Friday, September 05, 2003

Jesus on Prayer 9

To finish out this series, let's look at the entire text again:

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. So pray this way: 

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. 

For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins. (Matthew 6:5-15, The Net Bible)

Jesus' commentary about prayer is more that twice as long as His model prayer. The prayer, itself, is a marvel of simplicity and wisdom. It tells who we are praying to and what we should pray for. I believe that it also ranks what we pray about in priority order. This is significant, because we can focus on our Father and His kingdom and ask for daily provision before asking forgiveness! In this way, Jesus communicates the Father's abundant mercy and grace. As Jesus has already said in this same sermon, "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:44-45)

The application of this text, as with many others, must be personal and by the direction of the Holy Spirit. Typically we have no insight into the hearts and motivations of others. Suppose you come across someone loudly praying on a street corner. Do Jesus' words above apply? You cannot tell. Jesus, for example, prayed in public. (John 11: 41, 42) Daniel was in a situation where it would have been wrong to pray in secret (Daniel 6:10). The one who retires into a secret place each day to pray may still have a hypocritical heart--he prays in secret and somehow lets everyone know he prays in secret.

So you need to read this passage concept by concept and bring your heart next to it.

  • Are your prayers mostly about you and your circumstances? Consider interceding for others.
  • How in tune are you to what the Father might be doing around you and the part you might play? Jesus said that He only did what He saw the Father doing. Prayer and connection with the Father is the key to our doing the same.
  • Does "forgive ... as we have forgiven" give you dread or is it full of promise, because your heart bears ill will to none? If you are not comfortable, do the hard work of letting go of your anger.
  • Do you plead for your family, church, community, country, and enemies? Remember that the model prayer is in first person plural.

It is the nature of Jesus' teaching that the bar he raises is higher than our grasp. But in the reaching, we reach higher all the time. 

Some people have memorized this prayer and they use it as a guide in their private prayers. That is a good thing and a practice that I would recommend.

May the Father bless you and visit you in your times of prayer.

Monday: I return to the book of Job

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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