For Christians, learning to pray is a lifelong pursuit. Continuing his exposition of the gospel of Luke, in this sermon R.C. Sproul examines Jesus’ model prayer and challenges us to pray with the priorities that Christ has conveyed.
This morning we will continue with our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. It is another red-letter moment because we will start a new chapter, chapter 11. This morning I will read Luke 11:1–4, which is one of the most familiar passages in the New Testament. Here we have Luke’s account of Jesus’ teaching regarding the Lord’s Prayer:
Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
So He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”
As I have said before, familiarity breeds contempt. We are so familiar with this model prayer Jesus gave to His disciples that is easy for us to allow it to slip through our fingers. It is easy to miss the profound importance of the priorities Jesus gives when teaching us how we should pray.
This morning, we have heard this word from the Lord Jesus Christ, provided for us through the superintendence and inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. Please receive it with all of God’s authority. Let us pray.
Certainly, Lord, there is no time in our lives when we are more feeble and less accomplished than when we bow before You in prayer. There is perhaps no lesson we have learned so poorly than this one that was given to us for our instruction. We ask that in this hour You would renew our understanding of how we should pray. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Barber and a Titan of Prayer
His name was Peter. He had a barbershop in a small town. One afternoon, when he had one of his regular customers in his chair and was trimming his hair, he saw the front door of the shop open. He noticed instantly that the man entering his barbershop was a notorious outlaw, wanted by the authorities dead or alive. A princely sum had been instituted as a reward for his capture.
When the barber was finished with the customer in his chair, who left the shop, the outlaw stepped forward, sat down, and asked the barber for a haircut and a shave. Peter lathered the man’s face and his neck. He stropped his razor and applied it to the man’s face and then his neck.
As he had the sharp edge of the blade pressed against the throat of the outlaw, Peter knew that all he had to do was exert a simple amount of force and he could slit the man’s throat, kill him on the spot, step forward, and claim the reward.
The last thing in Peter’s mind was the idea of killing the outlaw. Though he was wanted by the authorities, this man was not only Peter’s hero, but his mentor in spiritual things. The man in the barber’s chair was Martin Luther, in the town of Wittenberg.
While Peter was shaving the great reformer, he took the opportunity to ask him a spiritual question. He knew of Luther’s reputation, not only as a brilliant theologian and courageous reformer but as a titan of prayer, giving himself to prayer every day for two to three hours.
Peter asked, “Dr. Luther, could you please teach me how to pray?” The disciples asked the same question of Jesus when they noticed the obvious connection between Jesus’ life and Jesus’ prayers.
Luther said to master Peter, the barber of Wittenberg, “Certainly, I will teach you something of this matter.” After his shave and haircut, Luther went back to his study. He picked up his pen and wrote a small booklet, not for the world, but simply for his barber. He titled it: A Simple Way to Pray.
Every year at Saint Andrew’s Chapel, we have a study for our people on this very question, a simple way to pray, that we may be instructed and become more advanced in our own ability to come before the Lord in prayer. In any case, that little book, A Simple Way to Pray, is still available. We can all read it. We can be instructed by it.
To profit from Luther’s book, as Luther indicated to his barber, first we must take the time and discipline to memorize three portions of Scripture. We need to memorize the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. The reason for this, as Luther pointed out, is that these three portions of Scripture can guide us in our seasons of prayer. For illustrative purposes this morning, I will restrict my attention to the third portion to be memorized, namely the Lord’s Prayer, because that is the text with which we are dealing.
Before I explain how Luther used the Lord’s Prayer, let me make two observations. When Jesus gave this model prayer, He did not say to His disciples, “When you pray, pray this.” He was not giving us a mandate simply to recite this prayer repeatedly, as is our custom. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but Jesus was saying: “When you pray, pray like this. This is the model I’m giving you. This is the example to show you how you should pray.”
As we look at the preaching of Jesus, we notice that the center of His preaching was the proclamation of the kingdom of God. When we look at this model prayer, we see that the center of its concern is the kingdom of God.
When Archie Parrish visited us several years ago and gave instruction to our congregation on how to pray, he taught principles of what he called “kingdom-focused” prayer. That is to say, when we are engaged in prayer, the chief concern we bring before God does not comprise the simple matters plaguing us daily. Rather, the main business of our prayer is to pray for the success and extension of the kingdom of God.
The Lord’s Prayer as a Guide
Let us look for a moment at Jesus’ prayer. I will not give an exposition of it, as I did that in detail when we looked at the version in Matthew. Instead, I want to give you the lesson that Luther gave Peter when he said, “When you pray, use the Lord’s Prayer as a guide to direct your prayer.”
What Luther meant was something like, when you pray, get on your knees and say:
Oh God, You who are from everlasting to everlasting, You who are immortal, invisible, the only wise God, You are the One who is His attributes: infinite, eternal, simple, immutable, omniscient, omnipresent. You are all of these magnificent things, oh God. You transcend us by Your majesty to such a degree that we are absolutely overwhelmed that we can come into Your presence and say, ‘Abba, Father.’
Your being fills every corner of the universe and there is nowhere we can flee from Your presence. You are here and there and everywhere at every moment, yet Your natural habitat is not this world, for You dwell in heaven. We are of the earth, earthy, but You are of heaven, heavenly.
Of course, that part of the prayer is merely the address. It contains no great petition.
Reverencing the Name of God
The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples, the number one priority that Jesus gave for us to pray is this: “Oh God, may Your name be regarded as sacred and holy, treated not only with respect but with reverence and adoration by every creature in heaven and on earth. But God, we live in a world that is profane, where Your name is blasphemed every hour, privately and publicly.”
Let me take a moment to illustrate. My wife’s favorite television shows are makeover programs where people’s homes are redecorated by professionals. While they are away, they wait to see the handiwork of the craftsmen who redo their dwelling place. You have seen those programs. Vesta is addicted to them. If I leave the room, she says, “Please push 229,” which is Direct TV’s channel for these makeover shows.
After you watch all the improvements, the time comes for the owners to come back and see the transformation. You watch them come in and you see the surprise, shock, glee, and delight on their faces. You realize that at least 80% of them respond with the same words: “Oh my God.”
If there is ever a time that I come infinitesimally close to understanding Jesus’ feelings when He was on the cross and said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” it’s when I hear people utter those words in that manner. My spirit sinks within me when I hear people use the name of God in a flippant manner and never give it a thought. I want to say to them, “Don’t you know that God will not hold you guiltless for using His name in a cavalier way?”
It is part of our culture. Some terms are still bleeped out on broadcast television, but not blasphemies of the name of God. We are a nation with no fear, no respect for God. I understand that Christians are capable of any sin: murder, adultery, all the rest. I know that Christians, without thinking, can use the name of God in a disrespectful way. I know Christians can do that, but I must be candid with you—I really do not know how. I do not know how you could have any love and reverence for God Himself and be so irreverent with the use of His name. It is possible; I just do not know how.
If you are examining your own life and your own soul, and you regularly use God’s name flippantly, this may be your first and best clue about the state of your salvation. You may be dreadfully lost and not even aware of it. Jesus said: “It’s not what goes in a man’s mouth that defiles a man. It’s what comes out.”
I realize that in our culture, this is not a big deal. But Jesus made it the number one priority for our prayer: “God, give us a sense of reverence for who You are, that Your name may be hallowed, because You are holy, and we are not.”
An Example of the Lord’s Prayer as a Guide
Jesus said that we might pray like this:
Oh God, we live in a democracy. Kingdoms are a thing of the past. We elect our leaders. Sovereignty is foreign to us, and we are altogether allergic to it. That’s who we are, but give us, oh God, a love and a hunger and thirst for a kingdom. You have given us the King, and He is our King, but the world is blind to His kingdom.
We pray that You will make His kingdom that is so hidden from the eyes of fallen humanity known, oh God, that Your kingdom will come to earth like it already is manifest in heaven. God, we pray that Your will would be done on this earth by people zealous to obey You as the saints in heaven are every hour. We pray that Your kingdom would come and Your will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.
You know our needs. You know we cannot survive without the basics and the necessities of life. Every day, oh God, we need our bread. We need those things that sustain us, every one of which comes from Your gracious hand. Every piece of bread and every drop of water comes from Your hand. We ask that You continue to sustain us and that You will take away our anxiety, that we may not be anxious about what we should eat or drink or wear. Give us the capacity to look at the lilies of the field who neither spin nor sew. You array them with such glory. Father, make us ever grateful for these necessary gifts that You bestow so liberally upon us.
Our Father, we come to You acknowledging that we have rebelled against You, that we have committed cosmic treason. We have defied your law. We have asserted our wills over Yours. The only way we can possibly stand in Your presence is if You would forgive us.
We thank You that You have made us just, not by our achievements, not by our merit, not by our righteousness, but clothed by the righteousness of Jesus. You have given the gift of His righteousness to us. You have covered our sinfulness and our sins, that though scarlet have been made as white as snow. Though they were crimson, You have made them like wool.
Father, it is against You and You only that we have sinned. We ask that You would blot out our transgressions, purge us with hyssop, make us clean. Let the bones which You have broken rejoice, because as far as the east is from the west, You have removed our transgressions from us.
Though we have freely received Your grace and mercy, we have been loath to extend it to others. We have not forgiven the debts against us as we have asked You to forgive our debt against You. We also know, Father, that You are so holy that You are completely incapable of ever enticing us to sin. Rather, You call us to flee from sin, to come out of the darkness and into the light.
We know that You would never tempt us to sin in the sense of an enticement. We ask that You would never put us in that place where we are naked and exposed to the wiles of the devil. Do not put us in the place where we are subjected to the test of our obedience or fidelity to You. But like Job before he was attacked, oh God, put a hedge around us and protect us, not just from the world and the flesh of the devil, but from ourselves and our own evil inclinations.
Deliver us from Satan, from the enemy, the one who goes about us as a roaring lion seeking to devour whom he will, the one who disguises himself as an angel of light that he may deceive us, accuse us, and bring us into despair and ruin. Deliver us from ponēros, the evil one, the prince of darkness.
For Yours, oh God, is the kingdom. We live in it. We love it. We enjoy it. We reap the benefits of it. We share in the inheritance and the legacy of the King. It is not ours. It is Yours. In and of ourselves we have no power. All power resides in You and in You alone. Any power that we have is borrowed and received. Forgive us when we boast of our own strengths as if we ourselves were the source of them.
What glory do we have? Our feet are clay. Our frames are dust. We are of the earth, earthy. We come to You with nothing in our hands, but all glory, laud, and honor belong to You and to the Lamb who is worthy to receive glory, power, honor, and dominion, now and forever more.
Pray with Christ’s Mind
See how easy it is to use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework, a jumping off place for a much greater fullness of prayer? When you finish with the Lord’s Prayer you can use the Ten Commandments, beginning with, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and take off on that. Then you can start the Apostles’ Creed, “For I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” and take off on that. I use this method frequently. I love it. I have never once in one season of prayer made it all the way through the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. There is just too much there to incite our souls to pray.
What Luther did for his barber, Jesus did for us. He taught us how to pray. He taught us how to pray like He prayed. He taught us how to pray for the things He prayed for. That is what godly prayer is all about, that you pray with the mind of Christ, filled with Scripture and the Word of God.
If you really want to learn how to pray, immerse yourself in the Psalms of the Old Testament, because there you have spirit-inspired prayer. I am sure Jesus was not opposed to praying the Psalms. If you want to add to the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments, fill your soul with the Psalms.
Our church will only be as strong as our prayers. I pray that we will hear the Master teach us to pray.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.