Think for a moment: What was the first prayer that you learned by heart? Some of us entered the Christian faith by being born into the covenant community and others of us entered later in life, but what was the first prayer you learned by heart? (The Lord’s Prayer)
I’m guessing that for most of us, as we learned how to pray, we learned by praying as Jesus taught us. We learn the rhythms, the patterns, and the heart of prayer by praying the Lord’s Prayer. As we grow in our faith, we may not always pray the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer every time we come before God. The prayer is not magic, after all. But, we are wise to always be shaped, always be disciplined, always be molded in even our most heartfelt prayers by the one that Jesus taught us.
It is my firm conviction that the church is at its best when the people of God are praying. So for three Sundays, we will be going back to the basics, to refresh ourselves by learning prayer at the feet of Jesus. So I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 6. Matthew chapter 6. Matthew is the first book in the New Testament, about 2/3 of the way through your Bible. We will be using the NRSV translation and starting a little bit before the Lord’s Prayer to give us some context, verse 5. Before we hear God’s Word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
These are the very words of God from the book that we love:
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever 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.
When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases like the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into the time of trial,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your father forgive your trespasses.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Why do we pray? What is the point, if God already knows everything we need, after all? You just heard it from the mouth of Jesus, your father knows what you need before you ask him. But then the very next verse, Jesus tells us pray then in this way. He both tells us that God already anticipates, already knows all our needs and wishes, and then immediately, Jesus teaches us how to pray.
God shapes us through prayer. Not only does God promise to hear our prayers, even when he already knows what we need, but through the act of bringing our prayers to God, we are changed too. Listen to what the French Reformer, John Calvin, says about this:
“Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things. God himself, on the other hand, has purposed freely, and without being asked, to bestow his blessings on us; but he promises that he will grant them to our prayers. We must, therefore, maintain both of these truths, that He freely anticipates our wishes, and yet that we obtain by prayer what we ask.”
Calvin is reminding us that prayer is not about giving God information he didn’t have or convincing him to do good to us that he otherwise wouldn’t want to do. Instead, we live in this mysterious space where God knows our needs and yet promises that through prayer we obtain what we ask.
As we will see in a few moments, the life of prayer is about so much more than getting what we want. If prayer was just making sure God was up-to-date on our desires and wants, we wouldn’t need to pray. But if prayer, as Calvin says, is part of how God shapes our hearts to seek him, to trust him, and to proclaim that we look to him alone for all good things in our life, then it is vital that we pray. If through prayer God awakens our love and trust for him and relieves us of our anxieties, then prayer is the lifeblood of the Christian faith.
And if prayer shapes us, then how we pray is important. How we pray becomes a pattern that shapes our hearts and our relationship with God. There is no magic formula for prayer, but Jesus does give us a pattern, a way to pray. Pray then in this way, he says.
The pattern of prayer Jesus teaches us has six petitions, six requests or short statements in the prayer. We will briefly look at the first three this morning and how they shape us in the way of Jesus, in the school of prayer.
The first is in verse 9: Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Hallowed be your name. Hallowed. That is a nice, big, three syllable word. Hallowed. Its a kind of old sounding word too. But at its root is the word for ‘holy.’ To ‘hallow’ something is to make it holy. For Catholics, Hallowed ground is land set apart, made holy, for use by the church, usually the church building itself and the cemetery. The land has been ‘hallowed.’ Or Halloween was originally known as All Hallow’s Eve, because it was the eve – the day before – All Hallow’s Day or All Saint’s Day, the day within the Catholic church where all the saints who do not have particular day on the church calendar are honored.
Hallowed – to make holy. So when we pray in the way of Jesus and pray, Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, we are saying, “Our Father in heaven, Holy is your name, Holy be your name, may your name be made holy in all the earth.”
God’s name is already holy in itself, God is holy, he is all-powerful, he is high and lifted up and nothing we can do can add or subtract from who God is. But in a world fallen into sin, the glory of God can be obscured, it can be made difficult to see. So to pray hallowed be your name is to pray that God’s glory would shine forth clear as crystal for the whole world to see. It is to pray that the world would see God clearly for the glorious and gracious God that he is.
The Heidelberg Catechism captures this sense well in question 122. Let’s say it together:
Q: What does the first petition mean?
A: “Hallowed be your name” means:
Help us to truly know you,
to honor, glorify, and praise you
for all your works
and for all that shines forth from them:
your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth.
And it means,
Help us to direct all our living –
what we think, say, and do –
so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us
but always honored and praised.
The very first thing Jesus teaches us to pray for is that God’s name would be hallowed, would be made holy.
Usually when we come to God in prayer, we are coming with requests. We come with needs, with wants, with pain, with anxiety. We come to him with something about us or about people we care about. That is good and right.
But in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us at the beginning that prayer, like the whole of our lives and the whole of creation, is not first and foremost about us, but about God.
When we pray in the way of Jesus, we don’t start with our wants, our needs, our requests. We start with God.
In each of these first three petitions, these first three requests, God is mentioned and we are not. God is the subject, the one answering the prayer, and God is the object, the end, the purpose. Hallowed be your name. God’s name. Prayer starts by putting God first, by placing his glory and his name ahead of our own.
This is so important. We live in a world where both our sinful nature and our culture conspire to have us put ourselves and our own needs first, to consider our own name, our own glory, our own wants, and not God’s. It shows up in me as a kid when I prayed fervently for a Nintendo 64 with no regard for anything else. And it shows up in me today when I start my prayers with all the requests and needs in my family, our church, and our world and never stop to consider God himself. Even in something good, where we are praying for other people, we can forget to put God first.
The Lord’s Prayer is God-centered. The focus is God. The next two weeks, as we explore the second half of the prayer, we will hear how Jesus invites us to pray for our needs and concerns, but at the outset, we are taught to fix our eyes on God. Praying Hallowed be your name moves us out of the center of the prayer and place God there, where he belongs.
When our first impulse in prayer is to pray that God’s name is made holy and glorified, then we are ready to move to the next two petitions: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Praying in the way of Jesus invites us to pray seeking God’s will over our own.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done.
These prayers are an extension of the first. God’s name is glorified when his kingdom, his reign and rule extends across the earth, and God’s kingdom is present where his will is done. So to pray for God’s name to be glorified is to pray that God’s will would be done in every square inch of creation, in every square inch of your life, on earth as it is in heaven.
Before we pray for our own needs, we are invited to pray in the way of Jesus by praying for God’s will to be done. Not my will, but God’s. This is a prayer of trust, one that shapes us to trust God and trust that what he has planned is right and good, even if we don’t understand it.
Again, the Heidelberg Catechism captures this well. Question 124.
Q: What does the third petition mean?
A: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means:
Help us and all people
to reject our own wills
and to obey your will without any back talk.
Your will alone is good.
Help us one and all to carry out the work we are called to,
as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.
Praying your kingdom come, your will be done is to reject our own wills and obey God’s will. It is an invitation to let go of our own desires and our own kingdom-making projects, and trust God. To pray your kingdom come, your will be done is to believe that God’s will alone is good and always what is best for us. It is a prayer for God to remove the stubbornness in our hearts and make them gentle and ever-willing to follow God.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer will involve us in loving God and in loving our neighbor and our enemy. It will mean forgiving our brother or sister, rejecting lust, greed, and pride, as well as all the other things God teaches us in his Word.
What this means for us practically will change from day to day and even moment to moment. Sometimes our desires are mostly in line with God’s will and the letting go will be easy. Other times, what we want is in direct conflict with what God is calling us to do and praying in the way of Jesus will be hard. We won’t want God’s will to be done, even though it is best for us. We will resist like a toddler, no matter how old we are.
And other times, letting go of our wills in favor of God’s will mean letting go of control of the timing of God’s answer.
Pastor Olga and I have had the privilege for the past couple of years to join some of your in prayer every other Tuesday night. If you have not come, do not be afraid. Come and pray with us.
We have learned a lot about letting go and trusting God as we prayed together. Some prayers we have waited for years to receive an answer. Some we are still waiting on. Others we have prayed for one thing and God has done another. But I have found that when our hearts are shaped by the Lord’s prayer, we can keep praying and keep trusting.
On those days when prayers are answered, like when we see Noreen come into the sanctuary and tell us her cancer is in remission, we can continue to pray – Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In those seasons where we wait and wait and wait, when we seek God’s glory and trust in his will for us, we can continue to pray – Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And in those times when God tells us ‘no’, when we desperately wanted to hear ‘yes,’ we can pray in the way of Jesus.
Calvin told us that we pray to God, not to inform him of things he doesn’t know, but so that our hearts may be stirred to seek God, to trust him, and to pour all our cares before him. Praying in the way of Jesus, in the way of the Lord’s Prayer, shapes us as people who seek God, his kingdom, and his will above all else. It is a prayer that de-centers us, that pushes us to the edge and God to the center. It is a prayer that puts us in a position of trusting God – his power and his goodness – before we bring him our needs. It is a prayer through which God changes us.
Whether we pray the exact words of the Lord’s prayer regularly or not, may we find ourselves changed by God through coming before him in prayer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.