The Model Prayer - Part One

The model prayer (otherwise known as the Lord’s Prayer) given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, is part of a discourse on prayer found in Matthew 6:5-15.  When you reach the end of Chapter 5, Jesus has been talking about the nature of God and what we must do to emulate that nature.  You can read Matthew 5:38-48 to see what I mean.  Of course, everything He talks about goes against our human nature.  Then, He changes the subject.  Hence, the chapter break inserted by the translators.  So, when Chapter 6 starts, Jesus is talking about motivation – why we do what we do.

And He’s still talking about proper motivation when He turns His attention to the subject of prayer in verse 5.  As we look at this passage, one question comes to my mind.  Why do we pray the way we do?  As we see what He says here about prayer, it becomes more and more obvious that many today in the traditional church have the same lack of understanding that existed in the religious establishment of Jesus’ day.  Let’s just do a verse-by-verse examination of this passage.

Verse 5. When you pray, don’t be religious about it.  Don’t recite long, flowery prayers in public, where everyone can hear.  When you do that, who are you really talking to?

From this point on I’m going to try to not use the words "pray" and "prayer" any more than I have to.  Most people’s frame of reference regarding these two words is far too oriented towards religion and religious ritual and practice.  Our concept and use of prayer is usually limited to certain times and situations and almost always involves other people listening to what we’re saying.  And Jesus is not talking about religious ritual here.  He’s talking about having a personal, one on one conversation with His Heavenly Father.

So, let’s go back to verse 5.  The subject is having a conversation with God and your motivation.  Jesus’ logic is, as usual, crystal clear and irrefutable.  He says your true motivation is shown by where you talk to God and how you talk to God.  If you’re talking to God in an open, public place, and your words are specifically crafted to impress those who may be listening, then you have just betrayed your real intent and revealed your hypocrisy.

I can’t help but remember the first time I was called upon to talk to God in public.  I knew it was coming.  It was an obvious custom in the little church I was attending.  Sooner, rather than later, the new guy was going to be asked to either talk to God about the offering that was going to be taken or ask God to watch over everyone after they were dismissed from the service.  And since I had recognized the ritual and had never talked to God in public before (I was a new convert), I tried to prepare myself.

My preparation consisted of listening to other men talk to God in public and trying to remember the things they said that I thought sounded good.  I was then able to piece together my own prayer suitable for either occasion.  My time soon arrived and, though nervous as I was, I was prepared to do the deed.  My first public attempt to talk to God was short and clumsy, but I managed to get it done.  However, the thing I remember most about it now (almost 40 years later) is that I was not in the least concerned how it sounded to God.  I worried whether or not it was long enough and sounded good enough to meet the approval of the people who heard it.  My extensive religious training was just getting started.

Verse 6. If you’re going to talk to God, go to a quiet, private place and just talk to Him.  And even though you can’t see Him, He sees you.  And He’ll honor your personal, heart-felt conversation by responding to you in ways that confirm that He heard you.

Did you ever wonder why God gave us the opportunity to talk to Him?  Isn’t it obvious that He wants us to talk to Him?  And is it possible to have a relationship with someone you’ve never learned to talk to on a regular basis?  I’m going to say something now that will probably bother many of you reading this paper.  Most professing Christians today never have a real conversation of any kind with God.  And the few who do make a pretense at talking to God only do so in some function of religion when it’s part of a ritual or performance.  And since God knows their heart and the intent of what they’re doing, He’s probably not paying any attention to them anyway.  I know pastors who only talk to God during church services because it’s their job, before meals because it’s expected or when someone asks them to because it’s their job and it’s expected.

Now, let’s look at something else that just literally jumps off the page when you read verse 6.  The verb translated "reward" in the KJV should never be translated that way and is better rendered "respond."  When we get alone with God and talk to Him, He will respond.  Isn’t that what having a conversation is all about?  It’s two sided.  You talk to God.  He responds.  I know.  Some people have a difficult time dealing with this idea of God speaking.  Well, He does.  So you’d better deal with it.  If you don’t, you’ll never have the relationship with Him that He requires.

Can’t you recognize what was going on all those times Jesus went to a private place, alone, to talk to the Father?  Did you think those were one-sided conversations?  If you follow the example of religious leaders today, you could draw that conclusion.  They talk to God in public.  Tell Him what to do or what they want.  Then go on to the next thing on their agenda, with no expectation of any kind of response from the One they were just talking to.  Jesus, on the other hand, obviously waited for a response.  That’s why He said things like, "…my message is not my own, but what the Father has given Me."  Or, "…I only do what the Father has shown Me to do."

The Father wants us to learn how to have a conversation with Him, because He wants us to enjoy real intimacy with Him.  It seems strange to me that professing Christians claim to have a relationship with God, yet their so-called "relationship" with God doesn’t fit the definition of any other relationship they have.  Can you really have a relationship with someone when you don’t converse with him from time to time?  What’s the basis of the relationship?  Can a relationship really be based on what others have told you or on what you’ve read in books?  I don’t think so.

The truth is, there’s a false concept of both relationship and intimacy in the traditional church today.  It follows that if there is no real relationship (one based on the true exchange of information and the resulting experiences), neither is there the possibility of true intimacy.  Yet, again, there are many professing Christians who sincerely believe they are experiencing intimacy with God.  They usually call it the "worship experience."  You might think it’s strange for me to be talking about prayer, then suddenly change the subject to worship, but there is a connection.

The worship experience in the traditional church today is man-made and specifically designed to appeal to the flesh.  It’s a deception that allows its participants to feelgood about themselves and about their standing with God.  It allows them to feel like they’ve been close to God, have His approval, and are free to leave His presence unchanged because no change is required.  A worshipper can stand in a service, sing a song about God’s love or His wonderful promises, close his eyes, raise his hands, get an ecstatic look on his face, and "feel" like he’s in the presence of God.

It’s a deception perpetrated by so-called pastors and worship leaders who claim to have the ability to lead people into the presence of God.   Of course this presence of God is characterized by just the opposite feelings and actions portrayed by those who actually found themselves in the presence of God in Scripture.  There, they were confronted by their weak, sinful condition and were constrained to prostrate themselves in reverence and repentance before an Omnipotent, Holy God.  A little later in this paper we’ll talk about the presence of God and how you get there.  The presence of God is determined by the condition of your heart, not by the location of your body (in church, Sunday morning, and 10:00 AM sharp).  Remember God looks on the heart and He knows when we’re serious and really want to be with Him and when we’re just playing a religious game.

This leads me to the place where I have to point out the obvious difference between what happens when we get alone with God in His presence to have a conversation with Him and what happens when we engage in religious ritual.  When we get alone with God, realize that we are, in fact, in His presence, and submit ourselves to Him, the game playing ends.  The religious pretense goes away.  We either get real or we get out!  You cannot remain in the true presence of God without submitting to Him.  You cannot remain in the true presence of God without realizing your rebellious, sinful condition.  You cannot remain in the true presence of God unless you repent and determine to make changes.  This alone is enough to expose the worship experience and public prayer rituals for what they really are – religious deception that falls into the category of the doctrines of demons.

There is one undeniable principle that must be understood and used as a test to determine whether or not a person has spent any time in the real presence of God.  Time spent in the presence of God will always change you.  If you’re spending time alone with God, then you’ll be submitting to His will.  And His will is for you to be changed from who you are into Who He is.  I fear no contradiction at all when I say there are millions of professing Christians who participate in the worship experience and various forms of so-called prayer every week and walk away from them unchanged!

The concepts of prayer and worship are inseparable.  And in the context of what Jesus is saying here, the practice of public worship is just as invalid as the practice of public prayer.  And the similarities are striking.  Public prayer is an opportunity to show off our phony spirituality, and public worship is exactly the same thing.  If you don’t believe it, go to a worship service and watch what people do.  They fake devotion and reverence to God for the benefit of those present.  How do I know it’s false?  There’s no evidence of any real response to God.  Where are the confession, the repentance, and the forgiveness?  What is changing?

Jesus illustrates the difference in Luke 18:9-14.  This is the parable about the tax collector and the Pharisee who went into the temple to pray.  It’s important to see what Jesus says about the Pharisee in verse 11"the Pharisee stood proudly and prayed this way to himself…"  God wasn’t interested in anything he had to say.  The Pharisee was talking to himself.  I’m afraid the same could be said of those who flock to church every Sunday so they can worship together.  They’re only worshipping themselves.

On the other hand, the tax collector went over to a corner of the Temple enclosure by himself to pray.  He was so ashamed he wouldn’t so much as raise his eyes towards God.  He was truly repentant and God knew it.  Jesus says the tax collector left that place in right standing before God.  What was the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector?  It was the condition of their hearts.

And this is what determines the presence of God.  God came and dealt with the tax collector because his appeal to God was sincere.  The tax collector wanted to meet with God.  He was serious.  He was ready to submit himself to God.  God looked on his heart, knew he was serious, so He came to do business.  And in the same way, God knew what was in the heart of the Pharisee, so He didn’t show up.  Why should He?  The real presence of God will always be determined by what’s in our heart.  Don’t be silly.  You can’t fool God.  If you really want to do business with God, if you really want to submit to Him so He can do what He needs to do in your life, He’ll be there.  But if you’re only doing your religious thing, He’ll stay home, thank you very much!

In Matthew 15 Jesus confronts the Pharisees and their religious hypocrisy.  It was evident to Him that instead of using their religion to help them do what was right, they used it to justify their sin.  In verses 6-9 Jesus gets to the bottom line:

"So you conveniently hide behind the traditional religion given to you by your fathers and take away the true meaning and authority of God’s Word.  You hypocrites!  Isaiah was absolutely right when he said, These people pretend to honor Me with their public display of devotion, but their hearts are far from loving Me.  Their worship is useless and worthless, because their empty religion is all they know."

Now, we’re still talking about motivation – why we do what we do.  Most musicians and worship leaders would probably disagree with what I’m saying here.  But let me give you one more point.  In this passage (Matthew 6:5-15) on prayer, Jesus is talking about how to have a private, personal conversation with the Father that is intended to help the child of God develop a deeper relationship of intimacy with the Father.  My contention is that true worship is a function of intimacy and as such, cannot be a group exercise.  Worship is private.

Now, if you want to talk about praise, that’s a different subject.  Praise can definitely be a public, group activity, as well as a private, personal one.  But you know me.  I have to take a parting shot at this one too.  Can people really praise a God they don’t know and understand?

Again, I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it.  It’s all the same thing, there’s no difference.  God’s will and purpose for us is to be conformed to the image of Christ; to be partakers of His nature; to learn how to be led by the Holy Spirit; to attain to His righteousness.  It all amounts to the same thing – He wants to change us and that is our salvation!  And if we’re not changing, then all we’re really doing is going through the motions of being religious.  The focus of what Jesus is saying, about having a conversation with the Father, is simply this: true conversation with the Father is the pre-requisite to true experiences with Him.  You'll never really know Him until you learn to talk with Him.  And when you learn to talk with Him, you’ll begin to change.

Salvation is a long, slow, painful, glorious, exciting, fearful, joyful process that requires courage, determination and perseverance.  Why?  Jesus says so, that’s why.  You’re not saved because you agreed with some preacher that God loves you or that Jesus is the Son of God and He died on the cross for your sin.  You’re not saved because you learned to speak in tongues. You’re not going to heaven just because you’ve said at some point in time that you want to have a relationship with God.  You will be saved at some point in the future because you’ve actually followed through with what you said and did what you had to do to have a relationship with God.  This is a different subject for another time, but you, in fact, will not be saved until you stand before Jesus and He says you are.

Verse 7. Just try to be yourself.  There’s something false and impersonal about reciting the same, old, tired, worn-out formulas.  Remember, the Father responds to sincerity, not the length of the prayer.

Jesus is still trying to get us to see that the Father isn’t interested in religious ritual.  He’s looking for personal involvement here.  He wants us to drop the pretense, to get real, to be ourselves, to pour out our hearts to Him.  He wants to respond to our honesty, transparency and vulnerability.

Verse 8. So don’t be like those who have no relationship with a real God, Who lives and sees and hears.  They repeat the same words over and over again to lifeless images that can’t respond.  Your Father is much different than that.  He knows what you need, even before you ask.

The Father not only responds to our sincere, heart-felt conversations with Him, He knows so much about us and our situation and our lives that He already knows what we need before we even ask.  What He desires is a relationship of such intimacy that we’re able to tap into this knowledge that He has concerning us.  He not only knowswhat we need.  He has what we need, because He is what we need.  And Jesus wants us to understand that if we would learn to talk to Him the way we should, we’d understand how to benefit from having a wise Father who yearns for the opportunity to care for His children.

This is the point of what Jesus is teaching in the passage found later in this same chapter (Matthew 6:19-34).  And for the sake of all those who want to ignore what God says and give it a religious slant to fit their own agendas, Jesus tells us that the Father knows what we need, not what we want.  The Father really isn’t interested in what we want, but He is deeply interested in what we need to fulfill His will and purpose in our lives.  Isn’t that how every true father should feel about his children?  Every father who loves his children and has their best interest at heart isn’t interested in what the children want.  He knows what they want isn’t always the best thing for them.  But he always wants to give them what they need.  Think about it.  How could God ever change us into His image by giving us what our flesh craves?

Verse 9. So, when you talk to God, this is how you should talk to Him and what you should talk about.  Talk to your Father in Heaven like you would talk to your earthly father, with affection and respect.  Only acknowledge that He deserves an honor and respect greater than any man.

This is the beginning of the model prayer.  Now Jesus is going to tell us how to talk to the Father and what to talk to Him about.  Here, the word "Father" is used to illustrate a relationship between a father and his children, with all the responsibilities and emotions that are common with this relationship.  Jesus is careful to illustrate this bond in the passage mentioned above (Matthew 6:19-34).  Read it again and look for them.  Then realize that we have the extreme privilege of talking to the Eternal God of the Universe who has made Himself even more accessible and more interested in us than any earthly father ever could!

Verse 10. Then affirm to Him again that you want His Kingdom revealed in your life.  And tell Him that you only want what He wants, so His will can be seen here on the earth just like it is in His Heavenly domain.

We must remember.  This is a model prayer.  Jesus’ intent is that we include these things in our conversation when we talk to God.  That doesn’t mean He wants it to become a thoughtless, meaningless ritual.  It means there are certain things that are important and we should continually make the application of these things a reality.

Simply stated, the Kingdom of God is the rule of God in the hearts of men.  What He’s really saying is that every time we talk to God, we need to remind ourselves of the necessity of yielding to His rule in our lives.  We are, in effect, submitting to His authority all over again.  And human nature being what it is, believe me, if we don’t do it over and over again, we don’t really do it at all!

Then I believe Jesus illustrates a principle I’ve already alluded to earlier in this paper.  The individual, personal aspect of talking to God is so important, because that’s what allows this principle to work.  The principle is this: God created everything, and nothing that was ever created by God can avoid conforming to His will and purpose while in His presence.  Please don’t take this lightly.  Read it again.  Think about it.  Let it sink in.  That’s why you cannot be in the presence of God without experiencing change.  It’s not possible!  And, Jesus wants us to remind ourselves of that fact, yield to it, and cooperate with it.

Verse 11. Ask Him to give you just what you need for today.

This simple, little verse confirms the intent of the Father in His desire to be a Father to His children.  It also destroys the doctrine of 99% of the TV programs on Christian stations.  The prosperity message just evaporated into thin air.  I’ve made a hobby of listening to preachers promote themselves, their lavish lifestyles and their phony ministries by teaching various aspects of the prosperity message.  This message is based on bits and pieces of scripture either taken out of context, or totally misunderstood.  I’ve never heard anyone teach the prosperity message using the words of Jesus taken from the Sermon on the Mount.

The Father’s desire for His children is for them to experience an ongoing relationship of trust and dependence on Him.  He wants to be a Father to His children in every sense of the word.  What was God’s intention when He led Israel out of Egypt into a desert where there was neither food nor water?  Was He not taking them out of the world to a place where they would have to learn to trust Him and depend on Him continually for the things they needed?  And didn’t He already know what they needed (remember verse 8 above).

And why would God desire such a thing?  Because there is no better illustration of our total spiritual dependence on God, than what we experience when we place our physical existence in His capable hands.  If you’re going to really trust God for your eternal salvation, there’s nothing that will give you more confidence in Him and His ability to do what He says He will do than experiencing His daily provision.  Those who cling to the prosperity message do so because they’ve replaced dependence on God with dependence on the ability of their flesh to tap into the world’s system.  It’s just another counterfeit doctrine of demons used by religious men who justify it by attaching God’s name to it.

Did you ever consider the fact that when Moses led Israel out of Egypt, they carried with them the riches of the Egyptian people?  While in Egypt, they were nothing more than poor slaves doomed to a life of forced labor.  When they left, they spoiled the Egyptians and left that country with personal wealth beyond their comprehension (Exodus 12:35-36).

Was that the prosperity message kicking in?  Of course not!  When they arrived in the desert, the money was useless.  There was no place to buy anything.  They still had to learn to trust God, which, in fact, they refused to do.  So, God allowed them to die there and waited for a new generation that would trust Him.  The application isn’t rocket science here.  If you insist on trusting in your flesh, or in this case the prosperity message and the money it provides, that’s your prerogative.  Just know that God’s going to let you die in the desert because you never learned to trust Him.  You may die with money, but you’ll die without God.

Verse 12. And ask Him to forgive you of your faults and mistakes and the offenses they’ve caused.  Then tell Him you understand that His forgiveness is determined by your own willingness to forgive those who have offended you.

Since this is a model prayer, again, we need to understand Jesus’ intent.  Every time we talk to God we need to ask Him to forgive us of any sins we’ve committed since the last time we talked to Him.  Then we need to renew this understanding so we won’t forget it, because it’s very important: we need to acknowledge to Him that we understand that His forgiveness of our sin is based on our own willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us.

Forgiveness is not an option for the child of God.  It’s a requirement.  (For a more complete presentation on what Jesus says about forgiveness, read "The Greatest Commandment.")  Jesus makes it perfectly clear that in order to receive the forgiveness of the Father we must be willing to forgive those who sin against us, and we must be willing to seek the forgiveness of those we have wronged (Matthew 5:23,24).  I’ll have more to say about this when we get to verses 14 and 15.

Verse 13. And finally, ask Him to protect you from yourself and from all the evil that surrounds you in the world.

There are two things here that should be mentioned.  The first is that Jesus is telling us to remind ourselves every time we talk to the Father that there is evil, both in us, and all around us.  We don’t have to remind God of that fact, He’s keenly aware of it, I’m sure.  But most of the time we don’t act like we’re aware of it at all.  If we were, we’d be on our guard and more careful not to get drawn into it.  And that’s the point.  Jesus wants us to be on our guard all the time.

The second thing is that He tells us to ask the Father to protect us from this evil.  There are many today in the traditional church caught up in the deception of so-called "spiritual warfare."  They manage to find a demon or devil or witch behind everything that moves.  They then try to take authority over this manifest evil by yelling and screaming it.  I’m not going to take the time to examine all this religious silliness and how it got started.  The whole thing just makes me tired.  I will say, though, that those engaged in this deception would be wise to stop trying to take authority over the evil they think they see around them and just concentrate on taking authority over the evil that’s in their own hearts.

Jesus never took authority over demons by yelling at them.  He took authority over them by submitting Himself to the Father.  There’s a good passage in I Peter 5:6-11that tells us how to deal with evil and the snares of the Devil.  When you follow it down, the instruction goes something like this.  Humble yourself.  Submit to God.  Give yourself over to His care and keeping.  Be on your guard against evil, because the devil is continually looking for those who get careless.  Stand firm in the face of evil.  Be willing to suffer when God appoints it.  Be confident that your suffering is temporary and is being used by God to make you what He wants you to be.  And know that He has the authority and rule over evil always and forever. It’s a great passage.  Look at it, spend some time on it and let it sink in.

Did you notice that Peter doesn’t say we can avoid evil altogether?  We can’t, you know.  I already know I’m going to suffer at the hands of evil.  Whether men or demons, it doesn’t matter to me in the least.  What does matter is when that suffering comes, I want it to be because the Father has determined it for my eventual good, not because I was careless or stupid and left myself open to it unnecessarily.  When we humble ourselves and submit to Him, we’re able to see the value of our suffering.  When we’re rebellious and self-willed, we try to avoid suffering at all costs (and yell at it when it comes).  And when we do suffer, we don’t learn anything from it, we simply blame it on the devil and move on, oblivious to what God is trying to do.  The fact is the Father uses evil to mold us into what He wants us to be, or to chastise us for our rebellion.  But, make no mistake about it, evil, whether men or demons, is always under the authority of God.

Even Jesus suffered from the evil of both men and devils.  He submitted Himself to it because He knew it was the will of the Father.  Look at Luke 22:3-6; 47-51, and John 19:10,11, and you’ll see what I mean.  Peter tells us plainly that we shouldn’t be confused about the fact that we will have to endure suffering.  It’s part of the deal.  If we’re willing to share Christ’s suffering, then we’re qualified to share in His glory (I Peter 4:12,13).  That works for me.

I suppose we should get back to the model prayer.  Verse 13 shows us that we should talk to God on a regular basis about evil.  We need to acknowledge both the presence of the evil within us, and our responsibility to overcome it and control it.  We also need to talk to God about protecting us from evil around us by making us aware of it and by helping us understand it.

Verses 14 and 15 are both short and need to be taken together to understand the complete thought expressed by Jesus here.

Verses 14, 15. And remember if you’re willing to forgive others, then your Heavenly Father will forgive you.  But, if you’re not willing to forgive others, neither will your Heavenly Father be willing to forgive you.

Back up in verse 12, Jesus tells us to remind ourselves every time we talk to the Father that our forgiveness is based on our own willingness to forgive others.  Evidently, when He said that, it raised some eyebrows in the crowd.  So, when He finished talking about prayer, He must have felt it necessary to go back and explain the concept a little further.  Verses 14 and 15 are short and to the point. He pretty much nails it.

However, for those who tend to gloss over what God says, let me put it another way.  If you’re holding on to unforgiveness, resentment, or bitterness towards those who have hurt you, or if you know you’ve hurt others and they’re resentful of you, then you’ve put yourself outside the mercy and grace of God.  You see it doesn’t matter what you choose to believe.  It doesn’t even matter if you’re ignorant of what God says (even though you can’t really claim ignorance at this point, you’ve just read what God’s word says).  The fact is, if you refuse to forgive or if you refuse to seek the forgiveness of others (Matthew 5:23,24; 6:12,13,14) the Father will not forgive you.  And if the Father can’t forgive you, where are you?

Now we’ve gone full circle.  We’ve been talking about learning how to talk to the Father so we can know and understand Him, have a relationship with Him, and enjoy intimacy with Him. And you’d better know that none of that is possible if you have unforgiveness in your life.  So, you’d best start talking to Him about that right away.

And you’ll want to be persistent in talking to God, because Jesus is looking for those who are persistent.  By the way, persistence means, "to continue in the face of opposition, to endure." This is what Jesus says in Luke 18:1-8:

Then Jesus told them a story to illustrate the fact that they should always talk to God and not let circumstances discourage them.  This is what He said.  In a certain city there was a judge who respected neither God nor men.  And in that same city there was a poor woman who kept coming to him crying out against those who had taken advantage of her and she kept asking for justice.  And for the longest time, he refused to even listen.  But the woman wouldn’t give up.  So, eventually he said to himself, Even though I fear neither God nor men, I’ll avenge her loss and see justice done so she’ll leave me alone.  Then Jesus said, Did you hear what this unjust man said?  If an unjust man will do this for someone he doesn’t care anything about, what will a just God do for His chosen ones who cry out to Him continually?  Will He ignore their need?  I tell you, no!  He’ll help them right away.  But when the Son of Man comes at the end of time to separate the sheep from the goats, will he find men on the earth with this kind of persistent obedience and submission to God?

We all need to look at that last question.  The answer will be found in our willingness to talk to God.  And I mean really talk to Him.

I know that the Scriptures have a great deal more to say about prayer than what I’ve just presented here.  But I want you to realize that most of what passes for prayer in the traditional church is not prayer at all, it’s just men and women doing their religious thing.