Prayer is a difficult thing to do. It may seem to be easy, and we can form words and make statements that seem to be prayers easily enough, but if we stop and consider a few things, we will see that true prayer is difficult.
Consider this quote from Dr. Lloyd-Jones:
Man is at his greatest and highest when, upon his knees, he comes face-to-face with God….It is the highest activity of the human soul, and therefore it is at the same time the ultimate test of a man’s true spiritual condition. There is nothing that tells the truth about us as Christian people so much as our prayer life. Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer….Prayer is undoubtedly the ultimate test, because a man can speak to others with greater ease than he can speak to God. Ultimately, therefore, a man discovers the real condition of his spiritual life when he examines himself in private, when he is alone with God….So that it is when we have left the realm of activities and outward dealings with other people, and are alone with God, that we really know where we stand in a spiritual sense. It is not only the highest activity of the soul, it is the ultimate test of our true spiritual condition. [Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 322]
Obviously, the disciples sensed the difficulty of prayer themselves. In Luke 11:1 it says,“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” After watching Jesus pray, and seeing their own lack-luster attempts, they ask Jesus to teach them. So, we have in Matthew 6:9-13 not only an answer to the negative idea of not praying like the hypocrites (see Matt 6:5), but the Lord’s model prayer was for teaching the Lord’s disciples, then and now, how to pray.
This prayer has a preface followed by six petitions. We will look at each one in turn and see what Jesus meant to teach us about prayer. Let’s begin by looking at the preface, or opening words of this prayer, “Our Father in heaven” or “Our Father who art in heaven.”
1. The Preface teaches us to draw near to God with holy reverence.
We are about to speak to the One who is “in heaven.” This is not an earthly conversation with another man, but a holy conversation in which the lowly creature is about to speak to his heavenly Creator. The hypocrite of our context has forgotten this. He speaks for his own pleasure and self-promotion forgetting that he is standing before the Lord’s presence.
Psalm 95:6: Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
When you come before the Lord in prayer, is it like you are John in Rev. 1:12-17? We are addressing this same Lord and God whom John fell dead at his feet. How can we rush flippantly and irreverently into his presence?
2. The Preface teaches us to draw near to God with confidence.
He is “our” Father. Luke’s version of this prayer (given on a different occasion) doesn’t include this word, but I am so glad that it is here. This prayer is not for the pagans and the unbelieving world. He is not their Father. Their father is Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44). But, because he is our Father we can have confidence as we draw near to Him. This confidence is based upon the finished work of our Savior Jesus Christ. The cross is the doorway by which we enter into the throne room of God with confidence.
Eph 3:12: [Christ Jesus] in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
3. The Preface teaches us to draw near to God as Children to a Father.
This is closely related to the last point, but it is more intimate. Matt 7:9-11 says, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Rom. 8:15 comforts and confirms this for us when it says, “For 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. 4:4-5 also calls all believers God’s adopted sons, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Listen to Thomas Watson regarding this incredible reality:
See the amazing goodness of God, that he is pleased to enter into the sweet relation of a Father to us. He needed not to adopt us, he did not want [for] a Son, but we wanted [for] a Father. He showed power in being our Maker, but mercy in being our Father. That when we were enemies, and our hearts stood out as garrisons against God, he should conquer our stubbornness, and of enemies make us children, and write his name, and put his image upon us, and bestow a kingdom of glory; what a miracle of mercy is this! [A Body of Divinity]
4. The Preface teaches us to draw near to God, who is able and ready to help us.
Jesus assumes this by his own personal practice of prayer and his willingness to teach the disciples how to pray. He didn’t say to them, “Well, I’ll teach you, but remember, God helps those who help themselves.” Wrong. He is able and ready to help us. He is the same Father whom Jesus said he could call out to and who could easily send 72,000 angels to come to his side to deliver him from the cross.
Eph 3:20-21: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us [that is, the Holy Spirit (v. 16)], to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
God’s children need to recognize that prayer is not a duty, but a privilege. When we come to times of need, our Father ought to be our first resource that we go to.
We need to think about how each of these lessons impact our current way of praying. Do you draw near to God with holy reverence or with a flippant casual attitude? How does this show up in our choice of words and our hastiness to pray? Do we ever take the time to collect our thoughts before we enter his throne? Boldness does not mean rashness!
Do you draw near to God with confidence because He is our Father who is in heaven? There may be some who don’t have confidence when they approach God in prayer because He is a stranger, not a Father. Confidence comes in the relationship that we gain through our Savior. If you haven’t received Jesus Christ as your substitute, as your Savior, then you can do so today.
Do you draw near to God as children draw near to their loving Father? Put aside all twisted ideas of poor and evil fathers. We are speaking of our loving heavenly Father who drew near to us first. Do you seek His face, not merely to ask for your needs (although that is important), but also just to adore Him as Abba, Father?
Finally, do you draw near to God confident that he is able and ready to help you? This can be seen in the amount of time, effort and energy you spend in prayer as compared to your striving to achieve what you secretly believe God cannot or will not do.
How will your prayer change? Hopefully it will. Hopefully, as you think about these four lessons, you will be challenged to pray more fervently and actively in faith than you ever have before.