The Disciple’s Prayer

 

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Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer

General Editors: John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue

Category: Theology / Eschatology

Moody Publishers, 2012

 

 

 

 

I had a class on prayer in the Spring 2013 semester, and my final research project was on the topic of the Disciple’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-15. After reading through the paper again, I realized how wonderfully helpful it can be to Christian discipleship and especially to prayer life, which is severely lacking in many believers’ lives. How important is prayer? What is it that we are to pray for? Is there a right way and a wrong way to pray? Is prayer meant to change God or to change me? Many of these questions are answered in the Disciple’s Prayer, in which Jesus spoke about the importance, content, and focus of prayer. Here is my paper from last semester:

 

MATTHEW 6:9-15

 

I. Introduction

Prayer is an integral part of the Christian life. Theologian Wayne Grudem succinctly defines prayer as the privilege of personal communication with God (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994], pg. 376). Through prayer, Christians acknowledge their dependence on God, trust in His sovereignty over their lives and the affairs of world history, and are involved in activities with eternal significance. When Christians pray, the work of God’s kingdom is essentially advanced.

However, the content of prayer is very broad, as it can include petition, intercession, confession, waiting, affirmation, thanksgiving, and many other realities. To experience the fullness of communion with God and how to understand ourselves in relation to the Lord, Jesus gives us a short but excellent model for prayer which encapsulates God’s will for human prayer. This prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-15, often called the Disciple’s Prayer.

  1. The wrong way to pray

The prayer model found in Matthew 6:9-15 is set against the backdrop of apostate Jewish worship. In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus speaks about the folly of doing charitable deeds (such as righteous morality and giving to the poor) for the sake of being noticed by men. Even speaking of prayer in verses 5-9, Christ exposes the hypocrisy of the religious leaders who pray with heartless, meaningless repetition for public show. Prayer must not be done to flaunt one’s own religious merit, but in humility to recognize God’s merit and worthiness. 

  1. The right way to pray

Access to God is explained in Jesus’ words in John 4:24, in which He states that believers must worship in spirit and in truth, without which there is ineffective worship of God. The correct way to pray is with a heart that has not only been regenerated, but one with a proper attitude (Matthew 15:8) that is inclined towards obedience and righteousness (Matthew 23:23). Prayer must be done for the sake of glorifying God and not oneself. Thus, the Disciple’s Prayer is an important and necessary model that shows believers what to pray for and how to pray as a way of life.

  1. The structure of the Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 6:9-15 should be recognized as a model and not merely a liturgy. It is notable for its brevity, simplicity, and comprehensiveness, in which verses 9 and 10 are directed toward God and verses 11-13 toward human needs (John MacArthur, ed., The MacArthur Study Bible [Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006], pg. 1371). This passage acts as a skeleton in which believers flesh out words of praise to the Lord. From it, Christians understand how they are expected to act towards the Lord and towards other people in the world, which Jesus explains in the concluding two verses.

Matthew 6:9-15 is essentially a prayer that explores themes of God’s character, our own character, His interests versus our own interests in life, and understanding our role in relationship to Him (Bryon D. Stuhlman, “The Lord’s Prayer in Worship.” [Word & World 22 no 1, Winter 2002], pg. 78). The next section explores eight principles of prayer found in the Disciple’s Prayer, which we must understand and submit ourselves to if we want to be obedient to God and have an effective, well-informed prayer life.

 

II. Eight Principles of Matthew 6:9-15

A. Unselfishness

The Disciple’s Prayer begins in verse 9, in which Jesus instructs believers to “Pray, then, in this way…” Jesus sets the stage for the heart and content of prayer, which He begins by stating, “Our Father who is in heaven…” The first words acknowledge the principle that prayer must be rooted in unselfishness. This unselfishness is manifest in a Christian’s dependence on God, who is a loving and wise Father ruling over all from His heavenly throne. The idea of God as Father is rooted in the Old Testament, in which the Jewish people viewed God as the Father of Israel, the nation He chose to be His special people (Isaiah 63:16; Jeremiah 31:9).

Jesus speaks of the reality of a more personal intimacy when He spoke of God as a Father to individuals, both Jew and Gentile, when they come to faith in Christ. Passages such as Acts 17:28, John 1:12, and Romans 8:14 teach that when people believe in the name of God’s Son, they become children of God, whereas those who remain hardened in unbelief are “children of the devil” according to such passages as John 8:44 and Ephesians 2:2. Because believers belong to God the Son, they can come to God as His beloved children, and God relates to them as an intimate and accessible Father.

The principle of unselfishness is further rooted in the understanding of “Our Father” in the opening words of the verse. The author Matthew’s use of the plural first person pronoun instead of the singular indicates the communal nature of the Christian faith (MacArthur, Matthew 1-7 [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1985], pg. 376). Christianity is not a selfish or self-serving religion, but one that involves and impacts the entire church. Because there is no singular personal pronoun in the entire Disciple’s Prayer, Christians pray holding up to God what is best for all, not just for one individual. They can also be involved in praying corporately, imploring God to both the body of Christ and individual believers in their needs.

Recognizing God as a personal Father, as the transcendent Being in heaven powerful enough to meet our needs, and Lord who considers the interests of all within the church, Christians are called to be unselfish. They are expected to rely on God for guidance, and be in fellowship with other believers so as to serve them and pray for what is best for them.

B. Reverence

The theme of reverence captures the last sentence of verse 9, which says, “Hallowed be Your name.” Jesus states that God’s name is to be hallowed in the life of the Christian. God’s name captures all that God is – His character, motives, plan, will, power, etc. To fail to hallow, bless, or revere God’s name is to curse it, or take it in vain, which is a violation of the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:7). Therefore, reverence to God must always be a central focus of Christian living and a key aspect of worshipful prayer.

How exactly is God’s name hallowed? Jesus is not saying that Christians are responsible for making God holier than He already is by their reverent actions. Hallowing God’s name is also not merely an intellectual assent of who God is, such as declaring, “Father, Your name is holy.” Rather, Jesus calls for Christians to hallow the Lord’s name by regarding it as holy in all that they do, which means that believers fear God so much that they would do anything not to bring shame and dishonor to God’s reputation (R.C. Sproul, The Lord’s Prayer [Harrisonburg, VA: Reformation Trust, 2009], pg. 31).

Christians are reverential, and ultimately hallow God’s name, when they conform to His will. For Christians to live in disobedience to God or misrepresent His word is to take His name in vain, claiming as Lord someone whom they do not really follow, which Scripture warns about in Mathew 7:21. The Christian’s prayer must be for God to reveal the holiness, the divine power, and the hidden glory of His name in Christians and throughout the world. It is when we yield ourselves to be led of Him that the Father’s name is most hallowed in our prayers and our lives.

The essence of hallowing God’s name is to revere, honor, glorify, and obey Him with the greatest veneration (John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979], pg. 318). Therefore it is not proper to use God’s name in vain through speech, conduct, lifestyle, or attribute information to God that is false, erroneous, or heretical. Where there is no lifestyle or commitment to reverence to God in prayer life, there is only blasphemy and sacrilege.

C. God’s sovereignty

            A lifestyle of reverence for God entails a faithful recognition of and submission to God’s sovereignty. Verse 10a reads, “Your kingdom come…” If a Christian has been saved and lives to please God by hallowing His name, His greatest desire is to subsequently see the Lord reigning as King in His kingdom. It is to desire to see Jesus’ kingdom reign not in heaven, but over this fallen world.

            What is the meaning of this kingdom? In one sense, the kingdom spoken of by Jesus is the reign of Christ in the hearts of believers (MacArthur, Matthew 1-7, pg. 381). For every person that finds salvation, the kingdom influence expands. The present existence of the kingdom on earth is internal, in the hearts and minds of those who belong to Jesus Christ, the King.

            However, passages such as Luke 19:11-27 describe that God’s kingdom is yet to come, and that Christians are preparing for that day. Therefore, the ultimate sense of the kingdom spoken of in verse 10a is Jesus Christ coming back to rule over the world for His millennial reign (Revelation 20:1-11). The Old Testament prophecies regarding the kingdom has been largely understood as the Davidic Messianic Kingdom based on the Abrahamic (Genesis 12:1-3) and David (2 Samuel 7) Covenants, which goes into effect once the New Covenant has been fulfilled with national Israel (Jeremiah 33:31-34). There is no kingdom without a King, and Scripture gives ample evidence that this kingdom will have a visible manifestation on earth, even over the world of unbelievers and enemies (Psalm 110:1).

To pray “Your kingdom come” is to pray for the final program of the Lord to be fulfilled, which is for Christ to come and reign on earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. It is to pray for Jesus’ second coming in order to vindicate the righteous, judge the enemies, fulfill His promises to the OT patriarchs, and establish His long awaited rule in Zion (Mary E. Hinkle, The Lord’s Prayer [Word & World 22 no 1, January 2002], pg. 13). This future reality should be the focus that drives our life of obedience today, knowing that our deeds of evangelism and edification expresses our great hope and trust in the literal kingdom that Christ will someday establish on earth.

The greatest opposition to Christ’s kingdom is the present world ruled by Satan. The goal of Satan’s kingdom is to oppose anything that would honor, glorify, or usher in God’s long awaited kingdom. That is why the Christian’s life must never be self-centered or occupied with the ways of the world. Christians are to live for and submit to God’s sovereignty, praying for His kingdom to come, and expanding the kingdom influence by evangelizing the lost all around the world until the day of Christ’s return.

D. Submission

Verse 10b, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” characterizes a believer’s wholehearted willingness to submit to God’s purposes. It is the opposite of a person’s desire to live for his own goals at the expense of the Lord’s (Andrew Murray, “With Christ in the School of Prayer,” in Andrew Murray on Prayer, edited by Andrew Murray, 330-334 [New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1998], pg. 332). It is not a declaration to abide by one’s personal will, but by God’s will, which entails that the believer seeks to live life identifying with and making God’s will his very own.

To pray for “Your kingdom come” already implies that one has submitted to God’s rule coming to earth to demolish all ungodly ways of living. The coming of God’s kingdom to earth is an outworking of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, and Christians faithfully submit to that idea. Therefore, to acknowledge the accomplishment of God’s will is to rebel against the current worldly system, which rejects Christ and enslaves people to sin and eternal damnation. Such a prayer calls us to abandon sin and be unwilling to strike a truce with Satan.

God’s will is manifest in three ways. The first is the will of purpose, which is what God plans to come to pass in the universe. There is also the will of desire, which is God’s desires that are not always fulfilled because of sinful human rebellion against His commands. The third will is God’s will of command for His children, which are God’s imperatives for believers to follow, who are capable of obeying because of their reborn nature. The totality of God’s perfect and varied will is to be the focus of our petitions and praise to God.

In summation, we are called to submit. We are not only to submit to God as subjects in name, but also in our actions and desires. Therefore, our will should be to accomplish the will of God as He wants and plans for this world.

E. Dependence

The Lord’s Prayer now moves into the realm of three petitions of human need, which is the Christian’s personal request in the midst of daily living. Human petition is not prayer that is characterized by personal ambition, but by humility and continued obedience to God’s will. The first principle of godly prayer in this category is dependence on God for sustenance, which verse 11 elucidates as: “Give us this day our daily bread.” This verse describes the need to depend on God one day at a time for the food, shelter, and welfare that a Christian needs to survive and operate as a faithful servant in God’s kingdom.

This verse describes the fact that God is ultimately the source of all the food and provision men receive, whether they be believers or non-believers. The non-Christian believes that he acquires his own food, clothing, shelter, and well-being through his own efforts, without much thought to God’s providence. However, passages such as Matthew 6:25-34 and 1 Corinthians 4:7 speak of God’s supreme control over all matters of distribution to whomever He wills. Therefore, God is the source of all necessities.

Without a proper view of God there is no proper view of man, which is why an understanding of God’s providence in feeding people is crucial in fostering a rightful spirit of dependence on God, without which Christians would be trapped in the sinful pattern of self-autonomy and ingratitude (David Beckmann, “Praying the Catechism” [Presbyterion 16 no 2, Fall 1990], pg. 85). Whether God provides through miraculous means or grants believers the ability to work hard for food (which is usually the case), God must always be recognized as the source of our physical well-being. This is why we must depend and trust in God daily for our bread, otherwise we would display a lack of faith similar to the wandering wilderness Israelites in Exodus 16.

F. Penitence

What follows physical provision is the more important issue of spiritual provision, which leads to the second petition of human need of penitence. Verse 12 reads, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The Greek word for debt is opheilema, which is one of five New Testament Greek terms for sin. Therefore, to sin is to incur a spiritual debt before God (Arthur Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1974], pp. 163-164).

Sin is that which separates man from God, and is therefore man’s greatest problem. Our debt before God is something we can never pay back, and the penalty for such sinning against God is eternity in hell. Because man’s greatest problem is sin, his greatest need is forgiveness, and that is what God provides through the atonement of His Son Jesus Christ. Because Christ paid our debts off with His sinless life, we are declared innocent when we trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (Romans 8:1).

Even though we are justified, we are still in need of daily cleansing because of the sins into which we fall in daily living. We frequently require God’s gracious forgiveness not to continually appease a Judge for regaining eternal salvation, but to have unhindered access to the Father in joy and fellowship. That forgiveness, or cleansing, happens when we confess daily, which leads to washing of our souls.

Christians are able to forgive others of wrongs because they are first forgiven by the Father. It is a fruit of the heart regenerated and abiding in Christ (Matthew 5:7, 1 John 3:9). The principle is simple but sobering: if we forgive, we will be forgiven; if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. Christians who fail to forgive others of their transgression come under God’s discipline and chastening until he repents of his ways.

G. Perseverance

The last of three human needs is the petition for perseverance in the face of temptation. Verse 13 speaks of a Christian’s dependence on God’s provision once again in the area of spiritual health, declaring, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” No Christian life is ever complete without the virtue of perseverance which comes with much humility and dependence on God the Provider.

God can never personally tempt anyone into sin (James 1:13), but He can allow Satan to tempt the believer in order test, strengthen, or humble him. Therefore, this prayer is a Christian’s plea to be rescued from the evil one. Because a Christian hates sin and shutters at the thought of temptation, he asks God to watch over his eyes, ears, and heart so he will not do anything sinful. This Christian asks God to protect him from sin and its consequences.

When Christians sincerely pray this request, they essentially ask for strength to persevere in godliness and are granted such strength from the Holy Spirit (Murray, 333). Through this prayer, Christians also declare that they submit to God’s Word, which helps protect them from sin (James 4:7; Psalm 119:11). The believer prays to be kept from overwhelming exposure to sin, and if he falls into it, to be rescued from it.

The flesh is essentially weak, and lack of humility in and supplication by God can easily cause a Christian to fall into transgression. That is why it is absolutely imperative for Christians to confess their weakness before God and depend on His resources to fight against sin. In turn, God grants believers the ability to persevere in dependence, penitence, unselfishness, reverence, submission, and other traits that characterize a soundly saved Christian.

H. Action

The final principle of verse 14 and 15 relates to the issue of forgiving of debts found in verse 12. In verse 12, the praying believer seeks for forgiveness for his own debts before God. In return, the Christian is expected to take the lesson to heart and put it into action by extending that forgiveness to those who have wronged them.

As previously explored, forgiveness is a fruit of the heart regenerated and made alive in Christ (Matthew 3:8, John 15:4). Therefore, it is expected of Christians to forgive since they have been forgiven by God. To do the opposite would be to sin not only against a neighbor, but God Himself. Such disobedience in action invites the chastening hand of God, who disciplines and withdraws blessings until the believer comes to acknowledge His error (Frank C. Gaebelein, Matthew-Luke [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984], pg. 175).

The dire reality is that if the professing Christian fails to repent of his sin and continually exhibits an unforgiving spirit, then it is very likely that he has never experienced God’s saving grace to begin with, and is therefore subject to God’s eternal wrath for his own transgressions. This is why both penitence and graciousness are key virtues of the Christian life, and are indispensable factors in worshipful prayer. We are never more like God than when we show forgiveness to others, especially the undeserving. Therefore, it is important for the community of the church to reflect this glorious truth to the world by abounding in forgiveness. Without such practice, prayers in general will never be effective.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Beckmann, David. “Praying the Catechism: A Prayer Based on the Larger Catechism’s Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer.” Presbyterion 16 no 2 (Fall 1990), 81-88.

Calvin, John. A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Grand Rapids,MI: Baker, 1979.

Gaebelein, Frank C., gen. ed. Matthew-Luke. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with The New International Version of The Holy Bible Volume 8.Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 1984.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Hinkle Mary E. “The Lord’s Prayer: Empowerment for Living the Sermon on the Mount.” Word & World 22 no 1 (January 2002), 9-17.

MacArthur, John, ed. The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Updated Version.Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006.

_______________. Matthew 1-7. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary.Chicago, Ill.: Moody, 1985.

Murray, Andrew. “With Christ in the Schoolof Prayer” in Andrew Murray on Prayer, edited by Andrew Murray, 330-334.New Kensington,PA: Whitaker House, 1998.

Pink, Arthur. An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids,MI: Baker, 1974.

Sproul, R.C. The Prayer of the Lord.Harrisonburg,VA: Reformation Trust, 2009. 

Stuhlman, Bryon D. “The Lord’s Prayer in Worship.” Word & World 22 no 1 (Winter 2002), 78-83.