Monday, 22 November 2010

Matthew 6:5-15 A New Relationship with Prayer

What makes praying difficult? What questions do you have about prayer?

Our natural desire to pray comes from the way we were made, but our struggles with prayer come from the fall.

Here again Jesus is explaining kingdom distinctive. Prayer for the believer is to be different from the prayers of the religious(5) and the irreligious(7). The religious pray for others to see them and praise them, the pagans pray babbling, a word that takes us back to Genesis 11 where God confuses the language of men, where there is confusion, noise and misunderstanding of one another and about God. Don’t be like that when you pray. The idol worshipper had elaborate rituals, chants and incantations which could go on for hours and had to be used in certain ways with certain words. That was the way to ensure that whichever god they were worshipping would hear them. Don’t be like that Jesus says God knows what you need, you don’t need to convince him and present a 94 page dossier to twist his arm.

But the disciples prayer is to be different it is to be distinctive because it is relational and it is reliant.

1. Relational and reverent
One word is repeated over and over again in Matthew 6 what is it? “Father”, and notice how it permeates this section here (2x v6, 8, 9, 14, 15).

Prayer is not about our relationship with others, it is not meant to be about gaining a reputation with those around us, or their praise or respect. Prayer is us communicating with God. Pray is not about our relationship with men but with God.

Jewish culture had an exceptionally high view of God, something our culture does not share. The intimacy of this prayer would have stood out, for the disciples it would have been amazing because it addresses God using a term of intimacy. Father – it is not overly familiar and it is not formal.

When God revealed himself to Abraham it was as ‘El Shaddai’, ‘God Almighty’. When he revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush it was as ‘Yahweh’ or the ‘Lord’.

But in every example we have of Jesus prayers recorded for us in the gospels Jesus addresses God as ‘Father’. The only exception is his prayer from the cross, his cry “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” which is a direct quotation from Psalm 22. Everywhere else he prays “Father” even in the Garden as he battles temptation and to obey God’s will. Jesus relationship with God is intimate, he addresses God as Father because he is his perfect Son as God said “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Yet now as Jesus teaches his disciples about how prayer is transformed in his kingdom he tells them that they too can share in that intimacy, that they too can address God as he does, that they too share in his relationship with the Father. The disciple prays knowing that they will be welcomed, that they are coming before their loving heavenly Father.

We do not come to God fearfully, we come to our Father knowing we will be welcomed because access does not depend on our performance but on what Jesus has done for us. Every time we pray we ought to be amazed again at the access we have to God.

But whilst it is relational it is also reverent. The address “Father” is not overly familiar but is familial, and notice how the prayer begins, what are the first lines? “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...” The Disciples prayer is neither distant from God nor dismissive of God, the disciple knows exactly who it is that they are praying to, that it is God almighty, that it is the Lord, that it is the holy one who is sovereign and is deservingly worshipped day and night by a heavenly host, the one who one day will be worshipped by everyone and everything. Distinctive disciple prayer is relational and reverent. Indeed its reverence makes its access and intimacy all the more amazing.

And the relationally reverent nature of prayer is seen in what the disciple prays for. What are the first three petitions of this prayer concerned with? They are taken up with God; they are concerned for God’s glory, God’s kingdom and God’s will.

The disciples prayer is relational and reflects that relationship. God is the believers greatest treasure and the family values mark how they live and what they pray for. Prayer for the believer is about knowing God, about being his people, about the spread of the kingdom they are part of and living out for God’s glory in their lives.

But something is glaringly absent from Jesus teaching on prayer; he does not console us with the difficult nature of prayer, he does not warn the disciples of its hardships and the struggle they will have with prayer, indeed the bible does not seem to anywhere. And that is odd because it warns us about our struggle with temptation, with sin, with each other, with powers and principalities, with Satan but it doesn’t seem to indicate prayer will be a struggle! It warns us of all the other struggles and difficulties we will face but not about a struggle to pray. Could it be that we have made something a struggle which is not meant to be.

Could it be that we worry too much about how we pray and what we ask for when what we are meant to do in prayer is simply respond to God, reflect on God and seek God? To come to God our Father as his children.

2. Reliant and real
How do children and adults approach things differently? Children trust, adults tend to cynicism, children ask for help they are not afraid to say they can’t adults tend to want to do to solve to be independent. Children are grateful when someone does it for them as adults we can resent it.
Kingdom prayer is distinctive because it is reliant, it is God’s children coming to their loving heavenly father who knows what they need. Prayer involves acknowledging that we are not in control of our lives but that our Father is. That reality is what underpins prayer, there are three things that this prayer highlights we are to pray for and notice the reality of each of them – they are not particularly pious they are real world requests but they also reflect the disciples reliance on God for everything.

a. Physical need (11)- In Jesus day a days labour earned a days wage and that wage paid for a days food, in such a society Jesus point is simply isn’t it. The disciple is to pray for their needs, reliant on God for food every day.

What is our problem with that? We aren’t. Our problem is that it isn’t that simple for us, or at least it doesn’t seem to be, we aren’t paid daily and our wage buys much more than just our bread, and we are removed from that reliance on God. Or are we? It’s interesting how often we pray for people to get a job, yet once we get it act as if we provide. We need to recognise that actually God provides for us – we may be one or two steps removed from the process but God has given us our food sufficient for today. We are still reliant on God even for the basics.

b. Forgiveness(12) – What word is used here to described sin? “debt”, its the idea that sin is a debt we owe God which we cannot pay. The foundation of our even being able to address God as Father is that God has provided for us a way for the debt to be paid not by us because we can’t but by Jesus. Such a prayer strips us of self righteousness and reminds us of our dependence on God and of the thankfulness that should mark our living, seen in grace experienced overflowing to others in our forgiveness of them(14-15).

c. Protection(13) – The disciple lives life aware that they are in the kingdom but living out that reality in a world that is opposed to the kingdom. Engaged in a battle dependent on God. Disciples are to pray to God to protect them from falling into the devils schemes and traps, to help them fight sin, because on their own they will fail.

Do you see the reliance of the disciple and the reality of what they pray for? The disciples praying is distinctive it is relational, it is reverent, it is reliant and it is real. It is driven not by guilt, not by fear, not by habit, not by earning favour, but by their knowledge and experience of God as their good father and their desire to know God.

It is in contrast to the hypocrite who has no interest in knowing and relying on God and in contrast to the pagan who has no real idea of who it is he is praying to.

(2 min in groups) What stops us praying?
e.g.s Independence, Busyness

How does this passage challenge those?

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