The Disciples’ Prayer – 01 (Jesus’ Warning and The Preface)
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We all know these words. Many, if not all of us, knew and still know these words off by heart. The more elderly amongst us, learnt this prayer in grade 1 at school and we recited it every morning before lessons began. The question is however, did we really say this prayer from our hearts or did we just recite it from memory? Did we know and understand what we were praying – did we know exactly what each sentence meant? Do we know and understand it now?
J.C. Ryall in his book “A Call to Prayer” asked his readers the question, “Do you pray?” and then he says, “Prayer is absolutely needful to a man’s salvation.” He carries on by saying, “To be prayer-less is to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without heaven. It is to be on the road to hell. Now, no wonder that I ask the question, do you pray?”
Warren Wiersbe says in his book, “On Earth as it is in Heaven,” “to neglect prayer is to cheapen everything Jesus accomplished for us at Calvary and is doing for us now in glory.”
We see throughout the Gospels, that prayer was the Lord’s habit and custom – the “secret source” of His strength.
Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in Matt.6 taught His disciples how to pray, because He knew how important prayer was and still is for true discipleship. One day one of Jesus’ disciples saw Him praying and most probably still under the impression of Jesus’ teaching in Matt.6, asked Jesus in Luke 11:1 ~ “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” This then became the “Lord’s Prayer.”
The “Lord’s prayer” as recorded in Matt.6 is at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount and is preceded by two warnings from our Saviour: don’t use your prayers to show off how religious you are, and don’t just “babble” a lot of meaningless words. Get to the point! It’s the strength of our faith and not the length of our prayers that pleases Him.
Please note; As many theologians, I also believe that it is better to call this prayer, “The Disciples’ Prayer,” because it was a “pattern prayer” that the Lord gave to His disciples to pray.
As the only “pattern prayer” the Lord Jesus provided for us, we should realise that this prayer is not only timeless in purpose and function, but it also indicates to us how we should pray throughout our life. The “Lord’s prayer” or the “Disciples’ Prayer” must be the basis of all our prayers.
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Matt.6:5-15 ~ “5And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day 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 evil. 14For 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.”
3. JESUS’ WARNING (vss.5-8):
A disciple of Jesus asked Him to teach them how to pray, the reason for this was because they saw Jesus pray on a regular basis. Jesus would separate Himself from others for long periods, and when He did so, He usually spent much of the time in intense seasons of prayer. We know the intensity of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed with such intense stress and fervency that His sweat turned to great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). We know that before He selected His disciples and called them to follow Him, He spent the entire night alone in prayer. The disciples could not help, but notice this commitment to prayer.
When we look at Luke’s version of this request and Jesus’ answer in Luke 11:1, the disciple also refers to John the Baptist’s prayer life ~ “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1). It is clear that not only did Jesus’ prayer life appeal to them, but so did John the Baptist’s prayer life. The disciples wanted to be part of this devotion.
What Jesus taught them in response to their request, was not a model prayer to be prayed as ritual (or “mantra”), but He gave and taught them some principles for focussed, devoted and effective prayer. What is interesting to note, is the fact that Jesus’ reaction on the disciple’s request was not to tell them how to pray, but first and foremost how not to pray ~ “…when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.”
Jesus speaks of two wrong types of prayer:
∞ Ostentatious prayer (vss.5-6): The first wrong type of prayer is an ostentatious prayer. This is a prayer uttered in the most visible of places, with the end goal of being heard and seen by other people. We have an example of this in Christ’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee, “stood up and prayed about himself” (Luke 18:11). He had his reward; he was noticed by the people standing by. They must have said, “look at that Pharisee! How pious he is!” Yet Jesus said that it was the tax collector who was justified. He did not call attention to himself but rather “stood at a distance,” praying, “God have mercy on me, a sinner” (vs.13). He had his reward in heaven.
∞ Repetitious prayer (vss.7-8): The second wrong type of prayer is a repetitious prayer. Jesus identified this type of prayer as a characteristic of Gentiles or pagans. The prayers of the priest of Baal in the days of Elijah is a good example. They called on Baal “from morning till noon,” calling louder and louder and even “slashed themselves with swords and spears” (1 Kings 18:25-29). But Baal did not hear them.
Jesus does not condemn long prayers in these verses. He Himself spent long nights and many hours in prayer. What He is condemning is “vain repetition” and insincerity or “for appearance sake,” to impress others with religiosity.
William Barclay, in the most helpful discussion of this passage in the gospel of Matthew, point out that over the years a number of faults had crept into Jewish prayer life. For one thing, prayer had become ritualised. The wording and forms of prayers have been set, and is then simply read or repeated from memory. Such prayers could and can be recited with almost no attention being paid to what was or is being said. This is a routine religious exercise that means absolutely nothing.
A faithful Jew would repeat the “Shema” (the most important prescribed prayer in Judaism) early in the morning and again at night. The prayer begins with, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord,” it is a composite of selected phrases from Deut.6:4-9, 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. Often an abbreviated version from Deut.6:4 was or is used.
Another formalised prayer Barclay refers to is the “Shemoneh Esrei,” (also called “The Eighteen” – the most important prayer of the synagogue), which embodies eighteen prayers for various occasions. Faithful Jews pray all eighteen each morning, afternoon, and evening. It, too, has an abbreviated version.
Ritual prayers can be given with three basic attitudes: sincerity, indifference, or pride. The Jews whose hearts were in the right place, used the time of prayer to worship and glorify God. They thought about the words and sincerely believed what they prayed. Others went through the words superficially, mumbling the syllabus as fast as possible in order to finish. Others, such as the Scribes and Pharisees, recited the prayers meticulously, making sure to pronounce every word and syllable properly. Three times a day they had a ready-made opportunity to parade their ostentatious prayer.
Another problem with the Jews’ prayer life was the practice of limiting prayer to specific times and occasions. Prayer was offered when the given time came or the given situation arose, with no relation to genuine desire or need. As with the prescribed wording, prescribed times did not prevent true prayer from being offered. Many faithful Jews like Daniel (Dan.6:10) used those times as reminders to open their hearts to the Lord. We see in Acts 3:1 (also 10:3, 30) that even in the early church, because most Christians were Jews and worshiped at the temple and or in synagogues, the traditional hours of prayer were often observed ~ “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.”
We read in vs.6 ~ “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Here Jesus said that we must be willing to take time to pray. Three points to take note of in this statement:
∞ Firstly, the willingness to take time to pray. When you pray, there has to be the will to pray and you must take time to be alone to pray. Jesus and the apostles lead by example ~ “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray” (Acts 10:9); “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he (i.e. Jesus) departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark.1:35); “In these days He (i.e. Jesus) went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
∞ Secondly, a “closet” is a necessity. We as believers must have a private place deliberately chosen for prayer. Jesus and the apostles isolated themselves from others when they prayed.
∞ Thirdly, a personal relationship with God is absolutely essential. God is our Father; He is available as fathers are available to their children. We are to go to Him in prayer, sharing and communing with Him.
What does all of this then mean for us the Church? Can or should we not pray together? In order to answer this, we must look at the Greek text. In verses 5 and 7, the Greek pronoun translates “you” as plural. But in vs.6, in order to emphasise the private communion with God, “you” switches to singular. There is therefore, a place for private prayer, in fact as we’ve already seen it is a necessity, but there is also a place for corporate prayer. When we look at the book of Acts we see that the early Church regularly met for corporate prayer ~ “When he realised this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12 – also see 2:42; 13:3; 14:23; 20:36).
Let us now look at the prayer itself.
4. THE PREFACE (vs.9a):
The preface to the “Disciples’ Prayer” is to be found in vss.9. In vs.9a we read ~ “Our Father…”
∞ Our Father (vs.9a): Jesus did not teach us to pray, “My Father in heaven,” but “Our Father in heaven.” This is yet more proof that we as believers must also pray corporately. The expression “Our Father,” furthermore refers to the fact that this prayer is to be offered by believers only. “Father” connotes membership in the family of God, reverential trust, fatherly watch-care of God, and a certain obligation to grant requests – but only requests that are good for His children.
We as believers then address the… ~ “…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph.4:6). When we read these words, it might sound as if Paul implies that God is everyone’s Father. But this is not the case. It is true that God has a kind of Fatherhood of all, in that He created everything and gives life and breath to all things (Acts 17:24-29; Hebr.12:9; James 1:17). But the Bible does not generally use the term “Father” of God as Creator, but instead keeps it especially for those who have become His spiritual children through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Rather than being the Father of all, He is the Father of His own people, by an act of redemption.
The fact that we may call Him “Father” has in-depth and incredible meaning. The Puritan, Thomas Watson in his treatise on Matt.6, asked the question, “Wherein lies the happiness of having God for our Father?” – he says, and I will only give a short summary of some of these points… Thomas then mentions it in no less than 20 points… As I now read them to you, please keep the words of the “Disciples’ Prayer” in mind:
“If God be our Father…”.
o “If God be our Father, He will teach us.”
o “If God be our Father, He has bowels of affection towards us.”
o “If God be our Father, He will be full of sympathy.”
“If God be our Father, He will take notice of the least good He sees in us; if there be but a sigh for sin, He hears it ~ “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.” (Ps.38:9). If but a penitential tear comes from the eye He sees it ~ “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Is.63:9).”
o “If God be our Father, He will take all we do in good part.”
o “If God be our Father, He will correct us in measure (Jer.30:11 ~ “I will discipline you in just measure,”). This He will do in two ways. It shall be in measure, for the kind.”
o “If God be our Father, He will intermix mercy with all our afflictions.”
o “If God be our Father, the evil one shall not prevail against us.”
o “If God be our Father, who real evil, shall befall us.”
o “If God be our Father, we may go with cheerfulness to the throne of grace.”
o “If God be our Father, He will stand between us and danger.”
o “If God be our Father, we shall not want anything that He sees to be good for us.”
o “If God be our Father, All the promises of the Bible belong to us.”
o “If God be our Father, God makes all His children conquerors.”
o “If God be our Father, He will now and then send us some token of His love.”
o “If God be our Father, He will indulge and spare us.”
o “If God be our Father, He will put honour and renown upon us at the last day.”
o “If God be our Father, He will settle a good inheritance upon us.”
o “If God be our Father, it is a comfort in case of the loss of relations.”
o “If God be our Father, He will not disinherit us.”
God the Father is indeed our Father. Children rely on their parents for the supply of their wants and needs. Let us believe that He will provide for all our needs – spiritually, physically and materially – let us depend on Him in all our needs. If Jesus’s words in Luke 12:24 are true, then surely our Father in heaven will also be a provider, sustainer and protector for all who loves Him ~ “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” Vs.27 ~ “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” We must just remember that this provision will and must be according to His will – no “name it and claim it” – that is not Biblical.
∞ In heaven (vs.9a): We find the second part of the preface to the “Disciples’ Prayer” in vs.9b ~ “…in heaven.” We must note that the word heaven in the Greek text is written in the plural, “heavens.” The expression, “In the heavens” does not refer to a specific location, for God is infinite and omnipresent. He fills heaven and earth and infinitely exceeds them. God is said to be in heaven, not only because He is so involved there, that He is nowhere else, but because 1 Kings 8:27 says ~ “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” The meaning of this is that He is chiefly resident in what the apostle calls ‘the third heaven,’ where He reveals His glory most to saints and angels (2 Cor.12:2). We read in Ps.139:7-10 the following ~ “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
Jesus speaks no less than fourteen times of God as “Father in heaven,” e.g. Matt.5:16 ~ “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven;” Mark 11:25 ~ “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (also see: Matt.5:45; 6:1,9; 7:11; 10:32,33; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10,14,19; Luke 11:13). Whilst God is everywhere, in a sense heaven is His dwelling place (Gen.24:7; Acts 7:49) where His glory is perfectly seen and acknowledged.
Furthermore, heaven is the unique vantage point from which everything on earth is seen ~ “The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.” (Ps.33:13-15). It is from heaven our Father speaks ~ “…and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matt.3:17). It is from heaven that He sends His help (Ps.57:3) and Heaven is the place from where His blessings come (Mal.3:10).
5. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
Beloved what are the implications of this morning’s teaching?
I started by teaching us what we should NOT do. We should be careful of ostentatious prayer – meaning that we want to focus attention on ourselves. John prayed in John 3 ~ “He must increase, but I must decrease” (vs.30).
The second thing we are warned about is vain repetition – let us be vigilant and pray with the right attitude – not with indifference or pride, but in deep sincerity.
This is what we should not do. What do we have to do?
o A personal relationship.
When we pray according to the “Disciples’ Prayer” (note that I didn’t say, “When we pray the “Disciples’ Prayer”…”, I said, “When we pray according to…”). When we pray according to the “Disciples’ Prayer,” we must remember that “Father” is the key word. Start praying and addressing your prayer towards the Father – your Father, that you know – praising Him for who and what He is. Thanking Him for being part of His family. Thanking Him for graciously saving you – praising Him for everything that follows your salvation and waiting for you – here and now and in future.
A word of caution. We must be very careful not to be guilty of the third commandment ~ “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Ex.20:7).
Judaism so feared misusing the name of God that the Jews permitted only the high priest to speak the name, and only on the Day of atonement. As Jesus does with the other commandments, He heightens the third commandment by deepening the reverence to be shown toward God’s Name. The idle repetition of the Lord’s Names (e.g. God, Father, Lord, Jesus, etc.) in worship (both singing and praying) is also a clear violation of the third commandment, although in most cases (I believe) not intentionally. This is a violation, when we use these names as a cliché which are used either thoughtlessly, or as a full stop or fill gap at the end of almost every sentence.
Learn more about His character from His names and pray about those characteristics in your adoration and praise [Note: An excellent book to study the character (attributes) of God, is “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer. Every Christian should have this book (also available in Afrikaans)].
What I am the most excited about teaching you is to use this “model- or template prayer” as a guideline HOW to pray. Take for instance the 20 points I mentioned.
When I pray “Our Father,” I must remind myself of everything a father is and more over who and what God is like, and pray that (keep the “model prayer” in mind in other words, when praying, but pray “around” the words in the “Disciples Prayer”).
Use these guidelines and rethink it throughout your day. Ask the Holy Spirit according to Joh.14:26 to remind you and help you to remember ~ “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Heb.10:16 has a wonderful promise ~ “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds.” And then Joh.7:38 will “kick in” ~ “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
May God our Father be glorified!