The third request of Jesus’ prayer takes a lot of faith. He taught us to ask our divine Father to set apart His name from every other name. Next we ask Him to establish His promised empire among us. Then we’re to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
I want to ask, how is this possible? And, what would it look like?
How many servants of Christ have prayed this prayer as sworn Arminians? Do we appreciate that when we make this petition—or any of them really—it assumes that the Father has both the prerogative and the power to make this happen? We pray that God will make God’s will prevail over man’s will. We’re not asking men to obey God’s will, we’re asking God to cause them to obey. That’s a lot of Calvinistic sun in the sky, even more than when we acknowledge that the Father knows what we need before we ask Him (verse 8).
If God answered this prayer—and it is His will for us to pray for His will to be done, so we should expect Him to answer—how would we know? What signs would we see? Well, how are things happening in heaven? We’re not asking for something different here, but that it would be here like it is there.
In heaven His Word is heard, His name is hallowed, His commands are obeyed. That obedience is total—not partial, happy—not sullen, immediate—not delayed, and quick—not slow. The angels don’t question His will or rebel against it. They don’t try to ignore or tweak or replace it.
As we pray for heavenly obedience to come down, let us pray that He cause us to obey on earth first.
We started a series of exhortations about the Lord’s Prayer last week. Jesus assumes that men pray; even hypocrites and idolators pray. When we pray we should avoid pretense and superstition. I’ll probably come back to both of those preparatory instructions later.
But since the subject for my message last Lord’s Day was kids in worship, I want to point out the first part of Jesus’ pattern. “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven….”
The medieval church referred to Matthew 6:6-9 less as the Lord’s Prayer or the Disciples’ Prayer and more often as the Pater noster. In Greek the prayer begins, Pater hemon, which is Pater noster in Latin, and “Our Father” in English. This is not as much the prayer of a believer as it is a prayer of the church, or at least of the family. We are brothers and sisters who come together to our Father.
When we come to the time of confession in our corporate worship it’s appropriate to think about God, the Lord, the Almighty. He is our Creator, the one with whom we have to do. He is also the Lawmaker, the Judge, and He is perfect in holiness. And for us in the church, He is our honored Father. As the ultimate Father He doesn’t lower the standard, He holds His children to it in love and with discipline as necessary. He also restores His children to fellowship by forgiving them.
Our sin is a reflection on our Father’s name. Our sin has consequences on our family. But He is a faithful and merciful Father who sent His Son to bring many sons to glory. So we confess as children to our Father.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus addressed common ways that people often practice their righteousness before men: almsgiving, praying, and fasting. There is a way to do any or all of them that misses out on reward from our Father in heaven. After introducing the theme (Matthew 6:1), there are three subjects in four paragraphs, with prayer being the focus of two of them. If we associate prayer with fasting, which we should, then prayer gets a supermajority of attention.
Not only does prayer get Jesus’ attention, His warning and instruction about prayer is also based on a big assumption. Jesus makes a distinction between men who pray seeking reward from men and men who pray seeking reward from God. He does not mention those who don’t pray at all; that’s not an option. He assumes that we’re praying; even hypocrites and unbelieving Gentiles pray.
Hypocrites love to put on a prayer show for men. Gentiles need to pray a lot because their gods get busy and are not entirely reliable, so the more words the better chances of being heard. This performance is before a different audience but it’s still a show.
What does it say about us when we don’t pray at all, or at least in such a way that it could be assumed? It says we don’t understand righteousness, we don’t know the Father, and we don’t care about receiving a reward from Him. A prayer-less life won’t remain a secret, and it’s a sin we should confess.
I assume most of you heard about the massacre in San Bernardino two weeks ago. Fourteen people were killed and twenty-one wounded in a terrorist attack. Within hours of the shootings, a number of conservative politicians used their social media channels to communicate their “thoughts and prayers” for the families of the victims. The Daily News (a newspaper in New York City) printed their front page with pictures and brief passages of praying sound bytes with the headline: “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS.” The page also included the following: “As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.”
Setting aside the “innocent” adjective applied to Americans as well as the leading label of a “gun scourge,” the mockery has been called “prayer shaming.” It’s as if the media snorted, “Oh, you’re praying? How ridiculous. What a fool. Why don’t you do something.” It’s trying to embarrass the prayers.
I cannot say for certain that these politicians weren’t posturing. But the Daily News wasn’t accusing them of hypocrisy. I also won’t say that praying is the only and final response. But the purpose of this shaming headline is an attempt to bring believers to their knees before cultural and governmental gods.
Perhaps the biggest shame is that we Christians have prayed so little in front of the world that it’s taken until now to get such clear and negative press. If, as a believer, you have ever lamented that you don’t know “how to make a difference in the culture,” just pray in public and be ready to give an answer for the prayer that is in you. It’s not a good sign that our society wants to pile on the uselessness of praying, but it is a good opportunity to shine as light in the darkness. Prayer is our thing. We can do this! Don’t hide your prayer behind a newspaper.
Be much in private prayer, too, and give up any desire to be rewarded by men. Don’t pray for the photo op, but do pray so plainly and freely and perseveringly and hopefully that others would see your good supplications and glorify God in heaven.
Last Sunday we entered a study of John 17. The entire chapter is one prayer by Jesus for His disciples the night before His crucifixion. We learn, or at least we have confirmed for us, what sorts of things the Son desires for us as we hear Him ask the Father. He makes a variety of supplications and we will take a few weeks in our confession time to examine if we are wanting what the Son wants.
First let us consider that Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in your truth: your word is truth” (17:17). Two verses later He says, “For their sake I consecrate myself that they also may be sanctified in truth” (verse 19).
We define (or argue about) sanctification better than we desire it. Christ wants us to be sanctified, to be set apart from the world in our desires and loves, but yet not removed out of the world. Sanctification is not an escape, it is a conscious battle to love God and to love our neighbors who don’t deserve it. The moral behavior part of being made more holy grows out of better and stronger love for the right things.
Jesus prays for our sanctification as our priest, as the one who goes to the Father on our behalf. Not only that, He went to the cross on our behalf. He “consecrated” Himself, He dedicated His life and death for the sake of our purification from sin. He cleanses the inside of the cup first.
Christian, are you pursuing purity in your heart for the sake of your pure, unmixed, uncontaminated loves? Are you loving the same direction that Jesus is praying? Are you living in a way that matches the purpose of Christ dying?
Regarding John 15:16,
that the greater part of teachers either languish through indolence, or utterly give way through despair, arises from nothing else than that they are sluggish in the duty of prayer.
—John Calvin, Commentary on John, 122