"Father, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come."
There are no atheists in a bomb crater on the battle field!
That is what we were told by a Scripture Reader from SASRA during the week. Ask a man if he prayed when the situation became really dangerous and perilous and the answer is a virtually unanimous: "Yes". Sadly so many of those prayers and promises that were made when danger approached are quickly forgotten when the soldier returns home in safety.
Prayer, it would seem, is a normal human activity. If the heat is turned up high enough even the most militant opposer of spiritual matters is likely to turn, as a possible last resort, to prayer.
The question we must ask then is not so much ‘Should we pray?’ but rather ‘How are we to pray?’ and, more particularly, ‘How are we to pray well?’
We are more likely to be able to pray well in circumstances of dire necessity if we have trained ourselves to make prayer a regular part of our lives.
But how are we to do that?
Some assume that prayer is easy and believe that God will, must, be pleased with whatever kind of prayer they choose to offer. If that were the case then Jesus obviously got things profoundly wrong when he taught his followers about prayer because he didn’t tell them simply to go with the flow of their own thoughts but gave them clear instruction and direction as to how to pray.
These Sunday mornings we are considering what Jesus taught his followers when one of them asked him for help.
"Lord, teach us to pray" was the request and the answer Jesus gave is often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer – though it might more appropriately be called the Disciple’s Prayer.
Are you a disciple? Then this prayer is for you. If you are not a disciple this is part of what you’re missing out on!
Differences between Matthew and Luke
Many of us will know the Lord’s Prayer off by heart – but if we do we will probably know Matthew’s version rather than Luke’s which is a shorter, somewhat cut-down version. The fact that there are differences is no problem as the circumstances in which Jesus instructed his followers about prayer were different. Jesus was not primarily concerned to give us exact words to repeat correctly. He was concerned to give us a model to follow.
Now there is nothing at all wrong in repeating what Jesus said word for word as long as we avoid falling into the trap of merely "saying our prayers". If we rely on just repeating Jesus’ words we can so easily end up doing so without thinking about what we are actually saying.
And now it is time to think about just what Jesus said.
The Fatherhood of God
Prayer is made to God and when Jesus instructed his followers how to pray he told them to pray to the Father.
"Father" is the cut-down version that Luke gives us. (Other later manuscripts influenced by the words recorded by Matthew have added for clarity "our"). According to Jesus we are to speak to God as Father.
Now, this is something that I want us to stay with for a while. We are probably so familiar with the idea of God as Father that we all too easily take it for granted. Indeed many people who do not consider themselves to be Christian believers at all also think of God as the Father of each and every individual in the world. But our task is to understand what the Bible has to say about the fatherhood of God.
It might come as something of a surprise to you to discover that the OT, which makes up some ¾ of the Bible hardly ever speaks about God as Father, just a handful of references.
Towards the end of his life Moses challenged the people he led concerning their faithless behaviour and said:
Deut.32:6 "Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?"
This idea of God as father because of his work in creation reappears in the NT on just one occasion:
Acts 17:28-29 "for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, " ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring..."
Back in the OT Isaiah and Jeremiah each refer to the Fatherhood of God in a different way. Instead of relating fatherhood to creation they direct our thoughts rather to the relational realities that exist in family life.
Jer.3:19 "I said ‘How I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beautiful of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me.’"
The emphasis is on relationship and not fatherhood because in the very next verse Jeremiah changes the picture and writes of God not as the father but as the husband of his people.
And that is about it for the OT but how that changes when we turn to the NT.
We’ve already said one verse links fatherhood to creation but we find so many more references to God as Father in a relational sense. Father is the particularly Christian name for God in the NT. After four or five reference to God as Father in the OT when we turn to the gospels we are immediately confronted with God as Father in excess of 180 times.
There is something then very special about God as Father in the NT, something that is new and fresh and a truth that is not understood or emphasised by other religious faiths.
Father is a word that makes us think, and should make us think, about family and family relationships. The believer in Jesus Christ, and only the believer in Jesus Christ, belongs to God’s family and has the immense privilege of calling God his Father. The believer has this privilege and is meant to enjoy it and cherish it:
Jn.1:12-13 "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
The word "father" ought to have positive connotations for us. It speaks of strength, dependability, provision and compassion. Our human fathers even at their best fell and fall short of perfection but they ought to help point us to think of our relationship with God in a warm and positive light.
If we were merely recruits or servants then when our contracts came to end they might not be renewed and we would be cut off. If our usefulness ran out and our skills found no longer to be required then too we might be thrown over. But that is NOT our position if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and put our trust in him. No, our position is that of an adopted member of God’s family. Te paperwork if you like has been signed we’re not on probation we belong in his family and we can address him in Christ as "Father." There is a closeness of relationship that has been created that will never be ended. That does not mean we are to treat him disrespectfully – he is God after all, but we can speak to him from within the warmth and security of knowing him to be our Father.
The Spirit of God has even been given to us so that we might call out to him in this way with real confidence!
Rom.8:15 "you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!""
Gal.4:6 "because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."
What a privilege is ours as Christian believers – let us remember that every time we pray: we are praying to the One True Living God who is in Christ our Heavenly Father!!
Hallowed be your name
Having looked at just how we are encouraged to come to God, we are now told how we are to begin our prayers.
Our temptation is perhaps always to begin with ourselves. We are so conscious of ourselves: our interests, our wants, our needs and it is all too easy to rush in and treat prayer as nothing more than a means to securing what we think is best. Jesus teaches us that while we may indeed bring our petitions and personal requests to God we are not to begin there instead we are to begin with God. And Jesus tells us there are two separate but related requests we are to bring.
The first of these two requests is "Hallowed by your name".
I guess most of us don’t use that sort of language in our normal everyday lives. What does it actually mean?
The Good News Bible puts it this way:
"May your holy name be honoured"
Other versions have: "may your name be held in honour." "May your name be kept holy." And even "help us to honour your name."
Thus the idea becomes clear. Our prayer is to begin with an expressed desire for God’s name to be honoured and not treated like any other name. We are to pray that God’s complete and utter God-ness be recognised, respected and honoured. But the request is not just that we don’t want to hear God’s name being used lightly or flippantly and certainly not to hear it being used as a swear word.
In the Bible a name is not simply a label with little or no significance; no, the name stands for the whole character of the person concerned. Thus when we pray for God’s name to be honoured we are praying that God will be recognised and honoured for who and what he is in every area of his revealed character.
So we want his power to be known and respected as the power of an omnipotent God. We want his righteousness to be recognised and not called into question and ridiculed by men and women who are never in possession of more than just a tiny proportion of the facts. We want his love to be honoured and seen in its divine splendour as a strong, pure and clean love which is in total harmony with all his other attributes. We express our desire that his mercy and grace be properly understood as expressions not of favouritism or injustice but as the free and sovereign expression of his divine will.
God is unlike us – he is holy and our prayer is that his uniqueness and his distinctiveness be forever properly upheld.
So while we pray to our Father will all the intimacy that that entails we nevertheless pray for his honour to be in no way diminished or minimised.
We pray thus for the glory of God – we want his splendours and his perfections to be upheld and to be made known. We don’t want to try to somehow shrink God to the size of our puny intelligence we want to see him exalted. When others poor scorn on our inability to explain God we won’t pander to their desires by trying to make God acceptable to human understanding – we will revel in his God-ness expressed among things in the Doctrine of the Trinity. We won’t let the fact that we can’t fully take comprehend how there can be One God yet three indivisible persons bother us. Instead we will pray that his Trinitarian name will be set forth openly and clearly.
Our prayer will be that God act in this way to promote the honour of his own name but it will also mean that we will not wish to dishonour him by the way we speak, by the way we think nor by the way we conduct ourselves.
How easily we can repeat the words "Hallowed by your name" or "Hallowed by thy name" without giving a second thought as to just how profound and far-reaching such a request actually is! May God our Father himself help us by the Spirit to pray and to pray intelligently for his glory!
Your Kingdom Come
The second request that Jesus teaches us to bring at the outset of our prayers to the Father is expressed in just three words or four words in Luke’s version of the prayer:
"Your, (or May your) kingdom come."
The Kingdom of God is not to be thought of as related to some particular geographic location – God’s Kingdom comes wherever his reign and rule are welcomed. Our prayer therefore asks for God to so act that his reign and rule are readily recognised and welcomed by more and more people.
It is a prayer that the gospel that the Christian believer has embraced may be embraced by more and more sinners as they lay down their weapons of rebellion against God and sue for peace.
It is a prayer that implicitly recognises that this Kingdom of God is good indeed that it is the best possible thing that there can be. For God to exercise his reign and rule over a willing life that has responded to him through repentance and faith is the greatest thing that can ever happen to an individual. Our efforts to do things our way have sullied and spoilt not only our lives, the lives of those we rub shoulders with and the lives of the people we love the best but they have dishonoured God by refusing to recognise his God-ness and all the legitimate claims the Creator has to his creation and to his creatures. The answer to the failure of our own personal kingdom building attempts is for the Kingdom of God to prosper and to extend.
This is a prayer for God’s name to honoured and glorified amongst individuals but also among the nations of the world and even beyond that! It is a prayer for God’s Kingdom to triumph over all the powers of evil and darkness that exist and which militate against the reign and rule of God.
It is a prayer that effectively asks that Jesus go on doing what he came into the world to achieve!
1Jn.3:8 "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil."
God’s Kingdom is nothing to be ashamed of, it is not a dismal reign where human joys are all extinguished. No, no, no! That is the devil’s lie. Jesus came that we might have life in all its fullness. And it is in God’s presence, where his will is fully and completely and happily carried out, that we will find that fullness of joy.
As the hymn writer Isaac Watts put it:
"Religion never was designed
to make our pleasures less"
"The hill of Zion yields
a thousand sacred sweets,
before we reach the heavenly fields,
or walk the golden streets."
Let’s make sure that:
We are in God’s family
Pray as Jesus taught us.