Current Challenge from Doug Knox.
Call to Prayer, Part 3
The Ultimate Purpose of Prayer
Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, he teaches on prayer by giving us what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer. Here is what he said at the beginning of this incredible model prayer.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven….’”
-- Matthew 6:5-10
What Prayer is Not
In a culture that for centuries had stressed spirituality, certain practices had risen to the surface to distinguish the prayer warriors from those who merely pray. The prayer warriors of Jesus’ day had become both visible and vocal. Jesus’ opening comments teach us to avoid that kind of show. He gives two broad guidelines.
Jesus’ cautions speak to the substance of prayer rather than its style. The difference between prayer for show and real petition has little to do with the way we dress our prayers. Effective prayer goes to the question of how we approach God in the first place. Jesus focusses on that question at the beginning of his model prayer.
What Prayer Is
Our first call is for God to be holy. When we say, “Hallowed be your name,” we call on God to make his reputation great.
Calling on God to hallow his name almost sounds like an exercise in futility, because God is holy already. For example, when the prophet Isaiah sees the vision of the LORD in the temple, the four seraphim (literally, “burning ones”) that surround him cry out,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of his glory!”
How can we add to God’s glory? The simple answer is that we cannot. The Bible is clear that God will be glorified among both his friends and enemies.
The plea for God to glorify his name shows our submission to him. When we align ourselves with his will at the beginning of our prayers, we place ourselves among those who wait for him to bring the full manifestation of his kingdom to earth. This is evident from the second line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Prayer is Not Ultimately About Us
These two concepts—God’s glory and the fulfillment of his purpose in the world to establish his universal kingdom—underpin all meaningful prayer. They form the foundation for prayer. The Old Testament praise psalms invite God’s people to rejoice when the LORD works to bring victory in the saints’ lives. By the same token, the laments, the pleas for help, often in the form, “How long, O LORD…,” are equally rooted in God’s ultimate purposes. Both the personal laments and the laments of the people recognize that while evil flourishes, God’s purpose in the world remains unfulfilled. Their prayers for God to remember their plight rest on the understanding, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” The laments are passionate precisely because the LORD must be great among his people. When evil reigns, it threatens God’s mastery of the cosmos. The laments called for nothing less than for God to right history.
An Example of God Bringing his Will to Earth
One of most dramatic examples of God bringing his will to earth came from an unexpected source. My wife has a long-time friend who is a documentary film maker. In 2016, she premiered Unseen, a film about the Anthony Sowell murders in East Cleveland. Patty and I assisted in writing transcripts for several of the interviews, which gave us a deeper understanding of the events than what the documentary could show. The public history of the murders is well known. In 2009, police discovered the bodies of eleven African-American young women in Sowell’s yard and house. All the women were drug users whom Sowell had lured into his control. When a twelfth victim managed to escape by jumping out of his third-story window, police investigated and found the bodies of the other eleven. During the transcript writing, I learned about a deeper spiritual saga inside the story. One of the interviewees for the film was a local pastor who had served the community for more than twenty-five years. He described how the neighborhood had been a prosperous haven when he first arrived but had degenerated into a slum. By the time Sowell began his killing spree, the neighborhood was shot through with crime and drugs. Since the victims were drug users, the murders went unnoticed for at least two years. The women were inconsequential to the police. Around this time, the pastor organized a small group from his church to pray for the community. They made T-shirts so that they would be recognizable as a peaceful gathering, and they picked a different corner on which to pray every week. One week, he said, they stood in front of Sowell’s house. They did not know him. The murders were still a secret, and no one suspected anything. They just happened to pick that place on that week to pray for God to bring healing. Two weeks later, Sowell’s only surviving victim escaped, allowing police to discover the crime and bring Sowell to justice.
“Your Kingdom Come…”
The pastor’s story gave me chills. His group prayed for God’s kingdom to come, and it entered with justice. The Lord revealed the wrongs when human authorities neither knew nor cared about the injustice around them. For me, at least, understanding prayer in this context brings a great deal more purpose to the exercise. We can pray for the particulars, but we must remember the bigger picture. Yes, we have the freedom to pray during sickness or other tragedy. Yes, we can pray for justice when injustice reigns. Yes, we can weep for ourselves and others. Prayers during difficult times like these have meaning because the grand purpose for God’s kingdom is to rid the world of sickness, tragedy, injustice, and grief. Genuine prayer brings God’s kingdom to earth, one step at a time.
Call to Prayer, Part 4
The Importance of Knowing our God
The opening lines in what we know as the Lord’s Prayer call for God to make his name great in the earth.
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. "
These words set the foundation not just for the rest of the prayer, but also for life itself. If God is to do his will on the earth, he certainly must perform it in his disciples. For that reason, we need to understand the next request in the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), as part of God’s grand plan for his will to be done throughout the earth.
The Greatness of God is shown in Plentiful Supply
Jesus’ call for us to seek our daily bread from the Lord looks indirectly at Psalm 104, a praise hymn for God’s creation. Part of the psalm reads,
"You cause the grass to grow for the livestock,and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earthand wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shineand bread to strengthen man’s heart."
The thirty-five verses of Psalm 104 pulsate in their praise for God’s creative work. The heavens and the earth show God’s splendor. The order in the earth stands as testimony to God’s wisdom. And the resources and finished products that come from the earth—the grass, the cultivated plants, wine, oil, and bread—stand as blessings from our Creator who gives us reward for our labor.
The Moral Lessons in Daily Bread
Jesus has a more specific passage from Deuteronomy in mind when he teaches us to pray for our daily bread. Moses tells the generation that is about to possess the Promised Land,
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD."
-- Deuteronomy 8:1-3
The older unbelieving generation has died, and their children stand ready for victory. They still have certain things to learn, however.
Three Things God seeks in Knowledge
Anyone familiar with the desert wanderings remembers that the first generation refused to believe that God could bring them into Canaan successfully (See Numbers 13:1-14:48). For this reason, God doomed them to wander forty years until they all died. We tend to emphasize the first generation’s demise during the wandering, but God was busy with the second generation as well. The forty years was not just a time of limbo while their parents died off. The LORD used the time to teach them to trust. That is the emphasis in this passage. For example, Moses makes use of the word know three times in this passage. The first instance refers to what God himself wants to know. He used the time “that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. This use of the word sounds strange to us who emphasize that God knows all things. Knowing what we will do is one thing, however. Knowing that we have chosen to obey in faith is something that he prizes far more deeply. When God tests us to know what is in our hearts, he wishes to prove us and establish us in his relationship with us.
Supplies beyond the Threshold of Knowledge
Moses’ second use of the word know goes to an area where Israel remained ignorant. “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know….” Moses uses a play on words in this sentence. When the manna first appeared in Exodus 16, Moses records this reaction. “When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was” (Exodus 16:15a). The original language word for “What is it?” is mahn, meaning what. This led to the word manna. For the next forty years, the people would pick up the what-is-it from the ground. Unlike the grass and plants of the creation from Psalm 104, which God gave mankind to cultivate, manna was just there. It never had a name beyond what-is-it.
What God has Given us to Know
The third use of the word know leads the people to the heart of an important moral lesson. Moses told Israel that God “humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, that you might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Part of Moses’ point is ironic. The cultivated plants, grain, and bread in Psalm the quote from 104 are identifiable and knowable. And they involve labor. The psalmist calls them “the plants for man to cultivate.” Manna, on the other hand, was an unknown substance that did not involve cultivation. It just appeared, ready to be baked, boiled, or eaten raw. There is another difference between manna and the plants of the field. The plants of the field reproduce in abundance and bring joy. Manna appeared in scarcity and often left the people hungry. The very scarcity of manna taught the people a moral lesson. The need to trust their God for supply was more important than personal comfort. Jesus quoted this passage for this reason during his forty days of fasting when Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread.
The Doxology of Daily Bread
The call for God to give us our daily bread, then, is far more than a call for provision. It is a call for God to have the freedom to reign in our lives while we trust him for what we cannot know. When we find the ability to value God’s wisdom more than immediate comfort, we begin to honor his kingdom’s appearance on the earth in this most practical way.
For additional studies click on the links below:
May 2017 - Exodus 6:1-13 - Defeat, Not Failure
June 2017 - John 9:1-7 - True Discipleship
October 2017 - Ephesians 1:9-10 - God and the Work Ethic
October 2017 - Psalm 11 - Righteousness and Evil in the Las Vegas Shooting
November 2017 - Ephesians 6:5-9 - Practicing Value in Undervalued Labor
December 2017 - Psalm 77:19 and Psalm 131- Waiting on the Lord
February 2018 - Nehemiah 8:5-8 - Thinking Man's Warfare
March 2018 - Isaiah 1:18-20 - Authority and Reason
April 2018 - Deuteronomy 17:14-20 - The Life of David, Part 1
November 2018 - February 2019 - Genesis 37, 38 - Judah's Journey To Manhood
April 2019 - Call to Prayer