A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on August 26, 2018.
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:9–15 ESV).
The Lord’s Prayer is a lyrical masterpiece in substance and form.Given to us by our Lord Jesus, we pray its words and follow its outline guiding us in our secret and public prayers.The prayer commences with a preface followed by six succinct petitions, each brilliantly constructed in depth and brevity.It is perfection in its simplicity, revealing to us the essential petitions made by redeemed children to their heavenly Father.According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Lord’s Prayer is a “special rule of direction.”We not only pray its beautiful words but follow it as a standard of prayer. As our standard, in summary we find it to be a prayer of praise, a prayer of petition, and a prayer of provision.
A Prayer of Praise
The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven,” reveals not only to whom we pray but also who is praying. It is a prayer of relationship and fellowship. This is not an Athenian prayer to an unknown god (Acts 17:23) but a prayer of children to their Father. To pray these words acknowledges, “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). To pray these words reveals, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). To pray these words rejoices, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6). To pray these words remembers that we are no longer slaves to sin and death but sons and daughters and heirs (Gal. 4:7).
He is our Father, and we are His children by His grace through faith in Christ, and so we pray like this: “Our Father in heaven.” This is not your earthly daddy; He is your God! “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3). His very title of heavenly Father demands relational reverence and respect. Even in our intimate and secret prayers we are to have a high view of God. Your Father in heaven is not your buddy. He is…
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise(Trinity Hymnal, 38).
And He is not only your heavenly Father, but He is our heavenly Father. In practicing our righteousness we are taught to pray in secret, but the prayer we are taught to pray includes the fellowship of our spiritual family. In the very words of our prayer we acknowledge our spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). Let us beware that our secret prayer become a self-centered one.
How then do we pray to our Father in heaven? We pray, “hallowed be your name.” To “hallow” means to make “holy” or “sanctify.” In context, we are praying that God make His holiness known to us. Our prayer is grounded in our relational need and desire to praise God as He has revealed Himself. With the psalmist we sing, “Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!” (Ps. 96:9). With the winged seraphim we say with one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3). So, we praise our God and Father in the splendor of His holiness, and because He is our God and Father we bring our petitions to Him.
A Prayer of Petition
If He is our Father in heaven, how is His holiness manifested here on earth? We pray that He advance His heavenly kingdom on earth: “Your kingdom come.” Jesus came preaching the good news of the kingdom of heaven, revealing that peace with a holy God comes one soul at a time by God’s grace through faith. The holiness of God is revealed in the justification, adoption, and sanctification of sinners like you and me.
And as we pray our Great Commission prayers for the lost souls in this world, we also pray with anticipation for the next. The heavenly kingdom advances today one soul at a time, but one day the earth will be filled with glorious unfettered praise. Until then, we pray that God’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Today, we pray that all God has purposed be accomplished. Today, we pray that all God has revealed in His Word be obeyed. Today, we pray that God’s righteousness would reign on earth just like it does in heaven.
We must never pit God’s sovereign purpose against our need to pray. All that our Father has ordained will be accomplished, and He has chosen to work through the prayers of His people. I fear that our prayers today are far too pessimistic, as if we are praying helpless prayers in a losing battle. Let us approach the throne of grace knowing that our Sovereign reigns, and let us pray with victory. Let us pray regularly, pray consistently, pray constantly: “Your kingdom come, your will done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
As we pray for the great work of the heavenly kingdom, we also pray for our needs in the earthly kingdom, even the mundane: “Give us this day our daily bread.” In our modern age, food is so readily available our struggle is not of scarcity but of over-abundance and over-consumption. But the abundance of our age does not change the fact that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17a). God, who is our heavenly Father, is the ultimate source of our provision. Despite the ingratitude of our age, we are called to give thanks and to acknowledge our heavenly Father as our Provider. Perhaps the family prayer before every meal is out of vogue, but there is no better reminder of our daily dependence upon our Father’s gracious provision.
And, of course, this extends beyond baked bread. He is our heavenly Father, and we are to go to Him with our requests. “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2b), James reminds us. As we pray for our daily physical needs, we also pray for our daily spiritual needs. While in Christ we are justified as righteous, judicially forgiven once and for all, we continue to contend with a sinful flesh. This is an already but not yet aspect of our redemption. We are counted as perfectly righteous in Christ and being conformed to the image of Christ progressively.
Therefore, as sinners saved eternally by God’s grace, we need continual cleansing for ongoing joyful fellowship with our heavenly Father. When we sin we do not hide like Adam or lie like Saul. We pray like David, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps. 51:12a), because we delight in a right fellowship with our Father. Similarly, joyful fellowship with one another is a result of ongoing forgiveness between one another. So, as justified sinners and adopted children, we pray to our Father; “forgive our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus describes our sins against God and one another as “debts,” providing an illustration of the heavy depravity of a single sin.
Many of us grew up memorizing a version of the Lord’s Prayer in which we prayed, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” yet you will not find this translation in the KJV or any modern translation. Its widespread use is due to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which makes sense for the Episcopalians and Methodists who could read and the Baptists who could not. The original Book of Common Prayer was written before the KJV and used the Tyndale Bible which used the word “trespasses.” But while lyrically beautiful, it is a poor translation.
The word Jesus uses here is literally a debt. Our ongoing sin debt against our Father exceeds our ability to pay. The forgiveness of our debt is grace. So also your brother or sister has sinned against you, perhaps greatly. But does their debt of sin to you compare to yours to God? It doesn’t compare, does it? So, Jesus ties the two debts together, revealing that our understanding and exercise of grace reveals our love and gratitude as recipients of grace: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14–15). There is a heart connection within the forgiven for forgiveness.
Do you harbor sins like stockpiled I.O.U.’s? Are you consumed with wrongs done to you by others? Have you grown miserable with the unforgiven debts of others? If you are in Christ then you are carrying a debt you were saved to forgive. Forgive. Right now: List them in your mind and consciously forgive every debt your heart has accumulated. Do you have unconfessed sin in your life, held as itemized liabilities on the balance sheet of your heart? If you are in Christ, then you are accumulating debt you were saved to confess. Confess your sins. Right now: List them in your mind and consciously confess every debt of sin you owe. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Like the daily bread we need for sustenance, we need daily forgiveness for joyful fellowship.
And we also need spiritual protection, praying, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Just as Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1-2), so also our Father may allow us to be tested, a repeated theme in the history of Israel and an aspect of our sanctification. Of course, we pray that we not be led into the wilderness of testing, but if we are, we pray that He deliver us. Such a prayer of dependence acknowledges the faithfulness of God, as Paul explained to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
How often we plow headlong into the pathway of temptation with no thought of our need of deliverance. Daily prayer awakens us to the reality of our evil enemy and the necessity of divine deliverance. Daily prayer prepares us for the spiritual battle of today. Daily prayer reminds us that our Father in heaven is our Provider.
A Prayer of Provision
It is in the ultimate provision of Jesus Christ that we are able to pray to our Father in heaven. For the holiness of the Father has been perfectly revealed in His only begotten Son. The heavenly kingdom advances through Christ the King. God’s perfect will was obeyed and accomplished on earth by the living Word. He who is the Bread of Life came that we might have eternal life. He who knows no sin became sin that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). For we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom. 8:37). As our Lord taught us to pray, so we pray, concluding with the words of the ancient church, “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory. Amen.”