusing on Learning the way of Jesus, which means that all year, we’ll basically be answering the question, “If the gospel is true, how then should we live?” For the past two months, we’ve been working through a very famous teaching of Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount in a sermon series called, The Unexpected Way. And we’ve said that the teaching of Jesus leads to a whole new gospel-centered ethic. But it’s a different way from the other philosophies or religions of the world; it’s counterintuitive, it’s the unexpected way. Last week, we started a new section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus turns his attention to religious works and the potential trap of these things. He teaches that there’s a way to be religious without it having anything to do with God, and he gives three examples in giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting. Last week we started this section by considering how serving the poor can really turn into serving ourselves if we’re not careful. Today, our focus is on Jesus’ example of prayer. If you have a Bible/app, please open to Matthew 6:5. Instead of reading the whole passage first, we’ll read and unpack this in two parts. So part one:
Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV), “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. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Let’s pause here. Now, I’m not going to spend as much time on this section because this is very similar to our passage from last week. Last week, I said that Mt 6:1 was really the thesis statement for this section of teaching. There, Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” This is a warning for us not to try and do good works, religious works even, in order to be seen by others. Giving to the needy was the first example of this kind of twisted religious behavior, and now here he moves on to prayer. But again, just like last week, I don’t believe Jesus is saying we should never pray publicly. And I don’t believe Jesus is saying we should never spend long hours, at times, in prayer, which would presumably use many words. First, we must remember the example of Jesus. On a number of occasions, Jesus prayed both publicly and often at great length. And second, remember the context. If verse 1 is the thesis, then this teaching is just another example of doing a religious work, that is, prayer, for self-serving, self-glorifying reasons: praying to be seen by others. Jesus is saying it’s far better to pray a secret prayer with few words than to pray publicly or impressively when God isn’t even involved.
Ok, before we go any further, let’s ask a big question: What is prayer? According to the Bible, prayer is simply talking with God. But more than that, prayer is an opportunity to spend precious time in communion with and awareness of God’s presence, that God is with you and is near and involved in your life. To pray is to talk with God, which includes both speaking and listening, and to be with God. Now, what’s fascinating to me is that prayer seems to be hardwired into human beings. In our culture, not even in the church, but in our secular culture, still, the vast majority of people pray. According to Pew Research, even among people who are religiously unaffiliated, people not willing to identify with any specific church or religion, almost 40% of those people say they pray on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Now, one might wonder who they are praying to, but that’s a remarkable stat. People pray, including most of your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. But here’s my observation: Most people, even Christians, are afraid to pray out loud. I think most people are afraid they’re going to say/do something wrong, somehow, or they’ll look foolish. Have you ever felt like that? I don’t believe it was any different for the men and women who followed Jesus 2,000 years ago. Fortunately, the gospels are full of examples of Jesus praying. Jesus prayed (publicly, I might add) before the miracle of feeding the five thousand in Mt 14. But he often went off by himself to a solitary place to pray. Prayer was not a performance to Jesus but a regular practice of spending time with his heavenly Father. After feeding the five thousand, Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray, and he prayed for hours. In Lk 6, before choosing the twelve apostles, Jesus spent all night praying about that decision. The night before his crucifixion, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed and prayed, asking his closest friends to stay up with him because he was so overwhelmed. It’s interesting to me that in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, the disciples never asked Jesus to teach them how to preach. But they did ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Do you want to be able to pray like Jesus? Do you want to have that kind of vibrant, ongoing communion with and awareness of the presence of God in your life? This is part two; let’s continue with v.9.
Matthew 6:9–15 (NIV), “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘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 today 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 the evil one. [later manuscripts have the traditional ending, “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen”]. 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Jesus started by saying that we shouldn’t pray in such a way as to impress other people, for that would be hypocritical and self-serving. But neither do we have to pray in such a way as to impress God. If you think God will be impressed by many words or by the perfect prayer, then you simply don’t know who God is. This is how you should pray. Remember, Jesus is talking to his disciples here. So learning to pray is part of learning the way of Jesus. Let’s consider each line of this model prayer, often called The Lord’s Prayer and sometimes called the disciples’ prayer.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” Start by recognizing your relationship to God. Who is God to a disciple of Jesus? By faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, his Father becomes our Father. God is not a divine spark, or a force, or even first an almighty king (although he is that). But our Father. One who is your protector and provider, one who knows your name because you are his child. One who doesn’t mind being interrupted by you; one who doesn’t see you as an inconvenience but as a joy. Maybe your earthly father wasn’t a good father. Maybe you were an inconvenience to him, or maybe you were abandoned by him. But this is not how your Father in heaven sees you or will treat you. The whole record of Scripture shows time and again that our Father in heaven is different. So who are you talking with in prayer? Our Father in heaven. Second, when you pray, remember that you are praying to our Father. When Christians pray, we pray as a son or daughter in a great family, the family of God, the church. No matter what our ethnicity or income or gender or age, we all are brothers and sisters in Christ, united in our relationship with God our Father. Whenever you feel alone, you should pray like this, remembering your relationship with God and with the whole family of God. You are never alone. Why? For God is our Father. But third, God is not a human being, he is not stuck in this broken world or bound by space and time, and he does not face all the real and perceived threats that we face here and now. He is above all, he is over all, he is transcendent and sovereign. This is what we must remember when we pray to our Father in heaven. We are not talking with a person with our limitations or capacities. God is not our peer or our human therapist. He is the creator of the heavens and the earth, the earth is his footstool. For this reason, fourth, his name should be seen as holy. Hallowed be your name. This is a prayer that changes our perspective. This is a reminder that God is God and we are not. A name in ancient times represented more than just what people called you. It represented all of your being, all of who you are, and all of what you do. For God’s name to be holy or set apart in our minds and hearts means that he has the primary place in our lives. Usually, when I pray, I don’t start praying with this perspective. But to pray this prayer lifts my eyes up to see and remember who God is once again. It’s humbling, but it’s true.
“your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” What does it look like for God’s kingdom to come here on earth as it is in heaven? It looks like God’s will being done. It looks like men and women who wholeheartedly love God and love people. It looks like men and women who joyfully submit to the commands of Christ both privately and publicly as salt and light in the world. It looks like men and women who learn to follow the way of Jesus in every area of their lives, experiencing more freedom/love/joy/peace as they do so. For the disciple of Jesus, this is what we long to see and also what we must renew our commitment to do on a daily basis. Every day I need to put the kingdom of God as my first priority. Every day I must die to myself and my agenda, pick up my cross and follow him. On earth, as it is in heaven.
“Give us today our daily bread.” Jesus already taught that our Father knows what you need before you ask him. So many people wonder, why then should we pray? And yet, Jesus teaches also that we are to pray and ask for God to meet our physical needs, such as the need for daily bread, for food/shelter/a job/friends/family, and so on. If God was an impersonal force, this wouldn’t make sense to me at all. But if God is best represented as our Father in heaven, who desires a loving and active relationship with us, then this makes a lot of sense. I’m a father, and I know what my kids need. But what kind of relationship would I have with them if I met all their needs and never talked with them? Or what kind of people would they be if they never realized that I was providing for them? I guarantee they wouldn’t be thankful or appreciative. I would guess they wouldn’t be as likely to be generous to others either since they never think about the generosity they receive in life. If that’s true for a far-from-perfect dad like myself, how much more true must that be for our Father in heaven? God knows what we need far better than we know what we need. But he wants a relationship with us, and he wants us to grow and mature. Is there something you think you need in life? Pray about it. You might find the wisdom and mercy of God in not fulfilling a request because later when you are more mature, you might see that though you thought you needed it at the time, whatever it was, it really would’ve been harmful to you. Or you might find that God does in fact provide what you ask for and then you’ll be thankful and not feel entitled. You’ll feel blessed and not full of yourself. In my experience, some of my most desperate prayers have been for things that I needed, or my family needed, or the church needed. And multiple times, I believe that God delayed in answering those prayers so that I would learn to trust him to provide. When we raised support before Appleton Gospel started so we could do this work full-time as a missionary work, we needed to raise three years’ worth of expenses. That was a big, scary number. And then again, during the Covid shutdown of 2020, when we still had bills to pay for our remodel of this building, I prayed and prayed not only that God would provide for our needs but that he would help me trust that he would provide. In both cases, God provided everything we needed and more, but not immediately. It was far more valuable for me to learn to trust him than for me to have my financial problems immediately solved. Give us today our daily bread.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I think it’s so funny that this verse came up in our text during a time when student loan debt forgiveness is a political topic making people upset right now. Jesus isn’t talking about student loan debt here, he’s talking about the spiritual debt that sin creates between people and also between people and God. Luke’s version of this prayer is more explicit saying, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Lk 11:4). And of course, Jesus ends this section of teaching in the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” I like how Leon Morris puts it in his commentary on this. He writes, “It is not that the act of forgiving merits an eternal reward, but rather it is evidence that the grace of God is at work in the forgiving person and that that same grace will bring him forgiveness in due course.” (Matthew (PNTC)). In other words, our commitment to being people who forgive others is rooted in the perfect and complete forgiveness that we have first received in Christ. However, if you’ve ever had to forgive someone who really hurt you, you’ll know that forgiveness is painfully difficult. This is why this must be part of our daily prayers. I mentioned last week 1Jn 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Part of our prayers ought to be an opportunity for confession. Sometimes, we may not be fully aware of our sins, so providing time, in the loving presence of God, for the Holy Spirit to bring things to mind that might be offensive to God can be very helpful. But then, in the freedom of the forgiveness that we are promised in Christ, we are to commit ourselves to forgive those who have sinned against us, as well. This is not easy, but this is good. Over time, daily, forgiving prayer can be a healing balm for the wounds that others have given us.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” There are some questions as to whether we are to pray for deliverance/salvation from evil in general or the evil one, meaning the devil, but either way makes sense to me. Evil in general can be found both out there in the world and also within me. May God deliver us from that. But also, we’re taught that there are spiritual forces of evil that influence the world. Modern people might think this is silly, but then there are all sorts of silly things that modern people think are very serious. In any case, we need deliverance. The forces of evil within or without are not things we are expected to deal with by our own power or strength or will. There is also a question as to whether the word temptation is the right translation here as the letter of James is clear that God doesn’t tempt us to do evil. Maybe testing is a better word. Thinking of the leading or guidance of God in Psalm 23, we might pray, “Guide us along the right paths for your name’s sake.” So, how are we to pray? According to Jesus, we pray by daily remembering who God is, refocusing our hearts and our priorities on him and his kingdom, praying for our needs, praying for forgiveness, praying for guidance, and praying for deliverance from evil. This then is how you should pray. As we close today, let’s take some time and put this teaching into practice. I’m going to lead us in a time of prayer where we will allow time to listen silently to the Holy Spirit after each line. This is a practice of mine that I’ve done for years. And I would encourage you to do this yourself. Let us pray.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed/holy be your name.
May your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today 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 the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen