As I was thinking about Father’s Day, I couldn’t get past one particular portion of Scripture because it has so much to say about the most important Father, and it is the passage in Matthew 6. So open your Bible, if you will, to Matthew 6, and I want to read what is a very familiar portion of Scripture, often called the Lord’s Prayer, when in reality it is the Disciples’ Prayer. But you’ll recognize the truth that’s here, Matthew 6. Let me read starting at verse 5. I just want to have the framework of this in your mind, and then we’ll particularly focus on a narrow but critical priority in this passage.
Verse 5, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’”
Thinking about Father’s Day, again, I was drawn to this passage because it repeatedly addresses God as Father. That’s what we need to understand in its most full sense: the relationship that we enjoy with the eternal God. He is our Father.
In what sense? Well we could say He’s our Father in the physical sense, in the natural sense. Malachi 2:10 says, “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us?” So He is our Father in the sense that He is the source of life for all of humanity and all of creation. But He’s Father also in a covenantal sense with one nation, Israel. You remember that the Jews understood Him to be their Father, Isaiah 63:16, “You are our Father . . . O Lord.” So He is our Father in a natural sense, and He is a Father to the nation Israel in a covenantal sense. But importantly, He is the Father of all believers in a spiritual sense. And they understood that in the Old Testament. Psalm 89:26 says, “You are my Father”—that’s personal—“You are my Father, My God, and the rock of My salvation.”
Although it isn’t fully developed in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament, an Old Testament believing Jew would have understood that God was to him not only a physical father in terms of creation, not only a national father in terms of covenant, but a personal father in terms of spiritual life. This is picked up, of course, in John 1, which says to all who believe and received Christ, He gave the right to be called the children of God. To all who believe, to all who receive Christ, He gives the right to be called the children of God. Believers are the children of God; nonbelievers, said Jesus, are the children of the devil.
So I want us to look at the aspect of God’s fatherhood, obviously, in the spiritual sense. And we are to understand it in the most intimate way. In Galatians 4 it says that God is our Father in such an intimate way that we can address Him as “Abba.” We can have that level of intimacy and familiarity with God. Since God is our Father, and we are the beloved children whom He has literally given spiritual life and in His family invited us so that we will be forever His both adopted and regenerated children, we need to understand this aspect of prayer in its most full sense.
So when you look at the prayer itself, just going down to verse 9 through 13, here we are told to “pray . . . this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven.’” That should, therefore, embody all kinds of very, very important understanding when you call God your Father. Yes, He’s your father in a natural sense. Yes, He’s your father in a kind of corporate sense—even in the church, you could say that. But He’s primarily your father in an individual and person sense. He is your loving Father.
So we go to one who has designated Himself as a father. And a father is the one who has all the resources we need, who provides everything that we could ever want or ever need, and we have a right to ask Him for those things that are urgent and important and necessary. And you’re familiar with the three requests at the end of the disciples’ prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread”—you go to your Father for your physical sustenance, for what you need physically. “And forgive our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”—and you go to your Father to provide for you what you need spiritually. And then thirdly, “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil”—you go to your Father to seek for protection from your enemies.
So those three categories: what we need physically, what we need spiritually, and protection from our enemies. Those are the requests; those are the categories in life that we literally fill up with our specific requests. They have to do with physical life, temporal life, spiritual life, and even that evil reality that surrounds us that can be such a threat to us.
And I don’t want to talk about those categories; they’re obvious, and we’re familiar with them. But what I want to do is talk about what comes before that in this prayer. That’s why I’ve titled it “The Worship of Prayer,” because if you go back to verse 9—and just look at verses 9 and 10. Our Lord said, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’” Prayer starts with God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will. In John 14, we read that when we come to the Son of God, who will go to the Father on our behalf, and He will answer all those prayers that are according to His name, it says this: “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
So we start our prayers with a recognition that the priority is for God to be glorified. We want His name, His kingdom, His will to be the priority, so that His glory is the priority, that God may be glorified. I don’t think that it’s common to understand that prayer is primarily for the glory of God.
Now, the disciples had heard Jesus pray regularly. Obviously, they were with Him all the time, and in the eleventh chapter of Luke and the first verse, they said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” “How should we pray?” He taught them that prayer was personal, intimate communion with their Father, and He gave them a model for praying. Yes, there’s a place for going to God with your physical needs, going to God with your spiritual needs, and going to Him for protection from the evil that surrounds us. But before you ever get to those categories of requests, you have to find your way through the priority in prayer, which is that God’s name be hallowed, His kingdom come, and will be done. Bread—symbolic of our physical needs. Forgiveness—symbolic of our spiritual needs. Leading us not into temptation—a cry for protection. But what comes first is the filter through which all of that has to be viewed.
Now it’s a common sin in praying—and this I think is obvious to most of you—there’s a common sin in praying that’s pretty popular in evangelicalism these days. It’s thinking that God has to deliver to you what you want, that somehow God is obligated to give you what you want, what you desire. In fact, it reaches pretty massive proportions when you think about the breadth and length and height and depth of the Charismatic movement in particular, which basically says, “Name it and claim it. Whatever you bring before the Lord, He is bound to give you; if you identify it and name it and claim a right to it, He has to deliver.” This is often called “positive confession”; you confess something positively, you literally activate its reality in your life. You don’t want to ever say anything negative because you’ll activate a negative reality in your life. You have the power, the creative power to create the world that you want to live in. You create it by your positive confession. Some call it “the spirit of supernatural or spiritual attraction.” You literally attract to you the reality that you desire. You create what you want. You do it with faith-words. If you have enough faith, if you believe hard enough and long enough and you articulate it openly, you will literally create the world that you want, so that prayer becomes a mechanism for people to get what they want, what they desire.
I want to show you one scripture that deals a death blow to that notion, and it’s found in the book of James in the fourth chapter and the third verse. Listen to what James writes, verse 3, James 4: “You ask and do not receive”; “You ask and do not receive”—why?—“because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Here is a guarantee. If you ask God for what you want, you’re going to get a no. But that’s what it’s saying. It’s really the opposite of the prosperity message. You want a guarantee that your prayer is not answered, then just ask for what you want, without regard for God.
Now this kind of self-centered praying is a product of self-centered evangelism—superficial, shallow, false gospels. You come to Jesus because of something you want. You come to Jesus so you can get what you need. You come to Jesus so you can have whatever you want out of life, so that you can have the best that life has to offer. When evangelism is selfish, you create an environment in which selfishness is elevated.
So you came to Christ because you wanted Him to give you what you want. And now that He has supposedly taken over your life, you’re going to begin the list of requests, and you’re going to roll them out as a regular routine in your life, and what you’re going to find is, if your prayers are all about what you want, you have a promise in James 4:3 that you’re not going to get the answer you want.
So in reality it’s the opposite of what people are told. The Lord is not just going to give you what you want—and no sensible father would. This idea that you can demand things from God, this idea that God has sort of boxed Himself into a corner from which He cannot escape, and He trapped Himself into becoming subject to you, and He’s sort of like the genie in the bottle that you call on for whatever you want—this is a mockery of God. But when the gospel is not God-centered, and salvation is not God-centered, then prayer is not God-centered either.
Now I just want to show you the difference between that kind of praying and the kind of praying that we’re taught here, that begins with, “Your name” being hallowed, “Your kingdom” coming, and “Your will” being done. Now, there are a lot of prayers in the Bible that illustrate this, but I’m going to pick a few, and it’ll be obvious to you; but I just want to use them for the powerful illustration that they are.
Go back to the book of Nehemiah, back to the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is a leader who is being used by God in the restoration of the people of Israel when they’ve come back from captivity, and Nehemiah prays a prayer in chapter 9. Having read the law of God, he then hears people confess their sins and worship the Lord their God, verse 3, Nehemiah 9:3. Then the Levites come together, and they “[cry] out with a loud voice to the Lord their God.” They want the nation rebuilt, the city rebuilt, all of those things.
But listen to their prayer, starting in verse 5: “O may Your glorious name be blessed.” They began exactly where the Disciples’ Prayer began: “Hallowed be Your name.” “O may Your glorious name be blessed and exalted above all blessing and praise!” Now follow this, how it continues to be the theme through this whole prayer: “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens,” et cetera, et cetera. Verse 7, “You are the Lord God.” Verse 8, “You found his heart faithful before You, and made a covenant with him.” And this is a rehearsal of God’s history with His people. The end of verse 8, “You have fulfilled Your promise, for You are righteous.” Verse 9, “You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt.” Verse 10, “You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh. . . . You knew that they acted arrogantly toward them, and made a name for Yourself as it is this day”—“You put Your power on display, Your name on display, Your reputation.”
He follows the people from Egypt across the Red Sea into the wilderness. He “divided the sea,” verse 11, “so they passed through.” Verse 12, “With a pillar of cloud You led them by day, and with a pillar of fire by night.” Verse 13, “Then You came down on Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, good statues and commandments. So You made known to them Your holy sabbath, and laid down for them commandments, statutes and law, through Your servant Moses.”
Now look, do you think God knows this? Do you think He knows all this? Of course He does. Of what benefit is this to God? A very minute benefit to God, in one sense: that He doesn’t need the information. But it is massively beneficial to the one who prays to pray like this, because you are establishing God’s character and God’s power as displayed in history. This strengthens the heart of the one who prays.
He “provided”—in verse 15—“bread from heaven . . . You brought forth water from a rock . . . [He] told them to enter in order to possess the land . . . . And You”—down in verse 17—“You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness.” This is what worship is: It is rehearsing the nature of God and the work of God. “This is who You are; this is what You do. This is who You are; this is what You have done.”
Verse 19, “You, in Your great compassion . . . [guided] them on their way.” Verse 20, “You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them.” He gave them manna, verse 21: “You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want.” Verse 22, “You also gave them kingdoms and peoples” when they came into the Promised Land. Verse 23, “You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven, You brought them into the land which You had told their fathers to enter and possess.” Down in verse 27, “You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them, but when they cried to You in the time of their distress, You heard from heaven, and according to Your great compassion You gave them deliverers who delivered them from the hand of their oppressors.” Again he says it in verse 28, “When they cried to You again, You heard from heaven, and many times You rescued them according to Your compassion, [You] admonished them.” This is just constant rehearsal of what the Lord has done.
Kind of wrapping it up, verse 30, “You bore with them for many years, and admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, yet they would not give ear. Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, for You are a gracious and compassionate God.” This is really an incredible rehearsal of the things that God has done with Israel, from getting them out of Egypt to getting them into the Promised Land. Detail by detail by detail, these men are saying to God, “We know who You are. We know what You have done.” This is worship. This is worship.
You don’t even find a request, it’s just this unending flow of worship. It’s very similar to another Old Testament prayer. Turn over to Daniel chapter 9, and I think this will be enough to make the point, although there are others I could show you. And this one’s a little more brief. But Daniel is also praying for his people, and he starts his prayer in Daniel 9, verse 4: “I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, ‘Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments.’” Again, this is prayer as worship. He is extoling God, honoring God, adoring God for who He is and what He has done.
In contrast to the people, verse 5, who “have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, [and turned] aside from Your commandments and ordinances.” And in verse 7, “Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame.” Part of worship is understanding this contrast. Verse 8, “Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we’ve sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him.”
He sort of comes to the wrap-up on his prayer after going through a little bit of similar history, as we saw in Nehemiah. In verse 16, “O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts”—here’s his request—“now let Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications”—and here’s the key—“and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary.” Whose honor is he concerned about? God’s honor. “It’s about Your reputation.”
Verse 18, “O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.” Saying exactly what Jesus said in the prayer: “Hallowed be Your name”—“Who You are is at stake.”
“It’s about Your reputation, O God. You’re identified with this people. Things are not going well with this people. Do whatever You have to do for the sake of Your own reputation, Your own name, Your own honor.” There’s a very similar prayer to that in Jeremiah 32. That’s somewhat how the way that even Jonah prayed in his dilemma.
So prayer begins with this deep, profound understanding. Before it is anything to do with requests, it is a worshipful experience. “Our Father who art in heaven.” “Our Father.” Wonderful.
Go over to chapter 7, verse 7 in Matthew: “Ask, and it will be given to you,” Jesus says, “seek, and you will find; knock, and it’ll be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him to knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
This is the overarching reality. He will give you what is good for you, right? He will give you what is good for you. And in that sense, He is your loving Father. He is identified as a father in chapter 6, verse 4. Again, a couple of times, in verse 6. Again in verse 8. Again in verse 9. A handful of times God is identified as a father; and what a father does, and how a father acts is described in that same sermon in the seventh chapter, as I just read. He will give you what is good for you; you know that. But you have to understand this: While being good for you, it has to design glory for Him. This is so wonderful. This is prayer as worship. And that’s where all prayer has to start. Every time you pray, you should be lining up yourself with one thing: That’s the glory of God.
“Hallowed be Your name.” “Name”? What do you mean by “name”? All that God is, all that He is. You can go to the Old Testament; He has lots of names: Elohim, meaning Creator. El Elyon, God Most High. Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide. Jehovah-Nissi, the Lord our banner. Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord that heals. Jehovah-Shalom, the Lord our peace. Jehovah-Raah, the Lord my shepherd. Jehovah-Tsidkenu, the Lord my righteousness. Jehovah-Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts. Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord is present. The Lord Mekaddishkem, the Lord who sanctifies you. But the greatest name that God ever bore is the name Jesus Christ, the greatest name. The name above every name is Lord.
So what does it mean to hallow His name? It means to honor Him for who He is and what He has done, and certainly encompasses the reality of His full revelation in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. So when we talk about being hallowed, we’re not talking about some cloistered monastery, we’re simply talking about coming to God in worship and reverence.
When a Jew called God “Father,” they never did it apart from another title. “O Lord, Father and Ruler of my life,” they would say. “O Lord, Father and God of my life. O Father, King of great power, Most High, Almighty God. O Father, O King.” In the penitential days around the time of Yom Kippur, forty-four times they were to repeat, “Our Father, our King.” They felt that they had not made a full expression of God’s place if all they said was “Father,” so they added something that related to His sovereignty: God, Ruler, King, Mighty God. They understood the fullness of God’s character. So this is how we come in prayer that is basically designed as worship.
Secondly, it’s not just His name being hallowed, but it’s His kingdom coming, verse 10, “Your kingdom come.” “Your kingdom.” “Glorify Your name, and do whatever advances Your kingdom.” This is how you pray: “Do whatever advances Your kingdom.” The Talmud says that prayer in which there is no mention of the kingdom of God is not a prayer at all. You’re asking God to advance His kingdom.
I know there are a lot of Christian people who pray for our nation, and that’s fine, but I think they probably pray a lot more for the nation than they do for the kingdom. Are we all engaged in praying, “Your kingdom come, Your kingdom come, Your kingdom come”?
What do we mean by that? How does the kingdom come? It comes in three ways. First, it comes through salvation. When someone comes to faith in Christ, they come into the kingdom, so the kingdom grows by that one soul. The kingdom grows through salvation, conversion, regeneration. And you see that in the gospel of Mark as clearly as a lot of other places.
But listen to Mark 1:14 and 15, “Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God”; “preaching the gospel of God, and saying”—so here is the gospel of God—“‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” You want to enter the kingdom? Repent and believe the gospel.
So when we pray, “Your kingdom come,” we’re praying for people to be saved. We’re like the men that Paul is speaking of in Timothy when he says, “I want holy men to lift up hands and pray always, because God is saving His people. I want your prayers to be to that end.”
So part of the advance of the kingdom—and obviously the initial part—is the matter of salvation. The kingdom advances and grows, that kingdom that is in your midst, the kingdom that is the same as the church in this age; that kingdom moves forward with the salvation of sinners. That’s a priority in our prayers.
But secondly, the kingdom grows not only through salvation, but sanctification. In Romans chapter 14 and verse 17 it says, “For the kingdom of God is . . . righteousness . . . peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” So that would be sanctification.
So notice also, as long as you’re in chapter 6, go over to verse 33, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”—all the things you need. Again, this is a call to sanctification. Salvation advances the kingdom, sanctification advances the kingdom. And then glorification advances the kingdom. As we think about “Your kingdom come,” we want to say with John in Revelation 22:20, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Come as King of kings and Lord of lords. Come bring Your glorious kingdom.
So the kingdom advances through salvation, sanctification, and one day, glorification. And John was praying at the end of Revelation, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” I think probably more of us are praying for the Second Coming than at any other period in our lifetime. You don’t see much good in the future.
So this is how you pray: that God’s name be hallowed, that His kingdom come, and thirdly, that His will be done, that His will be done. First John 5, that’s what it says: Pray “according to His will.” You don’t want anything other than that. Even Jesus prayed that way: “Not My will, but Yours be done.” And that is not to be misunderstood; that is to be a way that you’re saying, “I join You in wanting Your will.” When you say, “Your will be done,” that is not bitter resentment, that is not saying, “I can’t fight You; You’re too powerful for me”—that’s not saying that. That’s to diminish the glory of God. And it’s not passive resignation. It’s not saying, “OK, God, I give up; go ahead and do whatever You want.” And it’s not theological reservation, like some kind of hyper-Calvinism that says, “I know You’re going to do what You’re going to do anyway, so why would I waste my time with my petitions?”
No. Saying, “Your will be done,” is not resentment, it’s not resignation, it’s not reservation—it is rebellion. I love what David Wells said about that. He said, “Prayer . . . is, in essence, rebellion—rebellion against the world in its fallenness, the absolute and undying refusal to accept as normal what is pervasively abnormal. . . . The refusal of every agenda, every scheme, every interpretation that is at odds with the norm as originally established by God. As such, it is . . . [still] an expression of the unbridgeable chasm that separates Good from Evil, the declaration that Evil is not a variation on Good . . . [Evil is] its antithesis.”
What he is saying is you have to understand that when you’re praying, “Your will be done,” you’re praying against everything else that’s happening, “Your will be done.” It isn’t resigning to some inevitability, some fate; it is prayer as war against the status quo of evil in the world. Jeremy Taylor said our prayers condemn us when we tamely beg for those things for which we ought to be willing to die.
How much does the will of God mean to you? Enough to give your life to it, enough to give your prayers to it, enough to gather up all your spiritual strength and cry out, “God, Your will be done”? You don’t want to strike a truce with evil. When we pray for God’s will, we’re praying for His will as an act of rebellion against the evil that pervades our world. This is prayer as worship. And when you’ve got through all of that, along the way you can ask the Lord to meet your physical needs, your spiritual needs, and provide protection. So much inadequate understanding of what prayer really is.
But just one final reminder. If you pray this way, if you pray this way, John 14:13, you have this promise: “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” When your prayers are worshipful prayers, you’re lining up with the will of God, and you’ll see His glorious answer.
Our Father, we give You glory and praise for even allowing us to have access into Your presence, and to carry our heart’s cries before You. But we know that when we pray the right way, they’re not selfish. We’re not praying that we may have something for our own pleasure. It’s for Your pleasure, for Your glory, for the exaltation of Your name, the advancement of Your kingdom, and the achievement of Your will. All that matters is You be glorified, You be exalted, that Your kingdom advance in its fullness, and that Your perfect and righteous will be done.
Lord, show us what marvelous communion such prayer provides, that we come to You as a loving Father. And You want us to love Your purposes, not our own; Your enterprise, Your work, Your kingdom. May we set our affections on these things, not on things on the earth, as we worship You even in our prayers. Amen.
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