One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on 28th July 2019 at Manningtree Methodist Church, Essex. Scroll to the bottom for an audio recording.
How’s your prayer life? Do you find praying easy? Or maybe like me you know that praying is something that you should do, that you try your utmost to do, but actually find really difficult.
I don’t stand here today as someone who finds prayer easy. Probably like some of you, I find prayer really difficult. I’m fine with reading the Bible; I enjoy getting to grips with scripture. But you know what, I find prayer really hard. Committing to do it regularly is hard enough. Knowing what to say, and how to say it is another thing. I really struggle.
It’s encouraging to find the disciples in a similar position to the one in which I find myself. At the beginning of this passage, Jesus is praying, and his disciples ask him to teach them to pray. No doubt they had witnessed Jesus praying on many occasions and wanted to be able to follow his example. Perhaps they’d seen how prayer at the end of a long, busy, stressful day reinvigorated Jesus and wanted the same for themselves.
So what does Jesus teach them?
Today I plan to focus just on verses 2 to 5, which is what we know as the Lord’s Prayer – a slightly abridged version compared to the one that we usually recite, but the Lord’s Prayer nevertheless. I’d like to look at three points when considering this prayer:
One – to whom do we pray?
Two – we pray for God’s glory.
Three – we pray that God will meet our needs.
So to our first point – to whom do we pray?
Jesus tells his disciples to pray to God as Father.
This is something that we often take for granted, and indeed, we may often begin our own prayers with ‘Father’.
But just think about that for a minute. This is truly astonishing. Jesus tells us to address God as our father. The word he uses is Abba, which is how a small child might address their father, closer to daddy than any other name.
We have an almighty God, who created the earth and the heavens, king of kings and lord of lords, and yet we have the privilege of calling him father.
What a privilege that is.
One of Jesus’ disciples, John, who no doubt was present when Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, later wrote, “see what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” That’s John’s first letter, chapter three, verse one.
That, of course, is the same relationship that Jesus has with God – they are father and child. And we too are children of God.
With this in mind, there should of course be implications for how we pray.
When we pray, we should do so as a child speaks to their father. We shouldn’t be concerned about using the right language, or saying the right words. We should simply share what is on our minds, tell him what we are thinking about, tell him what is on our hearts.
Perhaps sometimes, maybe in group situations, we feel nervous about praying out loud, because everyone else just seems so eloquent. Well eloquence counts for naught.
If you have the gift of eloquence, good for you, but that is not what God wants. God wants to know what is on your heart.
My son, Daniel, is starting primary school in September. This year he has been attending a brilliant pre-school in our village. The pre-school uses a great little phone app called Tapestry. Each day they put a couple of photos of Daniel onto the app with some explanation of what Daniel has done on that particular day. Each evening when I get home from work, I ask Daniel, what did you do today? His stock answer is, “look on Tapestry.” Of course, I had already looked on the app. I already knew what Daniel had done that day, but as his Father, I wanted him to tell me himself, to tell me what he had done, what he had learnt, how it had made him feel.
The same is true for God. God is omniscient. He knows what we’ve done, he knows what is on our hearts, but as a loving Father, he wants us to approach him and talk to him in our own language, as his children, and to make conversation with him.
William Mason, the poet, clergyman and divine, once wrote, “prayers move God, not as an orator moves his hearers, but as the cry of a beloved child moves an affectionate father.”
I can tell you, I don’t think I find anything more gut wrenching than hearing the cry of one or other of my children. If Mason is right, and I see no reason why he wouldn’t be, then every time we pray to God, he is profoundly moved. What a truly remarkable thought.
So it is that Jesus tells us to call God Father when we pray.
So our second point – we pray for God’s glory.
Father, Jesus tells us to pray, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come.
There are, of course, two versions of the Lord’s Prayer commonly in use in this country, the traditional version, which is heavy on thous and thines, and the modern version, which uses yous, and updates trespasses for sins. What I find a little strange about the modern version is how it updates, “hallowed be thy name,” to “hallowed be Your name.”
Maybe it’s just me, but it strikes me that the difficult word in the traditional version of this prayer is not “thy” but hallowed.
What on earth does this mean?
I wonder how many people recite this prayer on a regular basis, but simply have no idea what the word hallowed actually means? It means to be set apart as sacred, consecrated or holy.
So when we pray, “hallowed be your name,” we are affirming that God’s name is holy.
When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, he says to God, “suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” In reply God said, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.”
This name is regarded as so holy that it is not generally used. Indeed, throughout the English Old Testament, the name is shown as the word Lord all in capitals. The literal name of God is holy.
But it goes far beyond that. In Biblical terms, as elsewhere, the word name is often used to refer to a person’s reputation. That’s what Jesus is getting at here; it’s not just God’s name that is holy. God is holy. God therefore is to be set apart as sacred, consecrated or holy, because that’s exactly what he is. And we almost create a loop at this point because, since God is sacred, consecrated or holy, it makes sense that his name should be too.
So when we pray hallowed be your name, we’re not just affirming that God’s name is holy, we’re affirming that God himself is holy. But we’re not just making an affirmation. We’re praying that we would hallow God’s name, that we would treat him with the reverence that he deserves. He may be our father, we may be encouraged to approach him as a child approaches their father, but we must also be aware that we must hallow God and his name. We must be respectful of him. We must speak with reverence of him to each other and to our friends, and ensure that we respect his holiness.
We also pray that God is regarded as holy in the wider world. We’re told that there will come a time when at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. That’s Philippians 2:10. But at present we live at a time when God’s name is ridiculed every day. People take his name in vain. People mock him. People refer to him as “the man upstairs.” Or, the one that really gets my goat, people call him “the sky fairy.” Could there me a more derogatory name, a less-hallowed name, than the sky fairy?
Of course, why would people who deny the existence of God hallow his name? Well this feeds into the next statement in the Lord’s Prayer, your kingdom come.
When we pray this, we’re asking for God’s rule to spread across the globe. We’re praying that people will come to know him, to trust him and to accept Jesus as the lord of their lives. We’re praying that people would come to hallow God’s name.
Ultimately God’s kingdom will come when Jesus returns to rule over the earth, to make it new again, to launch a time when there will be no sickness or death.
But throughout the gospels, Jesus makes it clear that God’s kingdom is already here, and we have a part to play in building it. It is up to us to live lives that honour and glorify Christ, and that point others towards him. It is up to us not just to sit in church on a Sunday and listen to the gospel, but to take that gospel message out into our communities, to tell our friends and neighbours that there is a God who loves them.
So when we pray to God your kingdom come, we’re praying not just the Jesus will return, but that God’s kingdom will increase and grow in the here and now, in our own towns, around the country, and across the globe.
And as is often the case, we may well be the answer to our own prayer. We have a significant role to play in furthering that kingdom.
On to our third point – we pray that God will meet our needs.
In verses three and four of this short passage, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for three areas of their personal need. He tells them to pray that God will give them each day their daily bread, that he will forgive their sins, and that he will not lead them into temptation. Since these are the three specific areas of our lives that Jesus tells us to pray, they must all be important.
Firstly, then, give us each day our daily bread.
Our prayer here is that we trust completely in God to supply us with all that we need to survive. It can be difficult for us to grasp this as a concept. Most people are paid monthly, some weekly. When we need food we visit our local supermarket. In the UK we have such an advanced distribution system that if there is ever a shortage of one particular foodstuff, it can generally be sourced fairly quickly from elsewhere.
The disciples, though, would have been used to living hand to mouth. Many were fishermen, and if they had a day with no catch, they would have found life difficult. If a week went by with few fish being caught, life would have been extremely difficult.
Jesus told his disciples though, and through them, us, to trust that God will meet our needs day to day. We should place our trust in him to provide us with all that we need to live.
Of course, by asking God each day to meet our days on that particular day, we are able to develop a stronger relationship with God our Heavenly Father. That process of coming before him each day, asking that he will meet our needs on that particular day, means that every day we will find ourselves in conversation with him. By doing so, God also meets our spiritual needs.
Building a relationship with God should be something that we do day by day. Jesus tells us to ask God to provide our daily bread each day. There’s no spiritual equivalent of a deep freeze in which we can stash a week, a month or even a year’s supply of bread. It’s not possible to stockpile in our relationship with God.
I used to have a really close relationship with my Gran. I wouldn’t say that I saw her every day, but I did see her very often. I also had a great aunt, who I’m sure was just as lovely as my gran. We used to visit her once or twice a year. I didn’t really look forward to these visits; I didn’t really know my great aunt, and struggled to make conversation with her.
If our relationship with God is like my relationship with my great aunt, then prayer will be difficult. We won’t really know him and will struggle to speak to him.
If our relationship with God is more like the relationship I had with my gran, though, it prayer be significantly easier, because we have worked to build a relationship in which we know each other.
That easier relationship comes through spending time with each other though.
That’s why Jesus encourages us to meet with God day by day to ask him to meet our needs each day.
The second need that Jesus encourages us to pray for is our need for forgiveness. He tells us to pray, “forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
We must place our trust in God to meet not just our physical needs, but also our spiritual needs.
We are all sinners. We are all lost. Each and every day we do things that dishonour God, that displease him, that damage our relationship with him. Left to our own devices we are totally lost in sinfulness. There is nothing that we can do for ourselves to change this situation. Many think that provided they live a good life, they will be rewarded by a place in heaven. Many believe themselves to be fundamentally good people, and ask how God could possibly choose to punish them.
But of course, these people have a distorted view of the Christian gospel. We can’t earn our salvation by doing good deeds. We can’t earn our salvation by going to church, whether that’s just at Christmas and Easter, or every single Sunday.
There is only one way of being sure of our salvation, and that is by placing our trust in Jesus Christ, acknowledging that he died for our sins and rose to eternal life.
Jesus shows us through this prayer that it is good to acknowledge our sinfulness, and to place ourselves before God each day and ask for his forgiveness.
In our reading from the Old Testament, Psalm 32, we saw what happened to David when he failed to acknowledge his sins. He says that when he kept silent about his sin, his bones wasted away, his strength was sapped. But when he acknowledged his sin to God, when he didn’t attempt to hide his wrongdoing, he felt his burden lifted.
I wonder if there’s sin in your life which you have tried to keep hidden? I wonder if there’s some wrongdoing which you have failed to bring before the Lord? Do you feel that burden resting heavy on your soul, sapping your strength?
Take it to the Lord. Do not hide from him. Be open about your sin and ask him for forgiveness. You will no doubt feel your burden lifted, just as David felt his lifted.
There’s a second element to this section of the prayer, though. Jesus tells us to pray, “forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
In order to understand God’s forgiveness, we have to also forgive those who have wronged us.
It sounds so easy when we blithely recite the Lord’s Prayer. But for many, this is far from easy. I’m sure that most of us have felt incredibly wronged at one point or other in our lives. Maybe we’ve been the victims of crime, or impacted by criminal activity. Maybe we feel as if we’ve been deeply betrayed by those whom we loved, who we felt close to.
It can be incredibly hard to forgive in circumstances when we have felt deeply wronged.
But we are to forgive people who have wronged us, no matter how hard it is.
If we fail to forgive, resentment can fester inside us, resentment that fails to honour God, and can place a burden between us and him.
Forgiveness doesn’t come easy to us. But neither does it come easy to God.
God has watched generation upon generation of people turn their backs on him, reject him, and disobey him. He could have allowed resentment to build up within himself, turning his back on us. But he didn’t. Throughout history he has desperately wanted humanity to turn back to him. In order to make this possible, he sent his son, Jesus, to take our punishment and die in our place. He watched as his one beloved son was nailed to the cross, subjected to extreme torture, and a painful death, precisely to ensure that we might be forgiven.
Our forgiveness came at great cost. Maybe our forgiveness of others comes at a great cost to us too. But we are called to forgive.
Perhaps doing so gives us a better understanding of our forgiveness by God.
I am certain that by forgiving others, we also act as conduits for God’s love. By forgiving we are playing a part in bringing about God’s kingdom.
If there’s someone you have been struggling to forgive, why not endeavour to forgive them in the week ahead, maybe to have a conversation with them.
Don’t allow resentment to fester in your soul, but forgive, just as God has forgiven us.
What about that final petition? Lead us not into temptation.
When we pray this we’re asking for God to keep us on the straight and narrow, to keep us on the path that he has ordained for our lives. Temptation will inevitably come. It is all around us. Indeed, even Jesus himself was tempted in the desert. But we pray that God will strengthen us so that we will follow Jesus’ example, and not succumb to temptation. We are dependent on him to guide us through our lives, to keep us from straying, and we pray that he will equip us to lead the life that will bring maximum glory to his name, that will bring his kingdom about right here, and right now.
Jesus gives us a powerful example of how to pray in these few verses. We should pray to God as our father, speaking to him as a child speaks to their dad. Our first priority should be to proclaim God’s holiness, and to pray that his rule will impact the world. And we should make ourselves dependent on him, trusting in him to meet our daily needs, to meet our spiritual needs, and to support us as we strive to live the life he has marked out for us.
Why not try in the days and weeks ahead to work on your prayer life, to see prayer not as a religious duty but as an essential part of a loving relationship?