Matthew 6:5-15 | When You Pray
Matthew 6: 5-15
5“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. 6But 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. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,10your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us today our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’14For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Dr. William D. Mounce, Dr. Tim Mackie, Dr. Craig Keener
5“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.6But 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. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Jesus is not prohibiting public prayer
Later Jesus says, “This is how you should pray: Our Father…” This is a corporate prayer. Jesus prayed in a lot of different places. The issue is: Why do you pray and to whom? The Pharisees were on the busy street corner in their regular times of prayers for all to see.
We cannot be hypocritical in our prayers.
Using meaningless words, that are repeated again and again, using words to draw attention to us. The issue is not repeated prayers but meaningless words. We have the story of the persistent widow where she keeps asking. The issue is meaningless chants and words repeated over and over again.
Prayer is a simple authentic prayer that is speaking to God who is listening.
Vain repetitions destroy the power of words.
Vein repetition in worship destroys the power of worship.
David prayed: Psalm 27:8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, will I seek. That is prayer.
The best corrective to hypocritical public prayer is authentic private prayer. Public prayer should be a natural outflowing of our private prayer.
If our prayers are authentic and to God, then there is a reward like giving and fasting.
The greatest reward of prayer is communion with God.
Another reward of prayer in answer to prayer.
How we pray shows our view of the character of God.
Jesus goes on:
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us today our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’14For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
This is one of the most familiar words of Jesus in the history of Christianity.
These words have a great impact. Most Christians know this prayer poem by heart but since this is too familiar, this prayer has lost its vitality. Some of us are overly familiar with these words.
Jesus has now started a new movement, the Kingdom of God. He is giving his disciples this pattern of prayer to keep the kingdom movement going. Jesus, I think expected his disciples to fully memorize, and use as a guide to keeping the movement going. The sad irony of the fate of this prayer is that for many believers this prayer has become a dead ritual. I would encourage you to look back at this prayer, we have taken it too lightly and missing out on what Jesus is teaching us here.
This, then, is how you should pray:
Jesus asked his disciples to pray like this. Most of us do not pray like this. Most of our prayers are like, “Lord I thank you for this, this, and that. I am sorry for this, that, and that. These are my needs; help me, help me, help me. I hope you will meet them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
These are reactions to what happens in our life. Our prayers have mostly become reactions to our blessing, reactions to our shortcoming, and reactions to our needs. That is what we do as a prayer. For others, prayer is this list of words that are so repetitive in nature and we have these long prayers. I have seen some people using the 1000 praises a day for their prayer and every day it becomes a ritualistic prayer, just reciting some 1000 selected verses from the Bible.
So Jesus is trying to give to his disciples a proactive means of cultivating a regular habit of prayer. So Jesus gives his disciples a prayer poem. Jesus wants his disciples to pray like this.
Today we are going to see, how we can make this pattern of prayer our prayer? Jesus is giving his followers a pattern of prayer.
Jesus is giving us here his language of prayer. He is giving us his own prayer. As Jesus went in-between his ministry and sometimes in the night to pray, what do you think he was praying? What energized his prayer? Jesus is giving his own pattern of prayer. The whole movement and the mission of Jesus is found in these poetic words of prayer that Jesus taught us. It is easy to memorize and you get who Jesus is. The purpose is Jesus wants us to make us participants in the very movement that he began.
Let’s look at the prayer
This prayer has a short introduction and then two prayers of roughly equal length. Each of these two sections is marked by two petitions or requests.
“‘Our Father in heaven,
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
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.’
This begins with a short introduction
Who we are praying to? Who we are addressing.
Then we have these two sections. In these two sections, we have a clue of what these sections are.
The first section is dominated by the address to the Father. Orient yourself to God. Your name, your kingdom, your will. But then it shifts to three main petitions to the community of the disciples. Give us bread, forgive us our debts, and lead us not into temptation. It is a poem that has a literary and artistic structure that makes it easy to memorize.
According to Dr. William D. Mounce the structure: Orient, Praise, Petition
Kingdom ethics: Love God and Love Your Neighbour.
The prayer is structured based on what is Jesus’ highest value of the kingdom and the ethic. This is called the greatest command which Jesus said had two sides to it. What is the ethic of the Kingdom for a disciple? What is the greatest calling of the disciple?
First, love God. Love your God with all your strength, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
The second, love your neighbor as yourself.
It seems that Jesus has given us a prayer that reflects those two priorities, where we first orient ourselves to the Father and express our loyalty and allegiance to the Father and the Father’s priorities in our world. Then we turn our attention to us, the community. It is not me. Jesus did not say me, but he said us. So there is some sort of communal element to it. So Jesus is condensing the very heartbeat of the kingdom movement that he is launching and he gives us this prayer that reflects the greatest command, ie love God and love your neighbor.
Jesus wants us to pray this prayer daily. All of these things we need to have engrained in us as disciples of Jesus. So, every line reflects the things we need to be seeing daily.
In the introduction, Jesus begins with this address to the Father.
The first thing that we do is to constantly remind ourselves, who we are praying to? Our Father, who is in heaven.
If you look at the gospels, Jesus occasionally calls God by the word God. Jesus almost always refers to God as Father. There were other rabbis who called God Father, it is an idea out of the OT, though this is not a prominent idea in the OT. In the OT, we do not find people calling God as their Father. Jesus makes a radicle shift. Jesus made calling God, Father a huge emphasis of his teaching. This came out of Jesus’ sense of who He was. He called himself, the Son. He called himself the one who came to reveal who God truly is and God’s true nature. Jesus refers to God and calls him Father.
So who am I Praying to?
I am praying to Jesus’ Father and the God who calls Jesus his Son. Then we see the whole paradox of Jesus’ identity. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father and what you see me doing is actually the Father doing that. No one can actually know the Father except what you see me and look at me and know me, and no one knows the Father except the one whom the Father draws to see me.”
Jesus apparently knows that his disciples will have a hard time remembering what God they are praying to. That is because there are cultural forces at work, and the way our culture calls god or depicts god has nothing to do with the Father of Jesus. So Jesus is trying to redefine God for his disciples. He says, “Look at me and what I am doing. I will reveal the Father’s heart.”
What we see is that God is generous, gracious, seeking the lost, who is moving towards people in their sin and brokenness and inviting them to his forgiveness and his peace and inviting people to his feast, his Kingdom party to celebrates the kingdom. We see a God who will hold this world and humanity accountable for what we have done but he invites us to repentance and forgiveness and renewed humanity and new life. That is what God revealed in Jesus. That God is so counter-intuitive, it is like we are so prone to seeing God as an absentee Landlord thing, God invites us every single day to see what God is to us by saying, “Our Father in heaven..” who is revealed through the Son.
When I do that, all of a sudden, the particular concerns of the Father of Jesus become clear to me. That is what the first section of this prayer is about.
The three petitions to orient ourselves to God
In the first section, we have three petitions to orient ourselves to God, to love God with all our heart, all our strength, and all our mind.
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
The first is about God’s name, the second is about God’s kingdom, and the third is about God’s will.
Hallowed be your name
The root word of the word hallowed is holy, consecrated, purified, sanctified. This is about uniqueness and being one of a kind, set apart. Jesus’ Father is one of a kind.
What are we praying when we pray: Hallowed be your name?
May your name be holy or be recognized as holy. What does that mean? Is God not already holy. Why does he need to be prayed “May your name be holy?” Why does God need me to pray to make God’s name holy? What is this prayer about?
This is about God’s name and about God’s reputation and somehow we need to remind ourselves of a story that somehow God’s name is not being treated as unique and one of a kind in the world, and God’s reputation is in the process of being restored. We need to pray for its restoration.
Somehow God’s name who is unique and holy and good has been defiled by the sin of this world, it has been mistreated and misunderstood by a lot of people and associate the name of God to something other than the creator God, and this prayer is about the restoration of that great beautiful God. Somehow Jesus is inviting us to a story here, where image-bearing human beings were meant to have a close connection to our creator as Father, but somehow that has gone horribly wrong because of sin, and Jesus is here to set all that right. This is a new turning point in history. So the first point that we are praying for is that God’s reputation, God’s uniqueness is going to be recognized as holy and beautiful and set apart from all others. This is going to happen through God’s kingdom coming.
Your kingdom come and your will be done, where? On earth, as it is in heaven.
When we think of heaven and earth we think in terms of heaven and earth, we think of heaven that God lives in heaven which is a nonphysical spiritual condition. Earth was meant to be good, but sin made it horribly wrong and evil. So the main point of Jesus is to come to earth and get us all out of the earth to go to heaven. Many of us read our Bible like this.
The story of the Bible begins as heaven and earth completely overlapping God and human beings totally united and connected. God has given human beings, his image-bearing creatures will and choice and freedom to begin to build the world, either in harmony with God or independently of God. What happened is that human beings wanted to do things away from God, they wanted to be independent of God in the garden and chose to build with our own definitions of good and evil instead of God’s definition of good and evil. So heaven and earth become separated, Holy God does not stay with evil, and man is separated from God. So God does not go away fully, nothing happens on earth without God, God is still active and working but there came a separation because of sin.
The Story of the Bible
The story of the Bible is the story of God intervening the earth to take control over what was chaotic and lost because of man’s disobedience. It is about God coming to man and redeeming man and restoring his lost status. God selects Abraham, God selects Israel, and God sends Jesus to do this work. This is a process of restoring human beings to actually who we really were made to be and we were called to be, in the process God will redeem nature and all creation.
So the concept of heaven is invading earth through Jesus Christ. The Bible calls the world evil systems, this age. But what happened when Jesus came is that the Age to come, the heavenly kingdom has already come into this world. Those who believe in Jesus are able to live out that heavenly life now. For that, we have been given the Holy Spirit of God.
So the story of Jesus and the story of the Bible is about heaven invading earth to get the hell out of it. So the story of the Bible ends with Jesus coming back again in his second coming and completing bringing His rule on earth. That is what Jesus is praying for.
Has God’s kingdom come?
Has the Kingdom come and fully permeated every place of God’s good world?
Has the kingdom come in your life, if you are a disciple of Jesus?
Yes. The Holy Spirit is the seal of guarantee of that Kingdom.
Has the Holy Spirit allows to fully transform your life?
We are in the process.
So, that is dynamic, the Kingdom is here. There is the Holy Spirit here and the Kingdom is growing with the number of disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So what we are praying for is for more and more of the Kingdom of God (heaven) to take over more and more of earth. More and more of God’s kingdom take over more and more of my life. To restore God’s wholeness to me as a human, and to an extent that restoration to the whole world. We are partakers of that restoration. That is the command of the Great Commission, we are called to be a witness with the power of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth.
So this is the heartbeat of God, that God’s kingdom come on earth and this should be the heartbeat of every believer that God’s rule and Kingdom come fully on the earth.
So Jesus says to his disciples to pray like this every day so that this becomes the ground of your purpose as a disciple in the kingdom of God.
Loving our Neighbor as Ourselves
This is the first half of the prayer. This is to orient ourselves to the Father’s vision and allegiance to the Father and respond to the love and response of the Father to the world which is revealed by Jesus.
Only after we orient and ground ourselves in that purpose of the Father, then we turn our attention to loving our neighbor as ourselves. There are three things that Jesus apparently thinks we need to put before the Father and bring to the Father every single day.
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.’
That involves bread, forgiveness, and deliverance.
Give us today our daily bread
Jesus is alluding to some passage from the Hebrew Bible and giving fresh teaching here. Can you think of a story in the Hebrew Bible about people who had to depend on God daily for the basic bread? That is the story about the manna. Manna means “what!?”
That is a story after the Hebrews were delivered from slavery in Egypt by God’s grace. They are on their way to the promised land, but there in this in-between space in the wilderness and in that in-between space, they need to daily depend on the Father’s generosity to given them basic necessities. They had to see those basic necessities and bread as a gift from the Father.
We are Part of the Age to Come
So if we are the disciples of Jesus, we are in two worlds, we are in this age and the age to come. We are in this world but also a part of the kingdom of God. We have our foot in two ages waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom through Jesus, also we are in this in-between time, in this wilderness period.
So there is this competition and loyalties now because there are many other stories out in the world, there are many providences out there in the world. The world says, “There is no God. You work hard, earn, eat, and make merry. You are the captain of your own ship. So you do some hard work, some good studies, and some luck and you will be able to make it in this world.” This is the world view that we are living in. But this story can be very deceiving. That is a story that tells that everything you have is basically what you worked for it. You would not have anything if you do not work for it because nothing is for free in this world.”
The mindset of a disciple is “give us today our daily bread.”
There may be some of the disciples hearing me for whom you do not know where your next meal, next month’s rent, your children’s fees are coming from. Then there are others who have money for the next month’s rent, your fees have been paid for, your storerooms and refrigerator is full of items for the month.
Remember, Jesus is talking to a group of people on the hillside, in 1st Century Palestine, and Jesus is talking to mostly poor and hurting people. He is probably describing the day-to-day life of most of the people in his gathering. But not everybody, Matthew the tax collector was having a lot of money.
Jesus wants all of his disciples who know and do not know where their next meal is coming from, to cultivate the mindset of daily labor who views each day’s basic provision as a gift and not to be taken for granted. Whether that is a reality for us or not, Jesus wants us to cultivate that mindset as if that is the case.
The Change in our View
When I see the basic things of my life as a total gift from the Father, that I have not earned, that I do not deserve, that is just a gift from my Father of light who gives every good gift, it does something to you. It changes how you view your belongings. It changes how you view your food. We will not think about me, but about us. This changes the way we view our community.
In a few years, after the ascension of Jesus in the Book of Acts what are they doing? They are sharing with the one who is in need. They are donating all kinds of their riches for the bread of the poor. There are other disciples who do not have that basic necessity, so they are sharing. So when one disciple of Jesus sees another disciple of Jesus not having the basic need, he/she shares it with others.
This kind of prayer inspires generosity. This kind of prayer is that every day we recognize that the all basics and over and beyond the basics that I have is just a gift. So this prayer reorients my daily relationship with the Father but also lets me think about people other than myself and how we are sharing together for bread.
First thing: Daily bread.
Second thing: Forgiveness.
And forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors.
So Jesus already said the importance of forgiveness. Jesus is going to speak that again in his teachings in this gospel. Forgiveness is very much at the heart of the kingdom movement. There is something about the power of forgiveness as we receive the Lord Jesus Christ, as we are a part of the new Kingdom, we are been forgiven and reconciled to God by Jesus. So Jesus asks us to understand this daily, “I am forgiven. I am called as a disciple of Jesus to forgive.”
The world keeps asserting our rights to get even, to take revenge. So one evil is responded by creating another evil, one hurt is responded by another hurt. The world functions in a downward spiral of wrong. So on the cross, Jesus declares that the evil system stops. Revenge stops. Jesus restores what was broken. All of the sin and broken relationships have been stopped and Jesus took the consequences of sin on himself and forgave humanity. Father forgives them for they do not know what they doing. Then Jesus says that what Jesus did on the cross was also an example for his followers, his followers must imitate this in their life and forgive others. Jesus’ forgiveness flows through us as his disciples and we channelize that to the world.
Forgiveness is complex
According to Jesus forgiveness is not just ignoring wrongs or putting the wrongs under the carpet. Forgiveness is not ignoring it or condoning it and taking all the wrongs. That is not Jesus’ view on forgiveness. Jesus talks about forgiveness in Matthew 5 and 18. Jesus’ view of forgiveness fully naming and drawing attention to the wrong that has been done. You fully name it for what it is. But what you do when you name, it is to choose to relinquish your right to revenge or to get even.
Look at Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18. It does not mean that there are no consequences for what they did to you. It also certainly does not mean that they are best friends again. Actually, Jesus says that if the appeal for forgiveness does not work and they reject you, then you go back with a few others and you go back with some more, that you are never alone with that person again. You create this safety and accountability in the community.
Forgiveness in Jesus’ View
Forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation in Jesus’ teaching. Reconciliation requires two people to humble themselves, to own what has been done, to extend forgiveness, and then the relationship is repaired. But we well know that is not always possible, because that requires two parties. In Jesus’ view, forgiveness takes one person.
Forgiveness can be done by the disciple of Jesus who rejects the right to retaliate and to say that I am going to choose to give up that right because Jesus gave up that right to me and I begin this journey to begin to view this person as a human being still bearing God’s image and dignity. I know they are against me, but I will respect that person as God’s image and forgive them, I don’t want to be in the same capacity with them again but I acknowledge that they are human beings and I need to come to a place where I can somehow wish them well. This is the movement of forgiveness.
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.
Forgiveness is at the heart of Jesus’ kingdom movement. Jesus does not say, “If you struggle to forgive if you take time to forgive.” He says If you do not forgive..” What Jesus says is that if you do not forgive you have not actually internalized the grace the forgiveness you have been shown by God in the first place.
Apparently, for Jesus, the number one sign that the grace of God has really sunk in deep in my heart and my mind is my ability to receive forgiveness and at the same time pipeline to give it back to others who need forgiveness. It is not the same as reconciliation, but it is this movement of the heart towards the other person. This is the heart of the gospel, so Jesus knows this is hard and so every single day he wants to internalize this and to pray for strength and power for the forgiveness in the Kingdom.
Who is the Forgiver?
So you remind yourself daily of who your Father is, who you are praying to, the Father revealed in the Son. You are praying to this storyline for God’s will to come to the earth. All of a sudden, you are not asking God to act but who is being asked to act or work here? Who is hallowing God’s name and who is forgiving here?
This is about God bringing his Kingdom, he is doing that through Jesus and then Jesus gave this prayer to his disciples. So Jesus fully calls us to become participants in this storyline.
I do think by cultivating my daily dependence on God.
I do that by reminding myself about the heart of Jesus’ movement, which is forgiveness.
The last thing Jesus wants to engrain in our mind is that if you do this if you let this prayer in your life and become what it meant to be if you are inspired by his power and grace in the new Kingdom activity through you, expect opposition. Expect it to be very difficult. Expect temptation.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Is Jesus leading us into temptation? No.
The best way to explain what Jesus says here is to look at the two stories that Jesus was tempted and was delivered from the evil one. Can you think of any test that Jesus endured? There is one in the desert at the beginning of the Kingdom movement and there is another one in the garden, right before Jesus was crucified. In both of these, Jesus was led into a test.
What is being tested? What was tested in the wilderness is the loyalty and allegiance of Jesus to the Father. Was whether Jesus was going to bring the Kingdom which is not about ceasing power or through violence but it was going to be a kingdom that was launched through humble self-giving service, forgiveness, and love. Was Jesus going to reject the loving and self-sacrificial means of being the Messiah or was Jesus going to embrace the worship me the power of the evil and the evil one will give Jesus authority over all the nations of the earth? Do you think the 40 days of wilderness test was easy? Not at all. But did Jesus remain faithful through it? Yes.
Apparently, Jesus sees that difficult times are ahead and we have full permission to ask God in an earnest request, “Lord I don’t really want to through the temptation.”
Look at the last test in the garden. What did Jesus say? He does not really want to go through the cross. Jesus says no. Jesus says multiple times, “Father, if it is possible take this cup away from me.” But in the end, Jesus comes to this place of surrender. So Jesus asks the Father not to lead him into the test, but he knows by his wisdom and grace this is how the Kingdom is going to come and so the second prayer is,
“If I am going through the test, deliver me. By your presence and power, help me to resist and remain faithful to you, even though the power of the evil and its voices that came in the desert trying to make Jesus question the Father, Surely if the Father loved you, you would not be hungry and be abandoned, etc. Jesus rejects those voices and he acknowledges and trusts that his daily bread and his daily life is a gift to him and if the Father is going to lead him into this trial, the Father is going to deliver him.
So Jesus acknowledges that every day we needed to be reminded that following Jesus is hard and that great tests and trials will come our way. This is to remind us that they are not signs that the Father has abandoned us, but they are actually paradoxically the signs that the Father is with us. The Father will deliver us through in some way, though for many it has been giving up their life, that included Jesus.
This is the Lord’s prayer. He gave it to us as a gift to use in our daily prayer.
We can translate this prayer in light of the circumstances we find ourselves in each day but apparently, Jesus meant for us to use this prayer, as joining arms with him, experiencing his presence with us. This is the heartbeat of Jesus.
What role this prayer can have in your life?