The Lord's Day Morning
May 16, 2010
“How to Pray (1): Holy Father”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker, for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care. Let us worship Him!
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 11 as we continue to make our way through Luke's gospel. We come today to the passage in which one of Jesus’ disciples asks Him to teach them to pray, not an uncommon thing amongst disciples. But the very question and the answer that Jesus gives prompts us to ask the Lord in prayer to help us to pray. So let's pray.
Heavenly Father this is Your Word. We ask that You would teach us to pray by Your Son Jesus according to His instruction through His shed blood with the help of Your Holy Spirit for our everlasting good and for Your eternal glory. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the Word of God:
“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ And He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed by Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
When I was a first year, first semester student in seminary I had a class on Biblical Theology with a very famous Old Testament scholar. And after the first three or four days one of the conversations that struck up amongst my classmates was not just a mutual appreciation for the content of his classes, content which was mind-blowing and heart-expanding and thrilling to hear and to learn, but our conversation centered about the extraordinary prayers that he prayed at the beginning and at the end of class. In fact, his prayers were so extraordinary there were a group of us that felt that we needed to pray before we went to his class to get ready to hear him pray. And after a couple of weeks we finally got the courage to approach him and to ask him how he had learned to pray. And his response to us was two-fold. He said, his answer was, “The Bible and Matthew Henry's, A Method for Prayer.” He said, “The Bible — you must learn to pray Scripture. Take Scripture and pray it back to God.” And we of course immediately as we heard him say that we could hear the sentences and phrases and words and verses that populated his prayers came right out of the Bible. His prayers were Bible-prayers. You pricked his prayers and they bled Bible. There was lots of Bible in his prayers and it made sense to us once he said it.
And then he said, “But Matthew Henry's, A Method for Prayer, is the book that helped me learn how to pray the Bible.” Well, I won the sprint to the library and when I got there, there was a photocopied manuscript. The library did not have a copy of that book but there was a photocopied manuscript. Now back in the dark ages of the mid-1980s, photocopies we rare and expensive things. In fact, I think there was only one photocopy machine on the campus of the seminary at that time and it was housed in the library and you had to pay an exorbitant fee of something like twenty-five cents a copy for each sheet that you copied on that copying machine, so I held that unbound photocopies manuscript like I had gold in my hands. Years later when I was at the University of Edinburgh, I was wandering around in the bowels of the New College Library looking for another book, and I came upon a leather-bound volume with the date stamped in gold on the bottom of the spine — 1817. And I pulled it out and I noticed on the upper part of the spine is said, “Matthew Henry's A Method for Prayer.” I pulled it out and you understand that's a later edition of the book. Matthew Henry lived in the late 1600s and the early 1700s and his book was published in the early 1700s so this copy is over a hundred years old but it's leather bound and it's very old and worn. And I'd never held a copy of the book in my hands before.
Now what I'm about to admit I'm admitting for the first time in public, so if the University of Edinburgh Library wants to get me here's your chance. I took that volume and I carefully wrapped it up and I mailed it to my father who was a printer and I said, “Dad, would you photocopy this book and retypeset it and put it back in print?” because the book had not been in print except in the collective writings of Matthew Henry for many, many decades. In other words, if you wanted a copy of the book you couldn't have gotten a copy of the book. Eventually we edited the book and now I'm going to tell you — if you are online, if you will go to www.MatthewHenry.org you can read the whole book online for free and you can push a button and you can have portions of his scriptural prayers emailed to you every day. That's actually going to be part of the application of the message today. But the point of the story is — and by the way, I later came to find out that that theologian whose prayers we so admired grew up in this church. His name was O. Palmer Robertson and he and I were just having a conversation about this book three days ago. He's in Uganda leading a Bible college in Kampala, Uganda, but he's still working. He has just produced a new re-worked version of Matthew Henry's, A Method for Prayer that Banner of Truth is going to publish sometime soon.
Now the reason I tell the story is, that still today, just like in Jesus’ time, disciples look to their mentor to help them to pray. Jesus’ disciples obviously had overheard John's disciples being taught by John how to pray. John obviously had some formula of prayer that he taught to his disciples and Jesus’ disciples themselves felt deficient in their practice of prayer and so they’re listening to Jesus pray and I suspect they’re having a similar kind of experience that my classmates were having when we were listening to Palmer Robertson just pray and there's all this Bible coming out and we're going, “Where does this come from?” And so they say to Jesus, “Jesus, we want You to teach us to pray,” and so Jesus teaches them this very simple, model prayer. For about nineteen hundred years we've called this The Lord's Prayer, because it's the prayer that the Lord, on two occasions, in Matthew chapter 6 and here in Luke 11, Jesus teaches His disciples an outline of prayer. And why do you think it is that the disciples always ask their mentors, their masters, to teach them to pray? Because prayer doesn't come naturally to us.
How often have you heard Derek Thomas remind us that if you want to humble somebody ask them how their prayer life is. I heard just this last week, maybe it was Josh Rieger that quoted this statistic, that the average evangelical churchgoer in America prays less than three minutes a day, and that really, outside of table blessings, we don't pray. There is a sheer prayerlessness in the English-speaking churches in the western world today like nothing we've ever seen before. And so what I want us to do is park on this passage for a few weeks together and we’ll work through each of the five petitions that Jesus gives here.
My goal will not be to stuff your heads full of more knowledge about prayer. We already know more than we do when it comes to prayer. But my goal will be just like the disciples asked — notice they didn't say, “Lord teach us about prayer.” They said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” My goal will be for us together to work on learning to pray; not learning more about prayer but learning to pray together. We need a revolution in prayer in our congregation. And already we have an opportunity to put the things that we learn on Sunday mornings to the test at our prayer meetings on Wednesday nights. We had a wonderful time of prayer last Wednesday evening. And so we have an opportunity to come together as a congregation to put these things to the test.
But there are three things that I want you to see in this passage today. Let me just tell you ahead of time. Point one, pray the Bible. It's very clear that Jesus wants His disciples to pray the Scriptures back to God. Two, pray to your Father in heaven. Jesus says in this prayer that His disciples are to address their God as “Father.” That's extremely important. It's not just a passing thing; it's not just an honorific title. It's really, really important for your practice of prayer. And third, pray that God’ name will be glorified. Pray the Bible, pray to your Father, pray that God's name will be glorified. Let's look at each of these things.
I. Pray the Bible.
The first thing that I want you to see from this passage is that we're to pray the Bible. The disciples say to Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” and then He begins to give them guidance in prayer. He says, “Pray, ‘Father.’” Where does that come? It comes right out of the Old Testament Scriptures. The Jewish person addressed God as “Father” because God had chosen the people of Israel to be His children, and so there's a unique relationship to God through His electing love. It comes right out of the pages of the Old Testament — the idea of God's electing love of His people — we're to pray to God as Father.
We’re to pray that His name would be “hallowed.” Where does that come from? Over and over in the Old Testament the name of God refers to the reputation of God and it means seeing God for who He is, accepting Him as glorious, acknowledging that He is great. It comes right out of the Old Testament.
“Your kingdom come” — read all of the later prophets, the great prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel and Jeremiah and they’re looking for a day when the reign of God will be established in the world. What's the language of the great prophet? That one day “the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” It's the reign of God spread from shore to shore to the ends of the earth.
“Give us each day our daily bread” — where does that come from? It comes right out of the manna in the wilderness which was given to the children of Israel on a daily basis.
“Forgive us our sins” — over and over the central thing which is recognized as a part of the blessings of God's covenant promises to Abraham is what? The forgiveness of sins. Why? Because we're sinners. We can't have fellowship with the living God. So all of these things that Jesus is teaching them are coming where? Right out of their Hebrew Bibles. He's teaching them about prayer from the Bible and He's saying, “Take these things back to God in prayer.” So that's my first thing to you. If you want to pray, if you want to pray like Jesus, pray the Bible.
Now what does it mean to pray?
At the simplest, it means to talk to God doesn't it? Nineteen centuries ago the great early church theologian, Clement of Alexandria said, “Prayer is conversation with God.” It's conversation with God. A little more elaborate definition of prayer is found in The Shorter Catechism. I'm going to give you the slightly more elaborate definition that's found in The Larger Catechism. The Larger Catechism says — it just adds one more phrase that's not in The Shorter Catechism answer. If you want to see The Shorter Catechism answer it's in the back of your hymnal. But The Larger Catechism says, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God in the name of Christ by the help of His Spirit with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies.”
Now, notice it says first of all that prayer is about your desires. Prayer expresses what are the deepest desires of your heart and every part of prayer expresses that. Think of it, when you adore God in prayer you’re saying, “God, You are more important than anything else in this world. I'm worshipping You, I'm acknowledging Your worth, I'm saying that You’re great.” When we confess our sins and seek forgiveness in prayers we're expressing our deepest desires because we know that we need the forgiveness of sins and so we're expressing the heart's desire for forgiveness of sins. When we intercede for one another and lift up requests on one another's behalf, we're expressing the deep desires of our hearts that certain things be done. “O Lord, let my child live. O Lord, let my child be saved. O Lord, let my husband live.” And on and on and on — the deep desires of our hearts. When we express thanksgiving we're thanking God for His answers to us in things that deeply matter to us, so prayer's about the desires. It's lifting up the desires unto God.
But it's also a Trinitarian activity.
Notice that Jesus says, “Pray to the Father,” and then He says, “Pray in My name,” to the disciples — so “Pray to the Father in My name” — and then Paul tells us in Romans 8 that we need the help of the Spirit in order to pray. “The Spirit intercedes with us with groaning too deep for words.” When we don't have the words to say, the Spirit intercedes for us. So we pray to the Father in the name of the Son and with the help of the Holy Spirit. So prayer itself is a Trinitarian activity but prayer is something that ought to be done in praying God's Word back to Him because we don't know what to say to God.
If you were given an audience with God — do you want to plop down on the front pew — okay, you’re up. What do you want to say? My guess is that you’d be pretty nervous. What do you say to God? Well, the Puritans used to say “we pray God's Word back to Him, we pray His promises back to Him.” That's what you talk about with God. You talk about with God what He's talked about with you. You talk about with God the things that He has promised to you. You talk about with God the things that He has literally welcomed you to come and talk to Him about.
And where do you find those things? In the Bible.
That is the whole idea of Matthew Henry's, A Method for Prayer. What Matthew Henry did — and Matthew Henry is the author of that wonderful six volume commentary on the Bible. It's probably the most popularly printed commentary in the English-speaking language on the Bible in the last five hundred years. Do you know that George Whitefield read through Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible four times on his knees? It was the main commentary that he read before he got his sermons ready. My guess is that if we went back and looked at Whitefield's preaching and Matthew Henry's Commentary we would say that George Whitefield was a plagiarist, that he just worked right through Matthew Henry — well the same Matthew Henry that wrote that commentary wrote this little book called, A Method for Prayer.
Now here's what he did. The long title — well the short version of the long title — is A Method for Prayer Using Scriptural Expressions. What he did is that he sat down at his kitchen table and he took an outline of prayer that involved adoration, confession, intercession, thanksgiving, petition, supplication, and conclusion and he just started filling in Scripture verses that came to his mind on a particular topic. And two hundred pages later he had a book entirely filled with scriptural language around this outline of prayer. And for over three hundred years now that has been the major book to teach Protestants how to pray — how to pray the Bible, how to pray the Bible back to God. You can utilize that book every day — www.MatthewHenry.org.
That's what it's there for. It's free. It doesn't cost you anything. Nobody will ask you for anything. You just go there and use it. You can get emails sent to you of little pieces of Biblical prayer just to help you get started.
But let me just give you one example. Turn in your Bible to the book of Psalms and turn with me to Psalm 46. Let's say you’re in a hard spot. The world is going crazy, falling in around your ears, and you’re so upset you don't know what to say. You know you need to pray. You've already said, “Lord, help me.” And that's a good prayer, that's a good prayer, but you want to say more but you don't know what to say and you’re do befuddled that you don't even know where to begin. You open your Bible to Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change and the mountains slip into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake in its swelling pride.” And you start reading that and already your heart begins to be strengthened as you read those words. And then you say, “Okay Lord, you've given me the words that I need. Lord, You are my refuge and strength. You are my very present help in time of trouble. Therefore I will not fear though the earth should change and the mountains slip into the heart of the sea and the waters roar and foam and though the mountains are destroyed by earthquakes.” All you've done is you've taken a prayer and you've turned it into your prayer. You've taken the Bible and you've turned it into your prayer. You’re praying God's Word back to Him. That is what Jesus taught His disciples to do. “Here's the outline,” Jesus says. But notice the outline — the outline all comes from the Bible. Pray God's Word back to Him. Pray the Bible.
II. Pray to your Father.
Second, pray to your Father. Pray to your Father. Notice Jesus says, “When you pray” verse 2 “say, ‘Father.’” Now, more and more in this crazy broken world we live in we encounter people who've had really bad experiences of their earthly father or parents and they find it hard to even get the word Father out of their mouth in prayer to God. This is very important. It's not to be skipped over because your Heavenly Father is not like any earthly father who's ever failed you. Your Heavenly Father has never failed you. Your earthly father, no matter how glorious your earthly father is, is a pale comparison of your Heavenly Father. And Jesus says, “When you come to the Father, say ‘Father.’”
Now Jesus is not saying you can't pray to Him[Jesus]. There are prayers in the New Testament to Jesus. Jesus is not saying that you can't address the Holy Spirit. There are prayers in the New Testament that address the Spirit. But fundamentally, Christian prayer is to the Father by the Son through the Spirit. So Jesus says, “Pray to your Father.” Why? Because when you see your sin you are — you know this with your earthly parents — when you have done something really bad, you don't want to tell your parents about it. It's not just that you’re afraid you’re going to get in trouble, it's because you fear that what you have done is so bad that it will be beyond the reach of their mercy. Jesus knows that and so, before He ever tells you to pray for forgiveness of your sins He says this, “Pray to your Father. He is your Father. He will never leave you or forsake you. He's your Father. He adopted you into His family. He's your Father. He made you to be His child. He's the Lord God Almighty. He rules heaven and earth but He's your Father. He will never let you down.” Jesus says, “You pray that until you believe that. Then you can pray for His name to be made glorious, then you can pray for your sins to be forgiven, then you can pray for His kingdom to come and all these other things. But you pray to your Father because it is vital that you believe that He is your loving, almighty, powerful, gracious, good, generous, heavenly Father.”
Now how do you do this? Well the Bible has given you tons of material for praying to your Heavenly Father. Let me just read to you. Let's make this a prayer. We’ll pray this together. But I'm just going to follow the outline that Matthew Henry gives himself to the first clause of the Lord's Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Let's just pray these words to God together. Let's pray back Scripture to Him. Let's pray.
Lord our God, You are our Father. Even though Abraham doesn't know us and Israel doesn't acknowledge us, You are our Father and our Redeemer, and Your name is from everlasting, and we will from this time cry to You, our Fathe,r for You are the God of our youth. Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? You are the Father of our spirits and in You we live and more and have our being. You are the Father of lights, the Father of mercies, the God of all consolation, the eternal Father who is strong to save, of whom and through whom and to whom are all things. You are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose glory was that of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth. You are in Christ our Father and the Father of all believers whom You have predestined to be adopted as Your children through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Now that is just a taste of how much the Bible has given you in order to pray until you have really grasped and believed that God is your Father. The Puritans used to say one secret of prayer was to “pray until you pray.” Have you ever been praying and you feel like your prayers aren't getting above the ceiling? The Puritans used to say you've got to pray until you pray because sometimes the prayer isn't coming out even when there are words coming out of your mouth. And so Jesus is saying, “You pray to your Father until you believe that He is your Father.”
III. Pray that God's name will be glorified.
And then what do you pray? You pray, “Hallowed be Your name.” You’re praying for God's name to be glorified. You remember when Satan tempted Eve and Adam in the garden, what was the main thing that Satan wanted to say to Eve and Adam about God? The main thing that he wanted to say to Eve and Adam about God is that God was not worth living for, that they could have greater satisfaction, greater joy, greater fulfillment if they rejected God and became gods to themselves than if they considered God glorious. And so Satan's temptation was to say that God isn't as good as He claims to be, God isn't as great as He claims to be, God isn't as glorious as He claims to be, God is not worth living for.
Isn't it interesting? The very first thing that Jesus says for us to pray is what? You pray that God's name would be known for who He is and He is great and He is glorious and He is better than anything that there is. You pray that – Hallowed be Thy name.
We joke about this clause all the time because children get it confused especially when the Lord's Prayer is being said in the King James’ Version. You have children come home and they’ll say, “Why do we pray, ‘Halloween be Thy name’ or ‘Herald be Thy name’?” or whatever they've misheard the adults praying. But you know, some adults don't know what it means to pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.” It means, “Lord, may Your name be considered holy, may Your name be considered set apart, may Your name be considered high and lifted up, may Your name be considered glorious.” It's a prayer that God would be owned and acknowledged for who He is. The greatest thing that there is, the greatest one, the greatest person that there is, better than anything else in whom we live and move and have our being. And the Bible is filled with material to help us do this. Let's pray this particular clause together. Let's pray about God's name being hallowed.
O Lord, it is our heart's desire and prayer in the first place that Your name be sanctified, be hallowed, be considered holy, be set apart, be glorified. We pray that You may be glorified as a holy God. We desire to exalt You, O Lord our God, to worship at Your footstool, at Your holy hill, to praise Your great and terrible name for it is holy, for the Lord God is holy. You are holy and You inhabit the praises of Your people Israel. We glory in Your holy name and therefore our hearts rejoice because we have trusted in that holy name of Yours to which we will always give thanks and triumph in Your praise. Lord, enable us to glorify Your holy name forevermore by praising You with all of our hearts, by bringing You the fruit of our lives, for herein our heavenly Father is glorified. O be to us our God, for a name and for a praise and for a glory, so that being called out of darkness into Your marvelous light we may be a peculiar people to show forth Your praises, Your glory, Your holiness that You have called us in and to. O, that we may be children, the work of Your hands, who sanctify Your name, who sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, who fear the God of Israel, who praise His glory. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we ask it. Amen.
Again it's just piling up Scriptural language to hallow the name of God. Pray the Bible, pray to your Father, pray that His name would be acknowledged as glorious, in your lives, in your hearts, and in the lives and hearts of a multitude that no man can number. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, teach us to pray. In Jesus' name we ask it. Amen.
Now if you take your bulletins out and look at the first three stanzas of John Newton's hymn, “Behold the Throne of Grace,” you’ll notice that what Newton is doing in this hymn is that he's giving you reasons to pray. He's not giving you an outline for prayer; he's giving you reasons to pray. In the first stanza, God's made you a promise. In the first stanza, Jesus right now is at the right hand of God praying with and for you interceding for you. Second stanza — His blood has provided your way into the presence of God. And in the third stanza there's nothing too bold you could ask God. Why? Because He's already given His Son for you. Romans 8:32 — “He who spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things.” If He's already given you Jesus, do you think that He can possibly hold anything back that you need?
Let's sing these three stanzas to God's praise.
Receive now the Lord's blessing. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.