When Jesus taught the disciples prayer, the reader needs to be mindful of the timing. Jesus, still offering himself as the King of Israel, had not yet been turned down, and the prayer he was teaching the disciples was one which was the fulfillment of the Kingdom. In fact the whole Sermon on the Mount was teaching for Israel, as Jesus taught the Law as it should have been properly interpreted. Many saints are guilty of looking at these passages and thinking that Jesus was directly teaching them. While there may be applications from this wonderful passage, we need to be sure that we view it primarily as “lawful teaching” and not as part of the teachings of grace.
In the Disciples’ Prayer, this is most evident when we are told to pray “Thy Kingdom Come”. Christians are not ever told to pray for the Kingdom; rather the promises are to the Jews. Their King was at hand; he had not yet been rejected. Had they accepted him (I know this is an impossibility under the sovereignty of God, for He is never surprised) their King was ready to rule. Christians are taught to look for His appearing, not for the Kingdom. We are to wait with anticipation for the appearing of our Savior. Need more evidence? We are taught by Jesus here that if we do not forgive men their sins neither will God forgive us (v.15) The prayer has conditional forgiveness; something the Christian is never told. We are forgiven of all our sins upon belief, the only condition of salvation.“This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he hath sent.” Yet Jesus, in the Disciple’s Prayer, taught them that if they did not forgive others, they themselves would not be forgiven.
But enough of that. Suffice it to say a great many saints have made great errors of doctrine because they do not consider the audience. Do not forget the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus in anguish of spirit because of her demon-possessed daughter. What was the reply of Jesus? “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus, before the cross, was still dealing with the Jews and their Kingdom. Jesus’ answer becomes so much clearer when we understand that he started to turn the woman away because it was not part of his purpose; the woman won his attention by stating “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Master’s table.” Once Israel rejected Jesus, then you and I and every other yokel was welcomed into the family of God. Not before.
Remember the chapter in which the Disciple’s Prayer first appears? It is in Matthew 6, and Jesus does teach much more than just the model prayer. He teaches much about the topic of prayer. First, he teaches, that when we pray, we should pray in secret. Years ago I took the Jerry Lucas memory system and learned much of Matthew from his fine system. Secret was one of the key words for Matthew 6. This is because secret is a key word unifying Chapter 6. Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself and see.
When we pray in secret, Jesus is not telling us not to pray together; rather he contrasts the practice of his day which was for hypocrites to stand on the corner and wail to God. He teaches us that they have their reward in full; in other words they “prayed” to be praised of men, and they do get that. Rather, you and I are commanded to pray in secret, that is not publically proclaiming our virtue by means of prayer.
Second, in Matthew 6, he tells us that we should not “babble” like the pagans do. I know the parables of persistent prayer; they are the other half of the dilemma. The dilemma? How is it that we must be persistent and yet not using “vain repetition?” I think the answer lies in how we are supposed to pray. In many, if not most, passages on prayer we are told to expect an answer. William Carey said it thus: Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God. Exactly the attitude we are to have in prayer.
Jesus said if we have the faith of a mustard seed we can move mountains. Do you have the faith of this smallest of seeds? I think what Jesus was saying is that we all have that much faith. If so we ought to tremble when we fall to our knees for fear of the awesome power of God that can be moved by our feeble voices. An old Southern Baptist was where I first heard this. I was in a time of unemployment, and ends simply were not meeting. My Southern Baptist neighbor found out that I was a Christian and gave me a bit of valuable advice. He said when you pray, pray as if it all depends on God. When you look for a job, act as if it all depends on you.
Paul prayed three times to the Lord for the same thing. Each time he expected God’s answer. We are not even told what it was that Paul prayed for because the Spirit did not think we needed to know. Some Bible commentators guess that it was his weak eyes which he was praying for, because he loved the study of his parchments so much. But they are guessing. We simply do not know. At the end of the three times Paul was denied his request. God answered, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” and Paul was content with the answer. There is not one other instance of us reading that Paul ever prayed this prayer again; he had the answer of his Lord.
If we pray to God with Great Expectations, we will know when the answer comes. If we did continue on in prayer for that particular thing after we received the answer of God, how are we acting in faith? Our Father knows what we need before we ask Him. My dog frequently comes into my study with his toy in his mouth. Finally able to catch my eye, he zooms out his doggy door without even checking to see if I am following; I usually am following. My friends, we ought to be more like that dog. When we ask for something, where is our belief in the God who answers prayer? Ought we not to be headed out the door and back to business, expecting our Master’s gracious response?
Which is another attitude in prayer that we ought to have. We ought to pray for that which we really desire. The scripture says “No good thing does He withhold from he whose walk is blameless.” I once labored in a church where I was encouraging a new older Christian to pray. His reply? “I tried prayer once. It didn’t work.” I think he went to God with the lowest of expectations and God met every expectation. He loves us, wants good things for us, and wants us to become more aware of our utter need for Him.
Pray for something that you really think God wants you to have. Our church’s prayer warriors have been reaching out in faith and prayer for a building that appears to be a bit more than we might afford. In spite of that, God seems to be continuing to open doors for this building. It is something that many of us have decided God wishes for us to reach toward. We desire it, and so we pray. Francois Fenelon said, “He who asks what he does not from the bottom of his heart desire, is mistaken in thinking that he prays. Let him spend days in reciting prayers, in meditation or in inciting himself to pious exercises, he prays not once truly, if he really desire not the things he pretends to ask.” (Italics added)
Which brings me at last to what I want to talk about. We first are to direct our prayers to the Father, Jesus says, who is unseen. We are not told to pray to Jesus, we are not told to pray to the Holy Spirit. It is the Father alone who is to receive our prayers. So, there is the first member of the Trinity involved in each of our prayers.
Sometimes people misunderstand the Father. They say, improperly,
“the Father led Israel in the Old Testament. He got angry. He destroyed many people, and it seemed as if they could never make Him happy. I want Jesus. He seems a lot nicer.”Hebrews teaches us that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Could God really be different in the Old Testament? God behaved differently, he led differently. He was teaching Israel that He alone was to be feared. In discussing what God the Father is like, we should come back to Jesus, the Son who has been revealed. A. W. Tozer says: “To the reverent question, “What is God like?” a proper answer will always be, “He is like Christ.” For Christ is God, and the Man who walked among men in Palestine was God acting like Himself in the familiar situation where His incarnation placed Him.”
Please remember that the Father so loved the world that He gave us His Son. The love which we readily see in the Son is fully in the Father also. When we approach the Father in prayer we can have the utter and complete confidence that He loves us, and wants good things for our life. As Jesus said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” When we come to the Father, we are to feel so loved that we can call him “Abba” Father, or PaPa. He loves us as our Father! More than we earthly fathers love our children!