So, this Wednesday begins the season of Lent. Our Ash Wednesday service is one of the most moving and powerful services we do all year. The focus is perhaps more on ourselves than on God in that it is a sober time of reflection when we confess sin and consider our frailty. Even though it is a serious and kind of heavy service, we always leave with a sense of victory, that we are overcomers through Christ. That service kicks off the 40 Days of Lent during which Christians have traditionally tried to give extra attention to their relationship with Christ. During the 40 days, often people choose to fast food (No, I didn’t say they choose to eat fast food. Don’t get too excited!). They may fast food by giving up some meals or giving up a certain kind of food. Some Christians may set a goal of helping others in need more so than usual during Lent. They may clean out their closets and give clothes and household items to people or find people they can assist with a financial blessing.
Lent is a time to pursue more intense fellowship with God through Bible reading and prayer. Think of it as “Spring Cleaning” for your soul. This morning, I want to focus on the discipline of prayer and encourage you to spend extra time in prayer as we move toward Easter.
Matthew 6:5-13 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
Pray on purpose. (Vs. 6)
Our passage for this morning opens with Jesus telling us that prayer as a spiritual discipline is between God and us as individuals. Of course, we have corporate prayer as part of our Body Life as a church, but prayer as a discipline is a private expression. We also see in verse 7 that it isn’t about being lengthy or flowery or having a certain way of speaking. In fact, if we read this passage carefully, we will see that the things we ask for in prayer probably could be a short part of the overall prayer since God already knows what we need.
What I do want us to take significant note of is verse 6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” Now we know that where we pray isn’t of great importance since God is everywhere. We can pray wherever we are and know that God hears us. But what we might miss is the notion that we are supposed to carve out time to get alone with God for the purpose of praying.
If you are like me, you probably talk to God several times during the day. I usually have people who reach out to me on a daily basis and ask me to pray for something going on in their lives as well. I try to stop right then and ask God to be at work in their lives. This passage, however, isn’t talking about the moments during the day that we might stop to thank God for our food or to ask Him to help us with our work or the times we might bow our heads to pray for someone who has just reached out to us for prayer. This passage suggests that prayer will take place on a regular basis in a private place where we decide to exercise the discipline of prayer on purpose.
We need both ways of praying. We need to be able to converse with God throughout the day, but we also need dedicated, devoted, on purpose time where we plan to spend time with God doing nothing else but praying. This kind of praying might stretch most if not all of us today. What would happen if during the season of Lent we would avail ourselves to the discipline of extended prayer time? What if we devoted a half hour a day, say, five days a week, to the on-purpose kind of praying where we shut ourselves in with God and away from the noise of the world? I know most of us spend time in prayer in some form or fashion, but how many of us are spending time in prayer on purpose? Like we have set aside a certain time or certain amount of time just to pray?
This is one of my Lenten commitments. I want to be alone with the Lord daily, on purpose, for a designated time of prayer, a time where I mean to pray, not just where I pray because someone asked me to or because I become aware of a need I have all of the sudden, but I am referring to a focused, disciplined time where I pray on purpose.
If I can make an application here from my exercise life which you can observe from looking at me is quite a devoted passion of mine, allow me this comparison. I try to work exercise into my day. I don’t take the closest spots at the grocery store. I take the stairs at the hospital, even if the patient is on the fifth floor of Memorial! I may go into Brenda’s office to run something by her, and while I am talking, I may be doing push-ups on her desk. I tried to work on my abs on my way to Atlanta this week, even while in the car. Yes, I am serious. When I do housework, I try to put extra effort into what I am doing in an effort to burn extra calories since I am already moving anyway. That is what I might call incidental exercise or exercise on the way.
Then, there is planned exercise which is exercise I mean to do. I set aside time to do it. On Monday nights from 6:30 to 7:30 I do aerobics. On Wednesday mornings at 7:30 I do aerobics with weights. On Tuesday nights, here at church, I take the Christian yoga class which I might add, my precious husband also began this past week. There are many sermon illustrations forthcoming from that reality, I promise you. I try to work a walk or another aerobics workout in during the week, but those three times each week, my family will tell you, I have committed myself to exercise. Because I know it is important, I plan to do it, and I make other sacrifices in order to be committed to those three planned times.
Yes, we need to work prayer into several moments of our day, but we also need regular pre-planned times where we mean to do nothing but pray. That’s what I think Jesus is emphasizing in this passage. He was saying, “Don’t pray like the hypocrites. They pray in order to be seen.” “Get alone with your Heavenly Father and pray in order to pray.”
Pray from a stance of submission. (Vs. 9-10)
Pray from a stance of submission. (Vs. 9-10)
When we pray we need to pray with humility. We need to pray with an understanding of just Who it is we are talking to. God is the Architect of the universe. He is the omnipotent, (all-powerful) omnipresent, (everywhere) omniscient (all-knowing) God. He is the Supreme One. He is subject to no one. He answers to no one. He is God. He holds this world together. He is giving us breath in this very moment.
There should be a reverence, a respect, an awe and recognition on our part that we understand to whom it is we are praying. Prayer is an opportunity to honor God and to worship Him for who He is. It is also an opportunity to rehearse that He is God and we are not; that His ways are higher than our ways; that we are the seekers of truth and He is the disseminator of truth. That is why we are talking to Him.
When we hallow God’s name we are treating His name differently than we treat other people’s names. When we hallow His name we are acknowledging that our relationship with Him is different from our relationship with Joe Schmo.
When we hallow God’s name we are getting God-centered. We are beginning our prayers with a focus on God; on Who He is and what He can do. Rather than begin our prayer with our needs, you see, we begin with God. There will come a time in our prayers where we focus on ourselves, no doubt, but the model here is that prayer begins with a focus on and respect for and recognition of who God is.
When we hallow God’s name in prayer we are asking that God would help us hallow His name in and through our lives. From the onset of our prayer time we submit to the God who is holy and above all things.
Our submission isn’t just in the way we address God, but it involves our desire to see God’s agenda, God’s will, to be accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. So many times, we have viewed prayer as a way to get God to accomplish our agenda, when really prayer is a mechanism by which God gets His will accomplished. In and through prayer, He aligns us with His plans and purposes.
Thy Kingdom come. The Kingdom of God is the ask that the rule and reign of God would be realized on earth as it is in heaven. In this model prayer where Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He teaches them that they need to pray for the expanding rule and reign of God which means that God would rule and reign over their lives.
When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, we are praying for the lost to be saved. Everyone in heaven is saved. We are praying for lives to be changed. We are praying for more and more people to give up their lives and to take on the life of Jesus.
We’re told in Matthew 6:33 that seeking first the Kingdom of God is to be a priority for believers.
Before we move to express our needs in prayer, we are to communicate that our will isn’t what is important. Our desires aren’t supreme. What we are after, what we are seeking, what we desire and want to commit to is the will of God. That means, before we ever know what the will of God is, we want it. Before we even know what He would ask us to do, we submit to God that we are willing to do it.
When we pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done, we are asking for God to have His way in every way in every part of our lives. God, may your will be done in my decision-making. May your will be done in my education. May your will be accomplished in my dating relationships, my friendships, in my marriage and in my parenting. God, may your will be done in the way I spend my money. May your agenda be accomplished in the way I spend my time. God, have your way in every part of my life-In the way I present myself, in the way I talk about others, in the way I view my future, in the way I value other people, have your way in my life. In the way I use my body, in the way I take care of my body, in the way I express my emotions, may your kingdom come and your will be done. Rule and reign in me.
When we pray, “Not my will but yours be done”, we are preparing for the hard moments when it will be tempting to look for a shortcut. When we pray, “Not my will but yours be done”, we are readying ourselves for the trial, the sacrifice, the difficult assignment that God may ask of us. If we are used to praying, “Not my will but yours be done” it will be easier in the moment of decision, in the dark night of the soul, to stay faithful to the Father’s agenda because we will have conditioned our soul to want God’s will, God’s way.
We will be able to remain faithful like Jesus did in the garden just before His arrest in Luke 22:42 when He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” How could Jesus stay bowed down to the will of God? It was because He had been living day after day after day for the will of God.
You better believe that wasn’t the first night Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done.” He knew what He was agreeing to when He said, “Thy will be done.” He was agreeing to the crucifixion. He was agreeing to go forward with God’s plan. You don’t just pray that prayer for the first time under those circumstances. No, friends. Jesus had prayed that prayer as a routine expression of the desire of His soul. He said of Himself in John 4:34, “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
Listen to me. Living for God’s will was the focus of His soul. It was the pursuit of His life every day, and when you live day after day after day for the will of God, you will find strength even in the crucible to stay bowed down to God’s agenda.
Pray with a declaration of dependence. (Vs. 11-13)
11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
These verses remind us that we don’t provide for ourselves. The daily bread ask is just a phrase to remind us that God is our Provider. If you went to work and did a good job, be proud of yourself, but be thankful to God for giving you the opportunity to work and make an income. We need to understand that all we have is because God has blessed us and helped us and provided opportunities for us. We are to depend upon God and acknowledge God for the things we need just to live from day to day. Whatever you need for daily life whether physical health and strength or the focus of your mind to study and learn or the wisdom to develop and execute strategies or the protection to travel to and from home and work or home and school or whatever, you need to pray as if it all depends on God being at work in your life because quite frankly, it does. This is the space for you to ask God for what you need in order for your individual life and the lives of your family members to go well and be well and to be executed for His glory.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. We must depend upon God for the forgiveness of sin, for the cancelling of our debts. We can’t earn God’s favor. We have to depend on the grace, love, and mercy of God that has reached out to us in our broken, sinful state and has cancelled the death sentence our sin deserves. We have to depend on God to free us from sin and from ourselves. We owe Him a debt we couldn’t pay, so He paid a debt He didn’t owe when He sent Jesus to die in our place. We have to depend on the sacrifice of Jesus to cleanse us from our sin day after day after day.
We have to depend upon God not only for forgiveness, but for the grace and power to forgive those who hurt us. Once we are forgiven, once we are relieved of our sin burden, it ought to compel us to want to release other people from offense. In fact, I think one sign that we have been forgiven, that we are right with God is symbolized in our ability to forgive other people.
People are likely going to rub us the wrong way and offend us and sin against us and even harm us. We have to depend on God for the strength to forgive regularly and with grace and mercy, and let me add this: the sooner the better. Let me tell you about a lady named Clyda Lane. Clyda Lane has passed on now, but she was a lady in my choir in Cincinnati. She sang the songs of faith and was a regular at choir practice and church. One day, I got into a conversation with Clyda during which she opened up to me and told me how her mother-in-law had deeply hurt her. I listened and then, prompted by the Holy Spirit, I asked her if she had forgiven her mother-in-law to which she replied, “I will burn in hell before I will forgive that woman.” Honestly. That is what she told me.
Do we understand that hell is an eternal place of punishment? It is a prison? How much hatred and anger does a person have to have in their heart to prefer going to hell over forgiving someone? Here is the point: Un-forgiveness changes us. It chains us to hatred and bitterness. It puts us in an earthly prison in many respects. Clyda had become an angry, bitter person and preferred that existence over living free and in the assurance that God would forgive her while she withheld forgiveness from her mother-in-law.
How can we hallow God’s name with that kind of hatred in our heart? How can we be doing God’s agenda, God’s will, when we are imprisoned by un-forgiveness? We can’t. And in our own power we can’t forgive every person who wrongs us. Some of the offenses cut deep. Some have been costly. Some have robbed us of any number of things, caused us emotional harm and have set us back in some way. Some offenses have devastated us. We can ONLY forgive as we depend on God to help us. The Greek word for “forgiveness” is aphiemi which means “to let go.” When you forgive do you know what you are really letting go of? You let go of self-destructive feelings like anger, rage, bitterness and revenge. Isn’t it great that we can depend upon God to help us forgive in order to rid our lives of that which can’t help us, but only harms us? Forgiveness doesn’t mean you are letting someone off the hook. They will still answer to God. It means you are letting yourself heal!
Do you know that Jesus has paid the price for not only your salvation, but your healing? His resurrection power can help you live healed by enabling you to forgive those who hurt you. Live free. Live healed. Depend on God for strength to forgive.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Vs. 13) We need to be mindful that we have an enemy, and he is sneaky. He isn’t all-powerful like God, but Satan is cunning and deceptive. He leads us down broken paths by enticing us, by interesting us in something that appears harmless, by piquing our curiosity, by playing into our emotions and by magnifying the negative emotions we experience, and also by repeatedly lying to us and getting us to believe that “It’s ok to try something once. One time can’t hurt us. We deserve to experience what is attractive to us in the moment because we work hard. After all, no one will ever know.”
What Satan will never tell us is that sin brings destruction to our lives in some way, to some degree. It is harmful to us. We all deal with temptation. Temptation isn’t sin, but temptation is the bait that leads us to sin when we don’t resist it in God’s power. Obviously, God won’t lead us into temptation. God doesn’t tempt us. Jesus’ prayer here isn’t to insinuate that God could lead us into temptation. James 1:13 tells us it is impossible for God to lead us into temptation. Jesus is basically teaching His disciples to pray, “Lead us away from temptation. Lead us in the way everlasting. Lead us in the way of holiness. Lead us in the way that pleases You, O God.” We have to depend on God to show us the way!
As you grow and mature from childhood into adulthood, the goal is that you would become an independent person and live apart from being dependent on your parents. But as children of God, we recognize we can never be emancipated from our Heavenly Father on whom we depend to lead and guide our lives on the right path. I don’t care how old you are or how spiritually mature you think you are, left to your own wisdom, you can walk down the road to temptation in an instant, and so can I. We must depend on God to show us the way every day, step by step.
Often, after we have failed in some way, as we all are capable of doing, Satan likes to try to handcuff us to our mistakes and tell us we have ruined our lives. We must not believe him. We must depend on the Words of Scripture. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all righteousness. AND God can redeem our past and make all things new.
“Deliver us from evil.” We are in a spiritual war. Satan wants to destroy our lives and put us in compromising and harmful situations. He wants to assassinate our character. He wants to ruin our reputation. He wants to malign and mar our future. He wants to cause us to doubt our worth and value. He wants to divide our homes. He wants to ruin our finances. He wants to pin something on us and lay guilt and shame and condemnation on our backs. He wants us to move out of the light into the dark long enough for him to suffocate us.
I don’t know if you have ever considered the Lord’s Prayer a prayer of spiritual warfare, but it is. We must depend on the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us to guard us and keep us safe in Christ. And we do that through being mindful that we have an enemy, and that we need to ask our Defender, the Holy Spirit and the angels of God to be at war on our behalf.
Perhaps you have heard that Christians are to FROG: Fully Rely on God. It is true.
As you move through the Lenten Season, I urge you to think about not just incorporating prayer into your day, but to pray on purpose. Pick a time and place and an amount of time that you will commit to praying on purpose. Pray from a submissive posture that recognizes who God is and acknowledges His will is your desire. Pray in a state of dependence as you rely on God for your day to day needs, for spiritual strength to forgive those who hurt you and for spiritual power to overcome the enemy of your soul.
Let’s pray on purpose for God’s purposes to be revealed in our lives in and through His power at work in us.