Pray2K: The Divine Imperative

First in a Lord’s Prayer Series,
Delivered January 9, 2000 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 6:9-10
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “`Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Sportscaster John Madden was in Denver to cover a football game and down by the Bronco’s bench he saw a telephone and he asked the head coach what that was for and the coach said, “That’s a hotline to God.” Madden said, “Can I use it?” and the coach said, “It’ll cost you $100.” Madden scratched his head and said, “What the heck I need help with my picks every week,” and he paid the $100 and sure enough his picks were perfect that week. Next weekend Madden was in Green Bay and there was another phone just like the one he’d seen in Denver, down by the Packers bench. And he asked the head coach what that phone was for and once again he was told that that was a hotline to God, but if he wanted to use it it would cost him $100. This time Madden gladly forked over the $100 and again his picks that week were perfect. The next weekend he was in Dallas at Texas Stadium to cover a Cowboys game and noticed another one of those phones right by the Cowboys bench. And so Madden went up to the head coach, Chan Gaily and said, “Is that one of those hotlines to God?” Gaily said, “It sure is; but if you want to use it, it’ll cost you 35 cents.” Madden was stunned, he said to Gaily, “I had to pay $100 in Denver and Green Bay to use that phone.” And Gaily rather matter a factly said, “Well of course. We’re in Texas. That’s a local call.”

We are about to begin a four part sermon series on prayer. Specifically the Lord’s Prayer. You and I need to know how to pray. We need to be a praying people. We don’t need a hotline, we don’t even need 35 cents. God’s call to you and me is to be a people of prayer. And as we take a look at it and study it and pray and go in depth into the Lord’s Prayer, hopefully our prayer lives will be enriched.

You and I need to learn how to pray the Lord’s Prayer correctly. This is one of the most abused prayers in all of existence. There are dispensationalist type Christians who throw this prayer out and say it’s for another age, another dispensation, another era other than our own. There are other Christians who argue whether the Lord’s Prayer should be prayed as is or is it only a model around which to construct our own personal prayers? And then there are those Christians who recite the Lord’s Prayer rather than pray it; mouth the words ritualistically, mindlessly, and in essence the prayer dies on their lips. Of course, that’s always a danger for us right here at Central Church. And then there are those Christians that ascribe what I call magic powers to the Lord’s Prayer.

When our daughter Anna lay dying in the hospital, a pastor friend of mine came to me and told me that he had received a vision from the Lord that Anna would be healed if I prayed the Lord’s Prayer all day and night. So that’s all I did for days. If you would engage me in conversation on one of those days I might have looked like I was listening to you but inside I was reciting the Lord’s Prayer. It’s amazing how good bad theology can look when you’re desperate.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with two verses that are God centered, they’re vertical, which is a reminder to you and me that authentic prayer always begins with God, not us. And then the next three verses of the Lord’s Prayer are human directed. There is a horizontal dimension to them where we are called to pray for all those things that are basic needs to us as human beings.

Every week we are going to read the entire text of the Lord’s Prayer plus the two verses Jesus adds at the end where he hones in on one section of the prayer and drives it home. So I invite you this morning to grab a Bible and open it up, keep it open during the entire sermon, to the Gospel of Matthew the 6th Chapter. We’re going to read verses 9-15, but then hone in on verses 9 and 10.

The Lord’s Prayer is a part of the Sermon on the Mount; specifically Jesus’ explicit teaching on prayer. So let’s hear the Word of God, from the lips of Christ beginning to read at verse 9.

This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom Come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive man when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Join me as we pray. And now Father as my words are true to your Word let them be taken to heart. But if my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Quote, “We find the Lord’s Prayer to be that muttered by worms, groveling for meager existence in a paranoid world.” That’s a quote by Madeline Murray O’Hare. That was her opinion of the Lord’s Prayer. I wonder what she thinks now. Karl Marx’ daughter, raised in atheism, became a Christian later on in life. She said that happened because, “I found an old German prayer and I thought to myself if that’s the kind of God there is, I can believe in him.” Of course that old German prayer she found was a copy of the Lord’s Prayer.

And as of December 27, 1999 the top song of the BBC pop chart is a song entitled “Millennium Prayer” by Christian recording artist, Cliff Richard. What he did was take the Lord’s Prayer and set it to music.

How has the Lord’s Prayer impacted the world? As I’ve worked on this text throughout the week the first big impact this section of Scripture made on me was the imperative of prayer. If you look at the verb tenses of all the verbs in 9 and 10, they’re all in the imperative tense. A reminder to you and me that if we’re serious about discipleship with Jesus Christ then prayer is not an option, it’s an imperative. Unfortunately the NIV softens the beginning of verse 9 where it says, “you pray like this.” The literal Greek would be more like, PRAY this way. Folks if you and I do not engage God in conversation, (that’s what prayer is, simply conversation with God), if we’re not doing that on a regular basis there’s just no way your or my relationship with God is going to grow and be vital and healthy. If you and I are not taking the time daily to have a quiet time, a devotional time, whatever you want to call it, where you are conversing with God, I hate to say this but you are not going to be much use for the kingdom. And all Central’s ministries, if they are not chiefly undergirded with prayer, are going to burn out and burn out real easy.

There’s an imperative here: you and I are to be men and women of prayer. I want to challenge you on this day, the second Sunday of this new year, new millennium, new century, (all the hoopla), will you covenant with me today to be a man or woman of prayer in the third Millennium? Will you?

Another thing about the imperative tense of these verbs ought to remind us that when you and I pray, we are to pray decisively. We’re not to equivocate when we address God. We should go to God, not beat around the bush, not hold back. Lay your heart open before God. That’s what true prayer is all about. It’s an imperative.

Now lets get into the meat of the prayer. Let’s look at verse nine. Because verse nine tells you and me about that which you and I need to know. And by the way, I do believe the Lord’s Prayer is to be a model for how we structure our own personal prayers. But I believe it’s also a prayer to be prayed as is, in the very words that Jesus gave to his disciples and to you and me. Now let’s take a look at verse nine and you’re going to learn four things about the character of God.

The first thing we learn is in the first word of the prayer, “Our.” “Our” reminds you and me that prayer is always a corporate exercise even when we pray in solitude. God is never just my God; He is always our God. Because as believers in Jesus Christ we are not lone rangers. We are a part of a community, the community of saints. Whenever you and I pray, we are never alone. Whenever you and I pray, we enter into the prayers of countless other millions of Christians around the globe who are simultaneously praying with us. When we pray “Our,” God is linking our hearts, our lives with believers around the world. Linking us to their sorrows and their joys. A reminder that we never pray as an island. But you know, I can’t pray “our,” I can’t pray “our” if I am living and praying only for myself.

And the second thing we learn about God in verse 9 is that you and I when we pray are to address god chiefly as Father. Not as “ground of being,” not as “the eternal summation of all human ideals.” Not as “the vital energy behind the evolutionary process.” Not as “the primary cause,” the “unmovable mover.” We are to go to God as Father. No, God is not male. But God himself has chosen to chiefly reveal himself to you and me in a relationship much like that of a loving father to his child.

One of the roman emperors after a great military victory decided to have a parade down the main street of the imperial city. Legionnaires lined the route to keep back the crowds and the Roman emperor, when his chariot arrived in front of the viewing stand, at which his royal family was seated, stopped and waved to his family. At that point a little boy, the emperor’s youngest son, jumped over the railing, wiggled through the crowd, got out on the street and made a beeline towards the chariot. One of the soldiers saw him, grabbed him, didn’t know who he was, picked him up and said, “You can’t do that. Do you know whose in that chariot? It’s the emperor.” And that little boy said, “He may be your emperor, but he’s my dad.”

When you and I pray the Lord’s Prayer, when we pray, “Our Father,” you and I are reminded that we are dealing here not with a God who is aloof, who is way out there. We are dealing with a God we can come to on personal intimate term. “Father.” But you know I can’t pray “Father,” I can’t pray “Father” unless I’m striving to live as His child.

The third thing that we learn about God in verse 9 is that He is in heaven. We’re to address “Our Father in heaven.” Well duh. Except our culture, our culture all the time, our culture today is really into spirituality, isn’t it? It’s cool now to be spiritual. But if you listen, if you listen close you’re going to hear people say things like, “You need to find your way to God by looking inward, discover the God who is there within you.” The divine spark that the Mormons talk about and the New Agers. Friends, you can find God inside of you only after He has chosen to regenerate your heart and condescends to take up residence there. But when we pray – “Our Father in heaven,” we are reminding ourselves we should never confuse the Creator with the creation. God’s chief abode is not inside of us, but in His heavenly kingdom. And that God is totally other than us. But I can’t pray – “in heaven,” if I’m totally invested only in this life and have not laid up treasures there.

And a fourth thing we learn about God in verse 9 is that we are to hallow His name. But what does that mean, “hallowed be your name?” Well, to hallow something means to set it a part, reverence it. Another way to look at it would be to say that we’re to treat God’s name with care, tender loving care.

The Jews of Jesus’ day revered God’s name so much they would not even speak it. Our culture, hey, we banter about the name of God, the concept of God all the time. We hook it up with all kinds of stuff. We say, “GD,” “God Bless” or we dis-hallow God’s name when you and I let go of that awe, in terms of His majesty and His mystery. We let go of that hallowedness of god’s name when we walk into a place like this and we sit in a service of worship and we are either indifferent or we just go through the motions. We are to hallow the name of God.

But, I can’t hallow God’s name unless I myself am pursuing holiness and a healthy fear of the Lord.

Let’s shift gears a little bit and go into verse 10 because here we are told to pray decisively. The imperative is to pray decisively that God might radically transform life as we know it here on this earth. For 2000 years you and I and all Christians have lived in what we might call the Post-Christmas Era. An era that we might categorize as the “already but not yet.” You see, the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ has already broken into the world in flesh and blood. But only in part, it’s already here but it’s not yet brought to fulfillment, not yet to consummation. That will occur only when Jesus personally, bodily returns to this planet one day. “Well, Ron, when will that be?” I don’t know. God knows. I don’t know. But until Christ returns we realize that things aren’t completely the way they should be. And so one of the imperatives in verse 10 Christ says it that you and I are to pray that God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. And because you and I live in that already but not yet, that means we pray that phrase from two different perspectives. We pray it from the perspective of the not yet and so that means that when we pray “your kingdom come” we’re praying for the return of Christ. “End this shooting match and wrap everything up and bring in the kingdom in all it’s fullness. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!” That’s what you’re praying when you pray the Lord’s Prayer. But we’re in the already as well. So we pray it from the perspective of the Kingdom of God being the reign of God, the reign which has already broken into this world. And so we’re saying when we say that phrase, “Lord, extend your kingdom more and more in this world.” And we need to bring it home past the generic earth and say bring it more home into my life.

To pray “your kingdom come” is to not sit back passively and wait for God to do something. It means that you and I realize that God has called us in an imperative way to be a part of the answer to our own prayer we are praying. We are to fight against things like disease and injustice and all the junk that mars God’s creation. We’re to pray this prayer with a missionary heart realizing that the kingdom of God is extended when you and I take the Gospel of Jesus Christ and share it with the guy in the cubicle next to us at work or in Siberia or Ghana or wherever people have yet to hear, really hear, the Gospel. But I can’t pray, “your kingdom come” till I’ve really surrendered my life to Christ as my King.

And then the second imperative in verse 10 is that we are to pray that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven. I don’t know about you, but right here I begin to balk because (let me just come clean with you) I’d much rather pray My will be done, than God’s will. I want to call the shots, I want to write my own ticket and have God bless it. That’s why I have to pray daily in my time of confession, “God forgive me for wanting to be you.”

Your will be done. Are you really, am I really, willing to say that? What about when times are going great in your life? Do you really want God’s will to be done? Might mess up this good time. What about when things are going lousy? What about when you’re really healthy? What about if you’re terminally ill? To pray the phrase, Your will be done is saying, “I’m clearing the decks of my agenda and I am going to place your agenda, God, before my own.”

Alexander Scholtzenstein in his book, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denissovich, tells the story of a man who was in a Soviet prison camp and who experienced all the horrors of that place. There is one scene in the book where Ivan is on his knees and he’s praying, and another prisoner sees him begins to scorn him and ridicule him and says, “Your prayers are not going to get you out of here any faster.” To which Ivan replies, “I am not praying to get out of prison, I am praying that I might do the will of God.”

Are you and I willing to go that far? St. Augustine put it this way, he said, “Grant that we might seek never, never to bend the straight to the crooked. That is, your will to ours. But help us to bend the crooked to the straight. That is, our will to yours.” Are you and I there? I can’t really pray “your will be done” until I again have really surrendered myself to Christ. This is the big stumbling block that keeps people from becoming Christians.

Oftentimes, people make appointments with me, they come in my office, they’re very open and honest and I really appreciate that. They want to talk about why they can’t become a Christian. It usually revolves around – “I can’t believe in the virgin birth, I can’t believe the bodily resurrection of Christ, I can’t believe Jesus walked on water” – you know, the miracles. I used to spend a lot of time with those folks trying to help them see how those things possibly could occur if God is all-powerful. I don’t do that anymore. I just go right to the chase. I say, “The issue is that you can’t surrender your life to Christ.” “How did you know?” That’s where I’ve been, that’s where all of us have been when we clear the decks of all the other stuff and work through all of the other problems that are always the last things sitting there. Because we’re wired, after the fall, we’re wired to want to be God. And we don’t want to give up control; we don’t want to surrender.

Your will be done is a prayer made only after we surrender.

Friends, as we go through this new year what you and I need more than anything else in life are two basic things. Two basic things that will make the year 2000 one of the greatest years of your life. The first is you and I need something or Someone bigger than we are, that we look up to. Verse 9 gives us that Someone. And we need a vision – a vision for our lives of purpose and meaning and direction of ultimate purpose, something to really give our lives to. And verse 10 of the Lord’s Prayer does that for us. Verse 10 really is our job description as disciples of Jesus Christ. We’re to pray for the return of Jesus Christ but until then you and I are to enter into partnership with God and get out there and to flesh out the Gospel in all kinds of ways that make people see that Jesus is real in us.

Well, we will pick up the next piece of the Lord’s Prayer next week.

Join me as we pray. Father, thank you that we can come to you and address you in a personal way. Thank you that through Jesus Christ and what he’s done on the cross you’ve opened the gates completely for us to come into your throne room and be open and honest and real with you. We don’t have to fear you. At the same time Lord, cultivate within our hearts a healthy fear, reverence awe of you. May we not take your name or being lightly. May we fall before you daily and worship you and give you the praise and adoration that you and you alone deserve. Lord teach us to pray as Jesus taught his disciples. Let your Holy Spirit teach us over the next four weeks in ways that bring us alive and passionate for you. We ask all these things in Jesus name, and for his sake, Amen.