Praying Like Jesus

Matthew 6:5-13

October 2, 2005 | Brian Bill

In the September 5th issue of Newsweek, several studies were cited to show that America is a spiritual nation.  One example is that 64% of Americans say that they pray every day.  Sociologist Alan Wolfe of Boston College suggests that the current spiritual searching is really about the empowerment of the self: “Rather than being about a god who commands you, it’s about finding a religion that empowers you.”  Albert Mohler concludes, “The impression left by the total package is of a nation that increasingly embraces soft and self-centered forms of spirituality even as it rejects more demanding forms of belief…they see spirituality as a means of self-development…they want to get in touch with the universe and with their inner selves, but are not particularly concerned to know what the Creator would demand of them” (

In our passage for today, we will look at how not to pray and then at how to pray.  This prayer has rightly been called a “dangerous prayer” because God just may answer it.  These words are unequaled in simplicity and yet they sizzle with power.  This prayer is poetic and beautiful and yet profound and brief.  These words are anything but soft and self-centered so buckle up your seat belts as we take a journey that has the potential to totally transform us.  Jesus had a great deal to say about prayer, mentioning the topic 42 times in his teaching.  Amazingly, the gospels show him praying 28 times!  

How Not to Pray

In verses 5-8 we see how easy it is to slip into the mechanics of prayer and miss the majesty of prayer.  Before we look at the content, let’s notice the context.  Here are two ways to not pray.

1. Don’t pray for people to hear; pray in private. 

Let’s read verse 5: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” Notice that Jesus assumes that we will pray: “and when you pray.”  The religious people had praying down pat as they stood up in the synagogues or if they were outside, they prayed at the appointed times of 9:00 a.m., noon, and 3:00 p.m.  A hypocrite is literally “one who wears a mask,” assuming a character which does not belong to him.   Notice that they “loved” to receive religious recognition.  Someone described an eloquent prayer in a New England church this way: “Reverend Jones presented the most beautiful prayer ever offered before a Boston audience.”  Jesus makes it clear that if we pray just to be seen by others we might receive their approval but the applause of heaven will not be forthcoming.  What is the opinion of fellow sinners’ worth if we never hear “well done, good and faithful servant” from the Savior?

The story is told of the time Bill Moyers was a special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson.  He was asked to say grace before a meal at the White House.  As Moyers began praying softly, the President interrupted and said, “Speak up, Bill!  Speak up!”  Moyers stopped in mid-sentence and firmly replied, “I wasn’t addressing you, Mr. President!”

In verse 6, we’re told to find a private place to pray: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  This Greek word for “room” was a storeroom where treasures were kept.  How appropriate since we have treasures available to us when we pray!  This word can also refer to a den or a closet or a private chamber.  The idea is to find a place that is private.  Jesus often got away from the chaos of the crowds and the pressing problems of the people in order to pray.  We see this in Mark 1:35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  Jesus had several different places where he liked to go and pray.  In Luke 22:39-41, we read that “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives…and he knelt down and prayed.”  

Praying in a private place can help us concentrate.  It can help us connect.  And we can gain confidence in our relationship with Christ.  Are you taking time in your day to pray?  Do you have a special spot where you can intercede without interruption?

2. Don’t be pompous; pray with precision. 

Friends, prayer is not an effort to overcome God’s unwillingness to respond by wearying Him with our words

We must also resist the urge to blabber and babble when we pray.  Notice verses 7-8: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Friends, prayer is not an effort to overcome God’s unwillingness to respond by wearying Him with our words.  That’s exactly how the pagans prayed in 1 Kings 18:26 when Baal wasn’t answering them: “Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon.  ‘O Baal, answer us!’ they shouted.  But there was no response; no one answered…” This also happened in Acts 19:34 where we read that the pagans shouted in unison for two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.”  We have to be careful here, because even the religious people according to Mark 12:40 made long prayers for “a show.”  

I like what D.L. Moody once said: “Some men’s prayers need to be cut short at both ends and set on fire in the middle.”  It’s easy to pray without paying attention.  John Bunyon commented: “When thou prayest, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words without heart.”  One pastor quoted these statistics: The Lord’s prayer contains 56 words; the Gettysburg address 266; the Ten Commandments 297; the Declaration of Independence, 300; and a recent government order setting the price of cabbage, 26,911.  

How to Pray

In verses 9-13, we come to what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer.”  Actually, it’s probably better to call it “The Disciples’ Prayer” or “The Model Prayer” because in Luke 11:1, these words come as an answer to the question of the disciple who said: “Lord, teach us to pray.”  The real Lord’s Prayer is actually found in John 17 where we read of Jesus crying out to His Father as He prays for unity for his followers.  

The model for prayer that Jesus gave to His followers can be divided into two sets of three elements each.  The first three (hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done) deal with God’s glory.  The second three (give us our daily bread, forgive us our debts, lead us not into temptation) deal with our good.  Prayer is to begin with the character of God.  And, the reason we pray and the reason God answers is to put Himself and His glory on display.  Incidentally, about half of the words in this prayer are devoted to who God is; the other half is focused on our needs.  That’s a good ratio to keep in mind as we pray for God’s glory and our good.

Incidentally, I don’t know of anywhere in the Gospels where the disciples were characterized as men of prayer.  They often watched Jesus pray but they didn’t enter into intercession themselves.  In fact, in the hour of Jesus’ greatest need they dropped their eyelids instead of dropping to their knees.  We’re the same way, aren’t we?  We know prayer is important, we know Jesus modeled it, but most of us fall far short.  

If we want to pray like Jesus prayed, let’s learn along with his disciples as we read the first part of Matthew 6:9: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven…’” We’re given a couple guidelines for prayer before the praying begins.

  • Pray in community, not in isolation.  Jesus uses the plural pronoun here to indicate that prayer is to have a corporate element to it: “you should pray…”  Prayer is not to be selfish, but to be done with a sense of community and togetherness.  Most of us come to the Lord with a lot of “I, me, and my” in our prayers.  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he used no singular personal pronouns.  Listen: Our Father…give usour daily bread…forgive us our debts…we also have forgiven…lead us not into temptation…but deliver us…”
  • Pray to our Father, not to each other.  “Our Father in heaven.”  “Father” is probably the most common term we use in prayer, and rightly so, because that is how Jesus addressed His prayers, using the phrase more than 70 different times.  The only prayer He ever prayed without the word Father was when He was on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When we become Christians, Romans 8:15 says that we receive the Holy Spirit who makes us children of God, “and by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”  This word “Abba” means “daddy,” and communicates the intimacy and nearness of God.  He wants us to come boldly into His presence, having the confidence that He is eager to hear the prayers of His children (see Hebrews 4:16).  Arthur Pink perceptively adds, “The words ‘Our Father’ inspire confidence and love, while ‘in heaven’ should fill us with humility and awe.”

3 Requests for God’s Glory

After acknowledging God as our Father, Jesus gives us three God-centered requests that have to do with His glory.

1. “Hallowed by your name.”

While we have a relationship with Him we must also revere Him

He is intimate like a Father and He is infinite in holiness.  God’s nature is like a daddy but His name is holy.  Our open access to Him should not destroy our esteem for Him.  He is not the “big guy in the sky” or “our buddy.”  He is the holy and awesome God of Israel, before whom we should tremble like Isaiah did in Isaiah 6.   While we have a relationship with Him we must also revere Him.  He is our friend but He is also a consuming fire as Hebrews 12:29 says.  He is other than us and yet He is ours.  He is personal and He is powerful.  He is mine and He is majestic.  In my Bible reading this week I came across Isaiah 57:15: “For this is what the high and lofty One say-he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”  

Praying, “hallowed by your name” is a safeguard against self-seeking prayer.  Friends, we have to guard against becoming flippant in our view of God.  We must avoid using His name irreverently.  For some of us, that means that we need to stop using His name as a cuss word.  For others it means that we need to avoid just saying God’s name tritely or using the Christian equivalent to a swear word.  Too many of us are shallow; to remedy this we must hallow His name. 

2. “Your kingdom come.”

The word “kingdom” in the Greek means “rule” or “reign.”  To pray, “Your kingdom come” is to pray that God may take up reigning residence in the hearts and lives of those who are in rebellion.  It is a prayer for salvation, for kingdom citizenship.  Can you imagine what would happen if we were preoccupied with the coming of God’s kingdom?  We focused on this truth last week.  If we wait and watch, we can’t help but work until He returns.  Just think about what would take place in this community if we were determined to pray that God’s kingdom rule would make itself known in the lives of our neighbors and co-workers!  Can you imagine how our church would be different if each of us was concerned more about God’s kingdom than our own?

3. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

When we pray this part we are really saying, “Almighty Father God, take control of my life and do what you will for your glory.”  Prayer is not asking God to do my will.  It is bringing me into conformity with His ways.  How is God’s will done in heaven?  It’s done joyfully, instinctively, immediately, and constantly.  To pray this request is to say that we want it to be the same here.  Ivan Denisovich was enduring the horrors of a Soviet prison camp and one day as he was praying another prisoner ridiculed him by saying: “Prayers won’t help you get out of here any faster.”  Opening his eyes, Ivan answered, “I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God.”

Let’s pray: “Our holy heavenly Father, we bow before your majestic presence, recognizing that as we come before you, our sins threaten to consume us.  You are holy, holy, holy and the whole earth is full of your glory.  We praise you and prize you because of your transcendent holy name.  We hallow your name because you are high and lifted up and we hallow your name by striving to live holy lives.  Help us to always treat you as holy.  We pray that your kingdom, not ours, would come through conversions, through our commitment to your kingship, and we look forward to the glorious day of your appearing as you consummate history and usher in your eternal kingdom.  Help us to be kingdom oriented in the way we live so that we will honor you with our lives, and fire us up to do your will always, for what we want is your glory.  Amen.”

3 Requests for our Good

The first half of this model prayer is God-ward.  The second half focuses on the believer.  We move from God’s glory to our good.  Once God is given His rightful place, then we have the proper perspective toward ourselves.

1. “Give us each day our daily bread.”

This request has more to do with the totality of our physical life.  The word bread is really a broad term meaning all of our physical needs.  When we pray, “Give us each day our daily bread,” we are saying that we trust God as the source to supply all the physical needs of our lives, and we affirm that He will take care of everything we need.  Notice that this trust in God is for each day.  In the first century, bread had to be made on a daily basis.  They couldn’t just buy a couple loaves and put them in the freezer.  Like manna that comes once a day, God provides one day at a time.  I like Proverbs 30:8: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”

Do we pray for our daily needs?  Do we take time to ask God to meet our physical needs or do we at least give thanks for them?  Sure, we might say grace before every meal but these prayers can easily become just a sanctimonious way of saying, “Let’s eat.”  Friends, if we don’t ask God to give us what we need every day we will gradually succumb to the delusion that we can actually provide for these needs ourselves.  John was driving down a street in a sweat because he had an important meeting and couldn’t find a parking place.  Looking up to heaven, he said, “Lord, take pity on me.  If you find me a parking place I’ll go to church every Sunday and give up all my bad habits.”  Just then a parking place appeared.  John looked up again and said, “Never mind.  I found one!”  I heard about a discussion recently where one guy told his friend, “You should thank God for all the good that has happened to you.”  The other guy replied, “I should say, ‘thank me,’ not ‘thank God’ because I made it all happen.”  This man is on dangerous ground for God will not share His glory with another.

2. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” 

Forgiveness of sin is the greatest need of the human heart.  Only God can grant us a pardon from punishment and guilt.  Sin is a debt that only God can free us from.  Notice that Jesus immediately gives us a caveat – we are to also release others from debt.  This verse teaches us that it is wrong to ask from God what we are not willing to give to other people.  Let me ask you a question.  Is there anyone who comes to mind right now who is in need of your forgiveness?  Have you been holding someone captive?  Is there someone in need of some grace?  

It’s the height of hypocrisy to expect God to forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive others.  And, when we fail to forgive someone, we set ourselves up as a higher judge than God himself.  Another way to say it is that our relationship with the Lord cannot be right until our relationship with others is made right.

  • Matthew 5:23-24 tells us what to do if we know someone has something against us, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
  • Matthew 18:15 urges us to make things right when we have something against someone else: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

Have you been wronged by someone?  Have you sinned against anyone else?  Meet with the person face-to-face and be reconciled.  Then release the debt by giving the gift of forgiveness.  Before we celebrate communion in a few minutes, take some time right now to do a “forgiveness” inventory.  Ask God to bring someone to mind that you have been withholding forgiveness from.  Ask Him also if you have wronged anyone else.  Don’t short-circuit your own spiritual welfare, or theirs.

3. “And lead us not into temptation.” 

My daughter’s softball team had an end-of-the-season party at a pizza place here in town.  As I sat down to enjoy my piece of pizza, I grabbed the container of hot peppers and started to shake it onto my pizza.  What I didn’t know is that someone had loosened the cover and when I gave it a shake the entire jar of red pepper flakes emptied on top of my pizza.  I looked around for someone to blame and then realized that this was something I used to do in restaurants when I was younger.  I guess what goes around comes around.  I was tempted to retaliate but since there was no one to blame I just gave the pepper-covered piece of pizza to Beth and grabbed another one.

Sin is like that.  It’s ugly, spicy, and everywhere.  And you never know when it’s coming to get you.  Genesis 4:7 says: “…Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  You and I are faced with temptations all around us.  I’m reminded of the boy who had been saving for a new baseball glove and almost had enough money.  This was his prayer: “Lord, please don’t let the ice cream truck come down the street again today.”

And so, we are to ask God to keep us from falling into the power of trials and temptations.  We are not strong enough to handle these on our own.  Will God answer a prayer like this?  You bet He will.  1 Corinthians 10:13 gives us a wonderful promise: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” When you’re faced with an enticement to sin, look for the way out and don’t put yourself in situations to sin.  Psalm 19:13 is a practical prayer: “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.”  Here’s another honest prayer found in Psalm 141:4: “Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.” 

Let’s pray using the parameters of the second half of this prayer: “Our holy father God, we desire to have you triumph as King in our lives and we lean on you to provide for our physical needs.  If it weren’t for your provision, we would have nothing.  What we do have is a gift from you.  And so we choose to trust you for our daily bread, every day so that we might grow in our relationship with you as we see you provide in ways we never thought possible.  Thank you that we live as forgiven sinners without any fear of condemnation.  Give us the courage and humility to make things right with others by owning our sins and by cutting others some slack so we can give them the same gift of grace that you’ve given to us.  And when we’re faced with the temptation to trample your holiness in our thoughts, words, and actions, lead us away and deliver us from the evil one.  We ask this for you glory and for our good.  Amen.”

Prayer Practices

Researcher George Barna has just published the results from a new survey, some of which I will be sharing in the weeks to come.  What I want to pass along this morning is the discovery that many people have not thought about prioritizing a dimension of their spiritual development, which commonly results in a lack of effort.  The reason for this is that most believers consider themselves “average” in their Christian development, and therefore don’t really need to change anything.  In his acerbic manner, backed up with poll numbers, Barna concludes: “The fact that so few people have thought about how they could intentionally and strategically enhance their spiritual life reminds us that spiritual growth is not a priority to most people.  Americans are generally satisfied with being ‘average’ in their spiritual maturity.  That betrays the fact that we do not serve an ‘average’ God, or one who is honored by people who are lukewarm about their faith” ( 

Friends, we need to stop being so average and we can start by prioritizing prayer.  Here are a couple ways that we can grow in our prayer life.

1. Pray this prayer everyday. 

But do so with reverence and with expectancy that God will answer it.  Our family is praying these words before we have supper together.  If you’re in a small group, or you serve on a ministry team, pray this prayer together this week.

2. Use this prayer as a model to pray for ministries. 

An unknown author put together a great summary of the Disciples’ Prayer.

  • I cannot say “our” if I live only for myself.
  • I cannot say, “Father” if I do not endeavor each day to act like His child.
  • I cannot say, “hallowed be your name” if I am playing around with sin.
  • I cannot say “your kingdom come” if I am not allowing God to reign in my life.
  • I cannot say, “ your will be done” if I want my way all the time.
  • I cannot say “give us this day our daily bread” if I am trusting in myself instead of in God’s provision.
  • I cannot say, “Forgive us our debts” if I am nursing a grudge or withholding forgiveness from someone else.
  • I cannot say, “lead us not into temptation” if I deliberately place myself in its path.

As the men come forward to prepare for communion, let’s pray this prayer from Matthew 6 together slowly and with meaning.  We’ll conclude with the doxology that many manuscripts also include: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.”  Remember: we pray this for His glory and for our good because praise and prayer always go together.  And what is for God’s glory is ultimately for our good as well.

“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 yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?