God-Centered Prayer - Matthew 6:9–15

George Muller was a pastor in England in the 1800s and the founder of an orphanage. He said, though, that the children themselves were not his primary reason for founding it. Certainly, he desperately wanted to help children, but Muller was concerned that followers of Jesus in his day rarely seemed to believe that God still answered prayers. So, he considered what might be done to display open proof that God was still at work in the world.

 
God-Centered Prayer - Matthew 6:9-15
 

He set out to establish and maintain the orphanage simply by prayer and faith. His journals recount over and over the amazing ways that God provided for the orphans without Muller making continual pleas for money. Yet not all of his prayers were answered the way he wanted. He outlived his first wife, who passed away from rheumatic fever at age 40. He married again, and his second wife passed away a few years before he died at age 90.

He was a father of four, and all of his children passed away before he did; two being stillborn, a son dying at the age of 1, and a daughter passing away at the age of 57.

And yet, to the end, while not always understanding God’s reasoning and decisions, and while seeing more and more of the sin in his own heart, by God’s grace he walked by faith.

Muller wrote a short piece which he titled, “How to Ascertain the Will of God.” In other words, “How I learn God’s will.” I want to share only the first part of it, which is printed on page 6 in your WG, but I recommend all of it. You see there he writes, “I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Nine-tenths of the trouble with people is just here. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord's Will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.

In the rest of the piece, Muller doesn’t try to give a formula, but rather, some wise guidance on the path of surrendering ourselves to the will of God. He says that he labored not to be led simply by his feelings, but instead, by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. Muller also looked at the providential circumstances. So, not led by feelings or emotions, but taking into account circumstances in light of God’s Word and his Spirit, Muller would pray in order to discern or understand God’s will for his life.

Some years ago, I shared this info about Muller in a Sunday school class I was teaching, and many people were convicted and encouraged by it, but one man was not. He didn’t like it one bit. In fact, he thought that Muller was rather arrogant. You might take that view of Muller. But I don’t think you should, and here’s why. For one, what Muller states there is perfectly in line with the teachings of Jesus. I’ve printed a second statement from Muller’s journals, having enduring numerous other ups and downs in his life. He said,“I never remember, in all my Christian course, a period now of sixty-nine years and four months, that I ever SINCERELY and PATIENTLY sought to know the will of God by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of the Word of God, but I have been ALWAYS directed rightly. But if honesty of heart and uprightness before God were lacking, or if I did not patiently wait upon God for instruction, or if I preferred the counsel of my fellow men to the declarations of the Word of the living God, I made great mistakes.”

God moved Muller away from self-centered prayer to something better. I have to admit that my prayers are naturally self-centered. Isn’t that true of all of us? And yet, through Jesus, God sets us free from the power of sin that we might turn from self-centeredness and pray God-centered prayers, that we might desire, above all, to be aligned with the truth of God.

We should aim for God-centered prayer. Jesus says as much here in Matthew 6. But what are the aspects of that kind of prayer?

I want you consider two things here in what we call “the Lord’s Prayer”:

1. God-centered prayer fixes our attention on God’s glory, rather than our own, and

2. God-centered prayer demonstrates our dependence on God’s power, rather than our own.

God-centered prayer fixes our attention on God’s glory, rather than our own

Just before these verses, Jesus tells the disciples not to “heap up empty phrases,” but to remember that God, who is their Father, knows what they need before they ask. Then he says, [9] Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. We don’t used the word “hallowed” often these days. It means “to honor as holy or sacred.”

So, “May we honor your name, O God, as holy.” You might recall Exodus 20, verse 7, the Third commandment, which says, “Do not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” Literally the Hebrew text says “Yahweh, your God.” Yahweh is the covenant name of God – his personal name by which the Israelites knew him. They would also refer to him as “Elohim” which is the more general word for “God.”

The term Elohim would be used even to refer to false gods. Earlier we read Psalm 96 together. Verse 4 says, “For great is (Yahweh), and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all.” All gods. Of course, the other “gods” aren’t real gods. The only real God is Yahweh. They were not to swear falsely in the name of Yahweh, and so bring shame upon his name. “Don’t go throwing around the name of Yahweh.”

They were not to use his name in any way that would be disrespectful or irreverent. Jesus reiterates that here. The name of Yahweh, our Father, is sacred and should be respected, revered, held as precious and worthy of all honor and praise because he is our holy God.

Therefore, honoring him, we should pray, verse [10] Your kingdom come, at this point, Jesus has already spoken a great deal in Matthew about the kingdom. “Kingdom” refers to the sovereign rule of God over all things. Of course, God always rules everything, but the first century Jews looked for a time when Yahweh would make his power known as he did during the days of King David. They longed for the time when the kingdom would be apparent. But the kingdom has broken in through the coming of Jesus. As more people put faith in him, the kingdom grows. So, the kingdom has “already come.”

And yet it has “not yet” fully come, but it will when Jesus returns to make all things new. So, when Jesus says “Your kingdom come,” he means “May God’s rule spread over all people and all things. May the gospel be advanced.” Now, when we pray this, we cry out, in part, for Jesus to return soon. Next Jesus says, “your will be done.” This means, “May what you desire, O God, come to pass. Do what you want, Father, what you choose and what you think is best.” Then Jesus adds, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Grammatically, that phrase goes not just with “your will be done,” but with all three phrases. So read it like this:

“hallowed be your name…on earth as it is in heaven.”

“your kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.”

“your will be done…on earth as it is in heaven.”

See, in heaven, everything is God-centered. Our desire should be for the same here on earth. May the same be true here at Good Shepherd. May the same be true in each of your homes. That everything would revolve around God’s glory: reverence for him, for his worship, and for his purpose and plans, that it would be here on earth as it is in heaven. May we honor him like they do in heaven. May his rule be evident here like it is in heaven. May we love and embrace all of God’s decisions here the way they do in heaven.

What Jesus describes here in nothing less than a full surrender, which is difficult for us. Why? Because we automatically put ourselves at the center of things. Jesus teaches us to pray in a way that moves us toward God-centered living. Jesus moves us toward surrender, and in all truthfulness, he moves us toward reality. How often did you hear something like this when you were moving toward adulthood: “Yeah, when you get out in the real world, you’ll find out how things really are.” What did they mean? It’s a jungle out there. It’s difficult.

Things don’t revolve around you. The Lord’s Prayer affirms that. So Jesus urges us to surrender to the living God. Missionary Jim Eliot stated, “One does not surrender a life in an instant - that which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.” We continually pray in the manner Jesus teaches us because we continually need to surrender.

When you pray, do you start right in on your needs or complaints? If so, you’re time will likely end in frustration. Are you more concerned with what God can do for you than with who he is? According to Jesus, he’s not your genie – He’s your Father. How might your prayers be different if you began with praise toward God, thinking about his glorious character and his ways, his wisdom and his power? What if you made an intentional effort to resign yourself to his plans and purpose? I’m not implying that it will always be easy. Remember the quote from George Muller earlier: “Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord's Will, whatever it may be.

What if you spent some time meditating on how God is worshipped and adored in heaven, and what things might be like if he were viewed that way more and more here on earth? Jesus is gently moving us in that direction. He’s helping us to first get a right view of God, to get a clearer view of God, by teaching us how to talk to God.

Next, Jesus moves from God’s glory to our needs.

The Father cares about the need of his children. We should pray, [11] Give us this day our daily bread.” So, may we have the things we need for each day. Simply put, we should commit all our needs to Yahweh.

During this time in history, when Jesus taught these things, it was common for people to work and be paid one day at a time. So you would work, and at the end of the day you would get paid, and that would cover your needs for the coming day. Nowadays, many people don’t live this way. We store up and save, which is good. I thought of the laborers that you’ll see nowadays outside the employment agencies waiting to find out what work is available that day.

I’ve never done that, but I do remember driving around Florence many years ago, going to job interviews, trying to figure out what I was going to do to care for my family. You worry about the future, but mainly, you’re worried about today. What am I going to do about the needs of today? No matter how much you have stored up, you can’t lose sight of this fact: that God is the one who provides for you each day. We depend on him daily for our basic needs, whether we realize it or not.

We also depend on him to forgive our sin. Verse [12] says we should pray, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. “Debt” here means sin, it means what is owed not to men, but to God. We don’t owe God money, we owe him holiness, and we are naturally bankrupt. The grace of God encourages us to admit our sins to him, to trust in the righteousness of Jesus, and to rejoice in the forgiveness we have through the finished work of Jesus. And then, in turn, to forgive others who have sinned against us. We should also pray, verse [13] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. God does not tempt us, but he does test us. Temptation here can mean “enticement to sin,” but also, adversity, difficulty, trouble. Often, adverse or difficult situations can lead to sin.

Jesus’ prayer has in mind “trial or temptation that results in falling into sin.” “Deliver us from evil” could also be stated “from the evil one.” The meaning is the same. D.A. Carson feels that the reference to Satan here is more likely. The way “evil” is connected to “temptation,” we can be sure that this is more than just a prayer to be safe from harm. We need protection from what comes naturally, which is sin. The heart here is “God, help us to not sin.”

There is no attitude that sin is okay because we’re saved by grace. We pray for God’s will. His will is that we would not sin. So, we ask God to protect us from falling into sin and being overcome by the schemes of the devil that constantly come against God’s people. Obviously, it’s appropriate for us to pray these things together. Notice all the plural pronouns. “Give us our daily bread. Deliver us from evil.” This is one reason why we sometimes pray aloud together as a congregation.

Now when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we conclude it with, “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen.” That part isn’t printed here, and it’s not in Luke 11, which also contains the Lord’s Prayer. The reason is because that part isn’t present in the oldest manuscripts, but it appears in some of the later ones. It could have been that it was added later, maybe inspired by 1 Chronicles 29 in the Old Testament.

King David prayed, “Blessed are you, O (Yahweh), the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. [11] Yours, O (Yahweh), is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty.” So, to conclude the Lord’s prayer that way is good, even if perhaps it was not present in the original manuscripts. And, of course that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t say that at other times. Remember, Jesus’ teaching here in Matthew 6 is just a sample of all he said and taught. But concluding the prayer, Jesus adds these words: [14] For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, [15] but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Now, Jesus has already made clear that all of us are sinners, and that we all need God’s forgiveness. And we know that we can’t earn it; we don’t deserve it.

You might say that you are saved and that you know Jesus, but if you harbor unforgiveness – as a way of life – you should consider whether or not you are truly born again. That’s not to say that it isn’t hard to forgive, or that it doesn’t take time. Sometimes, it’s a process to let things go and move on from bitterness. And it can be something that you have to do over and over again in your heart and mind. But in light of what God has done for us in Christ, we have to look at his forgiveness and then turn around and forgive others. This is Jesus’ point. In the forgiveness of God we find the power to forgive others.

This is a good point in the sermon to make an illustration, and usually I come up with one, but there isn’t a better illustration of this truth that the one Jesus himself gives in Matthew 18. He tells a story of two servants. Jesus says these was “a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [24] When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents (this was there currency). [25] And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. [26] So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ [27] And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. [28] But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (a much smaller amount), and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying,

‘Pay what you owe.’ [29] So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ [30] He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. [31] When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. [32] Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. [33] And should (you not) have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ [34] And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.

All of us are needy before God. We depend on his own power to forgive us. We have to depend on him to give us the strength to forgive others and to be set free from bitterness and anger. With Christmas quickly approaching, you likely have a lot to do. There’s decorating and shopping, and you want to keep up your traditions. If you have small children, you want to make the most of the season. And without even realizing it, the whole thing can become a very man-centered exercise. But it’s not like our self-centeredness shows only during Christmas.

Perhaps during this season it’s just magnified. And yet, how might it be different for you if this year, the Christmas season was characterized by God-centered prayer? What if you allowed God to lead you – as George Muller described being led by the Word and the Spirit – what if you allowed God to lead you to a grander vision of his great glory and a stronger sense of your great need for his provision, and for his mercy and grace? Jesus desires this for us, not just at Christmas, but always.

Let’s pray.