It has been a pleasure for our family to get to know an expanding circle of people from Cities the last few months and this morning I get to bring the exhortation. During these times of exhortation, you have been focusing on rhythms of grace. Those practices and patterns God has given to us, through which we can know God more and become more like Jesus. Today’s practice, that I get to address briefly, is prayer.
My own prayer life changed considerably, years ago, when God struck me anew with the truth of Matthew 6:9. That verse begins with these words from our Lord, “Pray then like this.”
As I read this verse that I had read dozens of times, God began to impress upon me that this was not a nice suggestion from Jesus but it was a command from our Lord to his disciples.
The prayer that follows these words of command is often referred to as the Lord’s prayer. As I read it anew, I realized that God probably didn’t intend the primary use of this prayer to be monotone recitation by congregations in their liturgy.
What if Jesus gave us this prayer to teach us principles for praying that should govern our prayer life? What if Jesus intended for this prayer to be a model to guide the praying of his followers?
I found out that wiser people throughout history had understood Jesus’ teaching on prayer in exactly this way.
Augustine said, “Any prayer which cannot find its place in that gospel prayer is praying in a way which, if not unlawful, is at least not spiritual.”
John Calvin referred to it as “a prescribed form.” Martin Luther called it “a brief formula” for prayer. Matthew Henry described it as “a method for praying.”
New Testament scholar D.A. Carson wrote, “The word houtos emphasizes a paradigm or model not liturgical form.”
R.C. Sproul taught “Jesus’s intent was to give his disciples a model for prayer, as an example to follow, one that would teach transferable principles for conversation with God.”
What I realized as I began to try and pray according to Jesus’ model was that my flesh didn’t like it. My flesh groaned against praying according to Jesus’s model.
The Right Focus
You see, my flesh liked a model of prayer where I just listed the things I wanted from God and went to him and politely asked him to “get-er-done.” It may be that my imbalanced prayer life, filled almost exclusively with “want based requests” actually fed the flesh and my immaturity.
Jesus gave us a model for prayer that battles my selfish fleshly impulses and focuses me where I need to be focused; on God’s name, His Kingdom and His Will.
Every day I wake up and my flesh wants my name to be exalted. My flesh cares primarily about you thinking more of me. When I wake up each day my flesh is concerned with expanding my kingdom. I don’t call it a kingdom but my flesh desires that the boundaries of my control, comfort, and possessions increase. When I wake up each morning my flesh wants my will to be done. My flesh wants my way in my home, at work, everywhere.
What a gracious gift has God given to us to daily do battle with those sinful fleshly impulses and reorient life around God and His name, His Kingdom, His Will.
In my weakness, I need God’s model.
As J.I. Packer puts it:
Were we left to ourselves, any praying we did would both start and end with ourselves, for our natural self-centeredness knows no bounds. Indeed, much pagan praying of this kind goes on among supposedly Christian people. But Jesus pattern prayer, which is both crutch, road and walking lesson for the spiritually lame like ourselves, tells us to start with God: for lesson one is to grasp that God matters infinitely more than we do.
As we pray about potential church marriage Jesus’ model is guiding our prayer. We don’t want our comfort, our fame or our fear to dominate our prayers or drive these discussions. Instead we want to be led by God into what best serves His Name, Kingdom and Will.
Prayer of Confession
Father in Heaven we confess to you that there have been times when our prayers have been driven by fleshly desire rather than your kingdom and your glory. We recognize that there are days we don’t use the weapon of your pattern prayer to do battle with self-centeredness in our lives. We repent of apathy and selfishness and we give you thanks for the forgiveness of the debts of our sins that is offered through the work of your Son Jesus Christ.
In whose name we pray, Amen!