The Fourfold Privilege of Prayer
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 11:1
The Fourfold Privilege of Prayer
January 26, 2020
Last week we began to introduce a series on the the Lord’s Prayer from Luke chapter 11, so I’d invite you to turn back to Luke chapter 11. Today we intend to finish our introduction. Last week was part 1 of the introduction; this is part 2. So today we’re going to try to gain a greater appreciation for the gift of prayer that we have received from God in Christ.
As you know, last week the sermon was mostly polemical. We needed to and intended to denounce as strongly as possible a common but an entirely false notion about prayer, namely this false notion: that prayer is about us, primarily about us, that prayer is a means of getting us what we want from God. Prayer is not a man-centered exercise. True prayer is God-centered, and because prayer is God-centered, because prayer is God-focused, prayer is so deeply meaningful and so comprehensively beneficial. When prayer is simply about us and getting what we want, fulfilling almost like a grocery list of need, getting that from God, it’s completely off-target. We are short-cutting prayer’s true purpose, which is to know and worship the living God. If we know and worship the living God, all of the needs will be taken care of besides.
In one sense, prayer is an impulse of the soul. Prayer is something that is natural to us as human beings. Some might even call it a spiritual instinct that is common to every human being. Everyone prays. That’s another short way to say that. Everyone prays. In fact, one of the most stubborn realities of the human condition, one that most troubles atheists, is that—try as they might—they cannot eradicate theism, and they can’t eradicate people praying. After much scientific study, observation, and research, we’ve come to find out that we’re born that way. Babies are born as theists, and the grow up as children worshiping, thinking that there must be something to worship. And so were you. Theists are born—not taught. They’re born. Atheists, therefore, have to work very hard to undo what God has designed into us. And rest assured, they will never succeed. Theirs is a lost cause because theism—along with the instinct to pray, the innate sense of the divine, our deepest longing to commune with God—that sense belongs to our immaterial natures.
John Calvin called this innate sense of the divine the “sensus divinitatus.” We all believe. We all have a sense of God. Children believe. Without any embarrassment or any apology, they believe and know there is a God above us who created us, who knows us, who cares for us. So we’re drawn instinctively to pray to him. The Bible tells us that God has put eternity into every single human heart, written his law on our heart. He has given us a conscience that alternately accuses and excuses us based on that law he’s given us, based on that standard. We all sense God. We sense our accountability to God, and we sense that our deepest needs have to do with the satisfaction of spiritual longings, to respond to spiritually generated impulses within us. We instinctively want to talk to God. Many people live avoiding that impulse, avoiding that instinct, but when the pressure comes on, when they face things that they cannot handle, instinctively they want to talk to God. They want to commune with God in some way. And that’s why it takes, really, and aggressive, activist, secularist atheist to try to disabuse people of that notion—that there is such a thing as a God, that he created the world, he created us, he knows us, he cares for us, provides for us—and we can pray to him.
And as we all know, such a campaign to disabuse us of that kind of a notion is underway in our country. It has been for decades. It has been in all the Western world. It’s called “modernity,” one of the most aggressive processes of secularization that has been at work in the world. And it is an aggressive force in our day. The spirit of modernity is at work to indoctrinate children through our schools, to instill an anti-religious sentiment, and instinct in all the social, political, economical, culture-shaping forces of our time. The spirit of modernity works to enculturate everyone—through media, entertainment, through every avenue. And still, in spite of all that, people keep on praying. In spite of aggressive atheistic effort, to the chagrin of every leftist, every progressive force at work today, people continue to pray.
That’s not something necessarily to cheer, in and of itself. The stubborn fact of theism, the innate instinct to pray—that’s simply a testament to the incontrovertible fact of God’s existence, to the fact of his authorship of the world, to his design in humanity. This is a stubborn fact. We also need to recognize that praying—as a religious exercise—is not, in and of itself, virtuous. That’s because prayer, when it’s uninformed by divine revelation, apart from what God has described in his Word, becomes—like all of God’s other good gifts—simply another tool of sinful idolatry. As we heard from our Lord earlier, from Matthew chapter 6, there’s a whole lot of ignorance about prayer. He said, “Don’t pray like the Gentiles do.” Well, what are most of us in this room? Gentiles. How were we raised? Like Gentiles—ignorant pagans that pray to God any old way we want to. And when we pray in ignorance, when we pray in unbelief, when we pray to a false god, or when we take the true God and reshape that God into a god of our own making, then prayer is something that simply facilitates our idolatry. It’s actually not useful—it’s counterproductive.
Like all of God’s good gifts—marriage, family, children, knowledge, imagination, creativity, communication, all the pleasures that God has filled this world with and given us to enjoy—prayer is to be used in accordance to the purpose for which it is given. Like all God’s gifts, we’re not free to do with prayer whatever seems right in our own eyes—not without detriment to our souls. Misusing God’s gifts is harmful to us. God is the one who prescribes how we use his gifts, which include the gift of prayer. He tells us how to approach him. He tells us in what manner to come to him. He tells us in what form we should come to him, using what words. And we’re wise to listen to him, aren’t we? Because he knows what’s best. He created us. He’s good. He’s all-loving, all good, all wise. It’s wise to listen to him in this matter of prayer.
Yes, prayer is instinctual to all of us as human beings, but prayer is a good gift of God. It’s intended to serve us, to benefit us. And in so doing, in that service to us, it brings glory and honor to God. And I want you to see that in the text. We’ll spend, like I said, one more week getting an introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. Once again, let’s read from the text, and we’ll just abbreviate our reading this time, and go Luke 1:1-4:
*Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’”*
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, as I said, he gave them a precious gift. And the gift is this: It’s access to the Father in Heaven. That’s the gift of prayer. All that comes from having access to the Father in Heaven, having access to God, comes along with that gift—worship, daily communion, satisfaction of the soul, forgiveness, protection from sin and evil and error, sanctification, holiness. All those things are brought through the gift of prayer, and as you can see, what Jesus taught, here, is not difficult. The words are simple, the form is concise, it’s easy to remember. Therefore, it is easy to put into daily exercise, daily practice. That is always Jesus’ intent in teaching—that we should not only listen, but obey; that we should not only hear what he says, but then to do it, and to do it for our good.
So before we walk through the elements of the Lord’s Prayer, and go line by line, verse by verse, I want you to see what makes this pattern of prayer that the Lord teaches us such a good gift, what makes this a such a joyful thing that we have received from Christ. It seems to me that prayer can be sort of compared to a key. A key a small thing. It’s very simply designed, generally. It’s uncomplicated to use. Even a child can use a key, right? But the size and simplicity of a key—we understand that it’s not something we take for granted. It’s something we protect, something we keep on a key chain and put in our pocket. We all understand how important a key is for providing access to locked spaces. Keys allow us to inner spaces that contain things we need and to enter spaces we want to be in for rest, refreshment, enjoyment. Sometimes keys provide access to great treasure.
Prayer is like that. True prayer—like the pattern of prayer Jesus teaches here—is simple and easy to use. There’s no ostentation, there’s no pretension, there’s no grand form, no “highfalutin” language, no requirement to pray in King James language to get heard. You don’t have to be a seminary graduate in order to prayer. It’s simple. And the prayer that Jesus teaches us is simple in design. Why? Because he intends us to use it, like a key. He wants us to have access to the Father, and get this—he wants us to have access into a place—the very Holy of Holies—that was restricted access for all of Israel—separated by a huge curtain, and only one person could go in there and only one time of year—the High Priest—and not without blood. And if he stayed too long, he was dead. Jesus says, “I’m tearing that veil in two, from top to bottom. I’m ripping it open and calling you to come in. Spend time there.” He died to procure that right for us. He wants us to come. He wants us to worship. He wants us to honor God and to give thanks. And to do so most fundamentally, most naturally, in prayer.
So as you discover what makes prayer such a special gift and what makes Jesus’ teaching on prayer so special, my hope and prayer is that God would ignite all of our hearts with the joy of anticipation of what we get to do in prayer. I want us to learn to enjoy the gift of prayer. And something like this—the gift of prayer—is something we do need to learn to enjoy because everything else we enjoy in this world is so immediate, visual, physical, temporal, right? If we want chocolate, we eat chocolate, and there’s an immediate stimulus to that, right; there’s an immediate reaction. If we want to go and enjoy a warm, sunny day, we walk out, we feel the sun, we feel the breeze—we enjoy those things, right? There’s a physical response; there’s a physical stimulus and a physical response to that.
Prayer is different, isn’t it? Prayer is the habit, the practice of coming before an invisible God. He doesn’t give us physical stimuli though some people like to say they knew God was present because of that “warm feeling”—goosebumps. But there are people who say, “I can feel God in this place.” I’m telling you right now that’s not true. God is invisible. He defies your physical feeling. By his very essence, he can’t be felt. Prayer is coming to an invisible God and communing with someone whom we cannot see, touch, feel, physically hear. So prayer is one of these exercises of religion that demands faith. It tests our faith. If you want to ask a question about your prayer life, and you see that it’s meager or infrequent or very limited, that tells you something about the strength of your believing. I want you to see the joy of prayer and learn to enjoy—and you do need to enjoy it. It takes time. It takes practice. It takes giving yourself to the exercise, and you will be rewarded manifold. I want the Holy Spirit to stir our faith, to stir us up in believing, that we might practice prayer. I want us to learn to enjoy this gift, which can only be known through personal experience. Christ, here in this text, is eager to teach his disciples about prayer, and I want us to understand why that is and then indulge ourselves in this privilege that we have been given of coming to God in prayer.
So to do this—as I said—we’re going to introduce the Lord’s teaching on prayer, generally following the introduction that Luke has provided in verses 1-2. Again, look there at verses 1 and 2. Luke writes this: “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples. And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father…” Then on he goes. I’m going to give you four points. We’re going to walk through the text phrase by phrase and see four areas that we can access using this special key of prayer. You might call it a four-fold key because it provides every believer with access to four rooms, four privileges, in prayer.
Here’s the first: Prayer is a key to spiritual blessedness. Luke’s introduction in verse 1 tells us, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place.” And it’s because Jesus was praying that this disciple—unnamed, unknown to us—observing Jesus’ example is prompted to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Stop and consider for moment the simple point that Jesus prayed. The Gospels show us that Jesus prayed often—sometimes for very long periods of time. He liked to pray alone. He liked to pray in desolate places where he would not be interrupted. His disciples were familiar with his habit; they respected his privacy, gave him his space. As you can see there in verse one—the man waited to ask his question until Jesus finished praying. He knows what Jesus is accustomed to doing, and he leaves him alone. Jesus’ praying was a familiar sight for the disciples, so this man didn’t interrupt him, didn’t bother him—he waited to ask his question.
So we’ve got to ask the question, “Why did Jesus pray?” In answering that question, by the way, there are many who have fallen into very serious and significant error about the nature of Christ. Some errors even rise to the level of rank heresies. So we want to be very careful as we think about this and answer the question, “Why did Jesus pray?” We need to speak carefully about this. We are dealing, here, with the profound mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, that is, the union of two natures in one Person—a divine nature, a human nature joined together—two natures in one Person: Christ. First, we acknowledge that Jesus is truly human. That is to say, he is human in every way. Yes, miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary—a unique, unrepeatable miracle. But following his miraculous conception, everything beyond that is human. Jesus’ prenatal development in Mary’s womb—I think she even took prenatal vitamins—it’s somewhere in the Greek—watched her diet and all the other stuff women do when they’re pregnant, weird cravings and all the rest, you know? [laughter]—she felt all that. He grew in the womb. His birth—down the birth canal, into the world, crying, all the stuff that babies do—he went through that. His infancy, his childhood, his being reared in the home, entrance into adulthood—all of that—normal human life…embracing of responsibility, taking on the job of a carpenter to provide for his family, his father Joseph having passed away, evidently. He lived in the community, lived in Nazareth, provided for a family—all those things normal to human life, Jesus engaged in. He had all the normal human experiences of human life through a truly nature.
That said, we understand that Jesus had no sin. So he never experienced guilt, never experienced shame—which means, of course, that when he taught his disciples to pray in verse 4, “Forgive us our sins,” that’s a petition that Jesus never prayed for himself. That’s why some refer to this prayer as “The Disciples’ Prayer”—the one he taught to his disciples, not “The Lord’s Prayer,” the one he prayed for himself. That’s technically true. The Lord’s Prayer—the prayer our Lord prayed—is in John 17. That’s known as the “High Priestly Prayer.” It gives us a unique insight into the special relationship Christ had with his Father. But Jesus never prayed things like, “Forgive us our sins”—first person plural, including himself in the sinfulness. He never did. He never included himself in such a petition because even though “he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, being in every respect tempted as we are”—Hebrews 4:15—yet he is different from us, in this respect—that he is without sin.
So I guess the saying is not true—“To err is human.” Jesus is truly human, yet he never erred, he never sinned. We’re so thankful for that. Jesus is the representative head of a new race. Praise God for that! The progenitor of this new race is without sin. Being a sinless man, then, he represents the perfection of humanity, which is what God intends for all of us—perfection, sinless perfection. It’s in him that we have hope for a new existence, beloved—a new existence that does not involve in any way the power or presence of sin. We’re one day going to know what it’s like to live and be human absent sin.
So Jesus does have a human nature. To sin is not human. Jesus is human—he never sinned. In fact, sin is like a cancer that enters into humanity and destroys it. I’m so grateful that sin is not natural to us in our condition, in the way God created us. Aren’t you? Because this is our hope as Christians—resurrection life, glorification in Christ. Jesus has a human nature.
He also possesses a divine nature. Jesus Christ is God. He’s truly God, manifest in the flesh. The Bible says in several passages—John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him”—through the Word—“Without him was not anything made that has been made.” So if it’s in the category of “created,” “made,” it’s not him. He did that. God the Father created all things through Son by the power of the Spirit. Colossians 1:15 and other passages: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” “Firstborn” is a term that doesn’t mean “born first.” It means “preeminent.” “Firstborn” in the Hebrew mind means “preeminent one.” He’s the image of the invisible God, the preeminent one of all creation, “for by him all things were created.” If it’s in the category of “thing,” it was created—created by him, “whether things in heaven or things in earth, whether things visible or invisible”—even angels, all the angelic realm—created by him. “Whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” “He’s before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
You want to know your purpose as a human being? “For him.” You’re created for him. You’re not created for yourself. You’re not created for your own good. You’re not created to fulfill your own dreams. You’re not created for your own pleasures. If you live for those things, you quickly see the end of those things in emptiness, in hollowness, in another dead end. You’re created for God. You’re created for God in Christ. That’s your purpose in a world that denies purposes other than your autonomous self.
Hebrews 1:3—another one—“He is the radiance”—the radiance, the shining—“of the glory of God. He is the exact imprint of his nature. He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” You want to know why the universe isn’t going to spin off into oblivion or some big planet isn’t going to crash into our planet and end us? He upholds all things by he word of his power. Many, many texts in the Old and the New Testaments support the essential doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself, when he was challenged about his nature and identity, made profound claims of deity, telling the truth about his possession of a divine nature.
In John 8:58, he took on the divine name, saying plainly to his accusers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was”—and he said this in language that they could not escape the meaning of—“I am.” You know what that hearkens back to? Moses and the burning bush, right—Exodus 3:14. “God”—Yahweh—“told Moses, ‘You tell them, “I AM has sent you to them.”’” Jesus said, “Truly, truly, before Abraham was, I am.” He equated himself with the “I AM”—the Yahweh of the Old Testament. Again in John 10:30, he claimed the very essence of God, saying this simply, “I and the Father are one.” That’s the Shema of Israel: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”—“ehad.” Jesus uses the same language—oneness meaning the essential unity with God, exact equality with God, divine simplicity, divine immutability, “from everlasting to everlasting, you are God”—that’s what Jesus Christ is saying about himself. He is Yahweh. Isaiah 9:6: He’s “the wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” That’s exactly what Gabriel told Mary before the conception. Luke 1:35: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and therefore the child to be born will be called ‘Holy, the Son of God.’” We could go on and on, but that is enough to help us understand the absolute uniqueness, the “only-begottenness” of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.
We were talking about this yesterday with the men, going through STM. This is summarized well in the Nicene Creed, that Jesus is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial”—or you could say “coessential”—“with the Father, by whom all things are made.” The church has been confessing that since the very inception.
So when Jesus is praying, it is not his divine nature praying to God because he himself is God. Entering into prayer is entering into communion with God, so since the Son of God is always in communion with the Father, since his divine nature is always in communion with the Father—always sharing in the divine essence—he exists in his divine nature in unbroken union with God, always in communion with God. The Son of God is in an immutable state of unbroken union, unbroken communion, unbroken fellowship with the Father. But our text says clearly in verse 1, “Jesus was praying,” and what does it say? “When he had finished.” That’s not true of his divine nature, but it is true of his human nature. So when Jesus prays, prayer is an expression of his human nature. It’s a perfect human nature. There’s no sin to confess, there’s no guilt to atone for, there’s no shame to remove—and yet, Jesus prays.
So we have to ask the question again, “Why does he pray?” Because he has to? Well, yes! Prayer is the normal longing of Christ’s human nature. Prayer answers the very deepest need of the immaterial part of the human nature. Think about this—and I don’t intend be funny or to come across in any irreverent way—but how did Jesus have fun? How did he have fun? How did he enjoy himself? What did Jesus do for rest and refreshment? If you pause and think about what you do to answer that question…think about him. In reading of the Gospels, can you imagine him for one moment sitting by the pool, sipping a fruity drink with an umbrella in it? No? Did he at any time say to his disciples, “Man, we’ve been really busy; how about watching a little TV? Playing some video games?” Unfitting, isn’t it? “How about, you know, the thirteen of us taking a vacation—go see the sights?” That’s not to say he didn’t need rest. He did. It’s not to say he didn’t need refreshment. He did. He even taught his disciples to get rest and refreshment for themselves, to pull away for a time. But how? By what means were they rested and refreshed? Every Sabbath day they were hearing the Word of God like we do on Sunday, the first day of the week, hearing the Word of God, singing praises to God, and praying. So what he do even during the week? He called them away. He called them to retreat into prayer. He didn’t encourage them for some form of self-indulgence for rest and refreshment, did he? Not once. And yet prayer did serve the needs that they had for rest and refreshment.
In Luke’s introduction, as we see, that disciple mentions John the Baptist, which causes us, the reader, to be reminded of an earlier time in Jesus’ ministry, when he and the Twelve expended tremendous energy. It was at that height of an extremely busy period of ministry that Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist while he was in prison—you may remember that. Jesus, as you may remember, was related to John. So the death of John affected him on a person level. Matthew hints that the sorrow he felt over John’s execution. Matthew 14:12—John’s disciples, after hearing about the beheading of John, they “came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” The news affected Jesus. It affected him.
This gives us a little bit of an insight into his humanity. He felt it deeply. Obviously, John’s death saddened him, so he sought a desolate place. He sought solitude. He sought time to pray, to seek comfort, consolation, rest, refreshment, communion with God. And so when he did that—taken that boat—he retreated to a desolate place that was near Bethsaida, and once again, as we know from the story, the crowds followed him there. They met the boat there, so he steps off the boat, and he’s thronged once again by this massive crowd with tons of need. So what does he do? “Hey, get away from me! I came over here for private time.” No—you don’t find a hint of that in Scripture, do we? He didn’t reject them at all. He patiently, sacrificially tended to their every need. What a Savior! He ministered to them once again. But then, as soon as he has cared for them—Matthew 14:23, later on in the text—“he sent the crowds away, and then he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” He found it. He found that moment of refreshment, that time to get away.
From what we discern in the Gospels, pulling away for prayer was common for Jesus. There are a few other examples. I could go through a lot of them, but here are just a few. “Rising very early in the morning”—Mark 1:35 says—“while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Luke 5:16 tells us, “He would often withdraw to desolate places and pray.” Luke 6:12: “He went up onto the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” So what we’re reading here in Luke 11:1, spending time in prayer—this is something he did as often as he could. He loved this. Did he need to? Did he pray because he had to? Absolutely! And because he wanted to. His need and his desire were one thing, which is the only sense we get in the Gospels of Jesus doing something—this is kind of a crude way of putting it—for himself. This is how he enjoyed himself. This is how he refreshed himself.
Beloved, we, too, by praying as Christians—not as non-Christians, not as unbelievers, not as followers of some other faith—we, too, by praying are able to exercise a unique state of spiritual blessedness, to find find spiritual rest and refreshment in our God. By praying we are able to experience relief at times, offloading deep, tremendous burdens that are too heavy for us to bear, matters that perplex the mind and pain the soul—those things that—as Romans 8 says—“the Spirit helps us bear with groanings that are too deep for words, helping us in our prayer.” We don’t even know how to pray at times, right? Sometimes, as you know, that prayer is an experience of wrestling as we’re troubled in our spirit, anxious in our minds. Perhaps we’re agonizing, sorrowing in prayer. Whatever it is, whether in times of great joy or times of profound sorrow, prayer allows us to reach down to the very depths of our immaterial being. We have a material side that’s well attended to by our world. We have an immaterial side that is ignored, denied, rejected, neglected—and to our detriment. We’re able to reach down to the depths of the immaterial being, allow real expression of spiritual matters, bring them up to the only one who is able to minister to that deepest of our needs. As Peter says, praying is “casting all your cares upon him because he cares for you.”
Listen—as I’ve said, that’s something that the gifts and the offerings of the modern world cannot provide, can never provide, never will find an antidote to. There’s no drug you can take. There’s no vacation that’s worth it—that will minister to these needs, no matter how much money we get, no matter how much we accumulate, no matter how much we travel and get around and see, no matter how many thrilling, interesting experiences we rack up in our lives, no matter how much of the “bucket list” you try to check off, how much pleasure you enjoy. You all know and understand this—that material things are utterly unable to address immaterial needs. A temporary lift we find in those things. As pleasurable as they can be, it’s just that—it’s temporary, isn’t it? It doesn’t last. After all the money is earned, after all the stuff is purchased and then stored or sold at a garage sale at a fraction of the price, right?—we go off and earn more money, get more stuff, and do the whole thing again like rats in a cage. After we return from the travel, after all the experiences end, the empty feeling returns, right?—that sense of hollowness. For those without Christ, that’s all they have. So what do they do? Like rats in the cage, hitting the bar—more pellets, more pellets, more pellets, more pellets—they go run the wheel again. The only answer is more of the same, to pursue some other dead, material end. The immaterial needs of the soul are never ever ever ever met.
But for us, beloved, for us—for all who have received the grace of God, for all who have embraced Jesus Christ, for all who repent of our sins, who trust in Jesus’ atoning death on the Cross—why? because God is holy and we are not—we are filled with sin, and we’re going to answer to that holy and just God one day. If we trust in him and the Savior whom he sent us, if we trust in his atoning death on the Cross for our sins, my sins personally—gone! My conscience is cleared from dead works. I’ve put my faith in Jesus Christ, and he covers me with the righteousness like a garment. I’m found in him by the Holy Spirit, I’m united to him in his death and his resurrection and in his new life. By the Holy Spirit I’m adopted into God’s family. I’m a child of God, and I’m bid to come and call him “Father.” He’s given us the right to become children of God—John 1:12. What is that right if it’s not the right of access, to come to our Father in prayer, just as Jesus came to the Father in prayer and set the pattern for us?
Prayer is a key to spiritual blessedness, to enjoy the rest, to enjoy the refreshment, to find the consolation that we need. This is a blessing that Jesus sought for himself. It’s not a dead end. It’s not an empty ritual. Prayer is the gift of communion with the living God. Jesus Christ, in his perfect sinless humanity, prayed because he loved to spend to time in prayer. It was rich fellowship for him, the very marrow of his life—full, rich, thorough enjoyment, unmitigated pleasure, wholly refreshing, restorative—replenishing his strength and filling his soul.
And get this—Jesus is eager to bring us into the same joy—same privilege of spiritual blessing. Look back a page or so at Luke 10:21, and notice, there, that “Jesus rejoiced”—it says in Luke 10:21 and following—“he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit”—why? “Because the Father was pleased to hide the riches of eternal truth from all the wise and the understanding of the world”—and then do do what?—“to reveal all those things to little children”—that is, to all of his disciples. Look at verse 22; Jesus says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Listen—if you’re in Christ, beloved, that is you! That includes you! And that is what Jesus is pleased to do. Whenever he teaches his disciples, he is pleased to reveal the Father to them—that’s what he came to do. Christ died to bring us to God.
Remember what we read in Luke 10:39? A disciple named Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to his teaching. What does Jesus do? He commends her because “she’s chosen the good portion”—verse 42. Jesus’ teaching about the Father in heaven, the good portion which will never be taken away from her. And learning about the Father, Mary’s prayers are thereby educated, her communion is informed, her fellowship is enriched, and her spirit is ministered to in the most profound way possible. Communion with the Father in prayer is an abiding privilege. It’s a permanent, irrevocable gift. It will never be taken away. It’s a key—again a key that can be used anywhere at anytime, no matter the setting, the circumstances, the situation. From the very deepest dungeon of the earth, at the farthest reaches of the earth, at the very lowest of places—prayer is able to immediately transport us into the very throne room of the God of heaven. What a miracle!
Consider Jonah. He prayed from inside the belly of a great fish—evidently, a fish that dove to some great depths—as Jonah 2 says, deeper than the roots of the mountains. In the very pit, he said, “I called out to the Lord out of my distress.” What’s he doing? He’s praying. What would you do in the belly of a big fish, diving down into the depths of the ocean, deeper than the lowest mountains? Pray! No atheists in the belly of a fish! “I called out to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.” Again—“While my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.” Incredible! From the depths, there—fleeing from the presence of the Lord—God grabbed him, threw him into the belly of a fish, threw him into the depths of the sea. Immediately, he’s in the throne room of heaven, in the temple of the Lord. God heard his prayer, ministered to his soul, and delivered him—yes, by spitting him up on shore—but delivered him, right?
Jesus teaches us, here, as his disciples, who the Father his, what he’s like. Then he teaches us how to commune with him in prayer. As I. Howard Marshall puts it, “Jesus was initiating them into the same close relationship with the Father that he enjoyed.” Isn’t that marvelous? We think about about Christ—we read, study. This one we are reading about—whom we worship, whom we pray to—says, “You know what? I want to give you the exact same access of relationship to the Father that I have.” Incredible! Such a deep, intimate privilege that Jesus enjoyed for himself and that he’s pleased to bring us into the same communion.
Okay. That’s number 1, okay?—in my introduction of four, right? But the next three are very short, okay? So rest assured. Second privilege: Prayer is the key to Christian fellowship. It’s the practice of “koinonia”—“koinonia” in the truest sense of the word “koinonia”—fellowship, partnership. Look again at Luke 11:1: “Now Jesus was praying at a certain place, and when he was finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.’” It’s interesting that Luke quoted the disciple as not just saying, “‘Lord, teach us to pray,’” which would’ve been sufficient in order to propel the narrative forward, but “‘Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.’” Think about that. There is an “us” and there is a “them.” “‘Lord, teach us as John taught them.’” Two distinct groups, there, right? He’s made a distinction between two groups. He recognized the need to learn the prayers of his own group, a new community of believers who are defined by their discipleship to Jesus Christ. Except for this verse, we have no record of John the Baptist teaching his disciples to pray, but we have no doubt that this is true. It was very common for rabbis to teach their disciples certain prayers, certain patterns of prayer, certain emphases in their prayer life. John’s no different. As Jesus said, in fact—Luke 11:28—“Among those born of women, none is greater than John.” The very greatest of Old Testament prophets—he taught his disciples to pray.
But still, John the Baptist—like any other rabbi, like any other human teacher, like any preacher/prophet—was a sinner. He was just as equal in his need for salvation as everybody he taught—all of his fellow disciples. He’s on the same level. But Jesus, as this disciple recognizes, is entirely different. This is someone who is utterly unique. “Jesus has no need”—Hebrews 7:27—“like others, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” No one like him. John himself said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must”—what?—“decrease,” right? John knows his purpose is fulfilled when he hands off his disciples to Jesus so that they would become the disciples of Jesus, the Christ of God, or as he testified, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” That’s why Luke 7:28—“The one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist.” The very least of us disciples of Christ—we are privileged to belong to a new community of believers. We have privileged access to God through a living hope by the atoning death of Christ, by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and to be taught by that one who is our atonement how to come to God. So this unnamed disciple in Luke 11:1—when he made this distinction between John’s disciples and Jesus’ disciples—really spoke better than he knew at the time. But he did know intuitively, he knew instinctively Jesus has something better to teach his disciples about prayer. Jesus has unfettered access to God in prayer. “I watch him. I see how he prays. I want to know how to pray from that one.”
When Jesus answered the man’s request, you’ll notice Jesus taught him to pray corporately. He taught him to pray as a member of the community. All the verb forms and pronouns in verses 2-4 are not singular; they’re plural. “Jesus said to them…” He was asked a question by an individual disciple, but when he responded, he didn’t respond to him; he responded to them. Significant. It’s plural. Then he goes on, emphasizing the plural nature—corporate nature, community nature—of our prayer. He said, “When you”—plural—“pray.” “You”—plural—“say, ‘Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.’” When we pray, we enter into prayer acknowledging our corporate body. Christians are a new community of believers. They’re centered on God, defined by God, redeemed by God. Our individual identities are therefore eclipsed by the corporate identity of a people who worship the true and the living God. We’re those who know him intimately in union with Christ the Son, who knew God as Father. And each of us as individuals no longer consider—even though we possess an individual identity—our individual identity as the most important factor of our identity. What matters now, to us, is the spiritual nature of this new community. The entire group is sanctified—made holy, declared righteous in Christ. We share in the same experience of redemption. We’re forgiven by the same Savior. We partake of the same Holy Spirit. We’re brought into union and communion together with the same God. We all now have the same access—all of us, everyone of us. There are no second-class citizens. There are no stepchildren, so to speak, in the family of God. We all are one in him—same rights, same privileges, same access—and we all know him as Father. Father.
The Lord’s Prayer brings each one of us into a shared experience of prayer. We enter into prayer in the name of that same Father—the one who overcomes our individualism in the reality of who God is. As Frederick Godet puts it, “After having forgotten himself, having become lost, as it were, in God, the Christian comes back to himself, but as it is in God that he finds himself again, he does not find himself alone. He contemplates himself as a member of God’s family and says, ‘We’—and not ‘I.’”
So as we continue on in the Lord’s Prayer, we see that we don’t make our petitions about matters of human need, considering ourselves and ourselves alone. Notice in verse 3, it’s not “Give me,” but “Give us”—plural—“this day our”—plural—“daily bread.” And then again in verse 4—not just “forgive me,” but “forgive us”—plural—“our”—plural—“for we ourselves”—plural—“forgive everyone who is indebted to us”—plural. “Lead us”—plural—“not into temptation.” What does that demonstrate? “I care about you in prayer, and you care about me in prayer.” As disciples of Jesus Christ, we’re not think and pray as a bunch of isolated individuals, simply after self, self, self, self, self. We’re to think and we’re to pray collectively, as family members, as brothers and sisters in arms, having mutual concern for one another.
Now I just want to tell you that never means you never pray for things that pertain to you, as an individual. Of course, we do. But whenever we pray—even praying for our own concerns—we still pray for the concerns of others. When I’m in need and pray for my need, I’m conscious of the fact that there may be others in need as well. I need to pray for them. When I rejoice in my salvation and in the forgiveness of my sins, I don’t just think of me in particular. I think of everybody—everybody in our church who has the same experience of gratitude and joy of a clear conscience before God. That’s what we practice in prayer.
This corporate mentality does—believe me—immense good for us, especially in a world that really is intent on indoctrinating us into the modern idolatry, which is the idolatry of the self, the celebration of individual autonomy, the shirking of community in every way—no obligation to anybody else in the false refuge of anonymity. What a curse given to the world, here! Anonymity as the anonymous living here is totally destructive. What is meant to liberate the self is actually enslaving the self to personal lusts and personal cravings and animal instincts and all the rest. Those who see themselves as isolated individuals, as living by themselves—even when living in the midst of a community, like a church, like our church—think, live, and prayer as if their actions had no consequence outside the self—and that is a lie. Completely out of step with the life of a Christian. We’re to see ourselves as belonging to a people—a people of God—as members of a family. We’re to think and pray—all of our words and actions—in relation to our family identity. We never want to bring reproach upon the God who saved us, the God we worship. We never want to bring reproach to the family that we exist to honor. We want to honor and glorify our God—the one who identifies and defines our family identity. We’re concerned, therefore, to pray for our brothers and sisters, to uphold them for their good along with our own good. We’re members of one another, and that is how we pray—as members of one another. That’s how Christ prays for us. It’s how he taught us to pray. That’s what prayer does: We enter in and engage in and practice true Christian fellowship. That’s point two.
So prayer is the key to spiritual blessedness—point number one. We experience pure joy in access to the living God. Prayer is the express privilege—and I might add the exclusive—privilege of the Christian community. This community is defined by righteousness, which brings us into a third privilege. Number 3: Prayer is the key to righteous religion. By praying, we engage in a habit of righteousness. That’s what Jesus was describing in Matthew 6: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men.” He includes prayer as an act of righteousness. And it is that. Prayer becomes a means of living out, a means of perfecting the most fundamental commandments of true religion.
Remember the lawyer back in chapter 10, verse 27?
Remember how this lawyer summarized the law in two fundamental commands? Notice he said there in Luke 10:27, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And”—if we supply the verb—“you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That distills the essence of righteousness down to its bare bones. It’s two fundamental commands—love God, love your neighbor. With that in mind, notice how the fundamental nature of righteousness—loving God, loving neighbor—is reflected in the patter of the Lord’s Prayer, first in verse 2: love for God. “Father, hallowed be your name. Your will be done.” “I love you, God.” “I love your name; I love your will.” Number two: love for neighbor. We pray for our own needs, but as we said in the previous point, we don’t pray isolated from the rest of the community. We pray for everybody. What’s that if not love for neighbor? We see our own needs in conjunction with the needs of our fellow Christian. Loving neighbor then occupies the second place: “Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Lead us not into temptation.” “I’m concerned about your sanctification, your provision, your holiness.” To pray this prayer according to the pattern that Jesus has given us is to practice the essence of righteousness. It’s prescribed in the law to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself. We begin with worship, right? Our minds are set on the love of God as Jesus teaches us to exalt the holy name of God, to seek the fulfillment of his will, his purpose. In that frame of mind, we then turn, we pivot over to the love of our neighbor, the fraternal spirit of love for our brothers and sisters. Again, Godet says, “The Lord’s Prayer other than nothing other than the summary of the law put into practice. And this summary so realized in the secrecy of the heart will naturally pass thence into the entire life. It does so first and foremost through our prayer life.”
Drawing near to God in daily dependence and corporate concern cures us of pride. It fosters attitudes of humility, meekness, brotherly love, affection, concern. It’s a very different spirit, by the way, from that which animates that loveless lawyer in Luke 10, who tested Jesus, who cared nothing more than to justify himself. [It differs from the spirit] of the characters we’re going to meet in the rest of Luke chapter 11, like the “children of the evil generation,” led along by the Pharisees and the lawyers. Look at the end of chapter 11, verses 53-54. Luke there records how “[t]hey began to press Jesus hard and to provoke him, to speak about many things, lying in wait for him”—why?—“to catch him in something he might say.” They have no love for God; they have no love for their neighbor. Like many in our own day, the ungodly have no interest in loving God, no interest in loving their neighbor. They just care about the self. They’re in bondage. But as the people of God in Christian community, its concerns of righteousness that animate us, that fill us with life and joy, cause to rejoice, cause us to give thanks. We’re truly interested in loving God, truly interested in loving our neighbor. And we do that in and through prayer.
So prayer is the key—number 1—to enjoying spiritual blessedness; 2—to practicing spiritual fellowship; 3—to perfecting righteous religion. Fourth privilege—just briefly—prayer is the key to spiritual confidence. Again, look at Luke 11:2-4. Notice the concision, there, of those verses—the simplicity of that, the clarity of this prayer. He says to this inquiring disciple, “When you pray, say…” He doesn’t say to quote Psalm 119—all 176 verses. He doesn’t say that. He says, “When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Lead us not into temptation.” We’re struck by the simplicity of that form, aren’t we? I can tell you now, I could hand a five-year-year old in this church a key and point to the door, and he’ll know how to use it. And like any five-year-old, he will. This prayer is simple enough, here, for any child to memorize, any child to repeat. Just 38 words in the Greek text, 36 words—even shorter—in the ESV English translation. To put that into perspective, that is the length of the medium-sized tweet—just a Twitter® post.
But listen, the substance is no Twitter post, is it? The substance, here, is weighty. It’s a prayer that’s profound enough to get beneath every possible issue of life, to enable us to pray about every possible matter that we’ll face. It’s thus completely comprehensive. It’s all-encompassing. It’s an all-sufficient pattern of prayer. And when we heed what Jesus has told us, here, following this simple pattern of prayer, we’re encouraged in our praying. We are able to pray well. Just do this: “When you pray, say this.” There are the words! Done! You can pray well. And when you pray and you pray well, according to this pattern, it increases our spiritual confidence in obeying Christ.
Has anyone gone through baptism? If you’ve been baptized, you know what?—you’ve pleased Christ. Isn’t that cool? That’s why I tell anyone being baptized—when they’re a little bit nervous, butterflies are in their stomach—“You know what? This is one time that you know for certain that when you’re in the waters of baptism and I dunk you, fret not—you’re pleasing Christ. You’re not going to screw it up. If anyone screws it up, it’ll be me dropping you! But I’ll quickly recover, pick you up—off and running.” In baptism, you please Christ.
If you pray this prayer, you know what? You’re doing it—you’re pleasing Christ. You’re obeying him. When we pray it like Jesus’ teaching—and we pray it habitually—you know what happens? We build a habit, now, of obedience. And when we build this habit of obedience, you know what it does? It instills confidence; it strengthens our obeying. It increases spiritual confidence in us.
Beloved, you want to build an easy habit in your life? You know—“I’m such an undisciplined person. I can’t do anything right. I never do anything well.” You know what you can do? Pray that. Do it one time. Just today, do it one time. Tomorrow, wake up, find some time in your day—pray that. That’s two days in a row. Third day in a row, you get up, you know what to do. When you pray, say, “Father, hallowed be…” You go on. Now that’s three days in a row! And you know what happens after awhile? That habit starts to catch. It’s going to increase your spiritual confidence.
That’s why we say this prayer that Jesus teaches. It is like a key. It is! It’s so simple to use, and at the same time it’s so immediately effective to accomplish the task for which it was designed, for which it was given. That’s how Jesus teaches the children of God to prayer—without any ostentation, without any pretension. But in simplicity of speech—with sincerity of heart, with great joy and anticipation in what we’ll experience—we’ll turn the key of prayer and access God. Any child can turn a key, open a door. That fact that this pattern is so simple, beloved, that should encourage us to make use of it. The key provides privileged access because on the other side of the door—as we’ve said—we experience spiritual blessedness, and it’s a blessedness of the nature that was enjoyed by Jesus Christ himself whenever he could. We get to do it whenever we want, as well. We practice Christian fellowship, sharing in the lives of the elect saints of God. What a privilege! We practice righteous religion—loving God, loving others. We practice that in prayer. What a privilege! And as we do that, we grow in spiritual confidence. We exercise our blessed right as born-again children of God. Isn’t that a joy? Can’t wait to get started—can you?
Father, thank you so much for sending the Lord Jesus Christ to teach us to pray such a simple prayer. Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. Lead us not into temptation. Father, if there’s anybody who’s never practiced that habit, please teach them. Please help them to grow in this habit—to build spiritual confidence and to enjoy this corporate fellowship—this community—practicing righteousness together, which produces in us spiritual blessedness—the blessedness that’s shared by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.