Jesus' Perfect Prayer #1 (Matthew 6:9-10)

In the first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer, disciples ask God ultimately for the age to come.

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his disciples about the practice of religion. He began by highlighting the primary danger of religion, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men, in order to be seen by them” (6:1). There are inherent dangers that attend religious practice, the primary one being the craving of attention from men rather than from God. Jesus spoke of three practices of religion in vss. 2–18. He spoke of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Today, we focus on prayer.

In Matthew 6:9–13, Jesus gives the perfect example of prayer for his disciples. This prayer is called the Lord’s Prayer because it comes from Jesus who is the Lord. Before we dive into the content of the prayer, it’s important to note the first words of v. 9. Jesus says, “Therefore, pray in this manner...” The therefore connects the words of the Lord’s Prayer that follow with what Jesus has just stated in the previous verses.

In vss. 5–8, Jesus warned against performative and perfunctory prayer, and instead commanded and commended personal prayer that pleases God. We covered these verses in a previous post.

Now, as Jesus turns to vss. 9–13, he gives his disciples an example of prayer that avoids both the errors he has just warned about. Instead of performative prayer that seeks man’s praise, Jesus’s exemplary prayer places the priority on God and his glory. Instead of perfunctory prayer (prayer characterized by mechanical repetition and vain phraseology), Jesus gives us a prayer that is simple and succinct rather than complicated and repetitive. Listen to this quote:

“If the praying of Pharisees was hypocritical and that of pagans mechanical, then the praying of Christians must be real. Jesus intends our minds and hearts to be involved in what we are saying. Only then is prayer seen in its true light—not as meaningless repetition of words, nor as a means to our own glorification, but as true communion with our heavenly Father.”

That’s the key. True disciples of Christ know that prayer is nothing less than communion with the Father. Prayer is really a verbal nestling of ourselves under the wings of God. Prayer is an exercise in dependence where we come to the Father who gives us intimate access to him through Christ.

By nature, of course, we don’t know how to pray as we ought. This is why Jesus instructs us how to do it. The Lord’s Prayer is a mini-manual on prayer. Christ extends his helping hands to us and says, “Let me lift you up in comfortable dependence and communion with God the Father. This is the way to pray.”

Overview

You can see that this prayer is structured in three parts.

First, it begins with an address (“Our Father in heaven”). Second, that address is followed by three petitions relating to God’s honor, God’s kingdom rule, and God’s will being done. Thirdly, Christ moves on from God-centered priorities to our needs, both temporal and spiritual.

We learn three things from this. First, prayer is personal address. Second, prayer prioritizes God and his kingdom above all other things. And finally, prayer petitions God for everything, acknowledging that everything we need ultimately comes from him. In this post, we will look at the address and the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. In the next post, we will cover the last three petitions and vss. 14–15.

Addressing the Father

In v. 9, it says, “In this manner, therefore, you [are to] pray, ‘Our Father in the heavens…’” We learn that we are pray to God as our Father.

This indicates four things:

First, we are to pray to God because we are his children. The Christian, as a disciple of Christ, has a Father (a leader, a guide, a divine parent). But how can we be considered God’s children? It is only possible to call God Father because of our relationship with Christ. Earlier in Matthew when Jesus was baptized, the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Through faith in Christ, therefore, we begin to know and have the same Father as Christ. We are the Father’s children because of the Father’s Son. Because of that, our religious life of prayer takes the pattern and shape of Christ’s own religious life of prayer. Amazing, isn’t it?

Secondly, we have privileged access to the Father. Christ is teaching that we have privileged access to God because of our personal relationship with Christ. Who are the people in a kingdom who can interrupt an important meeting and go and sit in the lap of the king? The king’s children! Why? Because they are his children they have privileged access to the king. Fathers love their children and desire relational intimacy with them. God gives us an all-access pass to his presence in prayer.

Thirdly, we must approach the Father with childlike trust and reverence. Christ is not teaching us to be childish but too be childlike. Listen to the Heidelberg Catechism, “Why has Christ commanded us to address God thus: “Our Father”? It says, “That immediately, in the very beginning of our prayer, he might excite in us  a childlike reverence for, and confidence in God, which are the foundation of our prayer…” Isn’t that beautiful?

Fourthly, Christ is teaching us that the Father is supreme. Fathers are the heads of their households. They have authority over their children. Therefore, we must pray to God as one who has authority over us. We are not our own. We are his. He makes decisions that we don’t get to make. He has the power to command that we don’t have. He deserves to be obeyed in ways that we do not. We must approach God as supreme.

Addressing the Father in Heaven

That brings us into a further statement Christ highlights in the address. He says, “Our Father in heaven…” There’s a beautiful balance here. Father indicates intimacy and authority, and yet—the Father is greater than all earthly fathers because of where he dwells. He dwells in the glory of his heavenly throne-room in unapproachable light. He is the One worthy of all praise, honor, glory, and fear (c.f. Revelation 4).

In the address of the Lord’s Prayer, therefore, there is both immanence and transcendence. There is both intimacy and distance. There is access granted, but God is never a pal, a buddy, or a chummy friend. He always retains his distinctive majesty as the Father in the heavens.

This underscores afresh the privilege of addressing God. Why? Because when we say, “Our Father in the heavens,” we are calling on the One who is all-powerful (omnipotent). We pray to the one who can do far more abundantly than anything we could ask or imagine (c.f. Ephesians 3:20–21). Our human fathers were (and are) limited in power and strength, but “our God is in the heavens, and he does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). The Heidelberg Catechism says that “in the heavens” is added so that we as children may “expect from his almighty power all things necessary for body and soul.” Not only is God close to us, but he is transcendent over us and can therefore give us all we need and ask.

The First Three Petitions

That brings us into the first three petitions of the Lord’s prayer. These first three petitions are united in their priority on God. Christ will say later, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We do that initially in prayer, where we seek God’s will above all else.

Because the first three petitions are God-centered, the disciple is concerned not primarily with himself, but with the Father’s glory and worship. This prayer is perfectly oriented, because God’s glory is the sun around which everything orbits.

The First Petition

The first petition is stated in this way, “Hallowed [or sanctified] be your name…” God’s name is inherently sacred, and it is therefore sacred to the Christian. The defining hope of the Christian is when the whole world will keep the third commandment and God will receive the glory he deserves from sea to shining sea. This is what the disciple ultimately asks for in the first petition.

But just because that is ultimately sought does not mean that the present time is left out from this petition. In fact, the hope of what will one day be shapes the way our lives are meant to be lived in the here-and-now. The kingdom is a reality now (we are citizens now). Therefore, when it says “hallowed” or “sanctified” be your name—what does that mean for us now?

It means, “May your name be reverenced, may your name be treated as holy in my own life.” The disciple is saying, “I want what will one day be to saturate me now—in my thought life, in my speech (my words), in my worship, and in my deeds. I want you, O God, to be reverenced in every aspect of my existence.”

Christ said that the good works his disciples do were to be done before the watching world that the Father might be glorified. That is our motivation in prayer as well. Every time we pray that we would walk worthy of the calling we have received, we are asking that God’s name would be hallowed in our lives. Every time we ask that God would be glorified through our words, thoughts, and actions, we are asking that his name would be reverenced in our lives.

The Second Petition

The second petition is, “Your kingdom come…” There’s a sense in which God has always ruled over the world. His is the kingdom. He is the king over all the earth right now. The earth and its dwellers belong to him, because he created it (Psalm 24:1). And yet, when Jesus came on the scene of history, he said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Something new was going on that Jesus was announcing. God was about to establish his kingdom reign and rule through the work and ministry of the Messiah.

Therefore, this petition relates in an ultimate way to the future. When we say, “Your kingdom come,” what we want is for God to bring the fullness of his kingdom to earth. We are asking God to establish his reign in a consummate way. 2 Peter 3:13 says, “But according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” In Revelation 11:15, when the seventh angel blew his trumpet, it says, “The kingdom of the world [so dominated by Satan and evil and oppression] has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.” That’s what this petition is asking for in an ultimate way.

But it also bears upon the present time. Hope for the future shapes our lives now. This petition carries with it all that must take place until that kingdom comes. If we want God’s kingdom to come, then we are also petitioning that we would seek first his kingdom now. We are asking that God would align our lives with his kingdom purposes in the world today:

“Send your gospel forth and bring your elect to saving faith in Christ. Give your church strength to be victorious through the Great Commission. Help me live as a kingdom citizen attracting other people to the kingdom I belong to. God, I want the kingdom and its reality to pervade my life today. Help me live for Christ!”

The Third Petition

The third petition is, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This petition is also connected with kingdom consummation. When we pray this petition we are saying, “God, may your holy law (your revealed will) be perfectly kept.” In other words, the disciple is hungry that God would be loved by all mankind with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. We are asking God to usher in the day when love for God and neighbor will be all we will ever know.

As reformed people, we talk a lot about the will of God. In one sense, everything that happens on earth is God’s will because nothing is outside of his providential power and control. He has decreed everything that comes to pass. In another sense, however, God has said, “Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t Steal. Only worship me.” This is his revealed or preceptive will.

That’s what this petition is all about. In heaven, God’s will is carried out with perfect obedience. No sinner inhabits the halls of heaven. The holy angels never disobey the call and command of God on the throne. But in this age, God’s will is almost universally disobeyed. In the beatitudes, Christ said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” What does a person hungering and thirsting after righteousness pray for? Exactly this: “May your will be done here on earth, just as your holy will is carried out perfectly by the angels in heaven.” Bring what is true of heaven to earth! That is the craving of Christ’s disciples.

However, like the other petitions, this one embraces the present as well. Jesus has come, and he has communicated God’s will to us. He has shown us what God wants. Therefore, when we pray this petition, it is a personal prayer that God would enable the righteousness of his kingdom to pervade our lives:

“Help me not to murder or commit adultery in my heart. Help me to do your will — to radically, resolutely, and relentlessly crucify sin in my life. Help me to do your will in my marriage, so that I won’t have a divorce. Help me to do your will in the way I talk. Help me to do your will in telling the truth. Help me to do your will in the way I respond to situations where I am personally offended. Help me to do your will towards enemies when they persecute me. I want to do your will, O God!"

This is a request for personal transformation leaning into the hope of world transformation.

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