Message: Pray, Then, Like This | Scripture: Matthew 6:7-15 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: O Great God | What a Friend We Have in Jesus | Grace Greater Than Our Sin | I Will Trust My Saviour Jesus
- Take some time to reflect on and summarize the sermon in your own words. What were your main takeaways? What, in further reflection, have you thought about regarding the sermon or the passage? Be gracious, supportive and receptive to one another and to your group facilitators in this because they/you may not have all the answers!
- Discuss one way God’s used this past sermon (or one of the previous few sermons) to grow you and/or challenge you.
- Perhaps in your prayer life is often focused upon what God can give you?
- Perhaps in the fact that you just don’t pray enough (or maybe even at all)?
- Perhaps in your understanding it what it means to draw close to God in reverence and awe?
- Perhaps in how you attempt to satisfy the requirements for greater righteousness independently?
- Perhaps in forgetting what a privilege it is to call upon God as Father–a privilege that exists only for Christians?
- Are prayers heard by God a reserved right and privilege for Christians? Why/why not (asked another way, does God hear the prayers of a non-Christian? Why/why not?)?
- What does your personal prayer life look like? If you make an honest evaluation, at what times in your life/day do you tend to pray? Why do you think that is the case?
- Do you, honestly, believe that prayer is effective? What in your life shows your belief in this?
- What, typically, are the things that you pray for? Do you pray for things that might make you uncomfortable (e.g. the courage to evangelize to those you don’t know, to confront that coworker who is stealing time/supplies from the office, the willingness to confess your sin to a brother/sister/spouse, etc.)?
- Why is this section on prayer so important to the entire theme and vision of the Sermon on the Mount (and really to the whole book of Matthew/the whole Bible)?
- Why should we show reverence to God in our praying? Do you feel that you are reverential this way?
- In your own words (or in words I’ve used in this sermon to help you), define exactly what prayer is.
- How do we remain reverent and respectful in our praying? Are you pursuing this reverential attitude and practice in your own life in order to form the way that you pray? Or do you tend to pray simply based on the words that come to your mind/whatever you “feel” is right to say? Why is this a dangerous approach to take?
- Discuss one way that we can pray for you as a group.
- Provide/encourage us with an update of something that God is doing to apply his gospel in your life/how the beauty and preciousness of Jesus is being freshly applied to your current situation.
If able, please stand with me as I read to you from Matthew 6:7-15. TWoL: 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. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. 14 For 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.
I’ve used the phrase “pregnant pause” before, but it wasn’t until this text that I asked myself where it’s from. So, I looked it up. And what I found out was that it comes from the 15th century in reference to a pregnant lady who, within her, was carrying a little human, and that little human was considered to possess such an absolute significance and fullness of meaning that even though you couldn’t hear it, its and its mother’s value could not be ignored. Both the mother and the child within her drew in your attention. Thus, the phrase “pregnant pause” was given to those situations that are significant and “full of meaning” even though characterized by silence—or when you’re attempting to give a statement space to take hold in the minds and hearts of hearers before moving on to your next point.
And what we find in Matthew chapter 6 between verses 6 and 16 is a kind of pregnant pause—not a pause in silence, but a pause where Jesus, instead of moving straight from his discussion on prayer into a discussion on fasting, provides us with an example of what true prayer looks and sounds like. And I wanted to spend the next two sermons on this pause because it’s full of meaning. It draws in the focal point, rather than something that we should read past and push to the side—as if Jesus is simply providing an example that distracts us from the main point. No, this communicates our main point—the main point of the Sermon on the Mount—the main point of the book of Matthew—the main point of the Bible.
And that main point—our proposition for this morning, and really any morning you come to hear the Word of God preached to you in this place, is that you are to be preoccupied—mind, body, soul, heart—with the holiness of God. You may think that Christ is talking about prayer here, and he is, but your praying must have a preoccupation—it must have a drive—it must have a thrill—it must have a passion, and very often, our drive, thrill, and passion in prayer is for the wrong thing. I want to make sure that your praying is driven by the right thing this morning, and from that—to make sure that your whole life is driven by this same thing, that is, your preoccupation with God’s holiness.
So, let’s spend the rest of our time unpacking how it is that Christ tells us to make this our preoccupation as he walks us through this famous, full-of-meaning pause in his Sermon—a pause that is meant to help us pray rightly and to live rightly—let’s consider what he says beginning with our first point: be preoccupied with God’s holiness …
1) By Simply Acknowledging Him
I want to remind you again that the theme of Matthew is fulfillment through the revelation of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who has come to separate his eternal people to himself, and the way that they shall set themselves apart is not based upon how they look, ethnically, nor how they look in terms of outward obedience to the law. Rather, they shall be identified based upon their possession of a greater righteousness—a righteousness that exceeds the tedious and meticulous rule-keeping of the Pharisees and scribes. Greater Righteousness is the hallmark of Christian Character, and it is the key to being a part of the kingdom of heaven.
And up until now, as we’ve walked through the Sermon on the Mount, we have grown tired because we are shown time-and-again what we are incapable of doing ourselves. We can’t think thoughts that separate us from murderers. Everyone one of us commits adultery on the one who is supposed to be our first love. All of us seek to annul our covenant obligations. All of us break our word. None of us are meek enough to turn our cheeks. And there isn’t a single person in here that has loved their enemy sufficiently to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Moreover, none of us give charitably, pray, or fast like we should. If we are not doing these things for other people to see—I’ll be the first to confess, that when I do good deeds, even when others aren’t looking, I’m keeping a checklist for myself. I’m not trying to hide from my left hand what my right hand is doing. I want to know what my right hand is doing! I want to keep track of these things so that I can boast in myself and consider myself greater than others. Did I give today? Check. Did I pray today? Check. Did I fast today? Check.
I imagine I’m not the only one in the room who does this. I know for a fact that I’ve heard it from some of your mouths—not to accuse you but, hopefully, to help you—to wake you up to the dilemma that, even as Christians, doing what Christ tells us to do is very difficult. And because they’re so difficult, the implied admonishment that comes at the end of these disciplines, especially here in Matthew 6, that our Father will not reward those who are unable to do these things in secret, that ought to concern us as those who are deeply flawed in the secret business of our lives. If we’re honest, our secret dealings are usually shrouded in darkness and not in light—they’re usually sin-riddled and not desirous of honouring God.
So, then, the question that lies before us is, “can we possess this greater righteousness?” And I have to be clear, I’m not talking about imputed righteousness. I’m not talking about the legal righteousness that is declared over you by virtue of believing in Christ’s atonement upon the cross whereby through the gift of his righteousness, your debt of sin is paid for. No, the way that Matthew uses the word righteousness in his book is in reference to works—to obedience—to a life reflective of submitting to the precepts and commands of God.
And we have to remember that Christ, here in his teaching, raises the bar—from mere obedience to obedience coupled with intention and desire. It’s not enough to do what is right, and it’s not enough to do what’s right because you want to be a good person. You have to want to do what is right because it pleases God, and then you have to actually do it. Is this possible?
Herein lies the genius, once again, of Matthew because, in a way none of the other gospel writers do it, he places verses 7-15 of Matthew 6 smackdab in the middle of Christ’s Sermon. It is the core of Matthew’s entire record of Jesus’ most famous words. What may seem like an aside, right—I said before, it feels like Matthew suddenly pauses his discussion on charity, prayer, and fasting to give us these verses—what seems like an aside or an appendix is meant to give us the fullness of how all of this works.
I hear it all the time—that Jesus is teaching us how to pray here, but he’s not merely teaching us how to pray. He’s teaching us how to be set apart. He’s teaching us how we factor in and participate in the fulfillment of history with him. He’s teaching us about how greater righteousness becomes even the least bit possible for sinners like us. How do you do it?
Well, he says in verses 5-8, verses we technically covered last week, not to pray like hypocrites who do it for their own attention, nor like the gentiles who offer up empty phrases to heaven because they do not know who God is. They do not know that he already sees all that we need. They do not know that of him, and thus, have no idea how or what to ask him. But you who deeply desire righteousness—you who have been broken by your sin, sought out mercy, displayed meekness, and have hungered and thirsted for the satisfaction of God, you’re to pray, “Our Father in heaven.”
And let me remark, carrying on a little from last week, just how significant this is—that those who revile and persecute the name of God are able to say, “Our Father.” What a privilege this is. Consider the demons who, after Jesus does a miracle, they speak up, and they’re able to confess who Jesus is, they’re able to comprehend his nature, and this person who stands before them. And what is Jesus’ response? He tells them to shut up. They aren’t allowed to speak about him. They’re not allowed to speak the name of God.
Yet, consider the other side of this—that we, who call upon God, are able to do this despite the fact that the only thing he should be to us is judge, jury, and executioner. Not only are demons who know him—who know his character far more intimately than we do—disallowed from speaking the name of God—even uttering the simplest of truths about him, but we—we who hardly know him—we who have rejected any sense of intimacy with him—we who experience grace in ways that the demons can only dream of, yet still fall back willingly into our sin—we have been afforded not only the opportunity to acknowledge his divinity, but we get to call him Father! And not only Father, but we get to call him, “our Father.”
You see, it is only those who know him as “our Father” who are heard in their praying. And this is why the context of these verses, situated where they are in the middle of the sermon—the place from where everything else emanates—you can move from this part of the Sermon outwards, and all of it will make sense—this is why the context is so important. It is because the only way you can have greater righteousness—the only way your prayers can mean anything and be effectual for any work that you do is if God is your rest—if he has brought you in to his presence and satisfied you with himself. That’s the only way he hears you—if he allows it—if he adopts you as his own. That’s the only way you’ll do what is pleasing to him. Any other scheme to get into God’s favour and kingdom is futile.
And without prayer, we are inadequate. Without prayer, we are weak men and women sent out to take down the greatest of all giants. Here, Jesus stands to tell us that the hallmark of great righteousness isn’t great conduct. Rather, it’s humbly submitting yourself to God in prayer—seeking his audience, resting in his sufficient grace. It’s doing the work that God calls us to do on our knees—unceasingly, habitually, or as Paul Washer once put it, “not letting go of God until he fulfills his promises [not us]” because if it’s up to us, we’ll mess it up, but God gives us a weapon doesn’t he? He gives us a solution to our failing tendencies, and that’s to go to him! Flee to him in reverent, dependent, pleading prayer!
So often we think that our ability to do what God wants us to do is magically imparted to us. We go out to proclaim a powerful gospel, and we practice our eloquence. We speak to people a powerful message, and we strategize how to do it most effectively. Yet, what we often forget is that the power does not come from our proclamation, our eloquence, or our strategies. No, anything we proclaim—anything we are able to confess and affect towards change in the lives of others—is given wings, as Spurgeon once said, in prayer.
Jesus means for us to know and see our inadequacy. He means to place upon us a burden and a weight in his Sermon that we cannot carry. No one can meet the test. No one is suited for the kingdom. No one, that is, but God himself, and for those whom he’s sent his own Son to save, he not only makes it possible for them, but that burden—that weight—it becomes light to the touch, and it becomes a joy for us to experience because through that Son and through his death, we’re given access, we’ve been drawn near, we’ve been adopted as sons and daughters—and God lifts the weight, he gives us a pass in our tests, he suits us for the kingdom through prayer.
And because of this, we can possess a greater righteousness. When we’re drawn into the presence of God—when he becomes our Father—everything else fades away. He becomes all that matters. His opinion. His provision. His care and loving attention. He becomes the preoccupation of our lives, and because all he desires from us is that we be holy as he is holy, our preoccupation isn’t only with him, but with the fullness of his character. This is the pregnant pause. The thing that draws us in and keeps us—that we know we are the children of God, and it’s as the children of God that we aren’t only able to acknowledge him as Father, but that we are also able to call upon him and have confidence that we have his attention, which leads to our second point: be preoccupied with God’s holiness …
2) By Softly Commanding Him
Now, I want to provide some warning especially for those in my generation and younger. We hear that we can call God, “our Father,” and for some reason we take that to mean we can informalize our address. I had a friend who went on a missions trip, and this concept of a Father-figure was taught to him but only in a way that was light and fluffy so that when he came back, and when I prayed with him for the first time, he began his prayer like this, “Hey Dad …”
I remember hearing it and thinking, “this doesn’t sound right.” But I didn’t know why until I studied the next part of the Lord’s prayer, “hallowed be your name.” And the question is, “what does it mean to hallow his name?” The verb actually used is the same word we use for sanctify. However, when applied to God, we know it doesn’t mean exactly that. We can’t sanctify—we can’t make holy the name of God because God is already, completely holy.
Perhaps, then, it means, as some have suggested, to have regard for his holiness. But as we just said in our previous point, even the devil and the demons have regard for the name of God. So, it must mean more than to simply regard his holiness, and this is what John Piper has to say about it, “it means to honour, to esteem, to revere, to value, to treasure,” and above all of these, “to love his name.”
This, then, helped me explain what felt so wrong about my friend’s informal address to God as “Dad.” It was that while “Father” is meant to endear us to him, we are not to lose its sense of majesty or respect or reverence or its innate quality to humble us. That you can say “Father” at all is an incredible gift, but we are to remember that while he adopts us as his own, he is also our Father, the Lord of Heaven. So, we dare not approach him irreverently or informally.
When I was a kid, and even as a younger man, I would argue with my dad all the time, especially in those things that I disagreed about with him in the way he did ministry. But as I spoke to pastors other than him, and as I, myself, went to seminary to learn from men who are pastors first and theologians second, my view of my father began to change. As I spoke to him about ministry, I felt more and more inadequate to address my disagreements with him, and more and more inclined to submit myself to his experience, his leading, and his wisdom, particularly because I knew just how much of the intolerable side of humanity that he had to and still has to deal with on a daily basis. When I saw how people could hurt him, how they spoke to him, and how hard he worked to care for them anyway, in every possible way, I began not only seeing him as my biological dad but as my spiritual father as well—as someone to be revered because I knew him and his heart for his people.
And this, although having the ability to confidently approach our Father who is in heaven, is the nature by which we are to call on him. Yes, we can behold his holiness and glory as his children, but as we behold him in that way, we’re to remember what holiness is, and what glory is. Things that are not to be trifled with. Things that strike the strongest man into the farthest reaches of hell. We are to take great care as we come into his presence. We’re to hallow him as the God who is over all and who commands all at the whim of his pleasure.
Yet how are we to do this? Well, Jesus tells us it’s by commanding God ourselves. But notice how each of the verbs in verses 9 and 10 are a certain type of imperative—they’re commands, but within the Greek language, there’s a way to make the imperative—the commanding nature of the verb—softer, and Matthew employs this softer form of the imperative in these first three verbs of the Lord’s Prayer. Instead of saying, “Cause your name to be hallowed,” it’s “let your name be hallowed.” Instead of, “Give us your kingdom now,” it’s “let your kingdom come.” Instead of “Force your will on earth,” it’s “let your will be done.”
And why does he use these softer imperatives? It’s because of the one to whom these things belong—your name, that is, God’s name, your kingdom, that is, God’s kingdom, and your will, that is, God’s will. They are under his supremacy and not ours, and yet, he desires us to ask him for them—to command him for them. You see, the radical nature of greater righteousness is recognizing the privilege in all of this and not the entitlement—the humility and not the boast. It’s recognizing what prayer is.
It’s not merely talking to God. No, the Spirit is interceding for us sinful creatures with groanings too deep for words, which make our words effective in God’s ears. It’s not merely communicating to God because this isn’t a two-way street. We pray to God—we convey messages and requests to him; God does not pray to us. He needs nothing from us, but we need everything from him. Our praying is an acknowledgment of his supremacy and our humility, and we go awry when we start to think that it’s the other way around. And, still more, prayer isn’t merely something that happens to us. No, we’re meant to be rather intentional about it—reverent, yes, but assured and confident, too. We aren’t flippant in our going to him or in how we speak to him.
In other words, prayer is the prevailing realization of our own helplessness and his exhaustive trustworthiness—by exhaustive trustworthiness I mean that he is not reactive to our situation, as if he doesn’t know what’s coming. No, he is proactive—sovereignly intending for us to pray—sovereignly intending for us to depend upon him, so that as we do go to him in desperation, he says, “Yes! I am here. All of me contends for you! In fact, I have already been contending for you—drawing you near, calling you home, working out your good, sending my son to die on your behalf.”
Is this not true for all of us? That as we are praying, we find that God has already answered our prayers in ways we were blind to—or that he has been working behind the scenes to reveal his plan to us in ways that go beyond our wisdom and stifle our ignorance and doubting.
When Candace and I were first considering whether or not to have children, I quickly realized that to provide for our child, I’d likely have to remain being a lawyer because going to seminary in the states on the Canadian dollar would’ve been quite difficult—if not impossible. But then, God closed the door on our having children, which made seminary not only possible but wholly feasible, and just as we were finishing seminary, guess what God did for us? He opened the door and gave us Micah, and then he led us here. And do you know what our prayer was before going to seminary and throughout seminary and still is to this day? It is this, “God you know what is best for us, let us do what you think is best for us in faith, in courage, and in pursuit of your holiness—that we might know our security with you more than the security we manifest in ourselves.”
And let me tell you, this is a hard prayer to pray, but it is also how Christ instructs us to pray as he draws near to us—as he reveals himself to us as the fulfillment of all God’s promises—as he washes us with his own blood from our sinfulness, our doubting, our unbelief, and our pride—that we might ask reverently, faithfully, courageously, and humbly, “let your kingdom come,” meaning “let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—let that which is done by your angels in your presence be done by us here in the presence of your Son. Help us follow your will. Help us joyfully obey this call to greater righteousness. Establish in us and amongst us a place where evil is thwarted and your holiness reigns.
That is how greater righteousness is made possible.
Yet, still, one thing more remains to be dealt with this morning and that is the question of how you stay reverent—how you continue hallowing his name and commanding him in such a way that does not deviate towards disrespect. And allow me to answer this way: You probably can tell who my favourite preacher, other than my own father, is—that’s because I quote his name over 50% of the time that I quote anyone in my sermons. For those of you who can’t, it’s John Piper. I have read more John Piper and listened to more John Piper than probably most people in this room, and I don’t say that to boast. Sometimes it’s not good that I listen to so much John Piper—taking his word as gospel more, sometimes, than I do my own comprehension of the Word.
But something I realized as I got older is that the more I consumed in my reading and in my hearing the words and messages of John Piper, the more I sounded and thought like John Piper—the more my mannerisms and construction of words mimicked John Piper. In fact, the way I prepare sermons today is almost entirely characteristic not of what my seminary professors taught me but of how John Piper prepares his sermons.
And while I will be the first to admit that I am not John Piper, I have learned from him what it means to pray in a way that honours God because as my life seeks to mimic Pastor John’s, our prayer life—our dependence—our hope in things unseen, even more so, is meant to mimic the one in whom we find our deepest, truest, and most esteemed preoccupation.
When we know God as he intends for us to know him, we begin to sound like him, think like him, pray his thoughts, seek his ways. And just like I do with John Piper in reading his articles, his books, and listening to his sermons, we are, even more so, to be attuned to our God and his words for us in Scripture. A praying man or woman is a Scripture-saturated man or woman. A hallowing man or woman is a Bible consuming man or woman. A persevering man or woman is one who has been preserved by the life-giving encounter that we receive in God’s Holy Word.
There is no better way to know him. There is no better way to be preoccupied with him. If greater righteousness is our desire, then prayer saturated with the very words of the one to whom we are praying must coat our tongues, must revive our bones, and must wash all selfish ambition away from our hearts. Soak yourself in God through his own revelation to us, and in so doing, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be ever pleasing to him, our Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.