Message: Pray, Then, Like This (Pt. 2) | Scripture: Matthew 6:7-15 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
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.
This is our second week in this text. Last week, we discussed the need for us to be preoccupied with God’s holiness (1) by simply acknowledging him as our Father—a privilege that surpasses all the blessings of the world, and (2) by softly commanding him as his children—to see his name hallowed, esteemed, revered, treasured, and loved, to see his kingdom amongst us flourish as we endeavour to do here on earth what the angels and his beings do for him in heaven. We command him in all humility to enable us to that end because we know it’s what we’re made for. It’s what we’ve been adopted for. We know it’s how children are meant to behave—to please their parents—because parents, ideally, desire what is best for their children.
Moreover, we acknowledge him and humbly command him this way because these are the first steps to possessing and maintaining that which Christ calls a greater righteousness. We display the character of God by going to God. It is from this humble admission that God is our Father and the gentle request that God’s will be accomplished amongst us that reinforces our identity—it tells us where we belong as the citizens of heaven.
This is what we covered last week, and I wanted to provide this brief synopsis so that we might be able to move straight into where we left off, keeping our proposition the same: be preoccupied with God’s holiness knowing that we do so, first, by simply acknowledging him, second, by softly commanding him, and third, which is technically our first point this morning, …
3) By Strongly Pleading With Him
Looking at verses 11-15, I assume most of you can’t read Greek, and you don’t need to because our English translations are quite good, but if you could, what you would see, particularly from verses 11-13, is that the type of verb changes. I said last week at the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, in verses 9-10, Matthew uses a soft imperative: Let your name be hallowed, let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Why? Because in our praying for these things—we can’t truly command them unless God, in his sovereign love and grace allows us to partake in these things.
But then, in verse 11, he switches to real, unequivocal imperatives. Give us, this day, our daily bread; forgive us; lead us. I remember after getting my first speeding ticket, the fine for which was around $250—money I didn’t have, or really, money I wasn’t willing to pay out of my own pocket—I went home, and, unflinchingly, I went up to my mom and said to her, “Mom, I got a ticket. Can you give me the $250 to pay it off?”
And she responded, probably upset that my first words weren’t an apology but a request for money, “No, that’s your responsibility.” To which I responded, “why can’t you just give me the money,” and I stormed off—angry at her—feeling like she had done something wrong to me. Of course, she came after me and said, “How can you talk to me like that? How dare you talk to me like that,” and she proceeded to not only take away the privilege of using her car for awhile, but she grounded me, AND, on top of that, I had to pay for my ticket.
When I read these words in Matthew 6:11-13, that’s what I think of. The audacity to speak to God this way, on its face, seems damning, yet this is how Jesus tells us to talk to him. Give us bread. Forgive our debts. Lead us from temptation. There seems to be no compunction or reverence in these words. Why is that? Well, it’s because they’re not meant to be read as commands, but rather as words of pleading. This is how imperatives are sometimes used, right? When you’re thirsty: give me a drink of water. When you’re hungry: give me something to eat.
And in this case, what we’ve just encountered in verses 9-10 are some of the most difficult things that a person can ask for. To hallow the name of God, to seek his kingdom, to do his will—as sinners, we’ve already established how impossible this is without prayer—that doing these things without God can’t be done, but they become doubly impossible when we remember how contrary to his will we naturally are. On top of that, prayer doesn’t always make doing these things easier, does it? Sometimes, our praying merely awakens us to the fresh reality that a certain task lies before us and beckons us to humbly submit to doing what might be uncomfortable because we know it would please God for us to do it.
For example, in evangelism, some of us struggle with thinking that we don’t have to do it actively and regularly with the specific people God’s placed in our lives because we’ve prayed for the opportunity, and in our praying, it seems, God simply hasn’t opened the door. That person isn’t prompting the conversation where spiritual things might be easily discussed, which, for some reason, we instantly interpret as, “well, maybe God doesn’t intend for me to do it.” But what we often interpret as God closing doors is simply our own lack of willingness or our own lack of courage. Yes, sometimes he makes it easier by moving a person to turn the conversation, but more times than not, the answer when you pray is, “do the hard work and make the attempt to open your mouth—speak the truth—do it with all love and gentleness but don’t delay.”
And this is what Christ is teaching us to pray for, he wants us to be enabled to make every attempt to do kingdom-oriented, God-glorifying, heaven-on-earth things without any excuse or delay. So, he tells us, plead with the father—strongly—vigorously that he might supply you with everything you need because by doing so there will be no room for us to fall into our first sinful inclination, namely, to be preoccupied and distracted with ourselves—to make excuses for why we can’t do something.
Pray so that you might not be distracted in this way—so that your preoccupation might be rightly oriented and not self-centered. Start by asking the Father to provide for you what you need in terms of sustenance, and what I want you to notice is that Jesus isn’t telling you to ask God to fill your fridges and freezers to the brim or to satisfy your most lavish appetites. He’s not instructing you to ask that God give you what you need to become overindulgent. Verse 11 interpreted literally is, “Give to us today our sufficient bread.”
This very often is the litmus test for us, isn’t it? We wonder, if God is so gracious, why are there so much homelessness in the world, and very often we find the answer isn’t because God lacks generosity or graciousness but because we try to accumulate too much—we get too distracted, too greedy, too in love with ourselves and our pursuit of satisfaction on our terms—we desire to feed our addictions, and as long as they’re being fed, we tend to think, “God has blessed me in my accumulation,” that is, until it all comes crashing down—after which we tend to think, “where was God when I needed him most?”
Yet, what we need to realize in those moments is not only that God is still with us, but that he is disciplining us for our good—hoping that we might see how we’ve sought out our sufficiency in our stomachs or in our other worldly, fleshly appetites instead of him. And he means to take it away from us not to bring us into doubt about his love but to prove it and to restore us in the joy of himself—that we might look to him and plead for the provision of what is sufficient for us and not what is overly indulgent—not what will lead us to hell—not what will lead us to death.
So, Christ starts by telling us, ask your Father to enable you to do difficult, God-pleasing things by keeping you from death, because Jesus knows if you don’t eat, you’ll die. But you’re to make sure your request is for the purpose of pleasing him and not for filling up your coffers, your bellies, or your storehouses. Give me what I need so that in doing your will, I might not die.
Then, Christ says plead that your Father might forgive you, but he attaches an additional clause, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” So important is this pleading that Jesus expands on it in verses 14-15: if you forgive, your Father will forgive, but if you do not forgive, your Father won’t forgive. What is Matthew saying here? Is he telling us that our forgiveness is dependent upon our works—upon our forgiveness?
Well, we already know the answer is no, but we need to work out why, and the why is answered based on the context of our passage. Who is Christ condemning here in chapter 6 and throughout his sermon? He’s condemning the ostentatious Pharisees and scribes—people who act a certain way for others to see, but in secret were the greatest hypocrites. These men would flaunt their spirituality and their piety, but behind closed doors, they would betray their own brothers and sisters if they felt slighted by them in the smallest way.
The concept of forgiveness—true forgiveness—not only the cancelling of debt or punishment for those who wronged them but the suffering and the personal sacrifice that it entailed—this was absolutely foreign to them. And they were wholly unwilling to do it. To them, holiness and piety weren’t the most important thing—they were merely tools to be used to earn their peoples’ applause, accumulate power, knowing that when a debt was owed, people would be too afraid not to pay them back. That’s what their performance was all about, establishing their praiseworthiness. And forgiveness requires the exact opposite.
Forgiveness requires your humbling, your willingness to look the part of the fool, to seem unwise according to the standards of the world, and to, potentially, be made miserable with no worldly notice or recognition. Yet, here are Jesus’ words, in order to do incredible things, difficult things—in order to count yourself a citizen and participant of the kingdom, you’ve got to be forgiven, and you won’t be forgiven if you can’t forgive—why? Because your unwillingness to forgive tells your Father in heaven that you want nothing to do with him.
What you want is for the world to regard and revere you while your own sins are not counted against you. You want all the praise without being made the fool, looking unwise, or falling into despair while your God—your Father—you expect him to be made the fool, to look unwise, and to suffer for your despair. You want the world to be preoccupied with you while simultaneously having your God be preoccupied with you.
But, dear Christian, that is not how this works. No, if God is to enable us to do incredible, difficult things, and if we expectantly hope to be brought into his presence, then our preoccupation must be with him—to be holy as he is holy—to forgive as he forgives—to find vindication and sufficiency for our despair not in ourselves but in him, on his terms, through the work of his Son, by the power of his Spirit, and all for his glory.
If God is willing to look unwise and play the fool in the eyes of the world by sending his own Son to humbly suffer for our sake and for our sin by dying upon an actual cross, then what little is it for us to take up our figurative cross, play the fool, look unwise, and forgive those who have done little harm to us compared to what we have done to our Christ. We are to forgive and forgive generously because of the lengths by which he has borne our sins on our behalf to secure our forgiveness.
And all of this leads to that third plea: lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. This is an historically difficult passage, but I’m going to try and explain it to you quickly. Perhaps some of you have heard it before. The word πειρασμός, which comes from the verb πειράζω, can mean two things: to test or tempt. And what Jesus is talking about here is based upon what we’ve just prayed in verses 9 and 10. All that we do and all that we experience can be put into two categories: pleasure or pain, and at times when we serve the Lord it will be of the greatest pleasure and at other times, it will involve great pain. Yet, in every moment—in both pleasure and pain—we are being tested, on the one hand, by God, and tempted, on the other, by the devil.
In pleasure, we’re being tested. Will we give thanks to the one who’s increasing our joy? Or will we give into the devil’s temptation to make the pleasure our god over God himself? In pain, we’re being tested. Will we trust God to prune us and do what is good for us and help us depend upon him in our suffering, or will we give into the temptation to forsake God, to blame him, to complain, or to think we deserve better?
In other words, to what extent do we mean the words when we pray, “let your name be hallowed, let your kingdom come, and let your will be done?” Is it only when it suits us? Is it only when we’re willing to suffer for a cause we think is worthwhile? Or is God worth it all—in pleasure and in pain? What is the preoccupation of your life? Is it that God allows you, leads you, and enables you to walk with him through the tests? Or do you, when your experiences become too good or too difficult, let the the temptations of the devil or your own preoccupation with yourself blind you, bind you, and destroy you?
When we ask God to lead and deliver us out from temptation, we’re asking for his help to stay free from the snares of the devil and of our own sinful inclinations. We’re asking that he might help keep us out of our own way—help us look not to the false promises of the devil’s temptations but show us how to persevere through the test—because our way and the devil’s way are one in the same; they lead us to destruction, but your way leads to glory.
Do you see what’s happening here? Verses 11-13 aren’t imperatives forcing our will upon God but a vigorous pleading with God—desperately so, that we might ask him, as one commentator says, to keep us from dying, to keep us from despair, and to keep us from being destroyed so that we might freely revere his name, pursue our citizenship, and live in his presence forever. We need to ask him to help us be preoccupied with him in every way! Why? Because with him alone, are we eternally satisfied! With him alone, are we made righteous. With him alone, are we made unwaveringly happy. And that, church, is what this is all about—how we might be righteous, and in being made righteous—in being satisfied, brought into everlasting happiness.
Yet, one more point remains if you’ll allow me to tie this all up in the moments that we have left with one last point: be preoccupied with the holiness of God …
4) By Sincerely Loving Him
We tend to read the Lord’s Prayer in two sections, right? The first section comprising of the first three soft commands—let your name be hallowed, let your kingdom come, let your will be done—they characterize our vertical, doxological relationship with God—that we’re first concerned with the display of his character in all the earth. And we think that the second three—giving us our sufficient bread, forgiving our sins, and leading us from temptation—we think these are horizontal, personal requests.
We think in these compartmentalized categories—that we glorify and magnify God and his character first before we make any requests for ourselves—as if they are meant to be separated. But as I have studied this text and with the help of other learned, more intelligent men and women than myself, I’ve come to see that that’s not what Matthew is doing here. He doesn’t mean for us to venerate God first and think of ourselves second. No, he means for all of it to be for the purpose of venerating and exalting God—whether we’re focusing our requests vertically or horizontally.
And I’ve come to see this in that first verb in verse 9—let your name be hallowed. As I’ve said before “hallowed” is a tricky and unique word. We discussed it last week—we can’t truly hallow the name of God. We can’t make him holy because he is already holy. But what we can do and are called to do in hallowing his name is to revere it, treasure it, esteem it above all other names, we’re called to love it.
And how is it that we love his name? How is God hallowed in us? Well, if I might borrow from John Piper’s famous statement: God is most hallowed in us, when we are most preoccupied with his holiness. In other words, we hallow God not merely with our mouths and not merely on our knees, but with the entirety of our hearts—with the entirety of our lives.
We hallow the name of God when we seek after the coming of his kingdom, when we desire to do on earth what divine beings do in heaven, when we look to him for our daily provision, when we trust in him for the forgiveness of sin through the atoning work of his Son, and when we depend upon him to lead us from the destruction of the devil and our propensity for evil. There is no separation between things prayed for his sake and things prayed for ours. All of it ought to display the holy name of the Lord, and he means to grant us all of these things—to see us possess a greater righteousness and to be pre-eminently happy—if our motivation—if our singular, sincere desire—is to love him above the world and above ourselves.
And do you see the primary way in which we’re to express that love? It’s not by making others look at you in awe. It’s not by stringing meaningless phrases together to sound nice. It’s by laying yourself at the feet of him who gave everything by sending his Son to die upon a cross for you and who calls you now to respond not by striving or earning your place by his side, but in his grace, simply bowing your head in humble prayer—to know that he is your God and that he is with you forever.
So, then, here is our task not only that we pray, but that we might know the effectiveness of our prayer in our lives, in our church, and in the world when our motivation and preoccupation—when our first and greatest affection—is with our God who is holy, when he is revered in our souls, and when he is truly loved in our hearts. May we seek to hallow him as he is worthy to be hallowed, and in so doing may he make us holy as he is holy for our good and for his eternal glory.