Sermon on the Mount

Key Elements of Daily Private Prayer

Matthew 6:6-13

Teaching t12613

Introduction

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching in His early public ministry. Specifically, Jesus critiques the religion of the Jewish leaders, and He presents the priorities of His kingdom for His followers.

Two weeks ago, we studied Matt.6:1-18, where Jesus criticizes the spirituality of the Jewish religious leaders because they “practiced their righteousness before people, to be noticed by them” (6:1). There was no “secret”/private aspect of their spiritual lives, where they were serving or praying or making sacrifices just between them and God. Instead, their financial giving, prayer and fasting were entirely public to impress people.

Jesus is not teaching that all of our giving, prayer, etc. should be in secret. Earlier in this teaching, Jesus called us to “let your light shine before people so that they may see your good works and glorify God” (5:16). Doing good deeds as Jesus’ followers, sharing our faith, praying with and in the presence of others, etc. are critically important parts of our public Christian lives. Rather, Jesus is that our public spirituality should grow out of our private spirituality, not replace it. Just as the main mass of an iceberg is below the water-line, much of our relationship with God (learning, praying, serving) should be “in secret.” If virtually all of our relationship with God is public, then (like an inverted iceberg) it will be unstable, our motivation will be largely self-glorifying, and our ability to influence toward God will be weak or even negative. But if we maintain a vital private relationship with God, our spiritual lives will be stable, our motivation to glorify God will be stronger, and we will have greater impact on people for God.

In 6:6-13, Jesus elaborates on how this principle applies to our prayer lives. Read 6:6. Clearly, Jesus is saying that we should intentionally carve out times to be alone with God, to talk with Him. (6:11 implies that we should do this daily.) The New Testament strongly advocates regularly praying out loud with other Christians, but there ought to be much that I talk with God about is just between Him and me. What are key elements of daily private prayer? That’s what Jesus describes in 6:9-13, in what is known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Before we look at this prayer, we need to take to heart Jesus’ warning in 6:7-9a (read).

Jesus warns us here not to use prayer as meaningless repetition in order to extract our wishes from God. This implies that God is unaware of our needs, or tight-fisted, or vulnerable to manipulation. Yet ironically, Christian religion has turned this prayer into the very thing that Jesus forbade! My childhood friend bragged that he could recite it super-fast as penance for his weekly sins. I used to repeat it mindlessly in the hopes of impressing God with my devotion – so He would give me what I wanted. Because of such abuses of this prayer, many of us can’t even hear the first two words without going into spiritual auto-pilot (“Our Father...” drone) or having a gag reflex!

But it is possible to get over these wrong reactions and benefit greatly from this prayer as a framework for private prayer. “Pray in this way” does not mean: “Pray these exact words;” it means: “Pray along these lines.” Read 6:9-13a. Jesus urges us to speak to God in three distinct but related ways, and the order is important...

“You are my loving Father & I am your child.”

Read 6:9a. I don't know what this communicates to you, but I know that it communicated something very radical to Jesus’ hearers. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day never addressed God in this way. They used terms like “Sovereign Lord,” which emphasized God’s power and authority. For them, God was a distant authority figure to be addressed formally.

But Jesus addressed God as “Father.” It was by far His favorite way of referring to God. And although “Father” sounds formal in our culture, Jesus never used it in this sense. This is why He also used the Aramaic word “Abba” (Mk.14:36) – which is roughly equivalent to “Papa.” It is a term of endearment, connoting a close personal relationship between a loving father and his beloved child.

But Jesus not only claimed to have an intimate love relationship with God as His Father; He also claimed that His followers could also relate to God as “our Father.”

This is why Jesus came to earth. Read Gal.4:4-6 (NLT). Through His death on the cross, He paid the full price of our sins, so that God might adopt us permanently as His beloved children, and give us His Spirit to help us to relate to God as our “Papa.” To me, this is the greatest thing about being a Christian. Do you want to become God’s child? The only condition is that you choose to accept His invitation (read Jn.1:12). No matter how far you have been from God, if you receive Jesus as your Savior, God will forgive all of your sins, and adopt you permanently into His family, and give you His Spirit so you can experience His fatherly love.

“But I don’t want to relate to God as my Father because I had a terrible earthly father.” I know many who struggle with fatherly abuse or abandonment or disengagement, and I can relate to it to some extent. You wanted, but did not have a father who would love you and care for you in a dependable way. But the key thing to realize is that the God of the Bible is not like your earthly father. He is a perfectly loving Father, and He is offering to adopt you. Don’t let the pain associated with your earthly father prevent you from experiencing His love!

Take the time to dwell on this gift, and thank God for His amazing fatherly love: “Thank You for making me Your child. Thank You for coming out to get me when I was so far from You. Thank You that You paid the high price of Your Son’s death to adopt me. Thank You that I am always welcome into Your presence – not because of what I do for you, but because of what Jesus did for me. Thank You that You are delighted to talk with me even when I been distant and sinful. Help me to talk with You now.”

“You are my rightful King & and I am your servant.”

Read 6:9b,10. Notice that in these three requests, the implied imagery for God changes from loving Father to ruling King.

We need to know God both as our loving Father and as our rightful King. Because He is my loving Father, I am secure in His acceptance and care. This is foundational, which is why it comes first in this prayer.

But God is also my rightful King, both because He created me and because He redeemed me at the unfathomable cost of His own Son. So I am not only God’s child; I am also His servant, His soldier – called by Him to present myself to be His instrument through which He liberates people from Satan’s “Matrix” so they also can join His family. This is what Paul describes in Rom.6:13 (read and explain). So in our private daily prayer with God we should be saying: “You are my rightful King, and I am your servant.”

This is how we should read all three of these requests – not as abstract, general wishes that God’s kingdom come someday, but as our own personal request to be used by God today to advance His kingdom by influencing people toward Christ.

“Hallowed be Your name” means “May You receive from more people the recognition that You deserve.” So we ask God will use us today to help those who do not know Him to receive Jesus.

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is heaven” means “I want others to follow You and live for Your priorities.” So we ask God to use us today to help other Christians to live as sold-out servants of Christ.

As implied by the phrase “use me,” serving God is not something we do by our own resources. As Rom.6:13 states, we are God’s “instruments” – He must supply all the resources to advance His kingdom through us. Jesus makes this explicit in the third and final section...

“You are my faithful Provider & I am dependent on you.”

Read 6:11-13a. We need to ask each day for the resources we need to serve God that day. This is what it means to ask “in Jesus’ name”—which He promises to answer (Jn.14:13). These three requests concern three areas in which we need God’s daily provision in order to do His will: physical sustenance, relational empowerment and spiritual protection.

Re-read 6:11. “Daily bread” refers to physical nourishment for bodily strength. It’s difficult for us to depend upon God for enough food for today since we live in such affluence. But we can thank Him for this, so we don’t take it for granted and lust for more. And we can ask Him for the physical energy and stamina and material provision to serve Him today.

Re-read 6:12. This is a difficult verse because it sounds like God’s forgiveness of us is dependent upon us forgiving others. Indeed, this is what Jesus explicitly says in 6:14,15 (read). But the rest of the Bible makes it clear that we should forgive others because God has already forgiven us (read Eph.4:32). Christian scholars offer different ways of harmonizing this apparent contradiction:

Jesus may be reminding His self-righteous audience of God’s standard if they want to earn his acceptance (cf. 5:17-48). Or He may be emphasizing that a key sign of those who have been forgiven by God is that they are willing to forgive others. Or He may be saying that our ability to experience God’s forgiveness is connected to our willingness to extend forgiveness to others (explain the hypocrisy in not doing this).

I’m not sure exactly which Jesus means. I incline toward the third explanation. But I am sure that He is reminding me of how important it is to show other people forgiving love – and I am sure that I need God’s supernatural help to do this. So we should ask God to sensitize us to any resentment or bitterness toward those who have offended us. And if He exposes this, we need to ask Him to help us truly forgive them so that we keep experiencing His ongoing forgiveness of us, which is our spiritual life-blood.

Re-read 6:13a. The main request here is “Deliver us from the evil one.” “Lead us not into temptation” doesn't imply that God wants to make me fall unless I remember to ask Him not to. It means “I don’t want to succumb to Satan’s attacks; protect me from him as I serve You.”

As a soldier/servant of Jesus, I am invading Satan’s kingdom to liberate his captives. Because of this, I can expect him to attack me every day. So I need to ask God for his protection from the evil one every day: “Lord, show me how Satan is attacking, give me the strength to stay at my post when under attack, give me the courage to keep moving forward under fire.”

Conclusion

So here is a framework for daily private prayer. Why not start every day this coming week by talking alone to God along these lines? Thank Him for being your loving Father. Tell Him you want to serve Him today. Then ask Him for all that you need today to serve Him. Can you imagine what God might do through us – individually and as a church – if most of us actually did this regularly?

DURING Q & A: Notice that Jesus says “us” and “our,” not “me” and “my.” Even though this passage is about private prayer, it still assumes that we are living in the context of community with other Christians. This means that I should pray for other Christians along these same lines, and ask them to pray for me in the same way. Do you have Christian friends who know you well enough that you can pray for one another this way?

Matt.6:13b is not in the earliest manuscripts, though it expresses the biblical truth that God’s kingdom is superlative and will ultimately prevail.