“Taking God Seriously”
March 22, 2009
We began talking about prayer last week by noting some things that are important to understand about true prayer:
• True Prayer Is Not a Performance - :1,5
• True Prayer Is a Matter Between God and You - :6
• True Prayer Isn’t a Matter of Style - :7
• True Prayer Engages the Intellect - :7
• True Prayer Recognizes God’s Sovereignty - :8
Today we move directly to our Lord’s teaching on the subject. We call it the “Lord’s prayer”, but in reality, it’s better called the “model prayer”, or the “disciple’s prayer.
It’s not often that I add to a sermon on a Sunday morning, but I was eating my Apple Caramel Pecan Crunch this morning and though I don’t like TV viewing on Sunday AM, I always flip on the tube to make sure there’s nothing I need to know about before I come to church. Quickly, there came on a commercial for the “Prayer Cross”. I DVR’ed it so that I could produce choice excerpts for you:
“The Prayer Cross has a “secret center stone” with the text of the entire Lord’s Prayer before your eyes.. Watch as people gaze in amazement as they experience the magic of the Prayer Cross for the first time…a one-of-a-kind spiritual accessory. When held up to the light, the entire Lord’s Prayer becomes instantly and almost miraculously visible…sure to bring joy and comfort to all who wear it, and astonish those who see the hidden prayer inside…the perfect way to keep the Lord’s Prayer close to your heart.”
Well, there you have it: the Lord’s Prayer, given that we might wear it around our necks. In case you have a burning desire to get one, it can be found—of course—at www.prayercross.com. I’m sure you’ll all be rushing out to pick one up for two low payments of $19.95 each.
Notice an irony with me, and it’s a significant one: Jesus has just called His disciples to knowledgeable prayer that is not just mere mouthing of meaningless words, repeating certain words as though the words themselves have power or the speaking of them is magical or something. Ready for the irony? What is the one prayer that every American knows, and which is more often recited in rote, dare I say “mindless”, fashion than the “Lord’s prayer”? You can say it without engaging your brain, without considering the magnitude of what’s being said in it—which is the exact, 180 opposite of what Jesus intended when He said, “do not heap up empty phrases”. Last week I referenced worshipping in a mainline church on the Sunday of my Walk Thru training; at a point in the service, as I’d be willing to guess happens every service, the one leading in prayer led us in the recitation of the “Lord’s Prayer”. There is nothing wrong with praying the Lord’s Prayer…but there is everything wrong with doing anything mindlessly, whether it’s the Lord’s Prayer or “now I lay me down to sleep”, or whatever. I was in a restaurant this past week when a little girl insisted that she and grandma pray before the meal, and she proceeded to begin “God is great” at such breakneck speed that the words, which she was not bashful about praying loudly, could hardly be understood! What’s the point of going through the motions of a religious ritual if there is no meaning behind it? Better not to open our mouths in reciting the “Lord’s Prayer”—or any prayer—if all we’re doing is mouthing words!
Notice how Jesus prefaces this prayer: “pray like this”, not “pray this”. Once again, we understand that what Jesus is doing is giving us, not a rote prayer, but a “template”, if you will, recommending to us the kinds of things that ought to be in evidence as we pray. He’s not telling us what to pray; He’s telling us how to pray. And in the words He gives, not a single one is wasted; all of them are important in praying; there are no sugar-coated pious placebos to be found. That’s not even to say that every time we pray, we are obligated to remember every clause and incorporate everything we find here into every prayer—though that’s not a bad idea—but the truth is that a well-rounded prayer life needs to find these elements in it.
I had a “STOP” sign on the wall of my office 25 years ago as a junior high youth pastor. I’m not sure if that’s because the first word to junior high kids needs to be “stop”—because they’re almost certainly doing something mischievous—or if it’s just because I thought it looked cool hanging on the wall of my office. Most likely, it was the latter, though there’s truth to the former!
In a parallel passage in Luke 11, Jesus’ disciples are recorded as asking Him, “Lord, teach us to pray”. His first words indicate that before we rush headlong into praying, we ought to stop! Before you start, stop! We stop in order to make sure that we’re not mistaking something else for the kind of prayer that honors God for Who He is; we stop to take inventory, in other words. We want to make sure that they things we are about to say, when we pray, are true and real and accurately reflect God’s nature and character; we want to make sure that we aren’t just throwing words out into the air randomly and assuming that what we call “prayer” actually is prayer!
Because there’s a whole lotta prayin’ goin’ on! In our judgment-free, hyper-tolerant society of 2009, all prayer is considered equal. “Prayer” is seen as a virtue—regardless of to whom we pray, or how we pray, or what-have-you. Making distinctions; coming to judgments between good prayer and prayer that isn’t good—these aren’t things that we are too terribly interested in doing. So Muslims pray to Allah, and Buddhists do their thing, and some pray to Saint So-and-So, and New Agers meditate and tribesman in PNG pray to their ancestors and Native Americans to…you get the picture.
Seen the bumper sticker? “CoExist”. And it pictures symbols of many different faiths spelling out the word. I’m cool with that; we need to get along peacefully no matter what faith we claim…but I have the feeling that what some folks mean by that isn’t what I’d mean.
Jesus’ words here bring us to a screeching halt: “our Father”.
Because 20 centuries of Christian faith precede us, we do not hear the radical nature of Jesus’ 2-word address. We have lost the heritage which places appropriate emphasis on God’s transcendence. We use terms to refer to God which border on blasphemy; God is the “Big Guy”, or the “Man Upstairs”. We have so emphasized the closeness of God, what theologians refer to as God’s “immanence”, that we think little of using a term like “our Father”—but we ought to see in Jesus’ address here a big stop sign!
I. Prayer is Based Upon Relationship
The stop sign is in this question: “Am I in a relationship with God whereby I can seriously address Him in this way?”
Sometimes you will hear people talk of the “fatherhood of God”, and thus the “brotherhood of man”. This is warm, it is noble, and there is a sense in which God is “Father of all”, but in the truest and most significant sense, it is false, according to what the Bible teaches. Don’t take my word for it; take Jesus’ word:
• John 8:44 – “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.”
• John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
• John 1:12 – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…”
We don’t wear the title “child of God” by birth, but by re-birth.
Before I pray, I have to stop and be sure that “Father” is an accurate term, for prayer on any other basis has no promise of being heard. But when that is the basis, “Father” becomes an access word, a “password”, if you will. We can even go better than that, because as we saw recently in Romans 8, Paul uses the word “Abba”, translated in American as “Daddy”, to describe the relationship that He intends with His people. It is not sacrilege, but privilege; Christ calls us into a depth of relationship with the God of the universe to such a degree that while on the one hand maintaining reverence for the God of the universe, we can also approach him as a child would a “daddy”.
“Daddy” is the name that gets my attention, I might add. If your kid comes up to me and says, “Pastor Harvey, could you do this for me”, I might; I’ll try, if it’s in my power, to help out. But I don’t bear the sense of obligation to any other child that I do to Brent and Chiannon, who along with their older brother are the only three people in the world who can use that term of familiarity with me (and the little girl does it all the time, believe me!).
Some might look at the prayer and find that it is not specifically for Christians; after all, Jesus’ name isn’t found in it; He doesn’t say (in this place; He does in others) to pray in His name. But we don’t have to look far or think hard to realize that if the only way into a relationship with God is through Jesus, as the Scripture teaches, then this is a Christian prayer. And we do come to God in the name of Jesus.
Remember how we said there were no wasted words? “Our” is a word we can skip right on by if we aren’t careful, but it speaks of the fact that I don’t have this solitary relationship with God that has no connection with others; rather, I am part of a brotherhood with others. ½ billion people on earth would claim to be evangelical followers of Jesus—and I’m not here to quibble numbers, but simply to state that there are many who will spend eternity with God as part of His family, and who likewise enjoy the attendant privileges and obligations, joys and pain, that accrue to us on the basis of that relationship. 150K of my brothers/sisters die for their faith every year. “Brother” and “sister” are not pious platitudes, but timeless truths. My relationship with God is personal, but it is not solitary.
And so as we begin learning in Christ’s school of prayer, we are reminded right off the bat of the seriousness of our relationships. In another place Jesus says, “If someone has something against you, don’t do this religious thing until you do your best to get reconciled to that person.” I cannot pray “our Father”, if I’m not treating other members of His family with the love, compassion, and concern that they deserve. Later, we will see that we are to forgive our debtors, having been forgiven by God. Why is this important? Because of the seriousness of our relationships with God and with other family members!
II. Prayer is Engaged in with Reverence
“In Heaven”- It is important to synthesize Scripture with Scripture. Let’s synch Galatians 4:4-6 with Jeremiah 23:23:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6
“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Jeremiah 23:23
The immanence (“Abba”) and the transcendence (“who art in Heaven”) of God is unique to Christian faith, that we hold both at the same time of our God. The word “Father” is used 14 times in the OT, and as I pointed out a few weeks ago, it is used in the “national sense”, much as we might call George Washington the “father of our country”. Often as well, the word “Father” was used as an analogy regarding God, not so much as a title for Him. But while we only find these types of things 14 times in the Old Testament, the term “Father” is used 17 times in the Sermon on the Mount alone, stressing God’s approachability, but for us, the opposite, this word, needs to be heard: He is our Father “in Heaven”. “Abba, Daddy”, yes; the perfect, holy God? Yes, as well! He perfectly cares as a loving Father and perfectly knows as sovereign God. Before we pray, we STOP and remember just Who it is we are approaching, a God to whom we come in an attitude of holy reverence. We don’t have any real context for appreciating “Father”, because we’ve grown up familiar with that as a term for God, but understand that when Jesus came calling Him by that term, and encouraging His followers to do the same, it was revolutionary. And it will help our prayer lives if we moderate to that balance between understanding God as the accessible, immanent “Daddy”, on the one hand, and the Wholly Other, transcendent God of the universe Who is worthy not merely of our love and respect, but our awe, fear, and holy terror.
Further, consider this: in a family that is functioning correctly, I want to be with those whom I love. I want to spend time with my father; I wish I could spend more. I look forward, next month, to spending a little time with my parents; it’s enjoyable, it’s valuable, it’s…home. Our Father…is at home—which means that by definition, we are not. We are pilgrims, spending time here on this earth doing God’s will, but if we’re doing it right, we’re never getting too pleased with this earth, with life here. If we’re doing it right, there are frustrations that we acknowledge, things about this life that we will never come to accept. We won’t put down permanent roots here, and while we can and should enjoy this life, our attachment ought to be to the priorities and values of another place.
III. Prayer Involves a Response to God
“Hallowed be Your Name”
What’s in a name? We pray, as our first petition, “hallowed be Your name” – Today, we just name people names, names we like, that are pleasing to the ears. Names are simply things to distinguish one person from another, and only rarely do people naming their children know the derivation of the names themselves. I’m not sure if I’ve shared this with you, but one day, I decided to look up what the name “Byron” actually meant. I was dismayed to learn that it meant something like “small cottage in France”. Deep. Further, under the classification “a sermon illustration I’ll probably regret”, I admit that in my lifetime I’ve had a few nicknames (and I won’t share all of them with you!). When I was playing baseball in junior high school, I happened to make for one of the few times in my life straight A’s, and so Coach Andrews would cheer me on by calling me “Straight A Harv”. I didn’t mind that one too much…but then, there was the fellow who nicknamed me “Bugs”, suggesting that I was always in his hair, bugging him. To this day, there’s one lady in Roanoke who calls me “Bugs”—25 years later. These nicknames said something about me, for good or ill.
In antiquity, a name was more than that; a name had real significance, and there were times in Scripture, as in antiquity, when a person would receive a new name at a change point in his/her life. You can think of some of those in the Bible with little difficulty: Abraham, Peter, Paul, and others come to mind. In a message a few months back, I referenced Hosea, the prophet, who named his kids as God commanded: Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi; these were walking prophecies of God.
So what does that say to us about this phrase, “hallowed be Your name?” “Name” represents all that God is, His character, His will, His plan, and the fullness of His person.
Similarly, consider these names of God that say something about Him:
• Elohim – “Creator God”
• El Elyon – “Possessor of Heaven and Earth”
• Jehovah-jireh – “The Lord will Provide”
• Jehovah-Shalom – “The Lord, our Peace”
• Jehovah Tsidkenu – “The Lord, our Righteousness”
“Hallowed” continues the theme of God’s transcendence; to hallow is to attribute to God all that is due Him: reverence, honor, glory. It is to have true knowledge of God, to think of Him as He is rather than as I might wish to imagine Him to be. I cannot pray to a “god” of my making, and then expect the God of the universe to respond to my calling out to some fill-in-the-blank in the sky! When I pray, I remember that the very Name of God is to be hallowed, to be set apart in my thinking and living and praying.
Contrast this with the fact that, every now and again, you’ll hear somebody say, “I like to think of God as…” and then that person will fill in the blank in some way of his/her choosing. Is that silly, or what? It’s patently ridiculous, when you really think about it; it’s absurd even to suggest it. You cannot hallow God’s Name so long as you are unwilling to confess of Him all that the Scripture says of Him. That doesn’t mean that we understand Him or His ways fully, but it does mean that I do not willfully allow a false picture of God to carry the day in my imagination. This is why it’s so critical to know the Word of God, that we might get a true picture of Who God really is. I am not praying to God if I am not picturing and understanding Him aright.
In the Psalms, for instance, the writers took every opportunity to extol God as He is, and in the works He has done. They regaled His awesome majesty. They praised Him for His providence, His deliverance, His wisdom, His power. At the same time, He was a personal God Who cares deeply for His people, and the worshipper of God calls on others to join with him in praise. “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together” (Psalm 34:3). If God is One Whose name is worthy of being hallowed in this way, surely He is worth sharing with others! Surely, we should concern ourselves that His goodness be enjoyed by all!
Some ways I respond to God:
• Gaining a Biblical understanding of His character and nature
• Recognizing that all of life is lived in His presence
o As we saw last week, we do not “play to the crowd”; we “play to” an Audience of One
• Relinquishing control of our lives to Him
o Really hallowing His Name involves taking His Lordship seriously, more than just by praying, but by living in a way consistent with His holiness
Jesus begins laying out the Model Prayer for us by saying, loud and clear to those who are listening, “This is God you’re dealing with; take Him seriously!”
What are some questions we should be asking ourselves about these three aspects of prayer? What “inventory” ought we to take of our own lives with regard to our approach to God?