The Emphasis Of Prayer

Title: The Emphasis Of Prayer

Bible Book: Matthew 6

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Prayer



A generation ago, “Sweet Hour Of Prayer” might have been the prayer theme song of God’s people, but the more applicable selection today would be “Just A Little Talk With Jesus.” But whether you have time for a sweet hour of prayer or just a little talk with Jesus, that highest form of communication - prayer, must be exercised, or as Jesus Himself said in Luke 18:1, Men ought always to pray, and not to faint; for prayer is one of the great spiritual lifelines. It is, as someone said, “the blood of the soul.”

Here in this central chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks to His followers in verses 1 thru 4 about the danger of hypocrisy in performing our alms, that is, our benevolent deeds and donations. In verses 5 thru 8, He gives procedural instructions about prayer which is followed in verses 9 thru 13 with the great pattern of prayer. The great prayer warrior and writer Edward M. Bounds says of the model prayer that “the outlines and form are complete, yet it is but an outline, with many a blank, which our needs and convictions are to fill in.” This petition then is not necessarily to be repeated verbatim, but the Lord has designed several emphases that should be accentuated when we pray. First consider...

I. The Relationship Emphasis

A. This Is A Common Relationship

The paternal relationship is not common in the sense of being base or defiled or unholy, but it is common in the sense of being shared, for Jesus gave this instruction, that After this manner we are to pray: Our Father... (Matthew 6:9). The word Our might suggest that God is both Jesus’ Father and the Father of the saints, but it most certainly recalls our shared birth with all other partakers of the common faith (Titus 1:4), and the common salvation (Jude 1:3). The word Our also reminds us of our shared burdens. As J.R. Miller wrote, “Love puts others alongside ourself, and we must think of them while we tell God of our own wants or troubles,” or as Paul wrote, Bear ye one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2).

B. This Is A Compassionate Relationship

To call God Father represents an impressive connection with deity. You may be acquainted with notable people. You may even be related to some famous personality. But this connection surpasses all of that. To be a child of the Heavenly Father is “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” To call God Father also represents an intimate connection with deity. Paul said that we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father (Romans 8:15), and this tender term Abba, which some have suggested means “daddy,” magnifies what an intimate relationship we enjoy with Our Father which art in heaven (Matthew 6:9). John Gill wrote that “it may be remarked that the word ‘Abba’, read backwards or forwards, is the same pronunciation, and may teach us that God is the Father of His people in adversity as well as in prosperity.”

II. The Reverence Emphasis

A. We Are Reverencing His Identity

A flippant, haphazard approach is not welcome in the prayer closet, but Jesus instructs us to pray, Hallowed be Thy name (Matthew 6:9). J. Vernon McGee said that this phrase literally reads, “Let Thy name be made holy.” So in one sense this is a petition as we are praying for God’s name to be exalted and consecrated and proclaimed among us. But this is also a proclamation as if we are saying to God, “Thy name is Holy!” Charles Ellicott states that “the words ‘Jehovah, hallowed be His name,’ were familiar enough to all Israelites and are found in many of their prayers,” but perhaps the sentiment had become, like many of our prayers, a routine reverencing. Christ calls us into the reality of reverencing God, not in a distant manner but in a direct manner.

B. We Are Reverencing His Inclinations

The beloved intercessor Andrew Murray wrote, “While we ordinarily first bring our own needs to God in prayer, and then think of what belongs to God and His interests, the Master reverses the order.” As we enter the throne room of the King we do not exalt our own agenda, but we put priority on His domain - Thy kingdom come (vs. 10). Then we are expressing a preference for His determinations - Thy will be done (vs. 10). Alan Redpath exclaimed, “Oh, the joy of submitting, down to the last detail of our experience, to the good and perfect and acceptable will of God!” And truly, our petitions must be according to His will, for this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us (1 John 5:14). “Have thine own way, Lord!”

III. The Request Emphasis

A. We Can Request A Daily Portion

While we are advised to seek ... first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), we are not categorically prohibited from bringing our needs to God in prayer. God’s ability and willingness to give us our needful sustenance on a daily basis is confirmed by the provision of manna in Exodus 16 and by the bread and flesh which the ravens regularly brought Elijah in 1 Kings 17. God’s benevolent bounty is further certified by the parallel given in Matthew 7:9-11. Jesus said what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him? “Heavenly Father, faithfully feed us as your children and give us all that is needed for our survival.”

B. We Can Request A Debtor’s Pardon

Forgive us our debts (vs. 12), we pray; for we need forgiveness as much as we need food. As Marcus Dods writes, “Our ‘give’ must ever be followed by ‘forgive’.” We desire this absolution because, as John Trapp writes, sin “casteth a man into a comfortless condition, makes him hide his face for shame, as Adam causeth a continual sound of fear in his ears; so that he thinks every bush a bailiff, every shrub a sergeant.” And just as we desire forgiveness as a debtor, we must display this attitude of forgiveness as a debtee. W. Robertson Nicoll went so far as to say that “the temper that does not forgive cannot be forgiven.” However it should not be concluded that God’s forgiveness of our debts relies upon our forgiveness of others, but that forgiving others is the result of being forgiven. Again, John Trapp writes, “our love to others is but a reflex of God’s love to us.” To be a debtor to someone often makes us feel uncomfortable in his or her presence. Let us pray with the Presbyterian preacher Peter Marshall, “Forgive me, Lord Jesus, for the things I have done that make me feel uncomfortable in Thy presence.”

IV. The Righteousness Emphasis

We Are Asking God To Help Us Evade Sin’s Captivation

Alexander Maclaren explains that “the petition of the previous clause (forgive us our debts) has to do with the past, this (lead us not into temptation) with the future.” While James tells us that God does not tempt any man (James 1:13), there is the probationary temptation revealed when God did tempt Abraham (Genesis 22:1). There is also the solicitous temptation of the devil and of one’s own lust. In either case, in our Christian pilgrimage we are constantly facing life’s snares. But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). The perilous pitfalls are   avoidable but in order to sidestep the snares we must be following the leader’s steps. He knows the way that leads from the City of Destruction to Mount Zion; hence we pray, Lead us (vs. 13).

B. We Are Asking God To Help Us Escape Sin’s Corruption

While we should consistently walk in the light of the LORD (Isaiah 2:5), often in the weakness of our flesh we wander into the shadows of sin’s darkness. Rather than following the Leader we begin foraging off on our own. Unguided by the light of His countenance, we consequently fall into the horrific hole of evil (vs. 13). This sinkhole of sin is lined with degeneracy and detriment, mischief and malice, guilt and grief. Our futile efforts at escape prove unsuccessful. At last, we cry unto the Lord Who reaches out with the helping hand of deliverance. David’s testimony becomes yours and mine, for He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings (Psalms 40:1-2).

V. The Reality Emphasis

A. Through Prayer We Embrace The Reality Of God’s Authority

Here, finally, is not just as most writers suggest a doxology, but a declaration of realities that give viability and credence to the act and articulation of our prayers. The fact of the matter is, our God is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15). We therefore recognize the right of His authority. In his final literary work Mr. Spurgeon wrote, “All rule and might, and honour, belong to God; and to Him let them for ever be ascribed. His is the kingdom, or the right to rule.” He is King, therefore the kingdom belongs to Him. Consider also the realm of His authority. The Puritan sage Thomas Manton wrote that “God’s kingdom is universal over all men or things, over all persons in the world.” Another wrote that “all sovereignty is originally and transcendently invested in” Him. Realistically, we can ask Him for bread because it belongs to Him. It is His to give and disburse as He sees fit.

B. Through Prayer We Embrace The Reality Of God’s Ability

Logically, why would we ask Him for bread if He was unable to impart it to us? Says Manton, “Titles without power make authority ridiculous.” But our Father is not a feeble figurehead, for thine is the kingdom, and the power (vs. 13). He has the power to disburse and oversee the full coffers that hold His kingdom’s infinite resources. He has power to declare and order the final conclusions in any issue of universal government or the human heart. Isaac Barrow put it like this: “Thou hast a perpetual and unmovable authority whereby justly to dispose of all things; an indefectible and irresistible power, whereby Thou canst effect whatever seems just and good to Thee.” And if we believe that our Father has both the possessions and power with which to answer our prayers, Jesus said we should go ahead and ascribe to Him the glory for ever. Amen (vs. 13).

Four thousand years ago, a man named Job asked a question. He said, What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto Him? (Job 21:15). If in the midst of your struggles you have asked a similar question. You’re wondering if it does any good to pray. I want to emphasize prayer. I want to assure you there is benefit in crying out to our Father Who still hears and answers prayer. Therefore pray ye (Matthew 6:9).

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