The Disciple’s Prayer
One of the my favourite stories in the Bible is also one of the best illustrations on the nature of prayer. It’s the story of Elijah facing off with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, found in 1 Kings 18.
Most of you know the story: the two teams agree to build two altars and call on their respective gods. And the one who sends fire from heaven onto the altar is the real God.
And we know how the story unfolds. The prophets of Baal “called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:26–29).
These guys prayed all day, from morning, through lunch, to “the offering of the oblation” in the evening. They called and cried aloud and raved on and even cut themselves to try and get his attention.
But it didn’t work, because nobody was listening.
And then, if you’re familiar with the story, you know what happened afterwards. Elijah walked up to his altar, prayed a prayer that takes about 25 seconds to say. And fire fell from heaven and burnt up not just the offering but the whole altar itself.
What was the difference between Elijah and the prophets of Baal? It wasn’t how long they prayed. It wasn’t how passionately they prayed. The Baal-ites had Elijah beat in those categories.
The difference was that Elijah’s God was real, and their’s wasn’t. The difference was that Elijah’s God was listening, and their’s wasn’t.
This story is a perfect introduction to our passage today, which is yet another significant section of Matthew which many of us are deeply familiar with, one we often call “the Lord’s Prayer.”
And yet, I’m going to suggest we refer to this prayer by a better name: “The Disciple’s Prayer.” I’m not the first to make this suggestion, and it follows from the fact that this prayer is not necessarily how Jesus Himself prayed. Instead, this prayer is given to us by Jesus as a model or a template for how were are to pray. This is the disciple’s prayer. This is how disciples of Jesus pray.
There’s so much in this prayer that is rich and deep and worthy of our study. I wish I had scheduled five or six weeks to preach through this prayer, phrase by phrase. I hope to do a bit of that at our prayer services in the coming months, but today I think we’ll get enough out of this passage to benefit and grow.
Babbling On and On
Before we dig into the prayer its important to take note of the context. In verses 5 and 6 Jesus told us not to be like the hypocrites who prayed out on the street corners as a performance.
In verse 7, Jesus introduces us to another way that we should not pray. And here, Jesus is not so much contrasting His disciples with the scribes and Pharisees as much as the pagan nations surrounding them. Let’s listen in:
“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” (Matthew 6:7).
“Heap up empty phrases” comes from a word that could also be translated babble. It’s talking about rambling on and on and quite possibly not making much sense as you do so.
That’s how the pagan nations prayed to their gods. Huge, long titles. Lots of words. Lots of repetition. Why? They thought “that they [would] be heard for their many words.”
This is an idea present in so many other religions. Just like the prophets of Baal, they believe that their god is distant and disinterested and if you’re going to talk to him or her, you’ve got to work really hard to get their attention.
And so Jesus says to us “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
When we pray we are not trying to get the attention of some distant deity who ignores us until we really put on a show. No, when we pray we are talking to our Father who sees us in secret and already knows what we need before we ask Him.
We often hear that phrase and jump to the question, “then why pray anyways?” But just soak this in: you have a Father who is paying attention to you. He knows what you need before you know that you need it.
It’s like when run out of something around the house and ask Aimee to pick some up the next time she’s shopping, and she says, “I already got some more; its in the pantry.” She was paying attention and knew my needs before I did.
God is paying attention to His children and He knows what we need. So when we pray we don’t need to babble on to get Him to notice us. We don’t need to spend at least an hour in preparatory prayer before our prayers start being effective, like one Christian book on prayer I’ve read suggested. God is paying attention to us and so we just need to talk to Him.
And while there are times when Jesus spent long hours in prayer, and there’s nothing wrong with you doing that, we should notice that Jesus is basically encouraging us not to pray longer than we need to. And the prayer that he gave us to follow is not all that long.
“Pray Then Like This.”
So let’s consider how Jesus taught us to pray. Notice His words in verse 9: “Pray then like this.” In other words, pray in this way.
This prayer is not necessarily meant to be repeated, verbatim, every single time we pray it. There’s certainly nothing wrong with repeating it exactly as Jesus said it, and it may be helpful for us to to do that, but Jesus’ words here show that this was meant to be a model, a template. In other words, we should pray like this for these kinds of things.
“Our Father in Heaven”
So notice the opening address of this model prayer: “Our Father in heaven.” This opening phrase is so important because it perfectly balances our approach to God as we come to pray.
When we pray we need to remember that God is both close to us and exalted high above us. He is our Father, but He is also the one before whom the angels cry “Holy, holy, holy!” If we were to see Him with our eyes we would drop dead.
And this balance is captured perfectly in this simple phrase: “Our Father in heaven.”
Note also the word “our.” Right here is a reminder that God is our Father. We approach Him together with every one of His children. The next time you go to pray when you’re angry or annoyed or frustrated with another believer in Jesus, remember the significance of “our Father.” Yours and theirs.
“Hallowed Be Your Name”
As we move on, I want to ask you a question that I remember R.C. Sproul asking in a message years ago that totally transformed my understanding of this prayer: what is the first request in the Lord’s prayer? What’s the first thing we actually ask God for?
The answer is not “give us this day our daily bread.” The answer is, “Hallowed be your name.” The very first request we make is that God’s name would be hallowed.
“Hallowed” is a word we don’t use often today. But the word essentially means “holy.” And so the request, “hallowed by your name” means “may your name be made or kept holy.”
That’s why the CSB translation renders this phrase, “Your name be honored as holy.”
God’s “name” points to His reputation, the way that He is known by others. We still talk this way when we say that someone has “made a name for themselves.” And so when we pray for God’s name to be hallowed, we are praying that God would be known, and that God would be known as holy.
This request has a background. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. Jesus here is telling us to pray for what God promised in Ezekiel 36.
We’ve mentioned Ezekiel 36 a number of times in this series. It’s one of the major places in the Old Testament where God speaks about the New Covenant. It’s the passage where He promised to give them a new heart and his Holy Spirit to help them walk in His ways. It’s been a passage lurking in the background through so much of the sermon on the mount.
And it’s a passage that opens up with God speaking about the history of His people, and how He sent them into exile for their repeated sin against him. Ezekiel 36:18-19: “So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them.”
But the passage goes on to tell us what the whole book of Ezekiel had been showing: that even in exile, the people didn’t change. Verse 20: “But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’”
Do you see that, the way that they are dragging God’s name through the mud? “They are the people of Yahweh, and look what happened to them.”
So what happens next? Verse 21: “But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:20–23).
And how will be do that? How is He going to make Himself and His holiness known? Verse 24: “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:24–27).
This is how God glorifies His name. This is how God makes His name to be holy among the nations. Through the New Covenant. By saving His people and sending His Spirit to make them a holy people from the inside out.
So when we pray for God’s name to be made holy, to be hallowed, what are we praying for? In one sense we are paying for God’s name to be glorified at all times in every way. That should be our heartbeat as God’s people—to see Him honoured and glorified. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).
But we also know that the way that this happens most clearly and most distinctively is through salvation. The greatest display of the glory of God in all of history is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the greatest display of God’s glory today is when God invades a person’s life and brings them to faith in Christ and gives them His Holy Spirit and makes them a new person.
So when we pray “Hallowed be your name,” what are we praying for? We’re praying for Ezekiel 36 to happen. In other words, we’re praying for people to respond to the gospel. We’re praying for people to be born again into the New Covenant, like Ezekiel prophesied. We’re praying for the mission.
“Your Kingdom Come”
And that theme continues into the second request in this prayer, in verse 10: “Your kingdom come.”
This is a phrase that we might have a hard time understanding had we not just spent the last several months in Matthew’s gospel, where the theme of the kingdom has been so strong. Matthew has been all about the kingdom.
Like we talked about back in November, the word “kingdom” is related to the word “king.” A kingdom is where a king reigns or rules.
Originally, this world was God’s kingdom. God’s subjects rebelled against Him and followed the leadership of the Serpent. And since them, God’s plan of salvation has always been about His kingdom. It’s always been about rescuing His people from these false kingdoms and bringing them back under the safety of His saving rule.
Jesus is God’s king. That’s what the word “Christ” means: Messiah, Anointed One, or, in other words, king. And Jesus has come to bring God’s kingdom to earth.
And if you remember some of what we’ve been hearing in this series, you’ll remember this idea that the kingdom of God is already here and not yet here.
It is already here in the work of Jesus. Every time somebody surrenders to the Lord Jesus and submits their life to Him and begins to live under His lordship, they have become a part of the kingdom. Or, we could say, the kingdom has come into their life.
They begin to live as citizens of the heavenly kingdom under the kingship of Jesus Christ, gathering together with other kingdom citizens into assemblies known today as “churches.”
At the same time, we also understand that the Kingdom of God is not yet here. Jesus is not yet reigning on this earth in a full and clear way. He still has opponents. He still has enemies. There is still so much sin and brokenness and suffering in this world. We are still waiting for His promise to return.
So when we pray “Your kingdom come,” what are we praying for? Are we praying for the kingdom to come into the lives of men and women and boys and girls as they surrender to King Jesus? In other words, are we praying for missions and evangelism?
Or are we praying for a deeper experience of the kingdom in the lives of God’s people, that our allegiance to King Jesus would deepen and that we would live more and more as citizens of the kingdom?
Or are we praying for the return of the Lord Jesus? For Him to come and finally make all things new again? Are we not saying, in some of the last words in the whole Bible, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
And the answer is yes. We’re praying for all three. We’re praying for the mission. We’re praying for spiritual growth. And we’re praying for the trumpet to sound and the dead to be raised and for all things to be made new, just like our King has promised.
“Your Will Be Done, on Earth as It Is in Heaven”
The next request in v. 10 is “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is a really interesting request, because on the one hand, we know that God’s will is always done. “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). “…he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).
And one more—Ephesians 1:11 refers to God as “him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
This is what it means for God to be sovereign. When He decides to do something, He does it, and nothing and nobody can stop Him. I love that truth, and I hope that you do to.
There is another sense, however, in which we can speak of God’s “will.” And that’s the will, not of what He Himself has decided to do, but of what He has told us to do.
This gets to that idea of there being two wills in God. There is His sovereign will: what He has decreed will take place. And there is His moral will: what He has told He wants us to do. And it seems best that when we pray “Your will be done,” we are not praying for God’s sovereign will to happen. Instead, we are praying for His moral will to be fulfilled. We are praying for people to do what God wants them to do.
And we are praying for people to do His will as perfectly as it’s done in heaven.
Just think about the way that God’s will is done in heaven. The angels there do exactly what God wants, all the way, from the heart. And this is a prayer that the same would happen on earth.
It’s not hard to see the connection between this request and Ezekiel 36:27: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
When that happens to a person—when they are born again and given God’s spirit—they begin to do God’s will from the heart, the way it’s done in heaven. They walk in His statutes and are careful to obey His rules, not because they have to, but because they want to.
And so once again, this prayer for God’s “will to be done” is a prayer for evangelism and missions. It’s a prayer for people to be born again so that they would begin to do God’s will from the heart. And it’s a prayer for spiritual growth, that God’s people would keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) and live to please Him.
And at the same time, just like with the last request, is this not also a prayer for the fullness of the kingdom to come? Doesn’t the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” point us forward to the promise of Revelation 21, where we see that heaven and earth are no longer going to be two separate spheres, but one?
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Revelation 21:2–3).
And so our prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, just like the prayer for His kingdom to come, is a request for the mission to advance, for His people to grow, and for Jesus to return and make all things new.
“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”
If we look to verse 11, we see that Jesus next instructs us to ask for our daily bread. Do you see how this prayer has gone from huge, kingdom prayers to something really, really, practical? This is a prayer for God to provide for our needs while we wander through this wilderness on the way to the promised land, just like Israel relying on God for manna.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray for wealth or for overflowing silos of grain. He just tells us to pray for our daily bread.
This prayer teaches us to admit that we rely on God to meet our daily needs. Day at a time, we are at God’s mercy. God has promised to provide for us, as we’ll see in a couple of weeks, but praying for it every day keeps us humble and makes sure that we never forget who is the One providing for us.
“And Forgive Us Our Debts”
The next request, in verse 12, has to do with our sins. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
Once again, there’s a connection here to the New Covenant promise in Ezekiel 36, where God promises to cleanse His people from their sin and make them turn from their idolatry. Jeremiah 31, another key New Covenant passage, contains this promise: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
Isn’t it wonderful that forgiveness is offered to us, for the asking? In the Old Covenant, forgiveness needed to be secured by sacrifice and offering and blood. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).
But here we see the New Covenant way. Forgiveness is offered to us simply for the asking. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
And I hope you know how this works. This works because blood was shed for us. A sacrifice was made once and for all. “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27).
Our sins can be forgiven, for the asking, because Jesus died for them. Jesus suffered in our place. But please notice that by telling us to pray for this, Jesus shows that He doesn’t want this to work on auto-pilot. Forgiveness is something we are to be continually aware of. We are to keep coming back to Jesus to receive afresh the benefits of His sacrifice.
Notice also that Jesus ties our forgiveness with the way we will forgive others. It’s a theme that will be explored later on in Matthew. If we have been forgiven, we will forgive others. If we don’t forgive others, that’s evidence pointing in the direction that we ourselves have not actually experienced forgiveness.
Jesus Himself words it quite a bit more directly in verses 14-15: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15).
Jesus said that, not me. Forgiveness is a really big deal. And right here in the Disciple’s Prayer is a reminder of the crucial importance of both receiving forgiveness and forgiving others.
“And Lead Us Not Into Temptation, but Deliver Us From Evil.”
Finally, we turn to the last request of the prayer, which comes in two parts. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Two halves of one request to be kept from sin and evil.
This request confirms that being forgiven does not mean that we’re free to play with sin. The promise of the New Covenant is that God’s people would be holy. And this shows up here in a request that we will be spared from temptation.
In other words, we are asking God to do 1 Corinthians 10:13: “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.”
We are asking for the strength to not succumb to temptation, and, as the last phrase says, to be delivered from evil. This word “evil” may be pointing to the evil one—Satan himself—or evil in general, but the basic request is the same.
We are acknowledging our vulnerability to sin and temptation, and we are asking God to keep us from what we are not strong enough for, or, perhaps, to strengthen us for what He does ask us to go through.
“For Thine is the Kingdom”
There’s so much we could say about all of this, but for the sake of time we need to step back and make some big-picture observations.
Now you might be saying—“hey, we didn’t get through the whole prayer.” When we have used this prayer together in our worship services, which we probably will in the future, it’s easy for us to keep going with “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.”
Those are wonderful words. They may be drawn from 1 Chronicles 29:11-13, which we read at the beginning of this service.
But the fact of the matter is that they are not found in the earliest and best manuscripts of the New Testament. These words only appear in some later manuscripts, which means that they were probably innocently added by a scribe when he was making a copy of an earlier manuscript. Perhaps the people had been saying these words and it was an easy mistake.
But the fact of the matter is that they are not in the earlier manuscripts. We have a high amount of certainty that Jesus didn’t say these words when He taught His people to pray.
There’s nothing wrong with them, but they aren’t actually a part of this prayer.
The Prayer as a Whole
Looking back at the prayer as a whole, I want to point out four points that will summarize what we’ve seen and help us to apply this prayer to our lives.
1: The Nature of Prayer
The first observation is the nature of prayer. Do you see that this prayer is made up almost entirely of requests? The Disciple’s prayer is asking God for things. That is what the word “prayer” basically means. It’s a request for something.
I’ve heard so many mystical descriptions of prayer in my life that seem to be drawn more from Eastern religions than the Bible. And I remember having so much confusion cleared up when it was explained to me that “prayer” just means making a request from God.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also praise Him and thank Him, which is why Philippians 4:6 says “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). But the nature of prayer is making requests of our Father.
2: The Balance of Prayer
And don’t be afraid that such a definition will lead us to selfishness, because our second point here is to look at the balance of this prayer. Yes, prayer is making requests from God, but do you notice the symmetry in this prayer? There are six requests here in total, and three of them are all about God and His glory and His kingdom and His mission. It’s only at the half-way point that we get to requests for ourselves, our needs, our dependance upon the Lord.
Do you see how important that is? When we pray, don’t we tend to rush into our needs, or worse, our wants, the things that we need? Jesus teaches us to put our priorities in place, and to spend at least as much time praying for the purposes of God as we do our own needs.
3: The Material For Prayer
The third point is just to highlight the material for prayer. Did you notice how often we looked at other Scriptures this morning? That’s because the Lord’s prayer is really connected to the rest of the Bible. This connects to the big idea we’ve looked at before of praying the Bible.
Reading your Bible and praying should not be two separate activities. God’s word becomes the material for our prayers, showing us what and how we should be praying.
If you search “pray the Bible” on our website you’ll see some stuff that I posted a couple of years ago that might be helpful to you in this regard. The disciple’s prayer leads us to pray the Bible.
4: The Effect of This Prayer
The fourth point this morning, where we’ll close, is to consider the effect of this prayer. There are so many questions we don’t have time for this morning, but one of the things we can say for sure is that when we regularly pray for the purposes of God like this, it will have an effect on us.
Maybe you’ve heard me this morning talk about God’s glory, and how that should be the heartbeat of the people of God. Maybe you’ve heard me speak about God’s mission, and how that should be the purpose of our life. And maybe you think “I don’t really feel that way.”
If that’s so, then pray this prayer. Pray your own prayers based off of this prayer. Read about God’s glory and mission in the Bible, and pray for those things to happen.
That will have an effect on your own heart. That will begin to shape your thinking and affections and desires.
And especially so when you see God beginning to answer those prayers. When you get into a tough situation, and instead of praying “God, get me out of here” right away, you pray “God, honour your name in this situation,” and then He does, that will fire up your passion for His glory.
So pray. Pray this prayer. Pray prayers like this prayer, at least half full of God’s purposes and God’s mission and God’s glory. And watch what happens.
I’ll remind you that we’re going to pray together next Sunday evening at 5, and we’d love you to join us. You can register on the website.
But until then, let’s go live a week full of prayer. Prayers like this. And let’s watch God work among us as we do so.