Lecture 6: Speaking with God
Course: Life is a Journey
Lecture: Speaking with God
5. Speaking with God
When you became a Christian, you entered into a relationship with your Creator. Like any relationship, communication plays a major role. God speaks to us, primarily through the Bible, and we listen to him. But God also listens to us. Our listening to, and speaking with, God is called prayer. Prayer is simply listening to God and speaking with him, talking to him about anything and everything; it’s a joyous time, it’s a privilege, and it should be a natural thing for his children, even if it is a bit mysterious.
How do I pray?
As a new Christian, you may be asking, “How exactly do I pray?” Jesus’ disciples asked the same question, and Jesus’ answer is known as the “Lord’s Prayer.” It’s in the Gospel of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. In chapter 6, verses 9-13, Jesus teaches us how to pray.
Jesus says, “Pray then, like this. ‘Our Father in heaven. May your name be hallowed. May your kingdom come. May 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. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.’”
Notice how Jesus starts, “Pray then, like this.” Jesus did not intend his model prayer to be mindlessly repeated as if it were some kind of magical incantation. He never intended the Lord’s Prayer to be something we would be saying in church while we’re thinking of something else. The Lord’s Prayer is intended to give us the basic structure and the basic content of what prayers should look like. I think there’s quite a bit of room for flexibility, but we’re supposed to pray “like this.”
“Our Father in heaven”
Jesus starts, “Our Father in heaven.” Prayer starts with a proper view of God. Prayer starts with our understanding of who God is and what he is like.
He is our Father. When Jesus was speaking, he would have been speaking in the Aramaic language. The Aramaic word for father is “Abba.” Abba was the name that a child would use to address his or her father; it’s a term of familiarity.
By starting prayer with “Our Father,” Jesus is teaching us to approach God with that sense of familiarity — that sense of family. He wants us to understand that the God to whom we are praying, the God with whom we are speaking, cares for us in the same way that a father cares for his children.
But he is also our Father “in heaven.” Jesus is teaching us that we can never forget that “Our Father” is also the God who has created all things, who sustains all things, and who merely spoke and galaxies came into existence. He is teaching us to approach God not only with familiarity but also with astonishment and trembling and reverence and awe.
So Jesus teaches us to start our prayers, “Our Father in heaven.” We should pray with this mix of familiarity and reverence.
Focus first and foremost on God
Jesus then moves into the actual prayer. In the first half of the prayer, we can see that we are to focus first and foremost on God, not on ourselves.
It’s not going to be clear in most Bible translations, but the Lord’s Prayer is made up of a series of imperatives. (“Imperative” just means the statement is a command.) In the Lord’s Prayer, we are calling on God — that’s the imperative — to act, but we are not calling on him to act primarily on our behalf. We’re calling on him to act primarily on his own behalf. In our prayer, we are calling on God to act in such a way that he will be glorified. We are calling on God to act in such a way that people will praise and honor him.
“Hallowed be your name”
The first of those imperatives is “Hallowed be your name,” or more accurately it could be translated, “May your name be hallowed.” “Hallowed” is an old word that means “holy” or “sinless,” and when we refer to God’s “name,” we are talking about who he actually is; the name represents the actual person.
So when we pray, “May your name be hallowed,” we are calling on God to act in such a way that people will see that he is holy. We are calling on God to act in such a way that people will see that he is glorious, sinless, perfect in all of his attributes. “Through what you do, God, may you be seen to be what you truly are: holy, perfect, sinless, glorious. In all that we say and don’t say, in all that we do and don’t do, may people see that you are, indeed, a holy God.”
That’s what we mean when we say, “hallowed be your name.”
“Your kingdom come”
The second imperative is “May your kingdom come.” God’s kingdom is not an earthly realm. Jesus took care of that misunderstanding with Pontius Pilate when he said, “If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would have fought for it. My kingdom is not of this world.” God’s kingdom is not a physical kingdom.
Rather, God’s kingdom is his kingly rule in the hearts and lives of his children. When you and I pray, “May your kingdom come,” what we are praying is, “God, will you exercise your kingly rule first in me. May I submit to your kingly rule, and then, through what I say and do, may your kingly rule spread out to everyone with whom I come into contact. May your kingdom spread through what I say, and don’t say. May your kingly rule spread through what I do, and don’t do.”
At the end of time, when God is done with this world, he will send Jesus back. As Paul tells the Philippian Church, then, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Some day, God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness and every knee will bow to the king. But in the meantime, it is our prayer that his kingly rule pervades our lives, takes over our lives, controls us, and then moves out through us to everyone with whom we come into contact. “May your kingdom come.”
“Your will be done”
The third imperative is, “May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will — his purposes, his desires — are always done perfectly in heaven. What the prayer is teaching us is that we are to pray like Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane; we are to pray, “Not my will, but yours, God, be done.” Your will be done, not mine, and may it be done perfectly on earth as it is perfectly done in heaven.”
This part of the prayer should come as no surprise to a Christian, because being a Christian means we understand that it is no longer about us. Paul tells the Galatian church, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Elsewhere Jesus asks, “Do you want to be my disciple? Then deny yourself — say no to your own will — and take up your cross. Live every day as someone whose will has been crucified; this is how you follow me.” This is the whole point of being a Christian; it’s no longer about us.
This is a hard lesson to learn. The temptation keeps coming back and says, “But it is about me! I don’t like the way that you do things, Jesus. I want to do what I want to do!” I have to constantly remind myself that it is not about me, and praying the Lord’s Prayer is one of the ways in which we remind ourselves, “May your will, Father, be done. May your will be done on earth in me. May your will be done on earth through me, just as it’s done in heaven.”
Biblical prayer begins with God and it puts God first. As we pray, “Our Father in heaven,” we fade into the background and we become consumed with God and his glory and his praise and his will. Our lives become not about what we have done, but about what God wants to be done in and through us.
Prayer teaches us that we start by worshipping God, praising him for who he is and for what he has done.
Express Total Dependence on God
The second half of the Lord’s Prayer makes a slight shift. In it, we are taught that prayer is an opportunity for us to express our total dependence on God. I know that it’s common to think that the second half of the Lord’s Prayer is about me; that’s not really accurate. In the first part, we pray for God’s glory; in the second part we express our complete and total dependence upon him. So the prayer is still focused on God, even though we’re part of the picture.
Self-reliance is not a Christian virtue; self-reliance is a sin. God does not help those who help themselves; that sentence is not in the Bible. God helps those who, in the words of the psalmist, cry out, “You are my Rock. You are my Salvation. When I am attacked and when times are tough, it is to you that I run and it is under your wings that I hide.” Self-reliance is stoicism, a worldly and sinful attitude. Christ-reliance, complete dependence upon God for all things, is what we pray for.
The second half of the Lord’s Prayer is about expressing our total dependence upon God.
“Give us this day our daily bread”
In the fourth imperative, we admit our total dependence on God for our physical needs. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” God is concerned with the details of your life. He is concerned with the mundane, the boring, and the normal. He is concerned about your daily bread. After all, what kind of friend would he be if he weren’t interested in the details of your life?
But the point of this fourth imperative is not so much that we pray for food and nothing else. The point is that we have the opportunity to admit our dependence upon him for all of our physical needs, which includes things like food and clothing and shelter. This is the point that Jesus discusses later in Matthew 6. In verse 25 he says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” He then goes on in verse 31 and says, “Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles” — which in our culture means the non-Christian — “the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added” — will be simply given — “to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Security is an illusion. It is always God upon whom we base our trust for even the most basic things of life.
Notice, though, that the promise of Scripture is that God wants to give us our needs, not our “greeds” (as one modern writer says). We are called to pray for daily bread, not yearly bread. At times I find myself praying for yearly bread. “Oh God, do this or that so I won’t have to worry.” What I’m really praying is, “God, I don’t want to trust you right now, so I’d rather have enough money into the bank so I don’t have to worry about the rest of the year”; those are our “greeds.” But our commitment is to trust him. We get the joy of trusting him; and in that trust, he provides all that we need day in and day out. “Give us this day our daily bread.”
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”
The fifth imperative is that we are able to express our dependence upon him, not just for our physical needs, but also for our spiritual needs. So we pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” “God, forgive me what we owe I, just as I have forgiven what other people owe me.” Jesus is not talking about money, or favors. Jesus is picturing our sin as a debt — a debt that we owe to God. The payment for that debt, which is forgiveness, comes only from God.
You may be familiar with another Bible translation that uses the word “trespasses” instead of “debts.” “Forgive us our trespasses” — which means, forgive us our sins — “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Both translations make the same point that we are to come before God’s throne of grace and ask him to forgive us, just as we have forgiven people who have sinned against us.
Please note the relationship between God’s forgiving us and our forgiving others. If we want to be forgiven, we must forgive others. This point is so important, and perhaps so difficult to understand and certainly difficult put into practice, that Jesus repeats himself after the prayer. Verses 14 and 15 say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
By the way, Jesus is not talking about the forgiveness that paid the penalty for your sins and allowed you to become a friend of God. Those trespasses have been eternally forgiven. Jesus is talking about ongoing sin in the believer’s life and the quality of our relationship with him. If we don’t forgive, then he will not forgive our ongoing sins, and as a result a wall is erected between us and God, a relational barrier that damages our friendship with him.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you are going to be sinned against. You are going to be sinned against perhaps by a friend, perhaps by a co-worker, perhaps by a pastor, or perhaps by an elder or someone in the church. The temptation will be to cross your arms and, in sinful arrogance and pride say, “I’m right; they’re wrong.” (And by the way, you could be right.) “They hurt me, and I’m not going to forgive them until they come crawling to me.” “I’m not going to forgive them until they repent.” “I’m not going to forgive them until they at least admit that what they did was wrong.”
The only person that we really hurt when we do this is ourselves. If we do not forgive the other person, God will not forgive our ongoing sins. There is no qualification here that if they repent, if they admit that they were wrong, if they come crawling to you, then you forgive. That’s not what Jesus says. He simply says, “Forgive, or God will not forgive you.” If you do not forgive, then your relationship with God will be damaged as you erect walls of unforgiveness between yourself and God and damage that relationship.
There are two other passages that are very strong on forgiveness that I want to mention. Ephesians 4, verse 32 says, “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another ...” when they have come crawling to you in repentance and sorrow? No! “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” I have been sinned against, just like you, but no one has ever nailed me to the cross, but I nailed Jesus to the cross. On the cross, it is as if Jesus said, “Father, forgive Bill Mounce; he doesn’t have any idea what he’s doing.” Certainly, if God has forgiven me in Christ, then I can be obedient to him and forgive anyone who has sinned against me. When I forgive others, it is a sign that I have been truly forgiven by God. “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Just to mention something in passing. I like to think of forgiveness as the “selfish” practice. It’s what I do for myself. If I don’t forgive, it hurts me. So I try to forgive. It doesn’t mean that a relationship of trust has been rebuilt with the person who sinned against me. It doesn’t mean that there will even be a relationship. But that is another issue. For now, do what Jesus has asked you to do, forgive, and stay in a close relationship with Jesus.
The other passage that is actually stronger is in Matthew, chapter 18. It is the parable of the unforgiving, unmerciful servant who owed a large sum of money to his master — millions and perhaps billions of dollars. He plead with his master to forgive the debt because he couldn’t pay it, and the master was a gracious person. He said, “Okay, I forgive your debt.” But then this unmerciful servant went home and found someone who owed him a couple hundred dollars and was unable to pay the debt, the unmerciful servant refused to forgive him and had him thrown in jail. The friends of the man now in jail didn’t like what the unmerciful servant had done, so they went to that servant’s master and told him what happened.
The master called in the unmerciful servant, the one who had been forgiven a large sum of money, and he said to the servant in Matthew 18, verse 32, “‘You wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?’ So in anger,” the Bible says, “the master threw the unmerciful servant in jail.” In verse 35, Jesus concludes, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who sin against us.” It is not an easy thing, but it is a necessary thing.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The sixth and final imperative in the Lord’s Prayer is, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We know from James, chapter 1, verse 13, that God doesn’t tempt anyone with sin. What Jesus is calling on us to do is to express our dependence upon God so that we can resist the power of temptation, to resist the power of sin, to resist the power of evil, especially the power of the evil one, meaning Satan. You and I do not have the ability in and of ourselves to resist evil, especially Satan, so we express our dependence on God to deliver us.
Elsewhere Paul says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood?” When I read that, I want to say, “I don’t know about you, Paul, but I wrestle against flesh and blood. I wrestle against my own flesh and blood, and sometimes I wrestle with other flesh and blood, other people.” But Paul says, “No. If you really knew what’s going on, Bill, you would see that your primary fight is not against human beings — flesh and blood — but, as Paul continues in the verse, against the evil spiritual forces of this world — the principalities and the rulers — and you cannot win that battle alone.” So we cry out to God in dependence upon him to not allow us into temptation that we cannot resist, but rather to deliver us from Satan and his evil.
Two Practical Suggestions
That’s the Lord’s Prayer; that’s how he taught his disciples to pray. The Lord’s Prayer provides the general structure and the general content of how you and I are to pray.
I want to leave you with two practical suggestions on prayer.
1. Speaking with God is a dialogue
The first is about speaking with God; notice the title of this lesson. We are not speaking to or at God; we’re speaking with God. Healthy communication is always a dialogue. There’s always give and take. When Robin and I sit down in the morning, we don’t talk at each other; we share, we go back and forth; we interact; we mull over things — we speak with each other. It’s a dialogue.
One of the things that I struggle with in prayer is that my mind wanders, which means I am not dialoging with God. Am I the only one? We have come into the presence of the God who spoke galaxies into existence — standing, sitting or kneeling before the God of the universe. Then a minute later, I am wondering if I have to mow the lawn today. I just hate that!
About three or four months ago, I was reading a book by A. W. Tozer and he talked about the same thing. He gave a suggestion that I have put into practice the last several months and it has been helpful. Tozer says, “Don’t just start in the morning and pray; it’s too hard to stay focused.” What he does is start by reading the Bible. As he’s reading, he is also listening for the Spirit’s promptings. What will happen is that you’ll read a verse and the Holy Spirit will say, “Do you understand that?” Or the Spirit will say, “You need to be encouraged today; I know what is going to happen! Listen to this verse.” Or, perhaps the Spirit will say, “You know, that is something you need to work on.” So Tozer encourages us to start by reading the Bible and listening. As soon as you hear that prompting in your heart, stop, reread the verse, and then move into prayer saying, “Okay, Lord, what is it that you want me to see? How do I need to be encouraged or convicted? How should I understand the passage? How can I apply its truth in my life?”
After you have asked these questions, read the passage, and if necessary read it again and again. And then be quiet. Listen for the promptings of the Spirit. You probably wouldn’t hear a voice, but you will feel the Spirit moving in your heart. What is happening is that you are entering into a dialogue with God, and it is out of the dialogue that you’re able to move into an extended time of prayer, and you wouldn’t be thinking of mowing the backyard.
2. Memorize the Lord’s Prayer
The second practical suggestion is to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. Don’t memorize it so you can repeat it mindlessly; it’s not some magical incantation; it’s not going to get you out of trouble simply because you repeat the words. Memorize it so you can repeat it, understanding and meaning every word.
There will be times in your life where you just can’t find the right words. Something is going on, and you’re in distress or you’re hurt or you realize that you’ve been caught in sin, or something like that, and the words just aren’t there. When you find yourself in that situation, repeat the prayer, reflecting on each phrase and how it affects your life at that moment.
The other thing I encourage each of you to do is to memorize the prayer so you can pray it’s structure. Once you are aware of the basic structure of the Lord’s Prayer and understand what those six imperatives mean, it is possible to go through and start paraphrasing the Lord’s Prayer and to start inserting in the specifics of your life.
“Our Father in heaven” — tell him that you love him as a perfect father, remembering you are in his throne room.
“Hallowed be your name” — tell God that you want your actions and words today to reflect his perfection.
“May your kingdom come” — ask God to show you ways in which his perfect will can permeate your life and those around you.
“May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” — perhaps you can ask him what area in your life is not following his will but rather your own.
“Give us today our daily bread” — tell him all your earthly needs — food, clothing, shelter — thanking him in faith that he will supply.
“Forgive us our debts, and we have forgiven those who have sinned against us” — tell him this is hard, and perhaps you don’t even know who you haven’t forgiven. Ask him for clarity and then the strength to forgive, just as you yourself have been forgiven.
“Do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil” — thank God that he is a good God who doesn’t tempt, but that he does provide protection from an enemy we are unable to defeat on our own.
“Our Father in heaven. May your name be hallowed. May your kingdom come. May 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. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Amen.