#40 – What the Gospels Teach – Hypocrisy in Prayer #3 – Matthew 6:9-15

"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.]' "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:9-15 NASB)

Of course this is a familiar text, and at many churches this prayer is recited each week, and has been labeled the Lord's Prayer. It is likely that you have been taught about this passage a million times so I am not going to spend much time breaking it down. However it is appropriate to discuss the context. Most of us understand that Jesus did not mean this to be a word for word prayer but a template for prayer. I certainly would agree that this is not intended to be a word for word prayer, but I also do not see it so much as a template either. Recall that in the first half of Matthew 6 Jesus is speaking against hypocrisy, and is teaching how to do various acts of piety without hypocrisy. This prayer 'The Lord's Prayer' is more of a boundary than a template. Notice the words "Pray then in this way..." In other words, in light of what Jesus has said concerning hypocrisy, pray like this...

So how is He teaching us to pray? Look at how succinct this prayer is. It covers worship, request for provision, forgiveness, and deliverance... and it is short. Recall that Jesus made clear that we will not be heard for our many words, but that the Father already knows what we need. I have heard so often that this prayer is a template for praying, I have even taught that in the past, and as a template what people do is take each little section of prayer and fill it with a bunch of words. They take hallowed be thy name and fill it with many loft words of praise, and give us this day our daily bread with endless cries for provision, and so on. When we do this we are missing the point. The Lord's Prayer is a call to succinctness in prayer more than a model for prayer. Again, look at the preceding two verses:

"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. (Matthew 6:7-8 NASB)

Prayer is a difficult discipline in the Christian life, however the difficulty arises because we have an idea that it is a performance of some sort. We find it difficult because we search for many words to explain to the Lord our requests, and we search for words to express adoration, and when we run out of words we feel as though something is missing, so we look for more words, and by the time we are done praying we find that the whole thing was empty. We see the words of the apostle Paul to be in constant prayer and it seems like a near impossibility. It should not be this way! When we look at Jesus example for brevity in prayer it becomes much more about listening, yes make your requests known, but then just consider the Lord and trust He hears, just listen and focus on Him. To pray without ceasing is a constant asking for direction not with long drawn out petition, but a simple 'Lord guide me in this decision.' 'Lord should I make this purchase?' 'Lord is it alright if I rest now?' 'Lord is what I am wearing ok for today?' and so on. It is not many words, just a simple seeking after Him that He desires.

Now the other critical part of this text that must not be overlooked is the simple fact that if you are not forgiving of others, then your Father will not forgive you. When Jesus gives the example of brevity in prayer He throws in 'forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors' and He knew that this would be a very difficult line for many, so He calls them and us out on it. If you are unforgiving you cannot be forgiven, until you repent of your lack of forgiveness. That is a harsh statement, but it is the statement of Christ here and not me. I will confess that I struggle with much sin, but the struggle against being unforgiving seems an easy one. Considering what Christ has done for me, how exactly could I justify withholding forgiveness from someone else? Moreover, considering the deliverance from a past lifestyle that He has given me, why should I not expect He can do the same and more for the next person? Considering the way I have acted towards others and yet received forgiveness, how can I not give that same forgiveness to those who have acted against me? I suppose I ought to qualify all of this, I cannot recall a time when I was severely wronged by anyone, it seems that most times when people sin against me it is of a trivial nature (speaking humanly, no sin is trivial in His sight). So to act in as though I am this super forgiving guy... I have not been tested nearly in the way that most have. Nonetheless the scripture is clear on this and Jesus goes out of His way to explain this after the Lord's prayer, you must forgive those who trespass against you if you have any expectation of forgiveness from Him.

I will leave it there for tonight. As you pray, keep it simple even childlike, a large quantity of words will destroy your praying.

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