What enabled Jesus to live such an extraordinary life?
If we look to the New Testament, we can see that his life was marked by continual prayer. Before every significant event in his life, Jesus could be found on his knees.
When the disciples asked him how they should pray, Jesus did not just give them words to recite. He was teaching them a method that could open the door to life with God.
The first sentence of the Lord’s Prayer answers three questions for us. Who is this God we are talking to? Where is God located? And what should we pray about?
I want to talk today to anyone who has ever been dissatisfied with your prayer life — if you ever feel guilty about not praying enough, if you ever feel confused about how prayer works or even if prayer works.
So just to be clear, this is who I’m NOT talking to:
If prayer comes easily to you.
If your mind never wanders while you pray.
If you’re never troubled by unanswered prayer.
If when someone cuts you off on the freeway, your reflexive response is a prayer of blessing.
If when you win ten million dollars playing the lottery, your first response is to pray, “God, thank you. And forgive me for playing the lottery. And help me tithe to my church.”
If you’re a prayer Jedi warrior, this message is not for you.
This is for the rest of us because it’s a strange truth about us — to be human is to pray. To be human is to pray.
In moments of great joy, great need, great sadness, great guilt, great fear, we speak to someone beyond ourselves. We can’t help it.
To be human is to pray, and yet we wonder, “Is it complicated? Are there rules? Am I doing it right?”
Now, in the middle of the greatest sermon ever delivered, Jesus gives us the greatest prayer ever prayed.
He starts with a couple warnings, so we’ll look at the warnings first.
This is what Jesus said in Matthew 6:5
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
Even prayer can be one of those things where — when people get good at, they can start doing it to show off.
I suppose pastors are especially guilty of this.
Sometimes when I’m with a group of people and someone else is praying, instead of really listening to their prayer so that I’m praying with them, I’ll be thinking about what I’m going to pray when it’s my turn.
Will I sound sincere?
Will it be appropriate?
Will I sound foolish, or stupid, or unspiritual?
That’s what I’ll be thinking.
And I don’t want to be thinking these thoughts. They’re just in me when I’m supposed to be praying.
So Jesus gives an alternative strategy in verse 6:
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Now in Jesus’ day, on poor farms in Palestine, they didn’t have private rooms.
The only room that had a door that could be closed and locked would have been a supply room that would have had tools, and food, and maybe some small animals in it.
It would have looked like a room where nothing important ever happened.
Jesus is addressing one of the great barriers most of us face with prayer — that is, God is unseen. God sees what is done in secret, what is unseen.
And prayer is based on the reality of the unseen.
But we’ve been conditioned in our day, in our culture, to believe only what is seen or can be touched is what’s real.
Again, this gets us deep into the Sermon on the Mount, because what is most real is God and his kingdom.
And the most important part of you is unseen.
The reason you’re here today is because you made a decision to be here.
No one has ever seen a decision. They might see neurons, but not a decision.
Your thoughts, your desires, your choices are all unseen. Your body (your neurons, and eyes, and arms and legs, that which is seen) responds to what is unseen.
What is unseen is the most important thing about you. And it’s there that we are able to be still. And we meet God who is unseen.
Prayer is hard for some people (for me) because they think (I think) if I’m not moving and achieving visible progress, nothing is happening.
Prayer often feels to us like we’re just sitting still, doing nothing. Nothing is happening.
Sometimes you pray, and you don’t get what you want. It feels like you’re sitting still, doing nothing, and things are never going to change.
You see, that’s the barrier. And Jesus knows this about us.
So he starts this part of the sermon on the mount by giving these warnings about prayer.
And then he gave one of his best gifts to us — the greatest prayer that has ever been prayed.
Of all the prayers human beings have ever prayed, this is the best and the most repeated.
You see, getting advice from Jesus on how to pray is like getting advice from Warren Buffett on how to invest your money. Why wouldn’t you take that?
So starting today at Blue Oaks Church, class is in session, and we’re going to learn from Jesus about how to pray.
For the next several weeks we’re going to learn from the Master when it comes to prayer.
Now, customarily in a church this is called the Lord’s Prayer. Really it ought to be called the Student’s Prayer because he intended it for his students — for you and me.
And today, in the time that we have left, I want to look at just the basics from the Master.
We’ll get to more advanced stuff as we go on, but today I want to look at just the basics, just the beginning intro stuff from the Master.
Now, I started today by saying this message is for those of us who have been dissatisfied with our prayer life, or have ever felt guilty about not praying enough.
This message is for those of us who have problems when it comes to prayer.
So we’re going to address three problems today.
1. The “who” problem.
We get confused about the nature of the person to whom we’re praying.
People think about God being angry with them or disappointed in them.
This “who” problem can keep us from mastering prayer.
2. The “where” problem.
Where is God located?
Often, people think of God as being very far away. They think about prayer as something that they have to do to try to get his attention because he’s distant.
And the “where” problem keeps us from prayer.
3. The “what” problem.
We’re not always sure what we ought to pray about when we do get around to praying.
We’re not sure what God might be interested in or what good it does to ask.
These are real basic problems — the who problem, the where problem, and the what problem.
So today, we’re going to look at what Jesus has to say about these three problems — who prayer addresses, where he is, and what we should pray about.
First of all — Who do we pray to?
Jesus begins this prayer with the words… Our Father.
Now this is a very important part of the prayer, and I’ll tell you why.
Some people find that their mind wanders during prayer.
I’ve talked before about a condition we call mindlessness.
Do you ever experience mindlessness?
Where you’re physically present, but your mind is floating off somewhere on auto pilot.
Have you ever been reading, and you get to the bottom of the page, and you realize you have no idea what you just read?
Have you ever been listening to someone teach and you realize you have no idea what was just said?
Did anyone miss the question?
Mindlessness is, in fact, one of the biggest obstacles to prayer.
Even in Christian circles, people sometimes pray mindless prayers, where our minds just go on autopilot.
People will sit down in front of a meal full of grease, fat, butter, sugar, and cholesterol and pray, “God, bless this food and nourish us with it.”
You might as well pray, “God, bless this food and harden our arteries with it,” because that’s what’s going to happen.
I think that’s why Jesus said in Matthew 6:7
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Vain repetition — just babbling on and on. That’s mindless prayer.
The pagans didn’t realize that prayer to the God of Israel was intelligent, thoughtful conversation about the things you’re doing. That’s prayer in the Bible.
But sometimes what we think of as prayer is really just superstitious.
In an old Charlie Brown cartoon, Linus once said, “I have just made an important theological discovery. I have discovered that while you are praying, if you hold your hands upside down, you get the opposite of what you pray for.”
You may be thinking, “Maybe that’s my problem!”
Sometimes prayer can deteriorate into just worry. Do you ever have that happen?
I do sometimes. I start praying and pretty soon I’m just thinking to myself, and then I’m just worrying. It becomes a silent monologue and not a conversation.
At the very beginning I need to stop a hurried mind and focus on the fact that I really am speaking to someone. I really am.
Jesus says, “Begin by saying, ‘Our Father.’”
Now this is the most unique opening line in the history of prayer — “Our Father.”
When you use a name, you make a statement about the nature of the relationship you have with another person.
That’s why names are so powerful. A name expresses the relationship you have.
You acknowledge a relational context. You state how much closeness exists.
In a fairly formal relationship, you say Mr. or Mrs.
If it’s a friend, you call them by their first name.
If it’s a real close friend you might have a nickname.
If it’s a family member there might be a pet name. That expresses the fact that this is a uniquely close relationship.
I only have three people on this earth who call me “dad.” And that single word gets my attention probably quicker than any other.
If I pick up the phone and I hear that word first — “dad?” that establishes a context between me and the one who’s speaking to me that is stronger than anything in this world.
And everything else they say, any requests they make, any confession they have to make, anything else they say takes place within the context of the relationship that’s expressed by that one word “dad.”
Now there were records in the Old Testament of people using the image of a father to describe God. That had happened before. But there is no record of anyone ever coming to God in prayer and addressing him as father until Jesus did it.
Then he uses an Aramaic word “Abba.” It’s a real tender word. Little children used it. Adults would use it too.
It’s not quite exactly like our word “daddy” because it was an adult word as well as a child’s word, but it was a very tender word.
And there’s no record of anyone coming to God in prayer and calling him that until Jesus. And Jesus not only does it, he invites you and I to do it.
So when you pray, you put everything else aside. You put aside a hurried mind. You remember that you’re not just sitting there thinking right now or worrying, and you begin with the words “Our Father.”
I know so many people who, when they pray, their first thoughts are:
I haven’t prayed enough.
I feel guilty over my prayerlessness or my life.
I’m not sure this will do any good.
I’m not sure I have enough time to do it adequately or know how to do it right.
I just want to tell you this… those thoughts are from the evil one. Those thoughts are designed to keep you from prayer, and you must discipline yourself to not allow them to occupy your mind.
You must set them aside and start with the name — Father.
When you say that — this is God’s heart as you come to him in prayer. God’s heart says:
“This is my son. This is my daughter. I love it when you call me Father. I love it when you set aside time to speak with me about whatever is on your heart.
Maybe what we have to say to each other will involve sorrow.
Maybe it will be about joyful things.
Maybe you’ll want to express thanks.
Maybe you’ll need to confess.
“It doesn’t really matter. Once we’re face-to-face, we’ll get around to everything we need to. I’ll make sure about that. But I love these moments when you come to me in prayer.”
Jesus, the master of prayer says, “Start with these words ‘Our Father’ because that’s the who of prayer.”
Now, what was Jesus’ intent?
I want to show you what I think is one of the greatest sentences written in the last century.
This is by Dallas Willard, of course:
Jesus intent was to bring his apprentices to the point where they dearly love and constantly delight in that heavenly Father made real to earth in Jesus, and are quite certain there is no catch, no limit to the goodness of his intentions or his power to carry them out. — Dallas Willard
I’ll bet I’ve read that sentence a hundred times. It’s in his book Divine Conspiracy.
Jesus’ design is to bring his apprentices — his friends, you and me — to the place where they dearly love and constantly delight in that heavenly Father made real to earth in Jesus, and are quite certain there is no catch, no limit to the goodness of his intentions or his power to carry them out.
That’s what it means every time you say “Our Father.”
That’s the one to whom you speak to.
There is no catch, no limit to the goodness of his intentions for you or his power to carry them out.
Now Jesus says take the time before you pray to get real clear on who you’re praying to.
This reminds me of a story about a soldier who just came back from war.
While he was on the battlefield, he was writing letters to the President, trying to give the President a picture of what was happening on the battlefield.
When he was discharged, he went to Pennsylvania Avenue without an appointment and he tried to meet with the President.
He was, obviously, turned away.
In his uniform he went out and sat on a park bench, feeling dejected.
Then a nine-year-old boy walked by and saw him sitting there in his uniform. He went up to him and said, “Hi, soldier.”
And this soldier begins to interact with the boy for a while.
The boy said, “What are you doing? You look sad.”
And the soldier, for some strange reason, began to have a conversation with this nine-year-old, saying, “Well, I’ve been writing these letters to the President, but he won’t meet with me.”
The nine-year-old boy said, “Well, come with me.”
And this nine-year-old walked up to the White House security checkpoint, waved at the security guard, and continued on—with the soldier.
The soldier followed this nine-year-old boy, thinking: “Who is this kid?”
They walked into the White House and the kid said, “Hey, Dad, there’s a soldier who’s been trying to get ahold of you, but you’re not returning his letters. He wants to meet with you.”
And President Lincoln said, “Well, who is it, Todd?”
Todd Lincoln said, “It’s this soldier.”
And the soldier looked right at President Lincoln and said, “Thanks for meeting with me sir.”
The apostle Paul understood it this way when he says in Ephesians 2:18:
For through him (through Jesus) we have access to the Father.
You and I, we have access to the Father.
That’s who we’re praying to.
And then the next line is about — Where is God?
“Our Father in heaven.”
Let me ask you a question. How far away is heaven? Farther than the moon?
How many miles is heaven from here?
Farther than Yosemite? About the same distance?
We have this problem, and that is, we tend to think of heaven as someplace way out there in outer space.
And as a result of this kind of thinking, God becomes remote, distant, and hard to access.
Therefore we feel as if we’re alone much of the time. And we’ll express that in odd ways.
People will sometimes say at the beginning of a worship service, “God, today as we come into your presence…” And I imagine God saying, “Where do you think you’ve been?”
“Lo, I am with you always,” Jesus said, “to the ends of the earth.”
There’s no limits to that.
A counselor friend of mine was meeting with a woman who had a flying phobia. She was a Christian so he tried to encourage her by saying, “You know, from a spiritual point of view, Jesus did say, ‘I am with you always.’”
She said, “No he didn’t. Jesus said, ‘Lo, I am with you always.’”
It wasn’t l-o-w.
“I am with you always” has no limits.
I want to take just a moment to explain to you a piece of grammar in this part of the prayer where it says, “Our Father who is in heaven.”
The Greek word for heaven is “uranos.”
We get the word for our planet Uranus from that word.
But here in the Lord’s prayer, it’s actually in the plural form.
Literally the prayer goes, “Our Father, the one in the heavens.”
Now the heavens in the New Testament are used in a variety of ways.
It’s used for the atmosphere.
It’s used for the sky that you look at.
It’s also used for the air that we breathe. It’s that close.
Sometimes we talk about something that appears out of thin air. It’s right at hand.
I believe this is the sense that Jesus intends in this prayer.
When we say, “Our Father who is in the heavens,” we’re not saying, “Our Father from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
Our Father who is all around me.
Our Father who is closer than the air I breathe.
Our Father who is right here, right now.
And because God is so close, I’m never alone.
And because God is so close, anything I see, anything I experience can be a reminder that I can speak to the Father who is right here.
There’s another important point as we begin today looking at the Lord’s prayer.
What posture do you use when you pray?
What do you do with your eyes?
What do you do with your body when you pray?
I grew up in a tradition that always used the phrase, “Every head bowed, every eye closed,” when we prayed.
I thought that was like a rule of prayer — “every head bowed, every eye closed.”
We thought of God as real far away so watching while you pray would be distracting.
I thought opening your eyes when you were praying was kind of cheating.
If you were at a restaurant, you had to pray with your head bowed and eyes closed, and if a waitress saw you and you were embarrassed, that counted as suffering for righteousness’ sake.
But it’s interesting what you learn from the Bible about Jesus’ common posture for prayer. The writers of Scripture will say, “He stood and looked into the heavens.”
Maybe that means he looked up into the sky. Maybe that means he looked into the air all around him.
There are records in Scripture of people praying…
as they stand
as they kneel
as they lay prostrate on the ground
as they sit with their hands stretched out sometimes
as they lift their faces towards the sky
or as they bow down towards the earth
And the point of it is body language really is an important part of communication.
People who have specialized in this stuff say, “Actually most of communication is visual. It’s body language.”
Sometimes when my parents were correcting me, I would walk out of the room while they were talking. And there was a real important message I was seeing when I did that, and then we would talk about body language.
The point is use your posture, use your body to help you turn your mind and your heart toward God.
When I confess, often then I’ll have my head bowed and sometimes kneel because that helps me to remember what I’m doing.
When I worship, often I’ll have my face lifted toward the sky because that just seems to help me worship.
When I ask for guidance, often I’ll just hold my palms up like this, “God, whatever you want, I’m just open.”
When I’m with another person at a restaurant, sometimes I’ll look at that person as I pray for them. I’ll just look at that person and say, “God, I’m so grateful for this friend. God, pour out great blessings on their life.”
Sometimes I’ll pray as I hike or run or work out.
For those of you who struggle with prayer… I have a suggestion for you.
Sometime this week, instead of whatever you would normally do for prayer, take a half an hour and go do what you love and invite Jesus to go with you.
Go for a hike or a bike ride, read a book, bake something. When you’re doing something you love, it’s easier to talk to God while you’re doing it.
It could be simply, “Jesus, look at that view. Look at the water.”
And, of course, he’s already looking at it so it’s nothing new to him. He walked on the water so he’s very familiar with it.
One simple thing we can do in prayer is just look at what God has done.
Just notice the beauty around you as you go about your day. God makes beautiful things.
Take a few moments in a day like this and just look at the beauty around you and say, “God, what a wonderful God you are. How great you are that you make beautiful things out of us and all around us.”
Because that’s our Father who is all around us. He is closer than the air you breathe.
So that’s the where issue. Where is he? Right here, right now, closer than the air we breathe.
And then there’s this what issue — What should we pray for?
Now, I want to be real clear. There is no concern of yours, no matter how small, that God does not care about.
There is no request you have, no matter how silly or trivial it may seem to you, that God doesn’t want to hear.
He wants you to pray about everything. He is concerned about everything.
And we’ll look at that more as we work through the Lord’s prayer, especially when we look at the request for our daily bread.
But what I want to note at this point is the very first request that’s included in this prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. They’re these words, “Hallowed be your name.”
Let me talk about that a little bit.
A name in the Bible is never just a label for someone. A name is always a reflection of the person that it expresses. It’s a reflection of their character and their identity.
Jesus says, “Hallowed.” “hallowed be your name.”
Now we don’t use this word much in our day, but it means:
To attach appropriate value to something.
Give it the honor that it deserves.
Recognize its worth.
I remember reading a story awhile back about attaching value.
An expert in antiques was in an antique store in San Francisco mostly filled with junk.
Except he noticed a cat on the floor drinking milk out of a saucer, which he recognized as a saucer from the Ming Dynasty in China that was worth a fortune.
He thought, “This is the opportunity of a lifetime to get a hold of this prized piece because the owner obviously doesn’t realize what he’s got here.”
So he went to the owner and he said, “That’s quite a remarkable cat you have. I’ll give you a hundred dollars for your cat.”
And the owner said, “Well, the cat isn’t really worth anything, and we’re kind of attached to it.”
And the guy said, “I’ll give you five hundred dollars for it.”
The owner said, “Alright.”
And then the man said, “I’ll need something to feed him out of, so I’ll give you another ten bucks for that saucer.”
The owner said, “Oh, I could never do that. That’s actually from the Ming Dynasty in China that’s worth a fortune… But it’s the strangest thing. Ever since I started putting milk in it, I’ve sold 17 cats.”
All of us, especially in financial terms, are used to attaching values to things.
And sometimes we’ll see something of great worth, but appropriate value hasn’t been attached to it. People don’t seem to recognize what it’s worth.
And this is supremely true of God.
And it was a sad thing to Jesus… and is to his followers still.
The name of God — his person and character and heart and intentions — is not seen for anywhere near its worth.
We live in a world where his name gets blasphemed and profaned, spoken casually at best millions of times every day all around the globe.
So Jesus says, “Make the first request in your prayer, ‘Hallowed be your name.’”
In other words, “May the indescribable goodness of your person become so clear that you are regarded with affection and love.”
That’s what it means to hallow God’s name.
“May the indescribable goodness of your person become so clear that you are regarded with affection and love.”
“May people realize how worthy you are, God. Hallowed be your name… first by me.”
First I must pray, “Our Father who’s all around me, hallowed be your name in my life, in my heart.”
Because one of the great mysteries of God is he has allowed the holiness of his name on this earth to be bound up with the character and conduct of his people, you and me.
We are a reflection of the character of God in the eyes of a watching world.
To pray “hallowed be your name” and really mean it, not just recite the words, is to say, “Alright, God, I hereby give up sin as best I can. I’m ready to give up sin the best I can with your help.”
It’s to say, “I will live each moment of my day in such a way, God, that you’ll be able to sign your name to my day.”
And the truth is when I hit this part of Jesus’ prayer, very often I have to pray a prayer of confession.
“The truth is, God, all too often other names dominate my day. Some other important person or a spouse or a boss, a girlfriend or a boyfriend or other gods named money or health or achievement.
“So once more I come to you, God, and I repent. But I don’t come to you in my name. I come to you in Jesus’ name.”
In his name I’m a child of the Father. Hallowed be the name of Jesus in my life.
Well, this is just the beginning of the Lord’s prayer.
The who — our Father that we dearly love and who constantly delights in us.
Where — he’s all around me, closer than the air I breathe.
What — that this whole earth would come to treasure God and honor God starting with me.
Now over the next several weeks, with God’s help, you and I are going to learn from this greatest prayer that was ever prayed.
And if you’re here each week, I believe you will learn to pray like you have never prayed before.
And if that happens, if we’re all praying like students of Jesus, a whole community learning to pray like the master, imagine what might happen in this church and in your life.
And imagine how God will be honored.
Alright let me pray for you now as we close.
Blue Oaks Church