Monday, August 10, 2015

Teach Us to Pray; Daniel 9:1-19, Matt. 6:5-15

We always have much for which to be thankful. The prayer that Jesus gives us here in Matthew is the one we call The Lord's Prayer, but maybe it should be called the "Disciples' Prayer" because it is the one Jesus taught us to pray. His greatest prayer that He prayed on our behalf is perhaps the one recorded in John 17, the true "Lord's Prayer." Jesus taught the prayer recorded here in Matthew at a request from the disciples as He was teaching about prayer. They asked, "Lord, teach us to pray," and this is what He taught them. Colossians 4:2 says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.” Devote is to “give constant attention to, to persevere.” Prayer here refers to intercessory, petitionary prayer, but praise and thanksgiving also ought to be a large part of prayer as well as listening to God, and we see this in Colossians as well as elsewhere in Scripture. Floyd Filson describes prayer as “reverent worship, the expression of adoration, gratitude, praise, petition, and dedication.” We are to keep at it, to persevere in prayer. And because it is easy to become discouraged when our prayers aren’t quickly answered, we are to keep awake with thanksgiving. Our hearts must be awake if our prayers are to have value. Thanksgiving helps keep our hearts awake. Thanksgiving reminds us of what God has done in the past as well as what God is doing right now. There is a difference between perseverance in prayer and the vain repetitions that Jesus criticizes in our Matthew passage. Jesus himself persevered in prayer, praying all night long, and praying repeatedly for his disciples. He tells the parable of the unjust judge, praising the woman’s perseverance, and reminding us that a just God hears and works for us more than an unjust judge for a widow. In contrast, Greeks would say the names of the gods in various ways, hoping to come across the right invocation for their prayers to be heard. Certainly, there are many titles for our God. In our Experiencing God Bible study, we are given a huge list of Biblical names and titles for God, and that list is not comprehensive! Certainly, we can use these many names to praise our Lord, and should, but we don’t have to worry about trying to guess the right name to get God’s attention, because although we address God in different ways, we pray in one name, the name of Jesus. Neither the number of words nor the right combination of words adds value to our prayers; rather, it is our heart attitude and our persistence in praying. The title for God that Jesus emphasizes here is “Father”, specifically, “Our Father,” which reminds us of the corporate nature of prayer. Father is close and personal, and the “our” reminds us that though God is personal, we belong to a body. Even in private prayer, we remember that we are not flying solo. Now, Jesus does encourage private prayer, telling us to go into an inner room where we can shut the door. He criticizes the hypocrites, who pray to get attention. The Jewish practice of prayer for the day was that the Shema was said in the morning upon waking and in the evening. Then, at 9:00am, Noon, and 3:00pm, the Shemoneh Esreh (18 Benedictions) were recited. If at all possible, these were to be said in the temple, but if you couldn’t make it, then you were to pray toward the temple. The hypocrites would purposely not go to the temple, but pray in the highly trafficked areas of town, so that they could be seen praying. If they had really been religious, they would have been in the Temple, because corporate prayer is also important. But prayers offered for human attention and praise of one’s self have no spiritual worth. True prayer is offered in humility. We need both private and public prayer. Both are found and encouraged in Scripture. Daniel’s intercessory prayer that we read this morning was private. Ezra’s and Solomon’s prayers were public. Our Father is close, but the “which art in heaven” reminds us that God is also transcendent. He is the unknowable God who makes Himself known. The next 3 petitions go together. Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done. The phrase “in earth as it is in heaven” applies to all three. “Hallowed be Thy Name” is to pray, “May we respond in reverent worship, grateful faith and acceptance of how You have revealed Yourself and Your promises.” The “in earth” is important. It isn’t just praying for these petitions to happen soon as the fullness of the kingdom of God is made visible on earth; it is to pray that God’s name is hallowed, God’s will is done, and God’s kingdom comes even in the now. God desires for us to hallow His Name, do His will, and live out His kingdom now, until it is made fully visible at Christ’s return. Remember that Jesus was bodily present with His disciples when He taught this prayer. Jesus prayed for the kingdom constantly and lived it, even though He did not come as King at His first coming. Whenever God’s will is done, God’s kingdom comes. We live the kingdom, when we do the will of God. To persist in praying this prayer is to remember to continuously submit ourselves to God’s will and rule in our lives. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The word translated “daily” is only used in context of the Lord’s Prayer as recorded by Matthew and Luke. This word was coined by the gospel writers. It appears nowhere else except in once instance in any other literature in the tally of a list of produce. The only other time it was used is when some of the Aramean manuscripts of 2 Maccabees was translated into Greek. There it is used to refer to the shewbread in the temple 3 times. Because of the rare use of the word, it is difficult to translate. There have been many different translations of the phrase from the time of the early church fathers. One of the most literal translations is “Give us the bread necessary for our existence.” What is the bread necessary for our existence? Some say it is bread for the coming day. Some say that the coming day refers to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, flowing from the prior two petitions, “Your kingdom come; Your will be done.” Others say it is asking for what is only sufficient, recognizing that the Lord never gives something until it is needed. This is a truth I certainly need to remember when I start to think out of scarcity, instead of recognizing that our God is the God of abundance, and that our God is an “on-time” God. Note too that this is plural prayer, not an individual one. “Give us this day our daily bread.” I think all of these options are worthy of our consideration, so as we pray this petition, we might want to pause and think about the various options and about which option fits our petition and need in that moment we pray it. The next petition is “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Debts is a more accurate translation than “trespasses,” which is made popular by the Book of Common Prayer. Luke uses the word “sins” in his version of Jesus’s prayer. I think the Catholic Church uses “sins”. Every failure to obey God puts us hopelessly in debt. But God forgives us. Unforgiveness doesn’t nullify that God forgave us at the cross, but it does harden us from understanding the depths of that forgiveness and prevents us from receiving that forgiveness. An example is the parable of the unforgiving servant. He really didn’t understand what his master had done for him, and therefore, did not extend forgiveness of a seemingly much lesser debt to his own servant. The unforgiving servant didn’t realize the weight of his debt. An unforgiving spirit interrupts our communion with God. God waits upon our confession and expects us to forgive because we have been forgiven. If we realize the debt from which we have been bailed out, then we will forgive. In verses 14-15, the word here is “trespasses.” “Trespass” is a falling to one side—a deviation from truth or righteousness. Not to forgive is an insult to God. Jesus warns us in these verses that we will never really know what it means to be forgiven if we do not forgive. “And lead us not into temptation,”—The word “into” goes with the verb. The verb itself means to “lead inward”. In other words, temptation comes when we are too inwardly focused. It doesn’t come from the outside. Elsewhere it says in Scripture that we are tempted “when we are drawn away by our own lusts and enticed.” In this petition we are asking God to save us from ourselves. The petition continues, “but deliver us from the Evil One.” The mind is the arena where the “evil one” operates. The concluding phrase isn’t original to the text. It isn’t found in any manuscripts prior to the 2nd century. It’s left out of Luke’s gospel. It is probably a scribal addition of benediction and praise. But it certainly is true that the glorious, powerful, kingdom belongs to God. Hopefully, you can see how this is a model prayer. I also hope that as we pray this prayer shortly, that you will really pray it, not just repeat it, but think about the meaning and power of the words. Are you really submitting yourself to God’s will, and do you want to? Are you seeking God for what is necessary? Do you recognize the depth of God’s forgiveness, and is there someone you need to forgive? Do you recognize the potential for evil within yourself? May we persevere in our prayers, knowing that God’s answers and God’s timing are always right.

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