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Monday, December 3, 2018

The Lord's (Simple) Prayer

Preface - I highly recommend Richard Foster's book, Prayer, as a resource as you study prayer.  Foster's book has been a valuable resource to me as I've developed this series on prayer and in my own efforts to deepen my prayer life.

One day an atheist who didn’t believe in God was walking through the woods admiring the beauty of nature and thinking how amazing it was the “big bang” created the whole universe and this marvelous forest.  Suddenly, a grizzly bear jumped from behind a tree and knocked the atheist to the ground.  Just as the bear’s jaws closed in to finish the atheist off, the man cried out, “God help me!” 

Everything in the world around him froze.  Even the wind stopped blowing and the birds ceased their chirping.  And then from Heaven a booming voice spoke.  “I am God.  And even though you don’t believe in me, I love you and want to help you.  What do you want me to do?”

The atheist thought for a moment and said, “I’m not a religious person and I don’t want to become one.  But if you could just give this bear some religion that should do the trick.”

God spoke with a voice of thunder, “So be it!  It is done!”  And then the forest came back to life again and everything returned to normal.  The atheist looked up hopefully at the massive grizzly bear standing over him.  The bear clasped its paws together and began to pray very religiously:

“Thank You, O God, for this meal I am about to receive...”

It seems almost everyone believes in prayer.  Of course, most people who go to church believe in prayer.  However, even people who don’t go to church will ask you to pray for them when they need help; or they will tell you they will pray for you if they hear you are having trouble.  Even atheists often pray for divine help when they are in big trouble!  (I guess it’s hard not to hope for a divine God when you desperately need supernatural help!)

Prayer is essential.  It’s not just something religious people do or something for those who desperately need help.  Prayer is a living relationship with our Creator.  Prayer is what we were made for.  But who really knows how to pray?

Jesus’ disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  And Jesus gave them a simple prayer to model how to pray.  Today, I want to look at that simple prayer we commonly call “The Lord’s Prayer”.  Now, most of us have heard this prayer and recited it again and again ourselves until it’s so familiar we take it for granted.  That can hinder our ability to understand it.  So I encourage you to try to listen to the Lord’s Prayer with fresh ears this morning--like you are hearing it for the very first time.

Matthew 6:9-13
Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy.
10 May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
    as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today the food we need,
12 and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
13 And don’t let us yield to temptation,
    but rescue us from the evil one.

A Simple Prayer
Christians often enshrine The Lord’s Prayer as the holiest of holy prayers.  It’s been part of religious tradition for so long and often linked to some of the holiest religious experiences of our lives; we can’t help but think of it as a sacred prayer.  However, Jesus never meant for the Lord’s Prayer to be some super fancy sacred ritual.  When he told his disciples, “Pray like this…” he was actually teaching them how simple and ordinary our prayers ought to be.  In fact, the language he uses in the Lord’s prayer was so common, many of the religious leaders of his day would have considered it sacrilegious.  It was blasphemy for Jews of Jesus’ day to even say the name of God—for His name was thought to be too holy to be spoken by human lips.  To them, Jesus went completely overboard by calling God “Father”.  People thought, “How can any sinful human mortal presume to call the God of the universe, Daddy?”  But Jesus is the Son of God.  And when we trust Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are adopted into the family.  God is our Father too!

A Daddy Prayer
Calling God “Our Father in Heaven” (or “Our Daddy up in the Sky”) is precisely the point Jesus wants to make.  You see, praying really is very simple.  Now, I know not everyone has had a good relationship with their father here on earth.  However, if you did have a good father you trusted, you knew loved you, who you also loved, a father you felt very comfortable being with and talking to, you would know you could just go to your dad and talk about anything.  It’s what your dad wants you do because your dad loves you and loves to spend time with you.  And Jesus is saying, that’s our relationship with God and that’s what prayer is! 

Prayer is not some highfalutin religious ritual.  Prayer is us talking to our Daddy--our true Dad, our perfect Dad, our Daddy in the Sky, our Heavenly Father.  And that sets the tone for everything about simple, authentic prayer.  We can and should go to God in prayer like a child goes into the arms of a loving, welcoming father.  And God receives us in prayer like a loving, welcoming dad embraces a little child. 

I think we really ought to change the name of this prayer.  Instead of calling it the Lord’s Prayer, we ought to call it the Daddy prayer.  That’s the heart of what it really is.  We are simply talking to our Daddy, who also happens to be the God of the Universe.  What a blessing!

A Model Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer (or the Daddy Prayer) is a model for how we can pray.  Jesus didn’t intend us to have to recite it by wrote—like this was the only words you can pray.  (You can recite it.  I have heard people say sometimes when they don’t know what to say in prayer, they will recite the Lord’s Prayer.  And that works too.  It’s always good to have a few prayers memorized for when you just don’t know what to pray.)  But the Lord’s Prayer (the Daddy Prayer), is really meant to be an outline 
of the kinds of things you could pray about. So what’s in the outline?
  • Address God – Our Spiritual Dad 
  • Praise Him 
  • Pray about our purpose 
  • Ask for our basic needs 
  • Pray about forgiveness 
  • Ask for spiritual guidance 
A Prayer of Praise
In the King James Version, the version we recite on Sunday mornings, we say, “Hallowed be thy name…”  What does that even mean?  It means, “Daddy God, we want You to be revered and honored.”  God is perfect and holy and good and loving and powerful and we were created to love and honor and adore Him.  We want the whole world to honor and adore Him too.  So we praise Him in our prayers.  And in doing so, we lift up our own hearts.  Our spirits soar out of darkness and gloom as we reconnect with our created purpose—to honor and glorify our Holy God.  Every problem, worry, concern seem smaller when placed beside our praise of the One True God.

A Prayer for Purpose
Thy Kingdom Come…  Prayer helps us name and ask God to help us align our purpose with His divine purpose.  Prayer changes things.  And the most important thing prayer changes is us.  We might ask God to change our situations (and sometimes He does), but the most important thing God changes in prayer is our will and our desires.  The greatest blessing in life is to discover what God wants you to do with your life and the joy of living on purpose.  Those who follow Christ ask God to help us discover His will, to help the whole world discover and do God’s will until we realize His Kingdom’s goals on the earth as much as they are a reality in Heaven.

A Prayer about Basic Needs
Our Daddy God cares about our needs.  Jesus said that God knows and cares about every single bird that dies (Matthew 10:29).  You are way more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows (Matthew 10:31).  So we can ask Him to take care of our basic needs.  And doing so reminds us of our complete dependence on God.  Food seems pretty easy to come by for most people today.  But the reality is, every one of us is only a few hours away from being very hungry.  (Some of you are pretty hungry right now and really want me to wrap up this message so you can go have lunch!)  All of us are only a day away from being famished or a few days away from starving if there were no food to eat.  Do you think you are the one who puts food on your table?  “Well, yes.  I have a job and I buy my food.”  But the Christian is one who recognizes it all really comes from God.  Without His provision, we could not survive.  And we ought not ever forget that the simple and basic blessings of having enough to eat could be taken away in a heartbeat.  Some do not enjoy that blessing—maybe by no fault of their own. 
And so we pray, “Give us the food we need.”  And not just the food; what about all the other basic things we need?  We can and should ask our Daddy God for them.  He’s our Daddy and we need Him.  And our Daddy God loves us and will take care of us.  Pray about it.

A Prayer of Forgiveness
If food is our basic physical need, forgiveness is our basic spiritual need.  Without it, we cannot live.  Sin separates us from our Creator, who is the source of life.  And yet “all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  And “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  “All who call on the name of the Lord [Jesus Christ] shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).  “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9).  But Jesus also said, “If you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15).
Forgiveness can be very hard.  I don’t have time today to really address forgiveness.  All I have time to say is this:  we desperately need God’s forgiveness and we desperately need to forgive others.  And forgiveness—real, godly, divine forgiveness—is a miracle that is beyond our ability.  And so we need to pray about it and ask God’s help.
A Pray for Spiritual Guidance
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil..."  This life is a battle ground.  We don’t often realize it as we are driving around in our comfortable Toyata Camrys and SUV’s.  But while we are enjoying our homes—with their thermostatically heated and air conditioned environments—a spiritual war is waging for our souls just beyond the grasp of our physical eyes.  The Devil and His demons wants nothing more than to see you’re soul distracted, disarmed, and destroyed.  He is OK with you living a life of comfort and ease, with few serious problems—so long as that ultimately leads you to join him in hell for the rest of eternity.  Thankfully, God has not left us unprotected in this battle.  The Holy Spirit is available to show you the way of Christ that leads to eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The stakes are high.  We desperately need to pray for God to guide us to walk in the light.  “Daddy in Heaven, lead us not into temptation, but deliver from evil.”

A Word About Amen
It has become an almost universal practice to end prayers with the word “Amen”.  The word means “so be it”, and it’s a way of affirming what we’ve just prayed.  For most people, it’s just a way to signify we’re done praying.  Although almost everyone says amen, it’s not really necessary—especially when you are praying by yourself and you don’t need to let anyone else know your done.  You can say it or not say it, whatever you want to do.

Holy Communion
Prayer is communion with God.  Whenever, we have the privilege of sharing the sacrament of Holy Communion, it is also a kind of prayer—a prayer we act out as we take the bread and grape juice and remember the love of God that was so strong it left the glory of Heaven to come down to our broken world to save us from our sins by dying on a cross.  

I hope you will focus on prayer as much as you can.  It is the life blood of our relationship with God.

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