The Lord's Prayer, Part 1Everybody Can Pray
Leslie Basham: In the days of Jesus, most ordinary people were discouraged from praying.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Jesus came into this whole system, and He said, “Look, it's a lot simpler than you think. It's not as complex as you think.” You don't have to have to ThD or a PhD or whatever in theology in order to pray. Moms can pray, and kids can pray, and teens can pray, and brand new believers can pray. It's just the language you talk with your Heavenly Father.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, September 19.
Do you ever feel like your prayers are inadequate? Today, Nancy will explain why prayer is less about eloquence and more about the heart. She's on day two of a nine day series called, The Lord's Prayer, Part 1.
Nancy: A few months ago I started hearing about a pastor's wife who lives, oh, about an hour and a quarter from my home, just up in Holland, Michigan. I heard that this woman had a real heart for prayer. She had written a book on prayer and had a real ministry of teaching others to pray. As I shared in the last session, God's been putting in my heart a desire to learn to pray and to grow in the area of prayer.
I've never met this woman. I didn't know her, but I had my office call her and ask if I could meet with her. I drove up to Holland, Michigan, one day, and I met her for lunch and just said to her, “I want to learn how to pray, and I hear that you love to pray and that God's taught you some things in this area. Can you teach me some things? What are some of the things that God has taught you about prayer?”
This woman doesn't think of herself as any great woman of prayer, but she has learned some things. She just began to share with me some illustrations out of her own life. It was such a blessing. The time just flew by, and we're looking forward to connecting again. She's praying for me as I am on this journey of prayer, so it was a very encouraging time. It was a sweet time and helpful in my process of growing in the area of prayer.
We're looking at the Lord's Prayer in this series. It is actually found twice in the New Testament. Matthew six, which is the traditional version that we'll be looking at primarily, is the one we're most familiar with, but there's another version in Luke eleven, which is slightly different. It's a little bit shorter.
The two versions of that prayer took place in two different settings, which explains the difference. Jesus actually gave that prayer twice, but He gave it a little differently both times, which is one of the things that tells us that Jesus did not intend that we should just use this prayer as a verbatim, rote prayer. There's nothing wrong with saying the Lord's Prayer, but the fact that when He gave it twice, He said it a little differently, says that we are to use it as a pattern, a model for our praying. It's not the exact words that are what we have to pray each time.
Now the reason I'm bringing this up about the two versions is that the version in Luke 11 was prompted by the example of Jesus' prayer life. Luke 11, verse 1 says,
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 [Jesus] said to them, "When you pray, say:" (vv. 1–2)
And then He gives this version of what we call “The Lord's Prayer.”
The disciples went to Jesus much as I went to Marilyn, this pastor's wife near my home, and said, “We've seen You pray. We've heard about Your prayers. We want to learn to pray.”
Now, the disciples knew the importance of prayer. All good Jews did. Prayer was very important to the Jews. The Old Testament is filled with rich prayers, but the disciples had seen something in Jesus' prayer life that was different.
They had heard the Pharisees pray. They had heard the scribes pray. They had heard all kinds of religious prayers—and the Jews had hundreds of prayers, prayers for every occasion, blessings for this, blessings for that, prayers for this, prayers for that—but they saw something in Jesus that made them say, “Teach us to pray. We want to learn to pray in the way that You pray.”
We're going to see what it was they saw in Jesus' life that made them so interested in learning to pray, what was different about the way Jesus prayed and the way He taught us to pray.
Now going back to the traditional version in Matthew chapter 6, the most familiar one of the Lord's Prayer, Matthew 6:5, Jesus starts out by saying, “When you pray.” “When you pray, say this.”
Let me just stop with those three words, “when you pray,” and say that reminds us that we are to pray. Jesus assumed that we are praying. He assumed that we understood that prayer is important, that prayer is not an option. Prayer is the language spoken in the Kingdom of God.
It's natural for children to talk to their Father. In any kind of good or healthy home relationship, the kids are going to talk to their parents. Jesus said, “In the Kingdom of God, you have a relationship with your Heavenly Father. It's going to be natural for you to talk to Him.”
The Jews had this rich heritage of prayer. They knew a lot about prayer. They knew the importance of prayer, but their prayers, over the years, had become routine, ritualistic.
Some of their prayers had become very complex and long. They were particularly impressed with those prayers, so then there was the hypocrisy of some of their prayers. They were praying for show as we saw in the last session.
Their prayers were directed to others rather than simple, heartfelt prayers that were sincere and directed to God. Jesus came into this whole system, and He said, “Look, it's a lot simpler that you think. It's not as complex as you think.” You don't have to have a ThD or a PhD or whatever in theology in order to pray.
Now, we said in the last session that Jesus in introducing the Lord's Prayer set forth two important cautions about prayer. The first we talked about yesterday, and that is why we pray. We saw that in verses 5 and 6. What's your motive? Is it to be seen by others? That's why the hypocrites pray.
Now in verses 7 and 8 of Matthew 6, Jesus gives a caution about how we pray. As Jesus brought up these cautions, He knew that these were issues that believers in every age would struggle with, not just those disciples, but us. He knew these were things we would struggle with. He knew these were things I would struggle with, so He was speaking not just to those disciples but to us today.
He says in verses 7 and 8, “Be careful how you pray,” not just the motive, but the method, not just your heart, but the words that you say. Look at verse 7.
When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
What's the caution, the caution about how we pray? Jesus talks about empty phrases and many words. Those are the two things He points out that are cautions. Empty phrases—some of your translations and the more familiar one would say, “vain repetitions.” We've all heard that. Be careful about vain repetitions.
The word in the Greek that's translated “vain repetitions” or “empty phrases” is the word battologeo. It’s kind of onomatopoetic. It means kind of what it sounds like—battologeo. I think of the word babble. Don't babble. Don't go on and on. The word actually means, “to repeat idly, without thinking, meaningless and mechanically repeated phrases.”
You say the same thing over and over and over again. You don't think about what you're saying. You just say it, babbling, not thinking about what you're saying. Jesus said, “Don't pray that way. That's the way pagans pray. That's the way people pray who don't have a relationship with the Heavenly Father.” And then He said, “They think that they will be heard for their many words.”
While I was working on this session last night, literally, I got an email from a friend who was talking about how their three-year-old prays these long prayers, and she says she prays for every member of the family two or three times, all the food that's on the table, everything, what there is to drink.
If somebody interrupts her, she has to start all over again. If somebody else prays something, one of the other children prays something that she forgot to pray, then Emma has to start over again and pray that. The mom said, “She doesn't know when it's time to stop.” Many words—and then the mother said, “Emma would be the Gentile that thinks she'll be heard for her many words.” The three-year-old thinks she'll be heard for her many words!
Well, in some of our church traditions we pray and read and recite some of the same prayers and liturgies over and over again using certain phrases, certain terminologies. There's nothing wrong with saying these things repeatedly. It's not repetition that is wrong. It's vain repetition, praying it without thinking about what we're saying, praying it idly, meaningless, mechanical repetition of these same phrases, and we do this.
Even if you're not in a church tradition that prays some of these church prayers repeatedly, we pray, many of us, at certain times, certain places, before meals perhaps . . . I went through a Christian school when I was growing up, and before athletic events, before games, we would pray. Before class, we would pray. In church services . . . We have these certain times and places that we pray.
The question is: Are those prayers heartfelt communication with God, or are we just doing it because that's when we pray? Are they meaningless words? Are they mindless prayers? Are we just going through a routine? Jesus says, “Don't pray thoughtlessly meaningless repetition of empty words.” Our hearts, our heads, our minds, our wills are to be engaged when we pray.
I think one of the places where we probably pray the most meaningless, vain repetitions is when we thank God for our food. Are we really thankful? Are we thinking about what we're saying, or is it, “God-is-great-God-is-good-now-we-thank-You-for-our-food-in-Jesus'-name-amen”? We just said it. We've been through a routine, and Jesus said, “That's the way the pagans pray. Don't pray that way.”
Now, He gives a corrective, as He did on the other caution, a corrective in how we pray. He says, “Instead, pray to your Father.” We saw that in verse 6. He's telling us prayer is not a meaningless exercise.
We are not speaking into the air. Prayer is grounded in a vital, intimate relationship with God. Someone is at the other end of this call. We're talking to Someone.
We all have cell phones today. We've all seen and heard and been there when you're talking into the cell phone, and then you get in this patch that's not good reception. All of a sudden, it goes "staticy" on the other end, and you're going, “Hello? Hello? Are you there? Are you there? Are you there?” They got cut off.
If you've got static on your phone connection, it means there's something wrong with the connection. You're not in a place where there's good reception. I live in a place where there's not good reception. I can use my cell phone anywhere except where I live, on the street where I live. You just have to wait until you get out of that area to get to a different place.
Some of us need to move to a different place to pray. Now, I don't mean geographically or physically to a different place. But we've been praying without being conscious of having a close, genuine relationship with our Father. Jesus says, “Get to where the connection's good. Get to where the reception is good.”
It's not God who's moved. It's not God who's having problem with reception. It's not His end of the cell phone. It's our end, and Jesus says, “Pray to your Father, and then remember that your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
Verse 8, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” So we're not praying to inform God. We're not praying to tell God something He doesn't know, and that's why Jesus says, “You don't have to say a lot of words.”
Now, there's nothing wrong with long prayers, the same way that there's nothing wrong with having a long conversation with your mate or with a friend or with your grown son or daughter on the phone. Long conversations are fine. Just don't be babbling on without thinking about what you're saying. Realize that sometimes short conversations are fine.
Then Jesus says, “Be careful how you pray. Don't pray with these vain repetitions. You don't have to have many words.” Then He says in verse 9, and here's the corrective, “Pray then like this:” and He gives us an example, a template, a pattern for how we can pray. “Pray like this,” and after all the highfalutin prayers that these disciples had heard the Jewish religious leaders pray over all these years, this prayer had to sound almost ridiculously simple.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (vv. 9-13)
Then the part that is not in the original text but has been added by believers for all the centuries since, that benediction or doxology at the end, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (v. 13b NKJV). Simple, short, to the point— sixty-five words if you include the doxology at the end; no one request more than ten words long. It's such a contrast to the many words Jesus said the pagans pray.
Some have objected to calling this the Lord's Prayer, and they're right when they would say it's never called the Lord's Prayer in the Scripture. Actually, the Lord's Prayer, if you want to put that name on something, would be probably better attached to the prayer that Jesus prayed in John chapter 17. But this is the title that has been handed down through church history to this prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray. I don't think there's anything wrong with calling it that. Jesus is the author of this prayer. He taught it to us, and I think it's fine to call it the Lord's Prayer.
This prayer is comprehensive. It covers the bases. It covers everything, and Jesus is saying here, “These are things to keep in the forefront of your mind as you pray.” There is not, probably, any petition we could think of that would not somehow fit into this framework.
The Lord's Prayer becomes a skeleton, a framework, not a magical formula, not a mantra—okay, we pray this prayer like we do our beads or something, saying, “God will just specially bless this.” It's a framework. It's a guide. It's a pattern. It's a model for our prayers. Jesus said, “Pray like this.”
It doesn't mean you have to use exactly these words. For example, I've got some notes in front of me as I teach. It's not exactly everything I'm going to say. It just gives me a guideline. It gives me a framework, and then I fill in with additional, related thoughts. Jesus is saying, “I'm giving you the guideline, the pattern, for your prayer.”
We're never told to pray it verbatim, but we're never forbidden from praying it either. This is a prayer that God has often used as a means of grace to minister to His children in times of distress, times of need.
I was talking with a man recently, a believer friend who's been through some periods of deep depression. When he heard that I was getting ready to teach a series on the Lord's Prayer, he said,
As I was going through that depression, there was just this cloud over me. I couldn't understand why I was just thinking about death all the time. There was no explainable reason—struggling through this depressed season.
I began to pray the Lord's Prayer as I would drive from my house to work each morning, and just to say one phrase at a time, to meditate on it, to expand it in my heart. That's part of what God has used to recalibrate my heart, to lift the cloud.
It wasn't like it was a magical potion or formula—you pray this prayer, and all your problems go away. But as he began to pray thoughtfully, meaningfully, the words of the Lord's Prayer, he has found God answering those petitions and bringing grace to his heart.
This has happened with many believers over the centuries. There would be many stories that could be told, but one that particularly was a blessing to me was when I read about a pastor named Helmut Thielicke who was, actually, a well-known Lutheran theologian in Germany during World War II. He was also a pastor during that period. He was a young pastor, and during the final days of the war, his congregation in Stuttgart, Germany, was in upheaval, as you might imagine.
These were horribly trying times for this little flock of believers. The bombs were falling day and night. The Third Reich was crumbling. The Allied Forces were coming in and overcoming the German resistance. The country was in chaos. This Pastor Thielicke looked into the eyes of his people week after week, and he saw fear, terror, doubt, despair. These people desperately needed hope.
Was their country going to be wiped out? Were they going to be wiped out? What was going to happen? If you're the pastor, what do you say at a time like that? How do you try and encourage these people? How do you prepare your people for what may lie ahead for them?
Thielicke decided to preach a series of sermons on the Lord's Prayer, and that series became well known. It was ultimately translated into English. It was published in the United States. In the introduction to that book, Thielicke said, “The Lord's Prayer was able to contain it all.”
The Lord's Prayer was able to contain it all. We're living in troubled times today. We don't have bombs falling around us—yet. We don't know if that will ever happen. We don't know that it won't happen at some point, but these are troubled times. You don't have to be very current on current events, you don't have to be a big news buff to know that we live in dire times.
The world is self-destructing under the weight of sin and rebellion against God, and as I've been following developments in various parts of the world, I've been thinking about the instability of the world situation and the increasing likelihood of catastrophic events, not only in other parts of the world, but in our country. It's going to happen.
We saw 9/11. We've seen other glimpses of this. We talk about terrorism of various types. I've been asking the Lord as I think about Revive Our Hearts and think about our listeners, “What do you say at a time like this?” In fact, by the time we air this series, only God knows what will be happening in this country and around the world that may strike terror in the hearts of people.
Jesus said there will be times in the end days when men will actually—their hearts will fail because of fear. They'll be having heart attacks; they're so scared. What do you say to people in times like these? How do we prepare our listeners? How do we prepare our own hearts for the disastrous times that we may be facing?
As we think about what lies ahead for our country, for our world, or maybe what you're facing right now in your marriage, in your family, in your health, in your finances—you can say, “Yes, the world's going crazy, but my life is really going crazy!” Or you think about what lies ahead. There are things that you're dreading, things that you're fearing, things that you're facing.
I have a friend who's just received a likely diagnosis of a severe neurological disease. They're waiting for the final report right now. They don't know what this is going to mean and how greatly their lives are going to change in the days ahead, and Paul says, “We don't know how to pray as we ought” (Rom. 8:26 paraphrase).
We don't know how to deal with these times. We don't know how to deal with distress, and God's given us His Spirit to intercede for us, but God has also given us this prayer, the Lord's Prayer we call it, to direct our praying.
That pastor in Germany said that the Lord's Prayer was able to contain it all. This prayer does contain it all, and it's a prayer that Jesus gave to us that will help prepare us to face uncertain times.
It's a prayer that as we dig into it in the days ahead, it's going to help us know how to think, how to live, how to pray, how to walk, how to respond, how to not give in to fear, how to be prepared for today and for whatever lies ahead. Jesus said, “When you pray, pray this way,” and I think these are times when we need to be learning how to pray this way.
Leslie: If you ever feel like your prayers aren't eloquent or deep enough, I hope Nancy Leigh DeMoss has encouraged you today. Nancy will be right back.
Your prayers are important to Revive Our Hearts. We want women to discover, embrace, and delight in Christ. You can help us do that through your heartfelt prayer.
Some listeners are so in step with the mission of Revive Our Hearts, they’ve decided to join the Ministry Partner Team. It’s a way for you to become more deeply involved in the ministry.
When you join the Ministry Partner Team, you’ll get regular communication from Revive Our Hearts. You’ll also be able to attend one conference per year at no charge. And when you sign up here in September, we’ll show our gratitude by sending a signed copy of Nancy’s brand new book, The Quiet Place.
Ministry Partners agree to pray, share the message, and give regularly. If you’re ready to partner with us in this way, get more details at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1-800-569-5959.
Would you pray for Revive Our Hearts as we get ready to host several thousand women in Indianapolis for True Woman '12? If you can't make it, please pray that the Lord will speak individually to the heart of every woman there.
I hope you'll join us starting Thursday night on the LIVE stream from True Woman '12. You can catch the worship and the speakers like you were there. For all the details on watching True Woman '12 online, visit ReviveOurHearts.com.
To close our time, we are going to pray with one of the speakers from True Woman '12. Here's Mary Kassian.
Mary Kassian: Oh Heavenly Father, I just pray for all the women that are coming to the conference. You know their deepest desires, their deepest frustrations. You know everything, Father.
I just pray that as only You can, You will begin to prepare their hearts and bring them to the place where they're they are receptive; that the soil of their hearts is ready to receive Your word so that there may be much fruit.
We pray for something extraordinary to happen with regards to awakening a spark of revival for our homes and our churches. We can't construct that; we can't make that happen, only Your Spirit can. We ask You for that, Father, in the name of Jesus.
you ever stop during prayer and realize you’ve been giving God a grocery list? Nancy discusses how to avoid that type of praying tomorrow. I hope you’ll join us then. Now, Nancy’s back to pray.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.
Participate with True Woman '12 via LIVE stream.
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