By Joseph Ametepe
While serving the Father's purpose on earth, the Lord Jesus, clearly demonstrated the importance of prayer by His personal example of practicing prayer. He prayed at His baptism (Luke 3:21-22). He prayed and fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert (Matthew 4:1-10). He rose early in the morning to pray (Mark 1:35). He often slipped away from the pressing demands of the crowds to pray (Luke 5:15-16). He prayed all night before choosing His disciples (Luke 6:12-13). He was alone by Himself to pray to the Father, even after a hectic day of ministry (Matthew 14:23). It was while praying alone that He questioned His disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" (Luke 9:18). He took three of His most intimate disciples to a high mountain to pray and was transfigured (Luke 9:28-36). His life of prayer led His disciples to ask, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). Jesus prayed at the tomb of Lazarus and cried out with a loud voice, calling him from the dead (John 11:41-43). He prayed in the Upper Room after the Last Supper (John 17). He had a special place of prayer in Gethsemane, where He often retreated and prayed (Luke 22:39; John 18:2). He prayed fervently in the Garden of Gethsemane, and His sweat became like drops of blood (Luke 22:41-45). He prayed at the cross (Luke 23:34, 46). In every way, His life was a life of prayer. The inspired writer of Hebrews summarized our Lord's prayer life in these words: "In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety" (Hebrews 5:7). The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus is still praying. "Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). This means that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of sinners, the eternal High Priest, is and was a Man of prayer. He is an authority on all matters pertaining to the things, in this case, prayer. He has a lot to teach both by His personal example of prayer and personal instruction on prayer.
One of His personal instructions on prayer is recorded for us in Matthew 6. There, our Lord presented a pattern for prayer. Before presenting His pattern for prayer which is traditionally called "The Lord's Prayer," the Lord Jesus addressed two vices that ruin true prayer. The first vice was hypocrisy in prayer (Matthew 6:5). The Pharisees of our Lord's day were praying for show. Theirs was a religious fashion show. Jesus taught that true prayer must be sincere not hypocritical. The second vice the Lord denounced was babbling in prayer or meaningless, mechanical utterances in prayer (Matthew 6:7). The pagans' philosophy for prayer was this: the more you rant and rave in prayer the better your chances of being heard by the pagan god. The Lord Jesus set the records straight about Christian prayer to the living God. He taught that prayer is not a mere recitation of empty and meaningless words. The pagans babble (Greek:battalogeo), to a god that is not real and personal. But Christians have the awesome privilege of approaching the living and true God who knows them personally and even knows their needs before they ask Him. Having educated His disciples on avoiding hypocrisy and meaningless babbling in their prayers, and giving them the assurance that the God they are praying to knows their need before they ask, the Lord Jesus proceeded to set before His disciples, His pattern for prayer. Our Lord's introductory words to the prayer clearly reveal that He is giving us a pattern to follow in prayer. He said, "Pray, then, in this way" or "This, then, is how you should pray" (Matthew 6:9b). Here, the Lord Jesus is giving us a model to follow in prayer. However, it should be pointed out that in Luke's record, the Lord Jesus presented His instruction as a form to follow. For He said prior to His instruction, "When you pray, say" (Luke 11:2). It appears the prayer can be used as a pattern to follow or as a form to use. This article is focused on developing the former principle.
We will look at the model prayer taught by Jesus in Matthew 6:9-13. The prayer clearly teaches that true Christian prayer should include the following essential elements of prayer, namely, the paternity and personhood of God, the preeminent position of God, the praise of God, the program of God, the purpose of God, the provision of God, the pardon of God, the preservation of God, and the protection of God. We now discuss each of these essential elements of prayer.
Paternity and Personhood of God: "Our Father."
Please notice that the model prayer begins with these precious words: "Our Father." This translates the Greek expression, "Pater hemon." "Pater," is the word from which we get our English word paternity. It is in an emphatic position in the original language. This means that, right at the beginning of the model prayer, the Lord Jesus specifically purposed to stress the "Fatherhood of God" to all who are savingly related to Him. He wanted to let believers know that they are praying to One who is their Father, a Father who loves them and wants the very best for them. Our Lord's intention was to convey to His true followers that they have a Father they can intimately and personally relate to. He is a Father they can personally know. He is a Father they can approach. He is Father who is ready to accept them in His loving arms. He is Father who cares for them, who wants to be close to them, and who wants to show them compassion. He is a Father who not only knows their needs, but One who is willing to meet those needs in their lives. He is real. He is relational. He is accessible. He is a personal Father who understands their struggles and heartaches. He is not a father that is aloof. He is not an absentee father, an apathetic father, an angry father, or an affectionless father. He is a Father full of tender affection towards His believing children. This is not the case for pagans or unbelievers. They call on gods they do not know let alone personally relate to.
A year before I would enter high school, I lost my father. Life without him was sad and sorrowful for me. But I must say, I enjoyed the few years God gave me with my earthly father. Hearing his voice every morning when I woke up was so comforting to me. He worked hard to provide for his large family comprising of three wives and a household full of his many children and grandchildren. He made sure all his children had education. Yes, he also disciplined us when we did what he repeatedly warned us not to do. I loved my father. Being his last son, I had a special relationship with him. His death was therefore a painful stab in my little heart. However, through the indescribable pain, sorrow, sadness, and grief, I was blessed with the privilege of coming to a personal saving relationship with God as my true and eternal Father, who is always there for me. I did not have my earthly father forever, but by entering into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, God became my eternal Father. I will never lose Him. He is my Father for eternity. He is the best Father. His plans concerning my life are always perfect. His purpose for my life is always made with complete knowledge of the future. His promises concerning me are always guaranteed to be performed. While I loved my earthly father and enjoyed sharing life with him, life with my eternal Father is far superior than life with my earthly father. Perhaps, you did not have a good relationship with your father. He was an absentee father. Perhaps, he was apathetic. He didn't care for you. He was distant and detached. Perhaps, he was a drunkard, depressed, discouraged, drugged, or a doped up father. Without doubt, your best picture of a father-figure has been badly flawed. You ask, "If my picture of a father-figure is this bad, will my experience with God as my Father be any different?" Your question is valid. However, I want to assure you that while your earthly father may have terribly failed you, your experience with God as your eternal Father will altogether be a satisfying and fulfilling one. It will far supersede your relationship with the "best" earthly father. In other words, you can rise above your worst experience with an earthly father to enjoy a wonderful experience with the eternal Father.
Please notice that in the words, "Our Father," the Lord Jesus is also teaching the "Personhood of God." The Father we relate to is a real person. He is not a force. He is our Father. He is not a phenomenon. He is a Person we can intimately know and relate to. Earlier, the Lord Jesus spoke of Him as a Father who knows our needs before we ask Him (see Matthew 6:8). In other words, He is personal Being possessing intellect. He possesses the very qualities found in human personality, namely, intelligence, will, and emotions. The Lord Jesus spoke of Him as One who rewards (Matthew 6:8). He spoke of the Father as One who gives only what is good to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11). Our Father is real person possessing not only intellect, but also the will to do what is best for His children. Oh what a warm and wonderful picture the Lord Jesus is giving us to motivate us to approach our Father who indeed is a real loving, affectionate, caring, generous person!
Preeminent Position of God: "In heaven."
Everyone knows who the president of the United States is. For the last seven years, the president of the US is President George W. Bush. Everyone in this country also knows that the official residence of the president is the White House, in Washington D.C. Who the president is and where he resides is known to all. The residence of the president sets him apart from all other citizens. Our Lord's model of prayer first teaches us about who believers in Him pray to. The next thing it teaches us, is where He lives. Just as the White House residence of the president sets him apart from all other Americans, so also God's dwelling place sets Him apart from all others. This is what the Lord Jesus now teaches, that is, the preeminent position of God by saying, "in heaven." Literally, the Greek says, "the one in the heavens," [ho en tois ouranois].
While the expression "Our Father," reminds us of the nearness of God, the expression "in heaven," reveals His exalted and preeminent position. He is above all. He is over all. He is altogether exalted. He is the Most High. He is supreme. God's place of residence distinguishes Him from all other beings. The Bible speaks of God's dwelling place as His holy habitation. "Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our fathers" (Deuteronomy 26:15; cf. Psalm 80:14; Isaiah 63:15; Zechariah 2:13). The children of Israel learned early in their history that the God who redeemed them from bondage in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land is One who is altogether distinguished in preeminence. They knew that God lives in a realm where holiness rules. In Isaiah 63:15, heaven is described as God's holy and glorious habitation. In other words, God's dwelling place is a place where His holiness and glory can be fully manifested. That is not the case here on earth where sinners dwell. If God's holiness and glory were both to be revealed on earth, sinners would be instantly consumed. But there is a day coming when, after sin has been completely eradicated through God's righteousness, a new heaven and earth will be ushered in, where both God's glory and holiness can be fully revealed unhindered.
God Himself speaks of heaven as His throne. "Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool" (Isaiah 66:1; cf. 1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 11:4; Matt. 5:34-35; 23:22). Isaiah 57:15 captures God's highness and holiness. "For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." Notice how God speaks of being 'the high and exalted One." This is to remind us of His preeminent position. He is high. He is Holy. He is far above all. But He is willing to dwell with the contrite and lowly of spirit. Our best posture in the presence of such a holy and exalted Being is one of complete humility and brokenness. We must learn from this that heaven rules. This was a lesson King Nebuchadnezzar had to learn in a hard way. Interpreting the dream of Nebuchadnezzar to Nebuchadnezzar, the Holy Spirit spoke these words through the prophet Daniel: "Seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever he wishes. And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules" (Daniel 4:25-26). Heaven rules. In other words, God is in charge. He is in control. He is charting the course of human history. From, His preeminent position, He is carrying out His purposes on earth, despite the chaos and confusion around us. Make no mistake! Heaven rules. The psalmist affirmed this in his inspired testimony. "For I know that the LORD is great and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the LORD pleases, He does in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps" (Psalm 135:5-6; cf. 115:3).
What did Jesus want us to learn from the words "in heaven?" What our Lord wants us to learn is concisely stated in Ecclesiastes 5:1-2: "Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few." There is not much to add to this except to say that earlier the Lord Jesus strongly denounced showmanship in prayer and meaningless babbling in presence of God (see Matthew 6:5-7). As we approach our approachable and affectionate heavenly Father, we must do so with sincerity and humility. We must come into His presence not hastily, but with a holy regard of who He is. He is lifted up and lofty. He is high and holy. He is exalted and eminent. He is sovereign and altogether separate from sin. Oh that the Holy Spirit will open the eyes of our hearts to catch a glimpse of who He is- divine and distinguished above all!
Praise of God: "Hallowed be Your name."
Literally, this reads, "let it be hallowed the name of Thee." What does it mean to hallow God's name? To answer this question, we need to define two important terms, namely, "hallow," and"name." First, our English word hallow comes from the Greek verb, hagiazo. It means to make holy, consecrate, sanctify, treat as holy, reverence of persons. The prayer could be rendered as "may Your name be held in reverence." Second, name (Greek: onoma) means more than a mere label. Actually, in biblical times, many biblical names make statements about character. Nabal means fool. This being the case, Abigail said of her husband to David who was marching with his men to kill Nabal for scorning him: "He is just like his name-his name is Fool, and folly goes with him" (1 Sam. 25:25). Barnabas, meaning "son of encouragement" was given this name by the apostles because of his compassionate nature. The term name, was therefore considered an extension or expression of the person his name. It is a reflection of who one is. In other words, it represents the person himself, his character, his nature, and his purpose. Hallowing God's name therefore means treating the Person of God Himself as holy. It means revering His person. It means giving the respect due His character. It means God must be treated with respect and honor. Since God is holy, we are not praying that God may become holy but that He may be treated as holy (see Exodus 20:8; Leviticus 19:2, 32; Ezekiel 36:23; 1 Peter 1:15).
Having answered the question, "what does it mean to hallow God's name?" let's now ask, "how do we hallow God's name?" To discover the answer to this question, we must look at the life of the Lord Jesus Himself. No one has ever hallowed or will ever hallow God's name as He did. Hallowing the Father's name was His consuming passion while serving here on earth. Jesus lived, spoke, served, and prayed for the purpose of treating holy and magnifying His Father's name. When told His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him, His response was: "Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:50). Here, Jesus exalted the Person of the Father. When His seventy disciples returned from their short-term mission trip and presented a report to Him of their successful mission work, the Lord Jesus reverenced the Person of the Father: "At that time Jesus said, I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father..." (Matthew 11:25-27; cf. Luke 10:21-22). When Peter made confessed Jesus as the Messiah, that is, Christ or the Anointed One, Jesus again hallowed the Father's name saying, "Blessed are you Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is heaven" (Matthew 16:17). When He healed ten lepers and only one returned to give praise to Him, our Lord's consuming passion for hallowing God's name was again put on display. Listen to Him speak! "Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:18). When confronted by the Jews to reveal His identity, the Lord Jesus treated His Father's name with honor: "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me" (John 10:25). At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus hallowed the Father in prayer. "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me" (John 11:41-42). While praying His High Priestly prayer in the Upper Room, the Lord Jesus exuded with great passion as He reverenced the Person of God the Father in the presence of His disciples. He prayed: "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word...I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are... Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You have loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You, and these have known that You have sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:6, 11, 24-26). Again, while dying on the cross for our sins, the Lord Jesus magnified God's compassionate character and nature towards sinners when He prayed: "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Christ's example of hallowing God's name, that is, His Person, character, nature, and purpose is what we are to follow in hallowing God's name. We hallow God's name not with mere words, but in the way we live, speak, serve, and pray.
John Stott writes:
"God's "name" is God himself as he has revealed himself. His name is already holy in that it is exalted above every other name. Yet we pray for its hallowing, that is, that it may be given the honor due to it in our lives, in the Church, and in the world." -John Stott: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation: Through the Bible Through the Year.
As you rely on the Holy Spirit to hallow God's name in your personal life as a believer in Jesus Christ, and pray for it to be reverenced or treated as holy in the Church and in the world, it is important you constantly review and reflect on what the Scripture reveals about God's name. His name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). His name is a holy name (Leviticus 20:3). His name is an honored and awesome name (Deuteronomy 28:58). It is a great name (Joshua 7:9). It is a glorious name (Nehemiah 9:5). His name is near (Psalm 75:1). His name endures forever (Psalm 135:13). His name alone is exalted (Psalm 148:13). His name is a strong tower (Proverbs 18:10). His name alone do we honor (Isaiah 26:13). His name is mighty in power or great in might (Jeremiah 10:6).God has concern for His name (Ezekiel 36:21). His name will be great among the nations (Malachi 1:11). His name is to be feared among the nations (Malachi 1:14). It is a name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9).
Hallowing God's name is unique, in that, it is the only part of Jesus' pattern for prayer that will continue for all eternity. In heaven, there will be no need to pray "Your kingdom come." Why? His kingdom would have been fully consummated. We will not need to pray, "Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." Why? In the new heaven and earth, God's will, will be perfectly carried out without resistance or rebellion. We will also not need to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," or "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgotten others," or "Lead us not into temptation," or "Deliverer us from evil." In our glorified state, we will have no need for daily bread, forgiveness, being preserved from temptation, or deliverance from evil. Satan, the tempter, the devil, deceiver, dragon, the serpent, who tempts and deceives the nations will forever be cast into the lake of fire, completely removed from believers. His desire to devour and destroy will no longer be a concern for God's people. His work of tempting and enticing believers into sin will cease. But hallowing the name of God, lifting up glorious praises of God's name, treating His Person as holy, reverencing God will be our eternal hallelujah. Actually, we are given a glimpse of this in Revelation in the worship of the triumphant saints before the throne of God. "Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed" (Revelation 15:3-4). Indeed, hallowing God's name will be our eternal duty and delight. Hallowing God's name here on earth is therefore a preparation for a blessed future of reverencing God's Person, His character, His nature and His purpose.
The Scripture recorded a sad experience in Moses' life, an event that disqualified him from entering the Promised Land. The children of Israel had grumbled against the Lord for lack of water to drink. Since this was not the first time they had grumbled against the Lord and Moses and Aaron, Moses was provoked to anger, that is, man's anger. The Lord had clearly and concisely commanded him to speak to the rock for it to yield its water for the people and their cattle to drink. However, reacting in human anger, which does not accomplish the righteousness of God, Moses struck the rock, not once but twice. He struck, instead of speaking to the rock. He disobeyed God's clear and direct command to him. Nevertheless, acting in compassion, God still miraculously enabled the rock to yield its water abundantly. The congregation of Israel and their beasts drank (see Numbers 20:8-11). However, God had a solemn and sobering message for Moses. Would you please listen to God speak to Moses! But the LORD said to Moses, "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them" (Numbers 20:12; cf. 27:12-14; Deuteronomy 1:37; 3:23-27). Moses had failed to revere the Person of God in the sight of the children of Israel. He had failed to honor God for who He really is by his attitude and actions. He had not treated God as holy before those he was called to serve and shepherd. Although Moses pleaded with God on several occasions to go into the land, God refused to yield. He even sharply rebuked Moses for his persistence in asking Him to enter the land (seeDeuteronomy 3:23-27). Moses had failed to hallow the name of the Lord. He did not honor the Lord with his attitudes. He did not treat God with respect in his actions. He did not reverence the Person of God in the way he spoke to the children of Israel. God's distinguished character was not shown the high regard it really deserved. Moses was therefore not allowed into the Promised Land.
In the light of these truths, our hearts must grieve for treating God's name lightly, cheaply, and irreverently. Our hearts must break when we see others taking God's name in vain. Oh Holy Spirit, teach and train us to follow the example of the Lord Jesus who hallowed the Person of the Father with great passion and purpose!
Program of God: "Your kingdom come."
Certainly one can see that in this model prayer, Jesus is deeply concerned for the glory and honor of God. His desire is that God's name will be hallowed. But that's not all. He wants God's kingdom to come as well. Later, He will speak to us about God's will. No one is so consumed about the glory of God as the Lord Jesus.
Our Lord is teaching here that, we are to make the coming of God's kingdom a supreme passion of our heart. We are to long, yearn, and earnestly look for the coming of God's kingdom. Therefore Jesus directs our attention to prayer that is centered on seeking the coming of the kingdom of God. He taught, "Your kingdom come." Literally, this reads, "Let it come the kingdom of Thee." In other words, the Lord Jesus is revealing here that God has a program. This program concerns the coming of His kingdom. Notice, it is God's kingdom. It is not man's kingdom. Man always wants to make a name for himself as well as a kingdom for himself. Jesus is not teaching us to pray for the establishment's of man's kingdom. A person who is seeking his own kingdom or one who is concerned about making a name for himself cannot sincerely follow the model prayer. The prayer leaves no room for self-centeredness to flourish. It challenges all who want to pray God's way to approach Him with a burning concern for His glory and honor. They are to set aside their selfish desires to make a name or build a kingdom for themselves. They are to come to God with a consuming passion for His glory and honor alone. They must come with hearts that delight in seeking the advance of God's program, not theirs. They must set their plans and programs aside in order to embrace God's. God's programs and plans are not only far better than ours, but they also bring benefits and blessings that far supersedes that of our best plans and programs.
The question arises, "what does it mean to pray for God's kingdom to come?" To answer this question, we need to define the term kingdom, (Greek: basileia). Basilea is used to mean kingship, royal power, royal rule, kingdom, that is, the territory ruled over by a king. It also means the royal reign of God. The Revell Concise Bible Dictionary defines kingdom as follows:
"A kingdom is the sphere in which a ruler exercises authority over the hearts and lives of his subjects. Thus God's present kingdom is that sphere in which his authority is acknowledged by men and women who are committed to him and committed to do his will." - Revell Concise Bible Dictionary!
Also Carson writes:
"To pray "your kingdom come" is therefore simultaneously to ask that God's saving, royal rule be extended now as people bow in submission to him and already taste the eschatological blessing of salvation and to cry for the consummation of the kingdom." - D. A. Carson: Matthew: The Expositor's Bible Commentary!
From these definitions, praying for the coming of God's kingdom means praying for it to be expressed in three specific areas, namely (1) the conversion of sinners, (2) the consecration of believers, and (3) the consummation of the kingdom.
Let's briefly look at each of these three specific areas in which the coming of the kingdom is expressed. Firstly, when we pray for the kingdom's coming, we are asking God to convert unbelievers. We are asking God to rescue sinners from the realm of darkness and transfer them "to the kingdom of His Beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13). The Lord Jesus had taught Nicodemus about the condition about entering the kingdom. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God... Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:3, 5).
A sinner who is genuinely born again through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit is brought out of the realm of Satan into kingdom sphere of God. In this sphere, God exercises authority over his heart and life. As he submits his heart to God's royal rule over his life, God's kingdom royal power works in him to bring about the fulfillment of God's purposes in his life. Actually, the first recorded words of Christ's public ministry was calling people to turn from their sin. It was so important for Jesus to let people know that God's kingdom had come. Therefore, He declared, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). Furthermore, a sinner's entrance into the kingdom of God is big deal for God and His angels. Using a parable, our Lord taught that "there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10). When we pray for God's kingdom to come, we are simply desiring that God's program of saving sinners will continue and have success, leading to rejoicing, not only here on earth, but also in heaven.
Secondly, praying for the coming of God's kingdom means consecration of believers to let God to rule more and more of their hearts and lives. Christians sometimes come to a crossroad in life. They can either choose to yield to the direction God is leading them, or choose to go their own way. I am sure you have been there before. Well, I have been there. The year was 1993. God brought me to a crossroad. I was pursuing a civil engineering career and was determined to continue on that path. But God was calling me to leave it all behind. Shamefully and sadly, I resisted His call for two years. I was determined to follow my own program. Finally, after two years of resistance, by the grace of God, I was brought to a point of total surrender to God. I humbly and repentantly accepted His plan for my life. It was a point in my life where God's royal rule over my heart gained a fresh control. His kingdom came in my life. The exercise of His loving authority over my heart and life reached a new height as I yielded to Him. Many Christians come to crossroads in their lives. Some resist God as I did. Others respond to Him by following in the path He has chosen for them. When more believers respond and surrender more of their hearts to God, His royal reign in their lives reaches new heights. In other words, God's kingdom comes in their lives.
Thirdly, when we pray for God's kingdom to come, we are asking for God to bring about its consummation when the Lord Jesus returns in glory. In His teaching about the kingdom, the Lord Jesus spoke both of a present, spiritual kingdom that had come near (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15) and of a future time when the Son of Man would come with great power and glory (Matthew 24:30; 25:31; Mark 13:26) to consummate the kingdom. When the Lord Jesus returns in all His majesty and glory, God's royal rule over believers will be fully established. His royal power will fully and finally bring to completion His eternal program of gathering saints into His sovereign domain, where He will exercise His loving authority over them for all eternity. We await this great and glorious day. Today, God's royal reign is resisted. But in the consummated kingdom there will be no resistance to His royal reign over the hearts and lives of those who have been rescued from the domain of Satan and transferred into the kingdom of His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. When we pray for the coming of the kingdom, we must pray with great anticipation for God to complete His program of establishing His sovereign rule over all. To pray for the kingdom's coming echoes the testimony of believers in heaven who declared in loud voices at the sounding of the seventh trumpet: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).
As the Holy Spirit leads us to pray with passion for God's kingdom to expressed in these three areas, we must also recall these truths about the kingdom of God. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom (1 Chronicles 29:11). God's kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19). Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom (Psalm 145:13; cf. Daniel 7:27). God's kingdom is an eternal kingdom (Daniel 4:3). His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed (Daniel 7:14). As believers in Jesus Christ, we must be deeply concerned about the program of God, that is, the advance of His royal rule in the hearts of men and women, everywhere until His royal reign is finally and fully established in all of its splendor and glory.
Purpose of God: "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
The next essential element the Lord Jesus wants His followers to include in their prayers to God concerns the purpose of God. God is a God of purpose. He is passionate about His purpose. He wants His purpose to prevail. And so, the model prayer directs our focus to the doing of God's will. "Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." Literally, this reads, "Let it come about the will of Thee, as in heaven, also on earth."
What our Lord is teaching here is this: earnestly desiring and asking God to carry out His will here on earth as it is fully and perfectly carried out in heaven, should be an important part of our daily prayers. The Lord Jesus Himself powerfully exemplified this in His life here on earth. His consuming passion was for the will of God and its fulfillment in His own life. In other words, His life illustrates what it means to pray "Your will be done, on earth as it is heaven." Speaking to His disciples at Sychar, a city of Samaria, at Jacob's well, where His disciples urged Him to eat, He said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work" (John 4:34). Defending Himself before the Jews who were persecuting Him because He was making Himself equal with God, our Lord solemnly declared, "I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 5:30). Again, speaking to the crowds who had come to take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus made this statement which has become one of my life verses: "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38). Testifying of Christ, our eternal High Priest, the inspired writer of Hebrews glowingly spoke of His consuming passion to do God's will. Quoting Psalm 40:7, 8, he wrote of Jesus, "THEN I SAID, 'BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD'" (Hebrews 10:7). In Gethsemane, the Lord Jesus gave us the most sublime example of praying for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In great anguish and agony, He prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will... My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done" (Matthew 26: 39, 42). We are told in Matthew 26:44 that Jesus prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Jesus surrendered His will to the Father's will. Before the foundation of the world the Lamb of God was slain (Revelation 13:8; cf. 1 Peter 1:20). This was a decision made in heaven in eternity past. The time had come for it to be carried out on earth. The Lord, knowing the agony of the cross that was looming ahead of Him, prayed for God's will to be done in His life, here on earth.
From the example of our Lord, praying for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven means not seeking our own will. It means not forging ahead stubbornly to do our own will. It means surrendering our will to God's. It means to desire only what God desires. It means to seek only what God seeks for our personal lives, His Church and for the people of the world. Praying for God's will to be done leaves no room in our hearts for self-will. We must not allow self-centeredness to rule in our hearts. Submission, surrender and subjection to the desires and purposes of God should be ruling in our hearts as we draw near to God to pray for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We must approach God with confidence that His God's will is good and acceptable or well-pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2). We must pray believing that it is God's desire for us to be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Colossians 1:9). In other words, the Holy Spirit will give us knowledge of what God's will is and motivate us to pray for its accomplishment. We must also approach God with confidence in praying for His will to be done. The Bible says, "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him" (1 John 5:14-15). To pray for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven means that we must know what His will is. His will is revealed in His word. We must let the words of Christ abide in us (John 15:7). We must saturate ourselves with the word of God. We must study His word to discern His will. We must soak ourselves in the Scripture. We must search the Scriptures as Daniel did in Babylon and discovered what God's will was for Israel (see Daniel 9:2ff.). We must be serious students of the Bible. We must discern and discover the will of God from His word. But we must also desire it and dedicate ourselves to doing it.
John Stott writes:
"Because God's will is the will of him who is perfect in knowledge, love, and power, it is folly to resist it and wisdom to discern, desire, and do it. - Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelations: Through the Bible Through the Year!
Provision of God: "Give us this day our daily bread."
Having established the priority for our concern with the glory of God (His paternity, His preeminent position, His praise (name), His program (kingdom), and His purpose (will), our Lord's pattern for prayer, now focuses on our personal needs. Praying to God to meet our personal needs clearly shows that the Lord Jesus is teaching us an important lesson. We are created to depend on a dependable God, our heavenly Father. He loves us. He wants to provide for our needs. We can trust Him to meet every need in our lives. He is, and wants to be our provider. He takes delight in providing for the needs in our lives. Whatever our need may be in life, be it physical, spiritual, emotional, or relational, God is willing, eager and able to meet it. How wonderful and refreshing this is!
From the beginning of human history, God has proven Himself to be a reliable provider for the people He created in His image. Even before He created our first parents, Adam and Eve, God made preparations beforehand for their provision. This is clearly shown in Genesis 1:29: "Then God said, 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.'" Later, after the flood, God gave Noah and his family further provision. "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Genesis 9:3-4). Sometimes the way God provided for His own was dramatic and unique. In a time of drought and famine, God sent ravens, unclean birds (Leviticus 11:13-15), to provide for His prophet Elijah. The ravens brought Elijah bread and meat in the morning as well as in the evening. Elijah would drink water from the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:1-7). God provided for Elijah the basic necessities to sustain him. Also, during this same period of famine, God miraculously provided for a widow at Zarephath and her son and Elijah, from a handful of flour in a bowl and a little oil in a jar (1 Kings 17:8-16). When God came to earth in the flesh, in the Person of the Lord Jesus, He provided for thousands who followed Him. Instead of sending them away on empty stomach, He was moved by compassion to feed them (Matthew 14:13-21; cf. Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13; Matthew 15:32-38). God is not only a reliable provider for man, but also for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth (Genesis 1:30; Psalm 104:21-27; 145:15-16; 147:9; Matthew 6:26). He is indeed a dependable and trustworthy provider. We can rely on Him to provide for our basic needs in life.
Changing from from the possessive pronoun "Your" to "our," our Lord now teaches us to pray for the provision of our food. "Give us this day our daily bread." Literally, this reads, "The bread of us daily give to us today." Marin Luther defines "daily bread" in his catechism to instruct believers. He writes, "What is meant by daily bread? [Daily bread is] Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like." Luther's Small Catechism: A Handbook of Christian Doctrine! This is an elaborate definition of "daily bread."
Please notice very carefully that the prayer is not for our greeds, but for our needs. It is a prayer that calls us into the presence of God daily. In other words, this request teaches us humble dependence on God to meet our daily need for sustenance. Workers in the first century were paid one day at a time. A few days of sickness could spell disaster for them. This is still the case for some workers in poor countries today. For these people who live from hand to mouth, this petition is appropriate. However, for majority of workers in the Western countries this request may seem superfluous. But please make no mistake! This petition has value for all those living in the affluent West. We still need to express our humble dependence on God to meet the needs in our lives. We still need to pray, "Give us today our bread for the coming day." This petition is teaching us a principle of humble dependence on God, whether or not, we have abundance or live in abject poverty. We are created to be dependent creatures on a dependable God. It also teaches us to express gratitude to God for His daily provisions in our lives.
During the Exodus, God provided manna daily for the people of Israel for almost forty years. With the exception of the sixth day, the children of Israel went outside the camp to gather their daily bread. They gathered it morning by morning. Talk about depending on God to provide your daily meal! (see Exodus 16:1-21). Instead of being grateful for God's daily provision for them some of the children of Israel grumbled against God. Listen to their grumbling! "The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, "Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna" (Numbers 11:4-6). Oh how ungrateful and unappreciative they were! We display their spirit of ungratefulness when we neglect to thank God for the food on our plates. The Lord Jesus Himself displayed thankfulness for the Father's provision. Again and again, before crowds of thousands, He gave thanks to God for the bread and fish He was to miraculously multiply to feed them (Matthew 14:19; 15:36; John 6:11, 23). Before His disciples at the Last Supper our Lord gave thanks for the bread and the cup (Matthew 26:26-27). It is really a shame to see some Christians digging into their food without pausing to say thanks to God. The Bible teaches the principle of gratitude for the the foods God provides for us. In 1 Timothy 4:3-5 it says, "men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer." Christians are to set an example of not only humble dependence on God for His provisions, but also expressing thanks to Him for them. As we pray to God to give us our daily bread we must remember that "every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow" (James 1:17). Again, the Scripture says, "What do you have that you do not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it" (1 Corinthians 4:7). The prayer for our daily bread leaves no room for pride to fester in our hearts.
Praying to God to give us our daily bread does not mean we are exempted from working. Nor does it mean that when we earn our living we are to become self-sufficient. There is a tendency in God's people to point to their chest and say, "I deserve it." God is aware of this tendency in us. As such, He warns us about it. Before Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land God reminded them of the danger of thinking that their own ability to work brought them wealth. Speaking through Moses, He reminded Israel, "In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth. 'But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day" (Deuteronomy 8:16-18). May these words be used by the Holy Spirit to convict us of our self-sufficient spirit in our affluent culture! To pray sincerely for our daily bread is an expression of our total dependence on God. It is also a demonstration of our genuine gratitude to God for all our basic physical needs. Dear believer, do you daily ask God to provide for your needs? Do you daily express heartfelt appreciation to Him for all He provides for you to live?
The story is told of an unbelieving rich business man who overhead Christians talking about prayer at a restaurant. The business blurted out: "I work for everything I have. So I don't have to pray to your God." I'm afraid, some believers display that same rotten attitude of the ungodly business man. Please, I urge you, if that is you, get on your knees right now and seek repentance and forgiveness before God. He will not tolerate such a proud and self-sufficient spirit in you as a believer. And if you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, may I say to you that it will not profit you to gain the riches of this world and yet lose your soul. You need to admit to Jesus today that you are sinful, proud and self-sufficient. Ask Him to cleanse and forgive you of your sins on the basis of His sacrifice on the cross. Accept by faith His free offer of forgiveness. Acknowledge to Jesus that He is now your Lord and Savior. Appreciate His gift of salvation by simply telling Jesus: "Lord Jesus, I thank You for saving me from my sins and making me a new creation in You. I am Yours from this day forward. I trust You to continue the good work You have started in me today and fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Amen!"
Pardon of God: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
Life sustained by food is not enough? Is it? It is obvious that food is not our only need in life. We need forgiveness from our sins. The Lord Jesus made this clear when He added the petition for forgiveness. "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Literally, the Greek says, "And forgive us the debts of us, as indeed we forgave the debtors of us".
The Bible makes it clear that there is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). It also reveals that all men are sinners (Romans 3:23). It teaches that we are born in sin (Psalm 51:5). It declares that we have all gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way (Isaiah 53:6). It also states that: if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Apostle Paul struggled with sin. Through the Spirit, he humbly and honestly testified: "The good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want" (Romans 8:19). Furthermore, the Bible makes a bold assertion: "If we say we have not sinned, we make Him [God] a liar and His word is not in us" (1 John 1:10). The point of all this is simply this: whether you are a believer or an unbeliever, you desperately need God's forgiveness.
Believers need God's pardon for their sin. The hymn writer Thomas O. Chisholm captures our need for pardon in his hymn, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." In the third stanza, he writes: "Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!" Indeed, God's pardon of our debts provides peace and strength to press on in life. It brings cheer and hope to refresh and renew our desire to pursue Him. Certainly, God's pardon of us is one of His blessings to us.
Here in Matthew, what we ask to be forgiven for is "our debts" (ta opheilemata hemon). But in the parallel passage of the model prayer in Luke, it is "our sins" (tas harmartias hemon; Luke 11:4). From the comparison of the use of these two terms by our Lord Jesus, it is safe say the term "debts" means "sins." In other words, our "debts" are "sins" we owe God.
Now we need to ask an important question at this juncture. Is the Lord Jesus teaching here that God's forgiveness of our sins must be earned by our own forgiveness of others? In other words, is our forgiveness the real cause of God's forgiveness of our sins? Do we merit God's forgiveness by forgiving those who have wronged us? I do not believe Jesus is teaching here that we have to earn or merit God's pardon through our pardon of others. He is trying to help us see that we need to be characterized by a forgiving spirit. He wants us to see how much God has forgiven us. Our Lord is speaking of a characteristic of a person who knows Him and has been forgiven by Him. A forgiven sinner is a forgiver. Forgiving others who have wronged us, not only reflects the forgiving heart of Christ, but it is essential for our spiritual, emotional, and relational well-being. Harboring resentment, bitterness, anger, and hatred against those who wrong us, only brings our spiritual life to a halt. Later, in Matthew's gospel, the Lord Jesus told a parable to illustrate how great a debt we owe God, but out of His compassion He forgave and therefore expects us to forgive our brother who owes us far less than we owe God (see Matthew 18:21-35).
"Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries that others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves that we have minimized our own." - John Stott: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation: Through the Bible Through the Year!
As we follow this pattern of prayer asking God to forgive us our sins, we need to come to Him knowing that first of all, God is a forgiving God. He is willing to forgive our sins. The Scripture reveals God to us as a God who is willing to forgive our sins. In Leviticus, God repeatedly spoke of His willingness to forgive the sins of His people (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:16, 18; 6:7; 19:22). In Numbers 14:18, He is described as a God abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. In Nehemiah 9:17, He is wonderfully spoken of as: "You are a forgiving God." The inspired psalmist's description of Him further affirms His forgiving nature. "You are forgiving and good, O Lord" (Psalm 86:5). Again, he declared, "You were to Israel a forgiving God" (Psalm 99:8). King David spoke by the Spirit, saying of God as One who pardons all our iniquities (Psalm 103:3). Again, the inspired psalmist testified about God's forgiving character in these comforting words: "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared" (Psalm 130:3-4). In 2 Chronicles 7:14, we are told that God is ready and willing to forgive the sins of His people who humble themselves and turn away from their wicked ways. The prophet Daniel knew God to be "merciful and forgiving" (Daniel 9:9).
Secondly, as we come to God to pray for forgiveness of our sins, we must come remembering His promises to forgive us. "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool" (Isaiah 1:18; cf. 43:25; 44:22). "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7). In Jeremiah 31:34, which is God's New Covenant to Israel, and to us who believe in Jesus, God's promise is this: "I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." This promise is cited in the New Testament book of Hebrews, in which God repeated this promise (see Hebrews 8:12; 10:17). Perhaps, the most beloved promise of forgiveness is found in 1 John 1:9, where the Bible says: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The Lord Jesus Himself assured His disciples at the Last Supper that His purpose for going to the cross is to provide the means for the forgiveness of their sins and ours. "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28).
Thirdly, when we come to God to seek His forgiveness for our sins and others, our hearts must be filled with the assurance that forgiveness is a special blessing He bestows on repentant sinners. King David is a perfect illustration of this truth. He spoke of the blessedness of forgiveness in these inspired words: "How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!" (Psalm 32:1-2; cf. Romans 4:7-8).
Fourthly, we must come to God, not excusing our sins or blaming others for them, but humbly and honestly acknowledging our sins to God and admitting to Him that our sins are first and foremost against Him (see Psalm 32:5; 51:1-4).
Fifthly, we must avoid the destructive habit of concealing our sins. When David concealed his sins instead of confessing them, his vitality was drained (see Psalm 32:3-4). Proverbs 28:13 says, "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion." Furthermore, the Bible teaches that holding on to our sins or cherishing them will rob of us the wonderfully privilege of having God listen to us. "If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18). The model prayer teaches us to ask forgiveness for our sins. That is, we must come clean with God on a daily basis, keeping short accounts with Him. What a blessing! We can be free of the burden, weight, guilt and shame of sin, simply by sincerely asking God to forgive our sins and be willing to turn away from them!
Sixthly, we must remember that he who is forgiven many sins is to love much (Luke 7:47). We all have been forgiven many sins, therefore, our love for God should be growing ever more.
Seventhly, as we ask God for forgiveness of our sins, we must think of what it cost God to bestow the blessing of forgiveness on us. It cost Him the shedding of the precious blood of His Son. The Bible says, without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). The shedding of the blood of bulls and goats cannot purchase forgiveness for our sins (please read Hebrews 9). How thankful we should be for Christ's priceless and precious blood!
Eighthly, we should make it a point to bless the Lord for His forgiveness of our sins. David exemplified this so well. He blessed God for the benefit of forgiveness. "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; who pardons all your iniquities" (Psalm 103:1-3). As far as David was concerned, God's pardon of all our sins is the foremost of His blessings.
Finally, as we pray for the forgiveness of our sins, we are to be reminded of God's purpose for forgiveness. He forgives us of our sins in order to inculcate in us, a healthy respect for Himself. Though our sins may be many and vile, God is willing to forgive them, if we genuinely turn from them. This is what the Bible teaches in Psalm 130:3-4: "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared." Please listen! Every time God forgives you of your sins, it is to promote a healthy regard and reverence for His Person! If the forgiveness you are experiencing from God is not instilling in you reverence for Him, then, there is something wrong in your concept of God's forgiveness. You must let the Spirit search your heart and cleanse it of the "cheap and trivial" concept of forgiveness. For God's forgiveness is intended to create a hunger for holiness in us. Oh how rich is the Word of God! How wonderful is God, willingly inviting us to His throne room to ask forgiveness for our sins on the basis of the sacrifice Jesus made for sins once for all, for all time (see Hebrews 10:10,12)! Blessed be His name both now and forever! Amen.
Preservation of God: "And do not lead us into temptation."
Our needs extend beyond food and forgiveness. We need God's fatherly work of preserving us from temptation. Therefore, in His pattern for prayer, our Lord added another petition we should consistently bring before God. He instructed: "And do not lead us into temptation. Literally, "And not bring us into temptation." Traditionally, this petition is taken with "but deliver us from evil" as one. However, I have decided to separate them in this presentation.
The Greek word for "temptation" is peirasmos. It is also translated as test, trial, enticement to sin. The devil enticed the Lord Jesus to sin but was not successful (Matthew 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-13). It is clearly seen from the contexts of the above passages, that the devil was behind the tempting of the Lord. Satan was doing his wicked best to bring the Lord Jesus to an occasion of sin. Christ triumphed over his diabolical schemes.
The Scripture clearly teaches that God does not, and cannot entice believers into sin. In James 1:13, we read, "Let no one say when he is tempted [peirazomenos, from the same root aspeirasmos], I am being tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone." God cannot, and does not entice His children into temptation. That is not consistent with His nature. This implies that this petition is not asking God to do what in fact He cannot do. I have not heard anyone praying to God, saying, "God, please, do not to sin against me." He does not sin. He cannot sin. He will never sin. Similarly, He cannot tempt believers. He does not tempt them. He will never entice His children into sin. So, we are not praying to God to do something that is out of character for Him. So what are we really asking God to do when we pray, "do not lead us into temptation?" I am glad you ask.
As stated earlier, the word peirasmos also means test or trial. The Bible teaches us that believers will face testing or trials of various kinds but they should be faced with joy (Matthew 5:10-12; John 16:33; James 1:12; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 1:6-9). Since this is the case, praying for God's grace to endure them is understandable. But to pray not to be brought into testing or trial is strange. The Bible teaches that trials produce results such as perseverance, proven character, hope, faith, endurance and maturity in our lives as believers (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:3-4).This implies that trials are beneficial for our Christian development. We need them. So the question is: "Is Jesus teaching us here to ask God never to allow us to face trials or tests in life?" Certainly, that is not what He is teaching here. What He is teaching us here is to ask God to preserve us in the trials He allows in our lives so that our faith in Him may not fail. In other words, Jesus is instructing us to ask His Father to sustain us to complete the task He has commissioned us to carry. This is clearly illustrated in our Lord's own prayer for the preservation of Peter. Satan had asked for permission from God to sift Peter. According to the Lord Jesus, Satan was given the go ahead to sift Peter. We read of this in Luke 22:31: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan had demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Please notice that Jesus did not pray against the coming sifting in Peter's life. But He did pray for the preservation of his faith. God did not allow Peter to succumb to the temptation. Instead of Peter's trust in Christ withering and waning altogether, it was strengthened through the sifting. Peter was then able to strengthen his brothers. Peter failed. He denied Christ three times. But his faith did not fail. His faith in the Lord Jesus was made stronger. After the ascension of the Lord Jesus, Peter was greatly used of God to strengthen the faith of the small band of believers waiting in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. He led the church on the Day of Pentecost in preaching the good news resulting in the salvation of three thousand souls (see Acts 1-2). Peter was sifted by Satan. But he was preserved by God. Peter advanced in his faith in Jesus Christ. His belief system was not shattered. It survived and was even strengthened. When we pray, "do not lead us into temptation," we are not asking God not to tempt us. He does not tempt us. But what we are asking is God's preservation of us so that our trust in Him will not fail.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, we are told, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." This precious verse is a marvelous encouragement to God's people who are tempted. It teaches that temptations and trials which we face are common to all. It also affirms God's faithful character. Furthermore, it teaches that God will limit the intensity of the temptation He permits in our lives. But best of all, God promises to provide a way of escape for His tempted children to bear whatever temptation He allows them to face. We can deduce from this Scripture that when we ask God not to lead us into temptation, what we are asking Him is to limit the intensity of the temptation and provide us a way of escape to bear it. In brief, we are asking for His preservation of us. Because God is faithful, we can count on Him to preserve our trust in Him. Our Lord Himself was tempted by the devil, but He was preserved. His commitment to the Father's purpose did not waver. He was tempted in all things as we are, yet did not sin (see Hebrews 4:15). The Lord Jesus Himself was tempted in that which He suffered, therefore He is able to help those who are being tempted (see Hebrews 2:18). In Jesus Christ, we have a High Priest who understands our struggles with temptation and He has taught us to ask our heavenly Father to preserve us so that our trust in Him will not go bankrupt or cease operating.
There is an interesting story in the Old Testament that gives us a hint that God sometimes act to prevent us from sinning against us. I am drawn to this story, because it shows that God does not entice us into sin, rather He can choose to restrain us from sinning. The story occurred during Abraham's sojourning in the land of Gerar, not long after he was told Sarah would have a son in her old age. It was a critical time in Abraham's life as far as God's promise to him was concerned. However, Abraham did not see that. He told Sarah to tell the people that she was his sister. Abimelech, king of Gerar, didn't waste time. He sent and took Sarah, the new arrival in town. I don't know what was going through Abraham's mind. Did he pray? Did he confess his sin to the Lord? Did he ask God to preserve his wife Sarah? All I know is that God intervened. This is where we pick up the story.
"But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married." Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this." Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her" (Genesis 20:3-6).
The story clearly teaches that God restrained the king from sinning against Him. Could it be that asking God not to lead us into temptation, also means asking Him to restrain us from sinning against Him? May God Himself give His understanding!
Protection of God: "But deliver us from evil."
The model prayer ends with the petition: "but deliver us from evil." The Greek word for "deliver," is rhyomai. It also means, rescue, save, or preserve someone from someone or something. Rescue or deliverance from evil is another crucial need in the believer's life on earth. By this petition, the Lord Jesus is reminding all Christians that this world is not our final home. As long as we are in this world, we are going to battle with evil. Because we are helpless in the face of evil, we need someone to rescue us from it. Our heavenly Father is willing to do just that. That is why our Lord taught us to come to Him with confidence and specifically ask Him to deliver us from evil. In other words, this petition should be our heart's cry for daily deliverance from the power of evil in our lives. How thankful we should be that God is willing to rescue us from evil!
In His High Priestly prayer in the Upper Room, the Lord Jesus specifically asked the Father, not to take His disciples out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one (John 17:15). Here we see that Jesus practiced what He preached. In the Greek language, tou ponerou could be either neuter, in which case it is rendered evil (as in Luke 6:45; Romans 12:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:22), or masculine, in which case it is rendered as the evil one, referring specifically to the devil or Satan (as in Matthew 13:19, 38; Ephesians 6:16; 1 John 2:13-14). The question is, what is tou ponerou referring to in the model prayer? I believe the usage of this expression in this context refers to Satan. He is the evil one. He is behind all evil. His intentions are evil. He is the embodiment of evil. His desire is to steal, kill and destroy. He knows his time is short (Revelation 12:12). Left to ourselves, we would have been an easy prey for him.
Martin Luther, the great reformer, made this clear in his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." The first three stanza read:
"A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe-his craft and pow'r are great, and, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He-Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.
And tho this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph thru us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him-his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure: one little word shall fell him."
Our God is greater than the devil. He is more powerful than Satan. He triumphs over the evil one. God is conqueror over the serpent of old. He is victorious over the dragon. God is on our side in the battle against the evil one.
Commentator D. A. Carson writes:
"Thus the Lord's model prayer ends with a petition that, while implicitly recognizing our own helplessness before the Devil whom Jesus alone could vanquish (Matthew 4:1-11), delights to trust the heavenly Father for deliverance from the Devil's strength and wiles.- D. A. Carson: Matthew: The Expositors Bible Commentary!
Please note that asking God to deliver us from evil does not mean we will never face hard or evil times. It does mean that God's purpose for our lives will be accomplished. Paul's life is a perfect illustration of this. While facing death at the hands of Nero, he displayed great confidence in God's ability to fulfill His purpose for his life. This is how the Spirit led him to declare his confident trust in God's deliverance of him:
"At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me,...and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (2 Timothy 4:16-18).
Though Paul was beheaded, God safely brought him home into His presence. God will do the same for us. Just as Paul conquered through Christ who loved him, so also we will conquer through Him. Just as nothing was able to separate Paul from the loving presence of God, so also will it be our experience. This is because God will rescue us from every evil deed and safely bring us into His glorious presence. His purpose concerning every single believer will never be thwarted (Job 42:2).
What a pattern of prayer given to us by our Lord Jesus! It is a pattern for prayer that first of all reveals that those who follow it, know for certain that they have a saving personal relationship with God. This is not a prayer that promotes religiosity. Rather, it promotes a relationship with a loving heavenly Father through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. In other words, it a relational pattern of living and praying that calls those who are savingly related to God, to put His interests first. Their focus must be centered on His paternity and personhood. They must carefully guard their hearts in His presence, conscious of His preeminent position-He is lifted up and lofty. They must commit themselves to the praise of His great and glorious name, not to their little name. They must be consumed about the advance of His program, that is, His kingdom, not their little kingdom. They must come to Him with a passionate longing for the accomplishment of His purpose alone, that is, His will alone, not their will, to be carried out in their own lives, in the Church, and in the world. Having put God's interests first, the model prayer teaches that we can present our needs, not greeds, for provision of daily bread, pardon for our sins, preservation from temptation, and protection from the evil one, in total and humble dependence on our dependable God! O Lord, teach to pray!