Prayer and Surrender

Think about surrender.

Defined, surrender means a yielding to, a giving up in favor of another, or giving yourself over to some kind of desire. This is why the synonyms for the word surrender are submission, renunciation, and relinquish. When surrender is thought of in relation to prayer, we can say that prayer takes us to a deeper level of surrender. Meaning that, when we know how great the love of God is toward us in Christ, we will not only trust Him, we’ll surrender our lives entirely to Him.

Tim Keller similarly says, “Meditation is thinking a truth out and then thinking a truth in until its ideas become big and sweet, moving and affecting, and until the reality of God is sensed upon the heart.” In other words, what happens in the believer when God is sensed upon the heart? The heart surrenders to God, yields to Him, and gives up rebelling against Him.

There’s something about this that is very gospel centered.

And that is fitting to point out because Christians are a gospel people and everything in our lives should ultimately come back to, revolve around, and inflame our devotion to the gospel. How does prayer work like this in relation to what we’ve been talking about tonight? It has everything to do with surrender. In Luke 11 we read, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Keller continues on at this point saying, “…there’s never been a parent who desires joy and pleasure and good for their children as much as God. There has never been a parent who desires to hear and answer their children’s heart and requests as much as God. And there has never a parent who desires to shower blessings on their children as much as God.”

This passage not only means these things. It also poses a question: how does God give us joy, how does God hear and answer our heart and requests, how does God shower blessings on us when we deserve the opposite? The answer is the gospel. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, made a request of His Father in Gethsemane and received the serpent and scorpion in return so that all those who believe in Him would never receive the serpent or scorpion. Jesus’ prayers were rejected so that our prayers would be received.

This gospel love, once seen and tasted as sweet and beautiful changes the heart and redirects our prayer away from trying to get God to submit to our requests toward our surrendering to His gracious and wise sovereign plan.

Prayer and Trust

Prayer not only requires trust but takes us to a deeper trust in God.

To illustrate this I want you to think of a young boy walking along the street with his father. The two are having a wonderful time together and suddenly the father stoops down and swings his boy into his arms holding him high in the air. He then kisses him and tells him that he loves him, and puts him back down on the ground. Puritan pastor Thomas Goodwin once spoke of this and then asked the following question. “Tell me this, was the young boy more a son in the father’s arms than he was down on the street?” Do you see why he spoke of this and then asked that question? His answer was that objectively there is no difference, the boy is always his much beloved son. But subjectively there is all the difference in the world, for when the boy was in the arms of his father he was experiencing his father’s love.

Prayer is like this.

Objectively all believers are owned and adopted sons and daughters of God, this is true, beautiful and praiseworthy. But subjectively we can feel the warm embrace of our heavenly Father’s arms. How? Certainly through reading and meditating on His Word, sure. But when the reading and meditating over the Word is coupled with prayer the heart is drawn heavenward to God and we experience subjectively what is already objectively true of us. We experience being lifted off the ground by our Father’s arms. Didn’t Jesus say in Luke 11:11 and following, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Because our heavenly Father loves us so, we can come to Him with anything on our hearts just as a child can come to their father. Think of some of the examples in Scripture we see of the gutsiness people had with God in prayer.

-Abraham asking God to save Sodom and Gommorah (Gen. 18:16-33)

-Moses pleading with God to have mercy on stubborn Israel (Ex. 33:12-22)

-Habakkuk and Job boldly questioning God’s purposes.

There are many others. In all of these moments God not only heard the prayers of His people, He answered. Lesson? God responds when His own adopted children cry out to Him. Yet, if this gutsiness in prayer isn’t coupled with a deep trust in God we could go very wrong in prayer thinking that we can muscle down God’s arm in prayer. This is why the image of the child with his father is so helpful for prayer. That young boy knows his father loves him. Therefore he trusts and knows can ask his father for anything, but that’s not all he knows. He also knows he can trust his father in however he answers that request.

Do you know these things? In prayer you’ll be reminded of these things, and through prayer these things will increase in you.

Prayer and Self Knowledge

Self knowledge is a curious thing.

It once was a fixed truth. You are who you are and there’s no changing it. But in our day and age who you are has become a thing of choice. We can choose who we want to be, what we want to be, even if that goes directly against who God has genetically and physiologically made us to be. One current example is that when one signs up for a Facebook account there are now 71 gender options to choose from. I don’t think we need to linger long on this to see that we are a confused people, laden with incorrect and often exaggerated views of ourselves.

John Calvin begins his Institutes by saying “The whole sum of our wisdom – wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured – broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” The way we get a true knowledge of God is from His holy and inspired Word. But an often overlooked implication of this is that when we gain a true knowledge of God we also get along with it a true knowledge of ourselves.

This true self knowledge comes to us in the Word also, but we experience our true selves in prayer. Why does this come to us in prayer? Because when prayer is done truthfully, reverently, and humbly it is near impossible to have an over exaggerated view of oneself. Rather, we gain an honest sense about who we truly are and who we’re truly speaking to.

Seen in this light prayer and our relationship with God is dramatically different than any other relationship we have in this life. Whether the relationship be with a friend, co-worker, stranger on the street, our children, or even our spouse you and I can be very good (and perhaps more sneaky than we’d like to admit) at presenting ourselves in a certain manner that doesn’t honestly reflect who we really are. You can put on a face before friends without much effort, even more so with co-workers who really only sees you during work, even more with strangers on the street who’ll only see you once, and though I think it’s very difficult to do with your own children and husband or wife it is sadly possible, though no one has a closer relationship with you, to deceive even them. People can function like this for years without truthfully allowing anyone to know them for who they really are. It’s a sad and lonely story but a true story nonetheless.

In contrast to all these relationships think about our relationship to God. When our relationship with God is in view, the deception does not easily continue. For God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He knows everything about you, and therefore with Him and in relating to Him it is impossible to present yourself as someone you’re not. Hebrews 4:13 reminds us, “No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Or as many have said, “The scrutinizing gaze of the omniscient God completely exposes us.”

All this to say, prayer does not allow us to deceive ourselves, and so in it we learn and in a real sense acquire our true selves. Where is the first place prayer takes us? To a true self knowledge.

Pray for Your Church! (8 Biblical Prayers)

Do you pray for your church? We all would love to see our churches grow in number and spiritual fruitfulness, but do we actually pray for this? As the Apostle James put it so clearly, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2b). The next question is, how should we pray for our church? For what should we pray? Surely it is not enough to merely pray for one another’s physical needs or the constantly changing conditions they encounter. If we have taken the time to get to know one another’s struggles and discouragements, we can have much more informed prayers for each family in the body. At the same time, we can never improve on biblical prayers. Thankfully, the Bible is full of rich prayers. We’ve probably all found deep, personal comfort praying with David in the Psalms, but where can we go for prayers of intercession? We have a treasure trove of models for intercessory prayer in the New Testament. In his book Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Don Carson helpfully provides a number of biblical prayers we can use when praying for our church. Inspired by Carson’s book, here are some biblical prayers to use when interceding for your church family. So go grab your church directory and join with me in praying these over the families of your local congregation.

  1. Pray God shows them the hope to which He has called them

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” -Ephesians 1:15-21

  1. Pray God empowers them to grasp the depths of Christ’s love for them

Ephesians 3:14-21 states, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

  1. Pray their love abounds and they bear the fruit of righteousness to the end

Philippians 1:9-11 states, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

  1. Pray they have power to know and do God’s will for the long haul

Colossians 1:9-12 states, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

  1. Pray they increase in love for the church and the world

1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 states, “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

  1. Pray God makes them worthy of His calling

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 states, “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

  1. Pray their fellowship in the body is effective

Philemon 1:4-6 states, “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

  1. Pray God equips them to do His will

Hebrews 13:20-21 states, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

May we regularly cycle through these and many other biblical prayers as we intercede for one another on the way to glory.

*Another helpful resource in this regard is Donald Whitney’s Praying the Bible.

18 Prayers to Pray for Unbelievers

From Tim Challies:

A friend asked the question: How do I pray for unbelievers? How do I pray effectively? I trust that every Christian regularly prays for family or friends or colleagues or neighbors who do not yet know the Lord. And while we can and must pray for matters related to their lives and circumstances, the emphasis of our prayers must always be for their salvation. Here are some ways the Bible can guide our prayers.

Prayers for Salvation

We begin with prayers for salvation. Each of these prayers seeks the same thing, but in a different way or from a different angle or using different language. Each of them is grounded in a specific text of Scripture.

Pray that God would circumcise their hearts. Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of entering into God’s covenant, of being God’s people. To have a circumcised heart symbolizes having a heart that is fully joined to God, fully submissive to him. “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Pray that God would give them a heart of flesh. The Bible contrasts a heart of flesh, a heart that is alive and responsive to God, to a heart of stone, a heart that is cold and unyielding. Pray that God would work within these unbelievers to change their hearts. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:19).

Pray that God would put his Spirit within them. The great joy of salvation is being indwelled by God himself. Pray that God would grant this honor to those unbelievers, that he would choose to take up residence within them. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).

Pray that they would come to Christ. If unbelievers are to come to salvation, there is just one way. They must come through Christ and Christ alone. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Remember, too, that he is the one who calls them to come and to be relieved of the burden of their sin (see Matthew 11:28-30).

Pray that God would open their hearts to believe the gospel. Once more, God must initiate and people must respond. So pray that God would open the hearts of these unbelievers so they can in turn believe, just as Lydia did. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).

Pray that God would free them from the slavery of sin. Unbelievers may believe they are free, but they are in fact enslaved. They are slaves of sin, bound by their sin and sinfulness. Pray that God would liberate them by his gospel. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17).

Pray that God would remove Satan’s blinding influence . Unbelievers have been blinded by Satan and will only ever be able to see and appreciate the gospel if God works within them. So pray that God would give them sight—spiritual sight. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Pray that God would grant them repentance. Unbelievers cannot repent without the enabling grace of God. So pray that God would grant them repentance, that this repentance would lead them to a knowledge of the truth. Pray as well that they would come to their senses and that they would escape from the devil’s snare. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

Prayers For You

You have prayed for unbelievers using different words and approaching from different angles. But you should also pray for yourself.

Pray that you will develop relationship with them. For people to be saved they must first hear the good news of the gospel. For them to hear the good news of the gospel, they must first encounter Christians—Christians like you. Pray that you would develop deeper, more significant relationship with them so you can, in turn, speak truth. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).

Pray for opportunities to minister to them. Many people come to faith after seeing Christ’s loved displayed through the ministry of Christians. Pray for opportunities to minister to unbelievers so that your ministry can have an evangelistic effect. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Pray for them faithfully and persistently. Our temptation is to grow discouraged in prayer, to pray for a while and, when we see no visible results, to give up. But God calls us to persevere in prayer. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). (See also the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8.)

Pray for a burden to plead for their souls. Paul was willing to tell the church at Rome of his great longing to see the salvation of the lost. Do you share this deep longing? Pray that God would give you a great burden for souls. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).

Pray for boldness in generating and taking opportunities to speak the gospel. Even Paul longed for this boldness and for the confidence that he was speaking the right and best words. Pray that God would give you the boldness and, that when you take the opportunities, that he would then guide your words. “[Pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…” (Ephesians 6:19).

Pray for other believers to encounter them. God almost always uses a succession of people to share the gospel with people before they are saved. Pray, then, that God would lead other Christians into the lives of the unbelievers you love, that they too would provide an example of Christian living and that they too would speak the gospel. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Other Prayers

Here are a few more biblical emphases to guide your prayers.

Pray that God would use any circumstance to do his work in them. We pray to a God who is sovereign and who sovereignly works his good will. Often he saves people through difficult circumstances, through bringing them to the very end of themselves. Pray, then, that God would arrange circumstances, whether easy or difficult, to lead them to salvation. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67). As you pray for the unbelievers you love, always pray to God: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Pray that God would extend his mercy to them. God assures us that he wishes for all people to turn to him in repentance and faith. He receives no joy from seeing people perish. Pray, then, that God would be glorified in the salvation of these people. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Pray with confidence. Finally, pray with confidence. God expects we will pray, God invites us to pray, God commands us to pray. Why? Because God loves to hear us pray and God loves to respond to our prayers. So as you pray for unbelievers, pray with confidence that God hears your prayers. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

Pray For Your Pastors/Elders

In Hebrews 13 we are told that pastors must give an account for those they watch over (Hebrew 13:7). We see this again in the epistle of James where we are told that pastors/elders will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1) as they have tremendous influence over the church. Pastors/elders have been given a very weighty task – to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28). This is an enormous responsibility that at times can be daunting. Certainly there is great joy in pastoral ministry. It is a tremendous privilege and blessing to shepherd God’s people. However, at the same time, the toll of ministry can truly cause pastors/elders to become overwhelmed, discouraged, and even burnt out. It is so important that we lift our pastors/elders up in prayer regularly, asking God to guide their every step.

Here are a few ways we can do this:

Pray For Their Walk with Jesus

It is important that we pray for our pastor’s spiritual growth. We want them to be the men are walking closely with Jesus and who are striving to be more and more like Him everyday. Over the years the church has had it’s fair share of pastors who have fallen in moral failure. Certainly we do not want this to be true of our pastors. However, sin and temptation are never far away (Genesis 4:7). Therefore, it ought to be our prayer that God would guard our pastor’s hearts from sin. The Bible calls for our pastors to be men who are above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6 ) and that needs to be our regular prayer for them. This includes all areas of their lives – family relationships, work relationship, personal friendships, and ultimately their walk with Jesus.

Pray For Their Preaching

Every week our pastors stand before their congregations and preach God’s Word (hopefully). This is one of the most important, if not the most important, things they do. God’s Word is spiritual nourishment to God’s people. It helps them to grow into mature, healthy believers. Therefore, it is important that the church is served a hearty portion of God’s Word each week. Pray then, that God would guide our pastors each week in their sermon preparation and study. Pray that they would rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) each time they step into the pulpit. And most importantly, pray that God would be magnified and that we would grow through the preaching of God’s Word.

Pray For Their Leadership

There are many decisions to be made, people to counsel, and problems to solve as elders in pastoral leadership. In each instance we want our pastors to lead wisely and in a way that honors God. We want them to be moving in the direction that God would have them go. This requires prayer. We need to pray that God would grant great wisdom to our pastors as they lead the church (James 1:5), meet with individuals, and plans for the future. We want each step our pastors make to be guided by God.

Prayer is a crucial component to the Christian life and your pastors/elders need to be included in your regular prayers. Don’t just think of your pastors/elders as the ones who should be praying for and helping you – they are just as much in need of prayer as any person. Never stop praying for your pastors/elders. they covet your prayers, needs your prayers, and your prayers will have an impact.

Pray the Bible

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther

“Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life”. – Jonathan Edwards

“Prayer can never be in excess.” – C. H. Spurgeon

Certainly, prayer is a critical part of the Christian life. However, if you’re like me, you tend to struggle in couple areas of prayer:

First, we often pray only for temporal things rather than eternal ones. We pray for safe travel, food to nourish our bodies, exams to be passed, and for illness to go away. There is nothing wrong with praying for these things. But in addition to these, we should also pray for spiritual matters. We should pray for unbelievers to come to faith, discipleship opportunities, spiritual growth in our lives and in the lives of those around us, These things, and more, should be our primary focus in prayer, but so often we spend more time on temporal prayer requests then we do eternal ones. This should not be.

Second, we get distracted in prayer. We start to pray, we don’t necessarily have a direction that we’re headed, then we lose concentration and begin to think about other things derailing us from quality time with God.

How do we combat these two areas of struggle regarding prayer? One great way to combat these things is to pray the Bible. The Bible is filled with wonderful prayers. We have the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6, we have numerous prayers from the apostle Paul in his epistles, we have Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9, we have Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, the Psalms are filled with prayers. All throughout the Bible we find prayer. We would do well to use these prayers as a guide for our own prayers.

Praying the Bible is critical. In fact, John Piper put this way. He says:

“Praying the Scriptures is so important in the Christian life. If we don’t form the habit of praying the Scriptures, our prayers will almost certainly degenerate into vain repetitions that eventually revolve entirely around our immediate private concerns, rather than God’s larger purposes.” – John Piper

It is important that we make a regular habit of praying the Bible. It will help us both with the content of our prayers and our focus while praying.

New Year’s Day Prayer

I have been praying that God would grow our local church; not so much numerically but spiritually as I believe that lasting numerical growth flows from authentic Spirit-led growth. I did not, however, see coming what the Lord was doing while I was away.

Our Advent season typically reaches its climax at our Christmas Eve service (when Christmas doesn’t fall on a Sunday) after which I retreat into a week of reflection, rest, and preparation as the current year comes to a close and the new year approaches.

This year I received a phone call from the Chairman of Elders informing me that at our monthly prayer meeting he and our newly hired Asst. Pastor formulated a plan for 24 hours of prayer on New Year’s Day. A sign-up sheet would be created with forty-eight, thirty-minute increments and made available to the congregation at December 30’s worship service.

Excitement, doubt, concern, thankfulness, and anticipation filled my heart.

I’d like to be super-spiritual and tell you I knew that our members would jump at the opportunity to pray for hours at a time for 24 hours on a day that is typically filled with sleeping in because of the late-night festivities that preceded it, but I’m not and I was concerned and doubtful.

However, God in His faithfulness saw fit to fill forty five of forty eight slots and my first day in the office of 2019 was filled with joy, hope, encouragement and excitement as I saw the revolving door of person after person and family after family fill our sanctuary on their knees, with the Word open in front of them, praying through our teachers, leadership, programs, missionaries, and a church plant in South America.

I learned three important lessons on the first day of 2019:

First, God is faithful. He answered my prayers to mature us in Christ and I don’t believe He’s done yet either. I’ve been praying earnestly that spiritual fruit of maturity would adorn the branches of this local tree, Christ’s Church in Eldred, Illinois. A devotion & dependence upon the Lord manifested in prayer is a hallmark of the local Church (Acts 2:42). I couldn’t be more grateful to the Lord!

Second, the Lord confirmed that the work being done here belongs to Him and not me. The Lord placed this on the hearts of our leadership in my absence. In the secular world that would be scary as it could be perceived that I am no longer needed. But for a Sr. pastor to see his church seeking Christ apart from his presence is overwhelmingly encouraging. Eldred Baptist needs more Christ and less Pastor Don (John 3:30). I am thankful for that reminder!

Lastly, I learned that I expect too little from the Lord. I am humbled and convicted by my skepticism as well as encouraged to call Christ’s Church to greater things in 2019. I am firmly convinced that pastors lower the bar too often to make Christianity more palatable for the culture; clearly that pastor is me, too. I have also been praying that God would reveal sin in me of which I was not aware. Again, He is good and faithful!

The same God who created light before He created the sun is creating in us an unquenchable thirst to know Him more fully, love Him more deeply, and be near Him more frequently. Surely, 2019 will bring more growth, more goodness, and more of God.

In 2019, may we all respond as the boy Samuel did when the Lord spoke to him, “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9).

Stop Praying Safe Prayers

One thing that I’ve noticed about the Reformed crowd that I am a part of is that we often pray safe prayers. Sure, we pray. Sure, we implore God. Sure, we boldly approach the throne of grace in our time of need. But we often end (or begin) our prayers with phrases that let God “off the hook” or make His not answering easier for us to swallow. Phrases like, “If this is your will, please …” Or, “Please do so and so, but I recognize it may not be in your will to do so.” I don’t know if this is you or not, but I know it has been me in recent times. And the Lord has been using His Word to challenge me to stop praying safe prayers.

I was recently reading through the Gospels and came across statement after statement from Jesus that just didn’t quite square up with the safe prayers I was praying. 

  • Matthew 21:22 – “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” 
  • Mark 11:24 — “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” 
  • Luke 11:9 — “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
  • John 14:13 – “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” 

And it isn’t just Jesus in the Gospels saying things like this. Later in the New Testament Epistles we see things like:

  • James 1:5-6 — “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
  • 1 John 5:14 — “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”

Now to be fair, many of us have experienced the gross and outlandish misinterpretation and misapplication of these passages of Scripture, and so our default position is one of caution. We rightly caution that Jesus is not giving us a carte blanche to get whatever we want in life. We rightly caution that we are not to be presumptuous in our prayers, expecting that God is our magic genie in the bottle, there to fulfill our every wish. We rightly caution that it is not the measure of our faith that causes God to act, but His Sovereign will based on His eternal decree. All of these are good and healthy cautions, and ones that we must keep in the back of our minds and warn new believers of as they may be lured away by the false teachings of our day.

But brothers and sisters, even after all of these right cautions, let us not miss out on the incredible promise given to us by Jesus and the other writers of the New Testament, and the amazing privilege afforded to us to commune with and entreat the God of the universe in prayer. Let us not make the cautions our main focus. Those of us who rightly emphasize the meticulous sovereignty of God in all things must be careful not to downplay, or worse disregard, the words of Jesus concerning prayer. As one preacher put it, we are often guilty of putting the back-of-our-mind cautions (“God may not answer this prayer because it may not be His will”) at the forefront of our mind (“God I’m going to ask you to do this, but I know you probably won’t because it probably isn’t your will.”)

With the utmost focus on the sovereignty of God, and careful attention not to presume upon Him, let us be men and women who pray God-sized prayers. Let us implore Him to move and act in a way that only He can, in a way that is only explainable by the fact that the God of the universe has intervened and acted on our behalf. Let us model the bold prayer of John Knox: “Give me Scotland, or I die.” As Burk Parsons says of Knox’s prayer,

“Knox’s prayer was not an arrogant demand, but the passionate plea of a man willing to die for the sake of the pure preaching of the gospel and the salvation of his countrymen. Knox’s greatness lay in his humble dependence on our sovereign God to save His people, revive a nation, and reform His church. As is evident from his preaching and prayer, Knox believed neither in the power of his preaching nor in the power of his prayer, but in the power of the gospel and the power of God, who sovereignly ordains preaching and prayer as secondary means in the salvation of His people.”

As we prepare to enter into the New Year of 2019, what are the mountains in your life waiting to be moved, by God’s sovereign decree, through the means of your faith-filled prayer? What is your Scotland, for which you earnestly implore the Lord to the point that you would rather die than not see that prayer come to pass. 

We aren’t talking here about asking the Lord for health, wealth, and prosperity. We are talking about those things that we know, by virtue of His perfect, sufficient, and inerrant Word, are in accordance with His Will and bring Him honor and glory. We are talking about asking Him for wisdom in a decision that we need to make or in a situation we need to handle, wisdom that would result in our good and His glory. We are talking about asking Him to overcome the hardness of heart in the lives of your neighbors and to enable you to have an inroad to faithfully and boldly proclaim the Gospel in a winsome way. We are talking about imploring Him to work in your marriage to enable you to be a sacrificial husband or a loving, honoring wife, to the end that your marriage would be a beacon to the world of the beauty and truth of the Gospel.

As I ponder some things going on my own life, I am speaking to myself as much as, if not more, than anyone reading this. While this is by no means an exhaustive treatment on the topic of prayer, I want to challenge you, as I challenge myself, to enter into the New Year committed to praying God-sized, unsafe prayers — committed to stop saying safe prayers. May we be men and women who come before the throne of grace with bold faith and expectant hearts, asking God to do what only God can do, that He may receive all praise, honor, and glory.

Three Benedictions for Christmas

Hectic. Busy. Frantic. Rushed. These are just a few words that describe the Christmas season for most. What we could all use is a little endurance, encouragement, hope, and peace. The good news for us is that our God is all about giving us these very gifts, but not in a detached sort of way. God gives us something far better than hope or peace…He gives us Himself, the God of hope and peace.

The book of Romans is the Bible’s theological tour-de-force. Paul paints for us a picture of God’s impeccable holiness, our utter depravity, and the splendor of the Gospel to save such wretches. But there is a threefold benediction that is easy to miss in the last pages of this epistle. In Romans 15, Paul prays three benedictions over the church and each of these highlight a different aspect of God’s gift of Himself to His people.

Join me as we behold our great God…

The God of Endurance and Encouragement…

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Romans 15:5-6

Paul had just mentioned these two words in the previous verse. He told the church in Rome that the Old Testament was, “Written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Then Paul turns his focus from God’s revealed Word, to God the Revealer. He literally stops mid-sentence and prays this over them. But Paul doesn’t just pray for us to endure and have encouragement. His prayer hinges upon God, the source of endurance and encouragement for His people. Endurance and encouragement are two things God knows a little something about. Our God alone has endured from the beginning and has always been the source of encouragement to His people. But why does Paul pray this aspect of God’s nature over Christ’s church? It is not for their individual benefit, but their corporate unity and worship as a church. Endurance and encouragement are things that show up in relationships among fellow church members. Even as we celebrate the peace of Christmas together, we can be at odds with each other. We easily give up on one another and get discouraged by these relationships. Spouses in the church throw in the towel on their marriage too quickly. Once strong friendships in the church dissolve over harsh words said in a meeting or outside the worship gathering. This is why we need God’s endurance and encouragement. All that we need to relate well with one another in harmony and love is found in our God Himself. He will empower us to love as we have been loved. After all, God has shown much long-suffering in dealing with our sins, so we should in dealing with the sins of others. Along with endurance and encouragement, we need hope…

The God of Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

Paul had already said the Old Testament was written so that, “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Then Paul said of Christ that, “in Him will the Gentiles hope” (Rom. 15:12). Now he once again turns this into a benediction for the church. Our God is not only the enduring One and the source of all encouragement. He is also the source of hope for His people. Verse 13 is packed with significance for us as it mentions hope, joy, and peace; these are realities Christ came to give us. Paul prays for God to fill us with all joy and peace, which comes through believing the truth of God’s Word. He is praying that through faith in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might abound in joy, peace, and hope. There is no greater hope than that which was accomplished through Christ for the believer. We who once were in a hopeless predicament because of our sin have been given the greatest hope of all. I love how the author of Hebrews describes it: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Heb. 6:19). The hope of the Christian is not wishful thinking, but a fixed reality that awaits consummation. People say all the time they hope this or that will happen, but the believer’s hope is as secure as the ground under their feet and as certain as God’s faithfulness. God is the enduring source of encouragement for His people and gives them abounding hope, but these would not help us if there was no peace…

The God of Peace

“May the God of peace be with you all. Amen…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…” – Romans 15:33, 16:20

Octavius Caesar or Caesar Augustus was known for his “reign of peace”, but it was more fear than anything. In his commentary on Luke 2, R. Kent Hughes points out, “There was “peace,” but it was a dark peace—a Hitler’s peace—and no man or woman or boy or girl could say a word against it without fearfully looking over their shoulder.” The true reign of peace was announced by the angels at the birth of King Jesus. He was the Prince of Peace Isaiah had foretold who would also rule the nations. Our God is the God of peace because He has never known a rival. His reign is one of endless peace because there is nothing outside of His power and everything is dependent on Him for life. Another instance where Paul refers to “the God of peace” is found in Philippians 4. Paul says, “the peace of God…surpasses all understanding” and “will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Php. 4:7). He also says this peace is granted to us through prayer (Php. 4:6). But you can’t enjoy the peace of God until you are at peace with God. How? Jesus was God’s peace treaty to man. God in Christ was reconciling a world of enemies to Himself and doing so by means of Jesus. Christ endured the wrath of God so that the children of God might be at peace with God for all eternity. This is the peace that was foretold back in Genesis 3:15. God warned the snake that a son born of woman would crush his head even as the serpent bruised his heel. At the cross, God made peace with His people by taking their punishment on the cross and defeating Satan’s power of accusation. Now, we await the day when the enemy of our peace is decisively defeated. But we do so with the certain hope that this peace is ours by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and all to the glory of God alone.

May the God of endurance and encouragement, the God of hope, and the God of peace grant you to enjoy His gifts as you enjoy Him in the person of His Son Jesus.

When We Pray

Prayer. From the outside, it can look like little more than resting one’s eyes. And to the fast-paced, microwave culture in which we live, prayer to the God of the Bible seems like an extravagant waste of time. Yet we know as believers that there is more to prayer than what meets the eye. Prayer is warfare and prayer is worship. Prayer is confession and prayer is communion. Prayer is beholding and prayer is becoming. Prayer is one of the means by which God advances His kingdom in this world and a means by which He advances us spiritually.

We know prayer is more than what meets the eye and yet our behavior doesn’t always align with our belief here. We sleep in that extra 30 minutes we had planned to spend in prayer because, after all, we reassure ourselves, we don’t need to be so legalistic. We turn on Netflix when we had planned to pray with our spouse because, it’s been a long day and we need a break. We run around frantic all day from the house to work to school to our kid’s ball game and crash in bed at night without realizing what perpetual prayerlessness is doing to us and our family. What we need is a good, strong, biblical reminder about how and why to pray when we don’t always see prayer’s immediate fruitfulness for us.

In Colossians 4, the Apostle Paul gives us a small theology of prayer. He concludes his letter to the church at Colossae with commands that we pray and requests that we pray. He even gives us a glimpse of the warfare that is prayer when he highlights one of the first prayer warriors. In these verses, we’ll see six things to keep in mind when we pray…

 

  • Be steadfast in prayer

“Continue steadfastly in prayer…”

One of the hardest things about prayer is this reality that it requires persistence. Our God loves us too much to give us what we want right when we ask. We all know that a child whose every wish is granted the moment he requests it becomes spoiled. But in prayer, God is more concerned with a relationship than a simple request that will come and go. When we expect our prayers to be answered in the way we want every time, we are forgetting God’s sovereignty and treating Him as our servant. Great prayer warrior George Muller once said, “It is not enough to begin to pray…nor is it enough to continue for a time to pray…we must pray patiently, believing, continue in prayer until we attain an answer.” He lived this out himself. Mueller wrote in his diary, “In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land, on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day, I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. These two remained unconverted.” Thirty-six years later he wrote that the other two, sons of one of Mueller’s friends, were still not converted. He wrote, “But I hope in God, I pray on, and look for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.” Believe it or not, 52 years after he began praying for them, and even after his own death, the final two friends were converted.

 

  • Be watchful in prayer

“…being watchful in [prayer]…”

Spiritual alertness is vital to a faithful prayer life. We must pray with a certain expectation that God is going to answer, even though He may not answer as we would have it. Another side of this watchfulness is the realization that distractions come very easily in praying. We can be distracted from praying for something through a sudden trial or through a random thought in the midst of praying. To help with this, we can actually pray that God help us not get distracted from prayer.

 

  • Be thankful in prayer

“…[pray] with thanksgiving.”

In his book A Praying Life, Paul E. Miller writes, “Thankfulness isn’t a matter of forcing yourself to see the happy side of life. That would be like returning to naive optimism. Thanking God restores the natural order of our dependence on God. It enables us to see life as it really is.” Gratitude is at the heart of prayer itself. The mere fact we sinners can approach God, and at the price of Christ’s blood on the cross should make our every prayer one of gratitude. I’ve been to several countries and heard believers pray in their languages, but the one word I always can identify is their word for thanks. May we never “enter His courts” without thanksgiving in our hearts.

 

  • Be evangelistic in prayer

“…pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there is a scene where Luke Skywalker is able to teleport his body somewhere else and defeat the enemy while actually being somewhere else. Prayer is actually very similar to Skywalker’s teleportation in that when we pray for the Gospel to advance in another place, we are actually assisting it’s spread while not being there ourselves. We ought to pray for open doors, but also clear words so that the Word will spread effectively. One practice we’ve begun to do is to pray, along with about 1,000 others for an unreached people group of the day using the Joshua Project. We can also pray daily for sister churches in our area and for missionaries we know sharing Christ abroad. Our prayers are what early Baptist Andrew Fuller called “holding the rope” for these missionaries, as he held the rope for William Carey serving in India.  

 

  • Be serious in prayer

“Epaphras [is]…always struggling on your behalf in his prayers…”

This is what I meant by saying prayer is warfare. In prayer, we struggle. We wrestle with God as Jacob did. We must not view prayer as some casual thing and approach it very nonchalant and lackadaisical. We must pray with vigilance. Jesus spoke of those who would enter the kingdom as those who “force their way into it.” Without this element of striving and straining, prayer becomes just another lifeless ritual. We must learn to pray as those who are speaking to a sovereign who is all-powerful over the universe and who has promised to hear us when we pray.

 

  • Be intercessory in prayer

“…on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Epaphras’ prayer warfare had the purpose of seeing Christ’s church grow to maturity. So often church prayer meetings are nothing more than what one friend called “organ lists” where we ask God to heal this person and that person. But in his book entitled Prayer, Tim Keller points out something remarkable: “In all of his writings, Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances.” Paul and Epaphras give us a model here to pray for the spiritual growth and progress of our church and its members more than merely physical improvement.

These are just a few ways we can pray more effectively and I pray they prove helpful.

How Do You Pray?

Prayer is an important component of the Christians life. I recently read that Scripture records Jesus praying 25 times during His earthly ministry.  Paul discusses prayer 41 times in Scripture.  There are a total of 650 recorded prayers in the Bible. Clearly, God highly values prayer. It is regularly mentioned in the pages of Scripture and if God thinks that prayer is important, we should as well.
When you pray what do you typically pray for? If you are anything like me your prayer life can be heavily focused on the temporal and absent of the eternal. You pray for good health, financial stability, high scores on a test, and blessings for the food you are about to eat. These are our typically prayers. And certainly we should ask God for our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) and bring our many temporal requests before Him. We have needs and we are dependent on God.  Therefore, we go to Him for help.
However, temporal requests should not be the main purpose of our prayer life.  Even in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) our “daily bread” is sandwiched (no pun intended) between eternally significant matters.  Hallowing the name of God, asking for the kingdom of God to come, asking for forgiveness, and asking to be lead away from temptation come directly before and after the request for daily bread.  All throughout the Bible we see prayers that focus on eternal matters like glorifying Christ and seeking His kingdom.
Colossians 4:2-4 says:
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
 
Paul is in prison as he pens this letter and his request for prayer could have easily been, “Please pray that I get out of here as soon as possible” or “that my time here be very comfortable”, or even “that God would avenge me and destroy my captors.”  However, that was not Paul’s focus.  His request for prayer was not personal and temporal, but on the eternally significant request that there would be opportunity for declaring the mystery of Christ.  He was asking that the Colossian Christians would pray for gospel-sharing opportunities (4:3) and for clarity in the proclamation of it (4:4). 
 
How often do we pray like this? How often do we pray for gospel advancement in our lives and in the lives of other Christians? 
 
As we regularly go to God in prayer, let’s not forget to pray for the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, and the edification and growth of believers.  Don’t be afraid to pray bold prayers that can change the world for Christ.  We can have confidence that we have a God that hears our prayers and delights in answering them.
 
Pray prayers that have eternal significance.

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 2)

This past Monday I began thinking through the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer coming to the conclusion that, based on James 1:13-15, this cannot mean that God tempts us in any way. What then does this mean? To that we now turn…

The True Meaning

When we pray “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” we are first acknowledging that God rules over all things in His sovereign, wise, and good rule. That there are no “maverick molecules”[1] in the universe, but all things are governed according to His will. Secondly, we are asking that God, if it be in line with His sovereign will, would not lead us into positions where we can be easily tempted and likely to fall.[2] It means we ask Him to preserve us from these things, or if He sees fit to bring us into seasons of trial that He strengthens us to stand firm, lessen the attractiveness of sin, or expel the allure of sin with a superior affection for Himself…in order to remain faithful to Him.[3] Thirdly, we are submitting ourselves to God in such a request knowing that every trial He brings our way is to be accepted and “counted all joy” as God’s necessary means to conforming us into the image of Christ.

As one commentator put it, “…there can be no virtue without temptations to vice…In few things is God’s power of bringing good out of evil seen more clearly than when He turns what the devil intends as ‘occasions of falling’ into opportunities that may be ‘for our wealth’; for every temptation vanquished adds to the strength and richness of the soul.”[4] So in this request we’re not asking God to not tempt us, He doesn’t tempt us. We are not asking that God not allow us to be tempted but saying “Lord, don’t let us succumb to temptation” or “Don’t abandon us to temptation.”[5] We, sad as it is to admit, do find ourselves giving in to temptation but in those moments we do so by rejecting the way of escape God always provides as 1 Cor. 10:13 tells us. So when we give in we have only ourselves to blame.[6] This means, we do not fall into sin. No, we sin because we want to and don’t want God to help us.

In Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s there is a story told of the fate of two men under the reign of bloody Mary. Both of these men were condemned to burn at the stake for being and teaching Reformation principles. One of the men boasted loudly to the other prisoners that he would be a ‘man’ in the fire, that he was grounded in the gospel of Christ and would never imagine denying Christ given the chance. Even as the day dawned, he spoke of his imminent death in the most pious of terms, saying that he was like a bride made ready for the wedding day. Well, the other man could not have been more opposite. He too was eager to not deny Christ but admitted that he was terrified of burning at the stake and suffering so greatly. He was so scared he feared that he would recant when the first flame came near him. So he begged the other man to pray for him and wept over his weakness and fear. The other man responded to his pleas for help by rebuking him for acting like a coward. The day came, they were tied to the stake, and at the first sight of the fire the one who had been so bold recanted, was released, and people say he never returned to Christ. The other man, trembling, stood firm as a rock praying, “Father, lead me not into temptation” as he died a cruel but courageous death.[7]

We do not approach trials saying “Bring it on!” We don’t look for them to show how strong we are.[8] If we’re honest we’d all like to avoid them, and be more faithful in them. That’s what this request is getting at. Here’s the lesson for us. We all must undergo various trials and temptations to grow in Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this (this being the great salvation and living hope we now have) you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Well, as the first half of v13 is put negatively, the second half is put positively. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The second half of the verse supports all we’ve been discussing so far and connects the temptations we encounter in life and desires to be saved from to their evil consequences and true source. Temptations, when given into, bring about some nasty consequences, and temptations, truly do come from the tempter, from the devil. This is why some say it should say “evil one” there instead of “evil.” I disagree. It is not just the devil in view, but all the evil dwells within our hearts, all the evil that results from giving into temptations, as well as all the evil produced directly by Satan. From these things we want deliverance, and praise God, He often does just that!

The Real Ending

Now, as we come to the ending you should all look down to your Bibles and look at that little footnote that says, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” This is not included in the earliest of manuscripts we have of Matthew and because it is not there most translations do not include it within the text, but leave it to the footnotes.

Martin Lloyd-Jones says that it does not matter whether this doxology was there originally or not, and that these words are fitting to for any Christian to say! He also adds that ending prayer with praise is suitable after beginning a prayer with praise, because it forms a kind of bookends to healthy prayer. But, as much as I agree with everything Lloyd-Jones says in those statements I want to encourage to you to believe that the prayer actually does stop with the word “evil.” I say this because seeing the ending of the prayer at ‘evil’ forms a vivid contrast to how the prayer began. “Our Father in heaven…, deliver us from evil.” As the blood bought covenantal adopted children of God, we live in between the times. We live in the overlap of the ages. We have one foot remaining in this present evil age and one foot, by God’s grace, in the age to come. We see something of this eschatological reality even here, that all of our lives are lived between God and the devil. Thus, the natural reaction of the Christian to this could only be a cry for help.

And in v13, the whole of the Lord’s Prayer in general, God has given us such a cry.[9]

 

Citations:

[1] A fond saying of the late R.C. Sproul.

[2] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, Vol. 2, page 76.

[3] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, page 103.

[4] Plummer, page 102-103.

[5] O’Donnell, page 171.

[6] Craig Blomberg, Matthew – The New American Commentary, page 120.

[7] O’Donnell, page 171-172.

[8] O’Donnell, page 172.

[9] O’Donnell, page 173.

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 1)

Coming now to the sixth and final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, I have four thoughts to give you.

The Context

Thus far in our trek through the Lord’s Prayer we have gleaned much benefit for our soul’s good by paying close attention to the context of the prayer, especially noticing the ordering of Matthew 6 as a whole and the individual requests within the prayer as well. We’ve seen that we do not begin prayer with any kind of petition but an opening address that acknowledges the goodness (Our Father) and greatness of God (in heaven). By beginning like this we’re reminded of the privileges of our adoption by God through the redemptive work of Christ, that He is our Father who has made us His own children and given us access to Him in Christ anytime we so desire. Then after beginning in God with prayer the very first priority we’re to move towards is His glory, that His name, fame, and reputation would be hallowed, magnified, or made much of.

After this we ask that both His Kingdom and His Will would come into our earthly context, serving the purpose of His glory, as they already are in God’s context, heaven. Then we descend from the heights of glory into the mundane and common affairs of human existence when we see v11 and the request for our daily bread. This reminds us that God is cosmic in His majesty but that God also cares about our ordinary physical/spiritual needs in this life as well. Then we come to the two-sided coin of v12-13 about our own sin and struggles. In v12 we’re told to pray for forgiveness, that our past guilt from our previous sins may be forgiven and in v13 we’re told to pray that God would deliver us from incurring new guilt by committing new sin.[1] So right away in v13 we’re brought face to face with the reality we must acknowledge, just as we need God to help with our past sins, we need God’s assistance to face future struggles. v13 is the prayer of a weak person to a strong God.[2]

The Obvious Question/Answer

As with v12, here in v13, right on the surface of this text lies a question that seems hard to answer but isn’t hard at all upon further study. The question is this: does v13 teach that God is one who leads us or brings us to temptation? Recall just a few chapters earlier when Matthew 4:1 told us “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” So right away we know there’s more to this than meets the eye. To answer it definitively we must go to James 1:13, where we read “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one.”

In James 1:13 we find a blasphemous accusation. Some think this verse is out of place because who in their right mind would accuse God of tempting them with evil? Perhaps you’d say, “God is God, He is holy. He is light and in Him there is no darkness at all as 1 John says. This is elementary Christian doctrine. Certainly I would ever accuse God of such a thing.” Wrong, I think you would. I think we all would. I think this because when we’re in a trial (like the audience of James is) we’re not in our right mind, and when we’re not in our right mind all sorts of fantastically wicked/sinful things become possible. We blame God for His providence, for the times we live in, for the people around us, for our circumstances, for allowing tempting things to remain in our path, some of us even blame God for our own evil condition. Puritan Thomas Manton said the reason we say such things of God is because “there is in man a wicked folly which moves us to measure God by man’s standards, and because we can be tempted to sin we think God can be tempted also, and because we can tempt others we presume God does the same.”

Clearly some of the dispersed believers James is addressing are struggling with this, saying these things, and rather than seeing their trials as sent to them by God for their own growth in grace (thereby allowing them to “count it all joy”), they are blaming God for their trials, and even going so far as to accuse God of tempting them to sin in the midst of their trials. This should not be so, this cannot be so. God cannot do such a thing because that would be altogether inconsistent with His purity and the holiness of His nature. God Himself tempts no one, and it isn’t even possible for God to be tempted with evil. This leaves us with the question of the origin of temptation – where does temptation come from if it doesn’t come from God? James continues and answers our question by descending into our own depravity in v14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully-grown brings forth death.” This is ugly isn’t it? God tempts no one, and is not tempted with evil – yet we are lured away and enticed by what? Our own desires. And once desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin, and once sin is full grown it brings forth death. It really does come from within. The completion of this step-by-step progression into sin may take years to form in the heart, or it may take minutes. We allow sinful desires to grow in our hearts, we give it room to grow, sin then comes forth, and when it roars its ugly head literally all hell breaks lose, and if sin is not dealt with in a Biblically appropriate manner, it will be the end of us.

So we know this isn’t the meaning intended here in Matthew 6:13. But because this isn’t the meaning intended we’re left with a new question, what is the intended meaning?

That question I’ll turn to next week with the final two points…stay tuned.

 

Citations:

[1] A.W. Pink, An Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount, page 164.

[2] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 171.

He is Himself Our Daily Bread

I have four points to make today in regard to Matthew 6:11.

Transition Comments

Here in this first point let me set v11 into the context of the whole of the Lord’s Prayer.

When we come to Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day our daily bread” we reach a transition in the Lord’s Prayer similar to the transition we see in the Ten Commandments. In commandments 1-4 we find the first table of the Law, commandments that have to do with our relating to God directly. Then in commandments 5-10 we see the second table of the Law, commandments that have to do with our relating to one another directly. In these two tables of the Law God is first and man is second. Here in the Lord’s Prayer we see similar things. A Godward direction is present in the first three petitions. Hallow Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done are all direct requests for God to come and do something for His glory. After these initial three requests we see something different. Daily bread, forgiveness of sin, deliverance from temptation and evil are all direct requests for God to come and do something for our good.

See again the true pattern to prayer. We’ve seen this pattern time and time again throughout our study on prayer. Prayer doesn’t begin rapid fire of requests for God to come and make our lives better. It begins with God. It begins with praise, with adoration, with requests for His name to hallowed, and for His fame to be known and loved in all the world. It begins with a robust recognition of who we’re speaking to and an honest humility about who we are speaking to Him. The Lord’s Prayer shows us the reality of what tends to the glory of God and the good of man, and that the glory of God comes before the good of man.[1]

Realization of Utter Dependence

Here in this second point I want to make another introductory comment on v11. This request, “Give us this day our daily bread” should remind us of how utterly dependent we are on God for everything.[2] If God willed it He could withhold everything from us. He could stop the sun from shining and giving light and heat. He could stop the rain from watering the earth and making it bring forth plants and turn all of creation into a barren wasteland. He could take back up the breath in our lungs or forbid that our hearts take another beat if He desired to. In our arrogance we forget that God is at this very moment, and at all moments, upholding, preserving, and supporting all things. If He were to stop, we would not continue to exist for even a split second. We could not live a single moment without Him.

A.W. Pink goes further and comments here that not only can God do these things if He wanted to, but because of our sin God would be just to do those things. Pink says, “By asking for our ‘daily bread’ a tacit acknowledgement is made that ‘in Adam and by our own sins we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them.’”[3] I think here it would be appropriate to say, fighting for human rights and fighting against various kinds of injustices has its sure place in the life of man. But I think we too often forget that because of our sin, before God we have no rights. Or as the Westminster Larger Catechism questions 21-29 say, mankind did not continue in the estate wherein we were created. In Adam’s fall all man fell into a state of sin and misery. And now we who we created very good have become corrupted and wholly inclined to all evil continually, which causes us to commit actual sins. And because of this, we lost communion with God, gained His displeasure, and are in ourselves children of wrath, slaves to sin, justly deserving the wrath of God in this life and in the life to come.

Taking these things into account, this request “Give us this day our daily bread” is a good reminder for us of our dependence on God for everything…and that any provision that comes to us is of God’s sheer grace.

His Daily Provision

Here in this third point I want to unfold what the words “Give us this day our daily bread” mean. There is a difference of opinion as to what this phrase means and most of it centers around the word ‘daily.’ In the Greek epiousios is literally translated as ‘the next day.’ But as you can imagine, “Give us this day our bread for the next day” can be difficult to understand. Does it mean “Give us this day our…” bread for the current day, bread for future days, needful bread, or bread necessary for our existence?[4] While some do attempt at singling out one of these meanings as the optimal, most simply believe these varied meanings combine easily and prefer to use ‘daily’ as an all encompassing term. There is another debate as to what the bread actually refers to. Some believe it is describing the bread received in the Lord’s Supper, this is called the sacramental view. Others see the bread being a figurative term symbolizing life in Christ’s Kingdom and therefore see this fourth petition and the second petition “Your kingdom come” as asking the same things. These two views on the bread are minority views. Most believe this request for daily bread to be a request asking God to provide literal bread as well as all that is needed for our physical lives in this world. The reason most embrace this view is because the rest of Matthew 6 develops that very point.[5]

Therefore, many things are put forward here for us to embrace.[6] A great humility is put forward here as Jesus teaches us to ask God ‘to give’ us what we need to exist. In order to ask God for this we must put aside our pride thinking we can do this on our own. Moderation is put forward here as Jesus teaches us to ask God for daily bread, not luxury or superabundance, just what is needed. Trust in God is put forward here because after asking God to give us this sustenance we must trust Him to do so. But in trusting Him to do so, Jesus does not intend us to wait and be idle, anxiously awaiting God to answer this apart from our own work and toil. God intends us to work, to be able to earn money to purchase what we need to continue in our lives. And the idea of community is put forward to us here once again in that we pray not “Give me…” but “Give us…our daily bread.” So in praying for ourselves and our needs we must always have an eye on those in our community around us. If God gives you bread abundantly, it could very well be for more than just you. God may intend you to support and sustain another around you who isn’t in a similar state. “Give us…” demands we leave our normal independent mentality and think of our life in Christ as life together.

In Martin Lloyd-Jones commentary on the Sermon on the Mount he mentions an illustration he once heard from A.B. Simpson that helped him understand this a great deal.[7] He said Simpson asked him to think of God differently than most do. Most, he said, think of God as a Father that has given us a great of grace gift in one lump sum and we go on throughout life living on that gift. God does not work that way with us according to Simpson. In fact if God were like this Simpson mentions it wouldn’t be out of bounds to think we would enjoy the lavishness of the gift so much that we would forget the great Giver who gave to us. Rather, Simpson encouraged Lloyd-Jones to think of God like this. Think of God as our great Father, who has truly given us a great gift of grace in Christ, but being our Father He desires that we come to Him continuously and ask for this gift from Him. So in a sense God has put a great deposit for us in the bank, and while He will not allow us to take all of it out at once, He does allow and even want us to come and make daily withdrawals for what we need. Simpson said prayer was the way believers make withdraws for what we need from this great deposit of grace that is now ours in Christ.

Commenting on this Lloyd-Jones says, “This surely is the marvelous thing, that God likes us to come to Him. The God who is self-existent, the great Jehovah, the God who is not dependent on anybody, who is from eternity to eternity, who exists in Himself apart from all – this is the astounding thing, that because we are His children He likes us to come to Him, and likes to hear…our lisping praises and our petitions. That is because God is love; and that is why, though He knows all about our needs, it gives Him great pleasure…when He sees us coming to Him to ask for our daily bread.”[8]

So that God invites us to come to Him for this, awakes us to the realization that God is the giver of all good gifts. And from knowing that God is the source of all that sustains us in this life, our enjoyment of all that sustains us in this life is not diminished but increased. We often sing a hymn saying, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” This is true, God is God and God is greater and ever above all the gifts He gives to us. But, can I suggest that there is another way to see this? When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, when we look full in His wonderful face, when we see the reality of all that sustains us in this life comes from His hand, all that He has given us will not grow strangely dim but strangely bright, for in His gifts we see the glory of the Giver. Or as Jonathan Edwards says, “In His gifts we can trace the sunbeam back up to the sun.” 

A Thing of Wonder

Here in this last point I want to make a concluding statement, and try, by God’s grace to get you to see how wonderful this statement is. When we come to 6:11 we come down from the heights of glory to the depths of what is common. Jesus takes us from grand spiritual concerns (God’s glory, God’s Kingdom, God’s Will) to our everyday spiritual and physical concerns.[9] That the God of glory is concerned about our little needs is a thing of wonder. This shouldn’t surprise us, it is the teaching of Jesus everywhere. Even a sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground apart from God’s will, and after telling us that He says we are of much more value than sparrows. More so, all of the hairs of our head are numbered, such that, there is not a hair on our head that God is not concerned about. This means more than hair, it means that there is nothing about our life, even the smallest and most trivial details about us, that are not known to Him on His everlasting throne.

So rejoice, “…the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, dwells with he who has a humble and repentant spirit…in v11 Jesus Christ takes hold of us here on earth and links us with the Almighty God of glory.”[10]

 

 

Citations:

[1] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, page 95-96.

[2] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount – Vol. 2, page 72.

[3] A.W. Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, page 163.

[4] William Hendrikson, Baker New Testament Commentary – Matthew, page 332.

[5] Reformation Study Bible, study notes on Matthew 6:11.

[6] Hendrikson, page 333.

[7] Lloyd-Jones, page 71-72.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, page 72.

[9] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 169.

[10] Lloyd-Jones, page 70.