When the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ had heard from Him that He was going to be leaving, that He was going to have to die and they would no longer have Him around in the flesh, they were grieved. They were not only grieved, but they were frightened. And the reason they were frightened was because they had left everything to follow Him and He had become the source of everything. It was He who provided their spiritual life. It was He who provided the teaching they needed. It was He who gave them wisdom. He was He who gave them direction and leadership. It was even He who provided their food when they needed it. It was He who calmed the storm when they were about to drown. It was He who did everything. To borrow the vernacular, they put all their eggs in one basket. They had left their home and families and their careers and their jobs and they had forsaken all really to follow Christ. But now He's leaving.
And that was frightening. Where would they turn for protection? Where would they turn for spiritual direction? Where would they turn for resources? That was the frightening part. But no sooner had Jesus told them that He was leaving than He told them this, "And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it." And what Jesus did in that moment in the upper room was given them access to His love and His provision. Really He gave them access to the full treasure house of heaven and He said, "All you have to do is ask." There was one qualifier, "In My name."
Jesus, you see, called them to prayer. He called them to petition. Whatever you ask, I'll do it. He had said something very similar long before that. In fact, it was in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's gospel, chapter 7 and verse 7 that Jesus said, "Ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you." Jesus was leaving but that wasn't the end. That didn't mean there wouldn't be anymore spiritual strength, or wouldn't be anymore material blessings. Quite the contrary. All you have to do is ask.
This was a new dimension in prayer because the qualifier was to ask in My name. That is to say, in the name of Jesus Christ. And apart from that name, there was no promise of anything. Prayer was not new to the Jews, by the way, they were busily engaged in it all the time. In fact, they were engaged in it judicially and ceremoniously and routinely every single day. There were prescribed periods of prayer every day and the most fastidious of them observed those times. And there were many other times when they would pray. There were prescribed prayers and there were those ad lib prayers. Prayer was not new. Sad to say, much of the prayer engaged in by the Jews of the time of our Lord was a perversion of God's intention for prayer, much of it was very selfish, much of it was nothing more than vain repetition of formulas that never rose higher than the ceiling. Much of it was hypocritical and phony and designed for public effect. It was proud and portentous and self-seeking.
Jesus not only gave us the formula for access to the divine treasure house in the name of Jesus Christ, but He had a lot to say about the kind of prayer that doesn't get there. And, in fact, it is in Matthew chapter 6 where I draw your attention in our ongoing study of Matthew, for it is in that chapter in verse 5 that Jesus says to the religious leaders, "When you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites, for they pray in the synagogues, they love to stand and pray that way and on the street corners in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." And what is it? "To be seen by men, not heard by God." "But you when you pray, go into your inner room and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret and your Father who sees in secret will repay 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. Therefore, do not be like them for your Father knows what you have need of even before you ask Him."
Don't pray like the fastidious legalistic Jews pray and don't pray like the repetitious pagans pray. Don't pray that way. Pray quietly. Pray secretly. Pray honestly and understand your Father knows your needs. Jesus condemned the false and hypocritical and self-centered prayers of the Jews and the repetitious useless formulas of the pagans. And as I noted for you in John 14, He told His disciples to pray in My name.
Now that introduces us to the whole realm of prayer. It's one thing to say pray and pray in My name, it's something else to understand what that means. Some people think that it means that if you pray and then tack "in Jesus' name" on the end of that prayer, just before the word "amen," that guarantees you're going to get what you ask for. There are people today who identify with what is being called the prosperity gospel, or the name it and claim it gospel who believe that you can just sort of corner God with the formula "in Jesus' name," and God has to deliver whether He wants to or not.
What does it really mean to pray in Jesus' name? Well I think the best answer to that is right there in Matthew chapter 6. It's to pray this way, verse 9, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy 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 so not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil...and some manuscripts add...for Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."
Now that really is how to pray in the name of Christ. And I'll show you why I say that as we look at this tremendous text. When you pray in Jesus' name, you are essentially acknowledging that anything you pray must be filtered through the person and purpose of Christ. That's what you're saying. For the name of Christ implies all that He is, and all that He wills and all that He purposes. It is not simply a formula but rather it is a channel. It is a restriction. It is a confinement through which my prayer must pass in Your name, that is consistent with who You are, consistent with Your purposes, consistent with Your will. And that is precisely what the disciples' prayer, or the Lord's prayer that I just read is saying, "Pray in this way, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done." Praying in Jesus' name is no different than praying God's will be done. In fact, Jesus could have said, "If you ask anything according to My will, I'll do it."
So you understand then that prayer primarily is an act of worship. Prayer is a submissive thing. It is not a demanding, commanding thing, it is an aligning with the purposes of God as reflected in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It must be understood then that all prayer is first and foremost an act of worship. It is geared to the purposes of God to the glory of God, to the Kingdom of God which, of course, is manifest through the person and work of Jesus Christ. And as you study the Bible, you find that worship is the priority in some of the great prayers of Scripture. For example, one of the most wonderful, one of the most passionate and one of the most insightful prayers ever given was that prayed by Jonah as he was in the belly of the great fish. And this is how he prays. "And when I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord and my prayer came to Thee in Thy holy temple. Those who regard vain idols forsake Thy faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to Thee with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed, I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord." And I suggest that if you happen to be in the belly of a great fish, you might want to hurry pass the worship and just get to the petition. But Jonah recognized that everything fit into the framework of God's eternal purpose. I remembered the Lord. I remembered the Lord. It was all for Him that everything had to happen.
In Daniel chapter 9, Daniel sets out to intercede on behalf of his people that God might deliver them from their captors. And it says in Daniel 9:3, "I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplication with fasting, sackcloth and ashes and I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, 'Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God who keeps His covenant in loving kindness for those who love Him and keeps His commandments....and keep His commandments," I should say. What's he doing? He's worshiping, then he begins to confess sin and ask for forgiveness. You can look in Jeremiah chapter 32 and see the same thing in the prayer of Jeremiah. You can see it all throughout the prayers of Scripture. Most notably here in our text, as Jesus teaches us how to pray, it all begins with worship.
Now we understand the last half of this Lord's prayer, or Disciples' prayer. Look at verse 11, we understand, "Give us this day our daily bread." That is a prayer for provision. We understand that. That everything in life is dependent on God, that even our food is dependent on Him, and all those things that are part of our physical needs. That's not hard not understand, to seek from God our daily bread, those things which sustain our life in this physical world. It's not hard to understand verse 12 either. "And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." As much as we pray for provision, we pray for pardon. All of us understand what it is to cry out to God and ask for forgiveness. We pray in regard to provision for the physical realm. We pray in regard to pardon for the spiritual realm. And then in verse 13, "And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil." That's a prayer for protection. We understand that. "Lord, please don't let us fall into anything that can destroy us." And that's a prayer for our eternal well-being. We pray for our physical needs, our spiritual needs, and our eternal well-being. We understand those petitions. And we go through those daily. We pray to God about the physical things of life, food and clothing and housing and illnesses and diseases and all of that. We understand the spiritual dimension, we pray about sin and we want God to forgive it and remove it. And we pray about our eternal well being that God would preserve us unto glory and bring us to heaven. All of that is common stuff.
But before we get to any of those petitions, we have to see what comes first. And what comes first is worship. There are four aspects in these verses that begin the prayer, verses 9 and 10. Four aspects of praying with a view toward worship that I want to direct to your attention.
First of all, we'll call number one, God's paternity. It's just a word that means fatherhood, God's paternity. The prayer begins, "Our Father who art in heaven." Now this is absolutely crucial because it is on the basis of God's fatherhood that we have confidence in His response. If we were to have to pray, "Dear O Transcendent Stranger..." we might not feel too bold when we get to the petition part. Or if we had to pray, as pagans pray, "O distant great fearful one," there's no much comfort in that. But we can pray, "Our Father who art in heaven," because we have an intimate relationship with God who is our Father.
Over in Matthew and chapter 7 and verse 11, Jesus said, "If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?" We have in heaven a loving Father.
Now by the way, the Jews had the concept of God as Father, but sadly their concept was limited to God as Father only in the sense of the fact that He pro-generates. That is, that He is the creator of human life. They saw God as the Father of the nation collectively, but in the Old Testament they didn't see God as the Father individually caring for and loving His children. In fact, in the entire Old Testament, God is designated as Father only fourteen times. On the other hand, in the New Testament that seeming distance between believers and God is closed and God is called Father seventy times by Jesus alone, to say nothing of the other writers of the New Testament. By the time Jesus came along, the distance had widened between the Jews and God. It had widened so far that no Jew could even speak God's name. God was seen as so far away, so holy, so transcendent and Jesus came and literally assaulted that artificial distancing of God by calling God His own Father seventy times. In fact, every single time a prayer of Jesus is recorded in the Bible, He calls God Father with the single exception of when He was on the cross and said, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" and was expressing the fact that He was separated at that time from God.
So Jesus closed that distance and brought God near and showed God as a Father who loves His children and is anxious to fill their deepest need. God loves, God cares, God is near to His beloved children. So when we come to prayer, we come to God as one who is intimately open to us, who gave us life, who holds us dear to Himself. So the starting place of prayer then is to recognize the nearness of God, it is to recognize the compassion of God, the care of God, the love and affection that God has for His own, that prayer is the most intimate act when we commune with one who is generous beyond our wildest imagination and who loves us with a love that no human father could ever comprehend. We come to a loving Father. We enjoy this amazing intimacy with the eternal God because of the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus said to the woman, you remember, clinging to Him in John 20, not wanting to ascend back to heaven, He said, "I ascend...this is a marvelous statement...to your God, to My God and your God." And He said that God was as much our God as He was His God, therein is the paternity of the Father.
This not only is a rich new concept to the Jews of Bible times, but even to the pagans. The two great pre-Christian philosophies by which men lived in the Greco-Roman world were Stoicism and Epicureanism and if you've studied any of the ancient Greek philosophy, you know about those. For the Stoic, there was one essential attribute of God and it was apathea(?), indifference.Apathea is not apathy in the normal sense of the English term. In English apathy is the indifference of one who has perhaps a right t feel indifferent. But apathea in the Greek is the essential inability to experience any feeling at all, even toward those who deserve it. The Greek...the Greek who was Stoic didn't feel anything about anybody. And that's the way he saw his deities. They could care less. They weren't grieved and they weren't glad. They didn't feel anything. Their gods were passionless, emotionless and utterly indifferent to all the pain and all the joy of their human subjects.
For the Epicurean, the supreme goal of life was a Greek word ataraxia(?) which means perfect calm, perfect serenity. And the Epicureans then went on to argue that if God was involved in the affairs of the world, He couldn't keep His cool. He couldn't be serene. So God then literally had distanced Himself way far from the exigencies and vicissitudes of human life so He wouldn't feel anything. In both cases, you had diffident and indifferent deities.
More modern men have the same ideas. A line quoted from a poem of Thomas Hardy and a saying of Voltaire will serve as illustrations. Thomas Hardy asks, "What can possibly be the use of prayer when we have no one to whom to pray except...and I quote...the dreaming dark dumb thing that turns the handle of the idol show?" That wouldn't do much for your prayer life. Voltaire's final verdict on life, I quote, "A bad joke." He said, "Bring down the curtain, the farce is done." And H.G. Well s in one of his novels painted a picture of a man defeated by the stress and strain and pressure of modern life. His doctor wisely told him that his own hope of retaining his sanity was to find fellowship with God. "What?" Wells is the man saying, "That up there having fellowship with me? I would as soon think of cooling my throat with the Milky Way or shaking hands with the stars." Humph.
Here then are the verdicts of those who don't know that Jesus Christ brings men to God. The Stoic has his emotionless God. The Epicurean sees his utterly detached God. The Old Testament writers seem to paint a God who is fiercesome and fearful and transcendent. And the modern writers don't want anything to do with Him. But on the contrary, the Bible says He is our loving Father and all prayer begins with that. I'm not there on my knees before God trying to convince Him to care, He already does. I'm not there on my knees trying to convince Him to be kind and meet my need, He's already committed to that. And I come to Him and I say, "Abba, Father."
Now that settles a lot of issues. The paternity of God, for example, settles the matter of fear. What's to fear if He's a loving Father? The most significant Greek legend of the gods is the legend of Permethias(?). Some of you read it in your literature classes. Permethias was a supposed deity. It was in the days before men possessed fire and life without fire, says the mythology, was a cheerless and comfortless thing. You couldn't cook food and you couldn't get warm. In pity, Permethias took fire from heaven and gave it as a gift to men. Zeus, the king of the gods, was very angry that men should receive that gift, he liked it better when men were in pain. So he took Permethias, chained him to a rock in the middle of the Adriatic Sea where he was tortured with the heat and the thirst of the day and the cold of the night. And then Zeus, not satisfied with the pain Permethias was already enduring, prepared a vulture to tear out Permethias' liver but according to the legend, his liver kept growing back. And so Zeus had to make sure that a vulture tore it out again and again and again. And that, says Greek mythology, is what happens to gods who try to help people. Their whole concept of gods was vengeful, jealous, grudging, who wished to harm.
We don't have that fear. We have a loving Father.
That settles the matter not only of fear, but it settles the matter of hope, doesn't it? Things will change because we have a loving Father who makes things better. It's like when your little child comes to you and he's in the midst of pain and you as a loving father embrace that little life in your arms and say, "Don't worry, I'll fix it. I'll take the pain away. I'll take care of the hurt. I'll solve the problem." When you go to that loving Father and you ask Him for bread, will He give you a stone? And when you ask for a fish will He give you a snake? Not hardly. When we go to our loving Father, we know this, that He will give us what is good because all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose. His wish toward us is only goodness. It settles the matter of loneliness. You are God's beloved child and He will never leave you or forsake you, He will stick closer than a brother. He's always there. You're never alone.
It reminds me of the story that William Barclay wrote about an old Roman Emperor who was enjoying a triumph. He had the privilege which Rome gave to her great conquerors of marching his troops through the streets of Rome and putting all his entourage of captives on display as well as his soldiers. And the streets were lined with the cheering people, the tall legionaries lined the streets' edges to keep the people in their places and people were throwing flowers and garlands and there were...there was incense burning and it was a great festival. At one point in the triumphal route, Barclay says, "There was a little platform where the empress and her family were sitting to watch the emperor go by in all the pride of his triumph, and on the platform with his mother was the emperor's youngest son, a little boy. As the emperor came near, the little boy jumped off the platform, burrowed through the crowd, tried to dodge the legs of a legionair to run out on the road to meet his father's chariot. The legionair stooped down and stopped him, swung him up in his arms, "You can't do that, boy," he said. "Don't you know who that is in the chariot? That's the emperor, you can't run out to his chariot." And the little boy smiled and said, "He may be your emperor, but he's my father." That's exactly the way the Christian feels toward God. He may be your...your sovereign judge, but He's my Daddy. That settles the matter of loneliness, the matter of hope, the matter of fear. It settles the matter of selfishness. Look at the word "our," when you pray, you pray, "Our Father," not my Father alone, so that my prayer has an inclusiveness about it, not an exclusiveness. I'm not asking for what I alone would want but for what is best for all of us. And whenever I say, "Our Father," I'm embracing the rest of the brothers and sisters in Christ and saying, in effect, "You belong to all of us, give me that which is good for all of us." It settles the matter of resources because it says, "Our Father in heaven," and everything we need is there. It settles the matter of wisdom because when I say,"Our Father who art in heaven," I'm affirming His transcendence, I am affirming His omniscience and I am assuming that He will give me what is best. And that's where prayer begins. As we in worship bow the knee before the God who is our Father and we fall before Him in adoring wonder about this loving intimate Father, that removes fear, that puts hope in our hearts, it removes any loneliness, it removes any selfishness. It affirms the resources of heaven in our behalf and it presumes that we bow to His wisdom. "very time we say, 'Our Father,'" one writer said, "we know we're not lost in a crowd."
We move from God's paternity to a second point, God's priority. We pray, "Hallowed be Thy name." That's really the first petition. And it shows us that the essence of prayer is worship. We have identified God as our Father, but listen carefully, we don't get too familiar. We don't get too trite. Yes He is our Father, but yes we honor Him, hallowed be Thy name. Name again stands for who He is...His character. It stands for His nature, His attributes, His personality. It stands for, "My name is I am that I am," from Exodus chapter 34. And what we are saying is, "Father, may Your person and Your identity and Your attributes and Your character and Your nature and Your reputation and Your purposes be hallowed." Hallowed...what does that mean? Made holy. It is more than just saying, "Long live the King," or, "Oh how we love You as our Father." It is more than that. It is the recognition that His name is sacred and His purposes in accord with His name are sacred. And that the honor of God is the dominant issue in our hearts. And what we're asking is, first of all, a cherishing of God's name and we would never ask anything that would violate His divine holiness. We don't want Him to give us anything that would not sanctify His name. He is Elohim the Creator. He is El Elyon, God Most High. He is Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord who provides. He is Jehovah-Nissi, the Lord our banner. He is Jehovah-Rophe, the Lord that heals. He is Jehovah-Shalom, the Lord our peace, Jehovah-Roi, the Lord our shepherd, Jehovah-Tsidkenu, the Lord our righteousness, Jehovah-Tsabaoth, the Lord of hosts. He is Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord who is present. He is Jehovah-meqaddeshkem, the Lord who sanctifies. And the greatest name that God ever bore was this name, He is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lord our Savior. And that's how we come to Him.
Samuel Medley wrote years ago, "O could I speak the matchless worth, O could I sound the glories forth which in My Savior shine, I'd soar and touch the heavenly strings and vie with Gabriel while he sings in no tall(??) most divine, I'd sing the character He bears and all the forms of love He wears. Exalted on His throne in loftiest songs of sweetest praise, I would forever lasting days make all His glories known." That's where a prayer begins.
When we think of hallowed, immediately the word that follows is halls because people talk about old buildings as being hallowed halls. We think of cloistered halls and long robes and dismal chants and halos and musty churches and mournful morbid music and tired conditions. But hallowed is hagiazo, it means to be holy, to treat as separate, to treat as sacred, to treat as holy, to glorify, to exalt, to praise, to honor. John Calvin put it this way, "That God's name should be hallowed is nothing other than to say that God should have His own honor of which He is worthy so that men should never think or speak of Him without the greatest reverence." That's where prayer starts. It is a protection, by the way, against sentimentalism, against overly familiar terms, against the abuse of Abba, it is a protection. The Jews knew it. When a Jew called God Father, they always added another term of majesty so they didn't get too familiar. Example, their prayers include these phrases, "O Lord Father, and ruler of my life, O Lord Father and God of my life, O Father, King of great power." The Shemini Atzereth, eighteen prayers prayed regularly, "O Father, O King." And on the ten penitential days at the time of atonement, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, they pray the Great Abenu Malkenu(???) which is Our Father, Our King and they say it 44 times. Yes, Father, but don't forget King, sovereign Lord.
And what is Jesus saying? In your prayers, recognize the intimacy of God but recognize the holiness of God, set Him apart from everything that is common, everything that is earthly, do not profane His name but esteem it highly, appraise it, honor it, reverence it, adore it, recognize that He is the infinitely exalted and infinitely blessed and perfectly holy one. That's crucial. And you will hallow His name when you understand who He is. Origen, the early church father, said, "The man who brings into his concept of God ideas that are not true of God, takes the name of God in vain.." Any wrong understanding of God is taking His name in vain. When you understand who God is and all His glory and all His attributes and you hallow His name, you have appropriately addressed Him. Anything less than that is sub-Christian and dishonoring to God.
John Wesley once said to a false teacher, "Your God is my devil." You better understand who God really is. Bad theology, poor understanding of Scripture, doubt, lack of trust, disobedience do not hallow God's name. You hallow His name when you understand who He is and when you praise Him for who He is. You hallow His name when you are constantly aware of His presence. You hallow His name when you live a life that submits everything to His glory, absolutely everything. Martin Luther in his catechism asks the question, "How is God's name hallowed among us?" Answer, "When both our doctrine and our life are truly Christian." His name must be hallowed not only in our lips but in our lives. We glorify Him by praise and by virtue. And so as we come to the Lord in prayer, we recognize His paternity that He is a loving, compassionate, sympathetic, tender-hearted, generous Father who has all the treasury of heaven at His disposal to grant to us to meet our ever need. But at the same time, we don't become abusively overfamiliar, we recognize that His holy purposes transcend everything, that He is the divine judge of all the earth and it is His name that must be exalted. His name must be praised. And we say with the psalmist, "O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name all together.
Thirdly, from God's paternity and God's priority, we come to God's program. Jesus says, "When you pray, say this, 'Thy Kingdom come.'" Thy Kingdom come. Now immediately the opening adoration and the opening worship, hallowed be Thy name, causes a prayer for the advancement of God's Kingdom. We are so concerned that God's name be hallowed, we realize that happens as His Kingdom advances. To make it simple, His interest is my priority. Before I ever get to my petitions, I pour out my heart on behalf of what concerns God. That's the heart of prayer, glorify Your name, elevate Your name, lift up Your name, advance Your Kingdom, do whatever advances Your Kingdom. The Talmud, the Jewish Talmud even says, "That prayer in which there is no mention of the Kingdom of God is no prayer at all." People today go rushing into God's presence, "Give me this, give me this, I demand this, I claim this, I name this," rushing into God's presence with their own agenda. Nothing could be further from true prayer. Rushing into God's presence isn't appropriate at all, but if you do rush in, you better start where you must start and that is with God's enterprises. "God, I'm here to pray that Your Kingdom would come. I'm here to pray that Your name would be exalted, whatever that might mean in my life, whether by life or death."
What is the Kingdom? It's the advance of God's saving purpose, that's all. That's what it means. It's the advance of His saving purpose and that is what He is praying for that salvation might advance, that God might enlarge His Kingdom. Now you say, "Well aren't there different aspects to the Kingdom?" Yes, there is the universal Kingdom which is simply the whole universe for which He sovereignly rules. In a sense that can't come, it can't advance, it's already created and He's the King of the universe. He's not talking about that, that universal kingdom, He's talking about what some theologians have called the mediatorial(?) kingdom, that is the Kingdom of redeemed souls in which He rules. That's the issue. Oswald Saunders said, "The loyal disciple has a passion for the spread of His sovereignty in the hearts of mankind here and now. He longs to see the Christ who is now rejected enthroned and worshiped by all. He will therefore pray for the spread of the gospel and the overthrow of every opposing force that the enthronement of Christ as Lord of all may be speedily consummated. When we say Thy Kingdom come, that's what we're praying for."
How does it come? It comes, first of all, through conversion. It comes when someone experiences what the hymn writer said, "King of my life, I crown Thee now." The Kingdom advances through conversion. That's why it's called the gospel of the Kingdom. You see, the Kingdom is simply the sphere in which Christ rules over redeemed souls. And every time someone is saved, the Kingdom expands. Another is saved and it expands to embrace more and more. The Kingdom advances through conversion. Some day it will advance through His return, won't it? When He comes and saves all Israel and sets up His Kingdom on the earth. But even then, that kingdom will only be the kingdom of the redeemed. It will be expanded because an innumerable number of Gentiles will be converted prior to the kingdom, all Israel will be saved prior to the Kingdom. There will be people redeemed during the millennial Kingdom. There will be in the future an expansion of that Kingdom, but it's going on even now. Every time a soul is added to the Kingdom, the Kingdom expands. We long for that day, don't we, when the song writer said, "Jesus shall reign where ere the Son does His successive journeys run, His Kingdom spread from shore to shore till the moon shall wax and wane no more." We long for the day when His Kingdom spreads over the earth. But until that millennial time, we're happy to see the Kingdom advance one soul at a time, as the Lord adds daily to the church those that are being saved.
Francis Havercal(?) beautifully read the following verse to Jesus Christ. "Oh the joy to see Thee reigning, Thee my own beloved Lord. Every tongue Thy name confessing, worship, honor, glory, blessing. Brought to Thee with one accord, Thee my Master and my friend, vindicated and enthroned, unto earth's remotest end, glorified, adored and owned." Yes we long to see that great glorious day, but we long for it to come about one soul at a time. That's where we pray. "Lord, glorify Yourself, whatever glorifies You fulfills us. Lord, advance Your Kingdom, whatever adds to Your glorious Kingdom fulfills us." This is the essence of prayer.
Then fourthly, we see not only God's paternity, God's priority, God's program, the Kingdom, but finally God's purpose. "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." So that what we're praying is always Thy will, Thy will, Thy will. Our prayers are for His will. That's not bitter resentment. By that we don't mean, "Oh well, God, we know what You're going to do so do it anyway." Omar Khayyam wrote, "But helpless pieces of the game he plays upon this checkerboard of night and days, hither and thither moves and checks and slays and one by one back in the closet lays. The ball no question makes of ayes and noes, but here or there as strikes the player goes and he that tossed you down into the field, he knows about it all, he knows, he knows." Cynical, as if God was playing us like pieces of a chess game. He knows, He's doing it one by one, does what He wants. It's not that. To say "Thy will be done" is not bitter resentment, it is not even passive resignation. It isn't just sort of caving in and saying, "Oh well, if you have to have it your way, go ahead." We're not talking about that. We're not even talking about some kind of theological resignation by hyper-Calvinism where, "Oh well, God is in control, He's stronger and He does whatever He wants." We're not talking about that. We're saying, "Your will be done not because we're bitter, not because we can't fight it, not because we're resigned to sovereignty. We're saying Your will be done, listen, because we believe it is...what?...best. We believe it is best. We believe God knows best. And He does.
And we also believe, listen to this, that not only does He knows best, but His purposes for His children are always good. Back to Romans 8:28, "Just do Your will, it is best and it is good." In the days of the covenanters terrible things happened in Scotland. The covenanters stood against the false religious system of their day and the government decided to crush the covenanters out of existence. They were the true believers. They were being massacred all over Scotland. Richard Cameron was one of the most famous and the greatest of the covenanters. They captured his son, that son, according to historians, had notably beautiful and deft hands and so they thought the most heinous punishment would be to chop them off. So they did. They cut the hands of Richard Cameron's son and they sent them by messenger to the father in an act of amazing cruelty. When he opened the package and saw the hands, he recognized them immediately and he said, "These are my son's, my own dear son's hands. But it is the Lord's will and good is the will of Lord. He has never wronged me." Such was the faith of Richard Cameron. That's prayer.
Now when you've got through all of that, if you have anything left you can say, "Meet my physical needs, forgive my sin and protect me." We worship first then comes the humble petition. So the end of prayer is not so much a tangible answer as it is a deepening life of dependency. The end of prayer is not so much to get what I want, but to become what God wants me to become. That brings heaven to earth. Let's bow in prayer.
Father, thank You for teaching us that prayer is worship. Thank You for teaching us to humble ourselves and submit all our heart's longings to Your glory to the advance of Your Kingdom and to the unfolding of Your will. And we know, God, that when we pray like that, You will meet our needs, You will forgive our sins and You will protect us. And we will give You all the glory. Make us people of prayer not that You might be shaped to our will, but that we might be shaped to Your's, not that You might fulfill the desires of our Kingdom, but that we might conform to Your's, not that You might bless us, but that we might hallow You. And so, loving Father, give us bread to feed our souls, give us pardon for our sins, give us strength and protection unto glory as we submit to Your divine purpose, in Christ's great name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.