How do we pray for personal needs in such a way that God's glory comes first? In the final three petitions of the Lord's Kingdom Prayer, Jesus shows us how (Matthew 6:9-15).
The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegiance, and The Star Spangled Banner – What do they all have in common? Each one is commonly recited in unison by a gathered group of people, often in a public space like a school, a ballpark, or a church. They have become icons and monuments of cultural heritage and religious expression.
We recite these things because they are important to us, and they keep important truths alive and ever before us. But something as patriotic as The Pledge of Allegiance can become something American students just rattle off without thinking about those who served and fought and died under the flag and the nation to which they pledge their allegiance. The Star Spangled Banner is America’s national anthem, but as a youngster I thought the last line was not “the land of the free and the home of the brave” but what often came next: “Play Ball!”
The same can be true of our Lord’s Prayer as recorded for us in Matthew chapter 6. As with many things that have grown common place because of frequent use, the Lord’s Prayer has perhaps lost a bit of its luster for many Christians today. Each Sunday we stand and rattle off the well-worn words: “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” But do our heads understand what we are saying? Do our hearts feel what we are praying? Do our hands sense the practical implications of what we are praying? I pray today’s post will help each one of us fully engage head, heart, and hands when we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.
Some call it “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Our Father.” Others correctly call it “The Disciple’s Prayer,” because it is the model prayer Jesus taught His followers. I prefer to call it “The Kingdom Prayer,” because the petitions of the prayer sum up the cries and desires of those who seek God’s kingdom above all else (cf., Matthew 6:33).
Today we’re going to continue taking a closer look at the Kingdom prayer Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew chapter 6. It is an example prayer on which we can model our prayer life, and it is a prayer we are privileged to recite both in personal devotion and corporate worship.
In Matthew 6, Jesus calls His disciples to pursue true treasure, treasure in heaven – treasure that will stand the test of time. The question is, are you and I pursuing what matters most?
Matthew 6:19-21 19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Especially in the area of our worship, do our pursuits and practices align with God’s plans and God’s priorities? Specifically, in our giving, our praying, and our fasting, are we seeking the Father’s approval and lasting reward, or are we seeking the world’s approval and fleeting applause?
Jesus assumes His disciples will pray. “When you pray,” He says. Like Jesus, His disciples will prioritize prayer. Like Jesus, they will pray.
In Matthew 6:5ff, Jesus focuses on how His disciples should pray.
1. Don’t pray like the hypocritical Pharisees who pray more for human applause than the Father’s approval, for when we pray to impress others, God is unimpressed by our prayers (Matthew 6:5-6).
2. Don’t pray like the manipulative pagans who think of prayer as a way to convince, coax, or sweet-talk God into giving us what we want, for when we pray to manipulate God, God is unmoved by our prayers (Matthew 6:7-8).
3. Do pray to your Father in Heaven. When we pray to our Father in heaven, we pray like Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6:9-15). That’s really what distinguishes the prayers of Jesus’ followers from the prayers of hypocrites and pagans. We pray to our loving, glorious, holy Father in heaven.
Prayer is not a means of getting human approval. It’s not a path to material prosperity. Prayer is our response to the Father’s love. Prayer is our expression of trust in the God who knows what we need before we even ask Him. Prayer is the aligning of our intellect, will, and emotions with the purpose and plan of God and the priorities of His Kingdom. The Lord’s Prayer is the cry of the heart that seeks God’s will, God’s glory, God’s kingdom above all else.
ESV Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this:
KJV Matthew 6:9 After this manner therefore pray ye:
NIV Matthew 6:9 "This, then, is how you should pray:
Jesus’ model prayer for His disciples consists of an invocation, 6 petitions, and a doxology.
In the opening invocation, Jesus teaches us how to approach God and He gives us a new way to address God. In the concluding doxology of praise, we end our prayers focusing not on ourselves and our needs but on God and His Kingdom, His power, His glory.
In the 6 petitions of our Lord’s model prayer, the first three focus on God’s preeminence and the second three focus on our personal needs. God’s glory first; our concerns second. This is the proper ordering of our priorities and our prayers. We must be careful not to reverse it. Those who lay up treasure in Heaven are those who keep God and His glory first and foremost in everything, including their prayers.
In our last post, we considered the Invocation and first three petitions.
THE INVOCATION: “Our Father in Heaven”
ESV Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven…”
Hypocrites pray for others to see them; pagans pray to manipulate uncaring and uninvolved gods and goddesses; we pray to our loving Father! In Aramaic - the everyday language spoken by Jesus, the word “Father” would have been Abba. This was the word used by Jewish children – both young and old – for their earthly Fathers. It conveys the sense of love, warmth, loyalty and protection between the ultimate Father and His children. By grace alone, because of Jesus alone, through faith alone, we who were orphans of sin have become adopted as sons and daughters – children of full inheritance who address God as Father.
Let us remember that there is a present and future component to these prayers for God’s glory and our good. While we pray for current kingdom realities, we also look forward to the Kingdom that will come at glorious Day of Christ’s appearing.
Let us also remember that these petitions and requests must reflect our heart’s cry, our deepest desires, our highest priorities. As such, not only will we pray for these things as Jesus taught us, we will also actively, practically participate in God’s purpose and plan to make these petitions a reality. This means we pray to God to work His will, and we participate in God’s plan to accomplish His will. In other words, don’t you dare pray for something if you aren’t willing to be used by the Father to help bring it to pass.
You’ve probably been involved in a community club or a church meeting where someone has a great idea they would like the group to accept and adopt. You know how it goes, “We really ought to do this” or “Someone should really do that.” I’ve learned a simple response: “Good idea! Go with it. Now get to work, you’re the first volunteer!”
So in each petition, we will consider the present, future, and practical side of what exactly it is that we are praying for.
The first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (see previous post) focus on God and the reputation of His name, the expansion of His Kingdom, and the accomplishment of His will.
1. “Hallowed be your name” (6:9). See Previous Post.
2. “Your kingdom come” (6:10). See Previous Post.
3. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (6:10). See Previous Post.
4. “Give us this day our daily bread” (6:11).
Now we turn from petitions centered on God to petitions centered in our own need. We begin be beseeching God for “our daily bread.” “Our” reminds us that we are not only praying for ourselves and our families but for other Christians as well.
Some have thought of this bread as a reference to the bread of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, but that’s reading our later, more complex understandings into a prayer that Jesus keeps simple. “Daily Bread” refers to our practical, daily needs, and His disciples would have surely understood it in this simple way. As we seek the glory of His name, as we proclaim His Kingdom, as we pursue His will, we are asking God to give us what we truly need.
Notice: it is today’s bread, today’s needs for which we pray. We’re not asking for bigger barns and storage lockers and bank vaults and 401(k)’s and pension plans to store up tomorrow’s bread. We’re simply praying for the basic needs of today – food, shelter, clothing – the simple necessities of life.
Proverbs 30:8 give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me,
1 Timothy 6:6-11 6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
“Daily Bread” represents not our 21st Century American wants and wishes (iPad, iPhone 6, Apple Watch…). The daily bread for which we pray is the necessities of daily life without which we would find it difficult to proclaim the Kingdom and pursue the Father’s will.
Matthew 6:24-34 24 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
b. Future (Forward Look)
The phrase could also be translated, “Bread for the Day.” This would give it the meaning, “Give us what we need to sustain us until the Day of the Lord.” Or it could mean, “Give us what we need to help us carry on even through the Great Day of Tribulation.” While the primary reference is to daily necessities, this idea of future, spiritual sustenance and perseverance through trial could also be in view.
We should not pray for daily bread if we are not willing to work for it.
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
We should not pray for others to receive their daily bread if we are not willing to share our bread with them.
1 John 3:17-18 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
5. “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (6:12).
Debts are moral debts or burdens that we bear. They come between us and our Father in heaven. Without Christ, we are dead in our sin, separated from God, with Hell to pay. But Christ paid the price for us, and we are made alive in Him, Hell cancelled, heaven guaranteed.
Colossians 2:13-14 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
However, for those who have been saved, there are still consequences for our sin. The worst consequence is a distance between us and our holy Heavenly Father. Our sin grieves God, though it does not separate us from Him.
Ephesians 4:30 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All of us sin every single day. So confession and the petition for forgiveness must be a regular component of our prayers.
b. Future (Forward Look)
On the Day of Judgment, those who refuse to forgive their debtors show that they themselves have not been forgiven their debts, for anyone who has been forgiven the infinite debt of sin by God will certainly forgive the much lesser debts owed to them. Jesus couldn’t be more clear:
Matthew 6:14-15 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Jesus makes it clear in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant that those who have been forgiven the infinite debt of sin are those who also forgive the much smaller debts owed them by others (see Matthew 18:21ff).
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Some describe this petition as a contract, but let’s be careful not to lean into a works based righteousness or a works conditioned salvation.
The point is simple: Forgiven people forgive people!
Ephesians 4:32 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Last August, while visiting Charleston, SC, our family stopped by the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where a gunmen killed 9 people during a prayer service on June 17, 2015. Outside the church, we saw a large handmade sign, right in front of the church, for all the well-wishers and media to see. It was a cross. On the vertical beam of the cross was painted the word “Forgiven.” On the horizontal beam of the cross was painted the word, “Forgive.”
Do you get it? The vertical beam of the cross says “Forgiven,” because God through Christ has forgiven us. The horizontal beam of the cross says “Forgive,” because we who have been forgiven by God must therefore forgive our fellow man. The surviving members of Emanuel A.M.E. church are an inspiring example of the way forgiven people forgive people.
Those who have been forgiven by God will extend that same forgiveness to others. Jesus’ model prayer makes it clear that we must not pray for God’s forgiveness if we are unwilling to extend that same forgiveness to others. He couldn’t be more clear: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
6. “And lead us not into temptation, but delivers us from evil” (6:13).
The word for “temptation” (peirasmos) more generally means “testing” or “trial.
James 1:2 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…
James 1:12 12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
We know from James 1:13 that God cannot be tempted, nor does He himself tempt anyone.
James 1:13-15 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
What, then, is Jesus teaching us to pray? The footnote in the ESV Study Bible is on the right track: “Allow us to be spared from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin.”
Trials and testing can prove our faith, help us grow stronger, persevere more faithfully, and mature more fully, but we should not seek them out nor should we pray for them. Instead, we pray that God will lead us not into testing, lest we fall into temptation and succumb to evil. However, the hour of testing and temptation will inevitably come.
1 Corinthians 10:12 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
When testing and temptation do come, we can rejoice in the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:13:
1 Corinthians 10:13 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
When temptation does come, we cry out to the Lord for deliverance from the Evil One – Satan Himself. He is a masquerades as an angel of light, when all the while he is actually a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Like the thief that raids the sheepfold, Satan comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.
Don’t forget that Satan is stronger than us. We don’t want to go up against him in our own strength. We must put on the armor of God and face Him in the strength of God! (See Ephesians 6:10-18.) So we pray, “Lead us not into testing/temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
b. Future (Forward Look)
Whether or not we believe Christians will go through the ultimate testing of Great Tribulation, we know from Matthew 24 that the tribulations and testings will get more & more intense as the Day draws near. More and more will fall away from the faith, revealing themselves to be among the non-elect. We must pray that God will sustain us and help us persevere through even the most severe seasons of testing yet to come.
Let us not pray to be led in paths of righteousness, then purposefully “walk into evil” or purposely put ourselves in harm’s way. If you’re praying for deliverance from alcohol, don’t spend time with people who drink.
If you’re praying for deliverance from sexual temptation, don’t dabble in the sources of that temptation. In Proverbs 5, the adulterous woman is a picture of folly in general. We are warned, “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8).
If you’re praying for victory over greed, don’t hang out with people who do nothing but brag about their wealth. If you’re praying for victory over gossip, try to avoid people who gossip. You get the point, right?
Don’t pray for victory then walk right into defeat!
We do this so often, especially with regard to the movies we watch and the websites we surf. For men and women in our sex saturated culture, it can be a constant battle to keep lustful thoughts in check when we are constantly bombarded by images and media whose sole intent is to arouse sexual fantasies that derail Kingdom priorities.
Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Romans 16:19 I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.
“Yours is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever. Amen.”
If you’re wondering why these words are a footnote in your Bible, I’d be happy to discuss it with you personally. You can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Regardless, this doxology of praise is a fitting conclusion to the model prayer Jesus taught His disciples. These words are biblically and theologically sound and appear to have their basis in 1 Chronicles 29:11-13:
1 Chronicles 29:11-13 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
Notice again the order of Our Lord’s Model Prayer for all who seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness: We begin by praying for His name, His kingdom, His will, then we pray for our bread, our forgiveness, our deliverance. We begin by addressing our Father in Heaven, and we conclude by praising Him for His Kingly reign, His omnipotent power, and His infinite glory!
This is not “a prayer for the complacent person satisfied with the treasures of this age. This is a prayer for the desperate, who recognize that this world is not as it should be and that only God can set things straight…The earnest brevity and simplicity of this prayer fits not the cry of the complacent and the self-satisfied, but that of the humble, the lowly, the broken, the desperate. This is the prayer of those who have nowhere to turn but to God.”
Does that describe you? Desperate, broken, nowhere to turn? If so, than this is the prayer for you. I know it’s the prayer for me.
Will you join me in praying?
As King Jehoshaphat prayed when facing overwhelming odds, so we pray to you, O Lord: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you."
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power,
 Keener, Craig. Matthew. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 142.