DUNCAN/True religion, Part 3: Prayer and forgiveness
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 6:9-15. This great prayer, a prayer which we repeat so often is the model prayer which our Lord gave to His disciples, a pattern for their life and practice of prayer. This prayer also reminds us of a very important linkage in the Christian life. The linkage between God’s forgiveness of us, between our forgiveness of others, and our ability to be great or strong in prayer. We will see three things from this text on prayer and forgiveness. First, the character of the true person of prayer is significant in that person’s ability to pray. Second, God must be the center of our prayer. Third, Jesus has given a pattern for prayer.
I. The character of the true person of prayer is significant in that person’s ability to pray.
It is apparent from this prayer that the character of the true person of prayer is of major significance in that person’s ability to pray. One’s heart, in other words, has to say a great deal about how well we do in the practice of prayer as Christians. And so, Jesus teaches us in this great prayer itself that we must know and manifest our adoption if we are to be great in prayer. We must both know that we adopted by the Lord, and we must manifest that adoption, if we are to be great in prayer. Notice the words of verse 9. “Our Father which art in heaven.” Also notice the words of verse 12, “Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.” In each of those phrases and in verses 14 and 15, the Lord Jesus is actually putting before us the doctrine of adoption. Adoption is a doctrine that says this: that God has declared as an act of His grace, that we are not only saved from our sins and justified in His sight, but we are now children of His household. The doctrine of adoption says that the Lord God Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, has not only spared us the condemnation of sin, but also as a judicial act has made us to be children of His household, joint heirs with Christ, so that we are now the thorough inheritors of everything that Jesus Christ is due to inherit.
At the very beginning of the prayer, He wants you to remember that you are not entering into the throne room by right, you are entering into the throne room by privilege. You are not entering into the throne room by nature, you are entering into the throne room by covenant. You are not entering into the throne room merely as a creature, but you are entering into the throne room as a child of God. And that should remind you of the mercy of God towards you. God has showered His mercy on you. You deserved condemnation. But He has given you sonship. You deserved destruction and punishment, but He has given you blessing, and He has given you the status of joint heirs with Christ. And you must allow that to impact your prayer to God. Those who love little, will love in return little. Those who have not sensed the love of God in their lives, will not love God with great love.
Notice also in the fifth petition in verse 12, He tells us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Notice again here the Lord is putting before us the link between our being forgiven, and our forgiving. He is saying, if you have been forgiven much, you ought to be one who forgives much.
II. God must be the center of our prayer.
The second point to notice has to do with the priorities of prayer in life. Notice how the prayer begins, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Notice the order of the prayer. It begins with petitions, about God centering on God, centering on His will, centering on His plan, centering on His cause. Only then, do we move to petitions about us. But let me say that God’s kingdom and His cause is not contradictory to our good. It is vital for you to understand that. God made us to be God-centered. When we are God-centered, we lose nothing, and we gain everything. When we are man-centered, in our life and in our prayer, we lose all the blessings that God intends for us, because He made us to be God-centered and He knows how we work. When we seek first His kingdom, we find that all of these things are added unto us.
The first thing I would ask you to do, is pray that the Lord would give you a heart, a zeal for the first things. That is perhaps where we all ought to start. When we cannot produce that zeal in ourselves, it is a reminder that we must turn to God in dependence on Him. Ask Him to give you a heart for the first things. A zeal for His cause. And second, translate temporal and earthly struggles into the spiritual categories as you pray for these things of God. Translate those temporary, earthly, and physical prayers into spiritual categories as you pray for the first things of God.
III. Jesus has given a pattern for prayer.
This prayer before us is designed to be a pattern for our prayer. It is not ultimately meant to be a prayer which we simply repeat by rote. That would actually violate one of the principles which the Lord Himself has set down in this passage. It is perfectly appropriate, of course, to repeat it back to God, and to serve as a rubric for our prayer and for our worship. But each petition that Christ gives us in this prayer is ultimately suggestive of a whole range of appropriate matters for prayer. Jesus’ prayer focuses on the worship of the Father, and the kingdom of the Father, and the provision of the Father, and the grace of the Father, and the protection of the Father.
If that is the case, then I would urge you to make prayer a new priority. Make it a priority in your schedule. Look for opportunities to engage in corporate prayer. Determine to read some books on prayer. Not that “how to pray” is the ultimate matter in prayer, but that the very study of prayer can lead us into prayer. Follow the direction of the Lord in His prayer. Prayer, I suspect, is the fuel most needed in our churches today. And our lack of prayer is probably a sign that we lack the sense of gratitude which is born in all those who are adopted by the living God. May God now build in us a new desire to commune with him as give him the praise and the glory.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.