Matthew 6:9: The Posture of Prayer
Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 6:9
Matthew 6:9: The Posture of Prayer
This morning’s message will be based on Matthew 6:9. For context, I’ll be reading Matthew 6:7-13. It says,
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
May God bless the reading of his Word.
Let’s pray: Father, we’re gathered around this text of Scripture today because we want to hear from you. And we want to hear from you because we want to know you more and love your more and be more conformed to your image. So, please, bless our efforts and glorify your name. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
This morning, I’ll be sharing the second of three messages about prayer as part of our emphasis on prayer for the New Year. Last Sunday we looked at “The Power of Prayer,” this Sunday we’ll be exploring “The Posture of Prayer,” and next Sunday we’ll learn about “The Practice of Prayer.”
A theologian named A. W. Tozer once said that “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” And I believe that general statement is especially true when it comes to prayer. The way we view God determines the way we relate to God in prayer.
One time, a friend of mine tried to send a text message to his fiancé. But, instead of sending it to his fiancé, he accidentally sent it to another woman he knew. And let’s just say he wrote something in this text message that he definitely wouldn’t write to another woman intentionally. Now, thankfully, they were eventually able to get the situation figured out, but at first this other woman was very confused and my friend was very embarrassed. So, we relate to people differently depending on who we perceive them to be. And the same holds true with God. The way we relate to God and approach God and experience God in prayer is inseparably tied to who we believe God to be.
So, when you pray, how are you viewing God? I think, sometimes, we approach God as if he were a strict boss in the workplace who’s not overly inclined to help us unless we can figure out a way to convince him to do so. Or maybe we view him as a distant deity who’s more concerned about other things that are going on in the vast universe he governs than he is about us and is therefore just a bit on the reluctant side to hear our prayers. There are a lot of different views we can have of God that fall tragically short of what the Bible reveals about him. And for those here who find prayer to be a struggle, maybe that’s a key reason why you struggle. Maybe the way you’re viewing God and the fundamental assumptions you’re making about him just aren’t biblical and are throwing everything else off as you try to pray. So, this morning, our focus will be on the posture of prayer. And, by that, I mean, what mentality should we have as we approach God in prayer? How should we view him and relate to him?
And, thankfully, we don’t have to wonder about that, because Jesus tells us pretty clearly how to approach God in Matthew 6:9. He says, Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” So, Jesus tells us to approach God not as some distant deity who’s relatively indifferent about our welfare but rather as a Father. And since we know there aren’t any deficiencies in God, we understand that he isn’t just any father but the ideal Father who loves us perfectly, cares for us immensely, accepts us completely, and is sympathetic to us in the mist of our struggles. Although it’s not uncommon to have an earthly father who leaves much to be desired, we can approach God in prayer as a Father who’s perfect in every way.
This leads us to pray much differently than those who aren’t Christians and who don’t have this mentality. We can see the difference if we back up to the two verses that precede the verse we just read. In verses 7-8, Jesus says, 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Usually in the Bible, the term “Gentiles” refers to anyone who’s not a Jew. But, in this context, the term simply refers to those who are far from God and don’t have a biblical view of God and are essentially pagan in their spiritual orientation. And, as Jesus alludes to here, prayer in the pagan world was often characterized by mindless repetition and various magical incantations in which saying the right words and saying them as much as possible was what really mattered. It was all very mechanical rather than something that was from the heart. It was more about “saying prayers” than about truly praying.
Yet, Jesus informs us that we don’t have to do that with God. Instead, he says that God’s a Father who knows what we need—and, presumably, cares about what we need—before we even ask him. He’s not some pagan deity who demands that we mindlessly repeat a certain formula over and over again before he’ll answer our prayers. Instead, he’s a Father who loves us and cares for us and already holds our needs in his heart before we even mention them in our prayers.
Yet, looking again at verse 9, notice that God isn’t just described as “our Father” but as “our Father in heaven.” And those twin truths have a wonderful way of balancing each other out. Whereas viewing God as “our Father” conveys the warm intimacy and love and care he has for us, understanding that he’s “in heaven” reminds us that he’s also the all-powerful Lord of the universe. He’s not some teddy bear who has a big heart but no power to actually do anything. No, he’s the one who sovereignly rules over all things from the throne of heaven—and yet, amazingly, is also lovingly attentive to our prayers. So, that’s how we should approach God—as our Father…in heaven.
It reminds me of that famous picture of JFK, Jr., playing under his father’s desk in the Oval Office. Of course, his dad was the President of the United States and therefore arguably the most powerful and influential person in the world. So, I imagine that whenever most people entered the Oval Office, they were pretty guarded and formal and perhaps a bit anxious as they interacted with the powerful man behind that desk. Yet, we see quite a different attitude in JFK, Jr., don’t we? There’s no fear or anxiety because the president is his dad. And that’s similar to the manner in which we get to approach God. Although we certainly revere him as the Lord of the universe, we don’t have to be afraid of him or be anxious as we approach him. Instead, those of us who are Christians can come to him as our Father and enjoy unprecedented access to him whenever we desire.
And, by the way, that privileged relationship isn’t something we should take for granted—because, if it weren’t for what Jesus has done for us in the gospel, we wouldn’t have that kind of relationship with God or anything close to it. You see, in our natural condition, we aren’t God’s children but rather God’s enemies because of our sin. The Bible teaches that each one of us has sinned against God. Romans 3:10-12 states that, 10 None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. As a result, the Bible says, God will give us what our sins deserve in hell for all eternity. That’s what justice demands. For God to withhold that punishment would be a gross miscarriage of justice.
However, the good news of the gospel is that, in his love, God provided a way for his justice to be satisfied while, at the same time, sparing us from the punishment we deserve. And that way was through Jesus. Jesus came to this earth, lived a perfectly sinless life, and then died on the cross in order to atone for our sins. As Isaiah 53:5-6 says, 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Jesus suffered the punishment we deserved, thereby satisfying God’s justice and rescuing us from eternal condemnation. He then resurrected from the dead three days later in order to demonstrate his victory over sin and death.
And because of what Jesus has done in the gospel, there are several blessings we enjoy when we put our trust in him for rescue. Perhaps the most well-known of those blessings is what the Bible calls “justification,” which is a fancy way of saying that God forgives us for our sins and declares us to be righteous in his sight. As Romans 5:1 tells us, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” When we put our faith in Jesus, we’re justified by that faith. We go from being condemned in our sins to being holy and blameless before God. So that’s one gospel blessing—the blessing of justification.
And there are several other gospel blessings we could talk about as well, such as “regeneration,” where God changes us from the inside out, removing our old sinful heart and replacing it with a heart that loves him. We also experience “sanctification,” where God progressively transforms us to be more like him in the way we live.
So, as you can see, the blessings that come to us through the gospel are absolutely stunning. Yet, as amazing as these blessings are, there’s one gospel blessing that’s even more amazing—the blessing of adoption. We learn about it in Galatians 4:5, where Paul writes that Jesus redeemed us from our sins “so that we might receive adoption as sons.” And I truly believe that adoption is the highest of all the blessings we receive in the gospel. Now, to clarify, I do believe that justification is the most foundational blessing since it meets our most foundational need. Apart from Christ, we stand under God’s judgment and need to be rescued from that. That’s the most foundational need we have. So justification is the foundational blessing since it meets that need.
However, that’s not to say justification is the highest blessing of the gospel. Adoption is higher because of the richer relationship with God that it involves. I mean, it’s wonderful to be declared right before God, but to be loved by God and adopted by God as his own child is even more wonderful. There’s no higher privilege than to be a part of God’s family. It’s the highest blessing we receive.
And think about the fact that God didn’t have to adopt us. Now, in reality, he didn’t have to justify us either. He could have left us in our sins and allowed us to experience the condemnation we deserved. Yet, he didn’t. He chose to send Jesus to rescue us so that we could be justified. But…God also could have stopped at our justification. That would mean we’d be forgiven of our sins and enjoy God’s goodness to some degree in heaven. And I’m sure we’d all agree that alone would be an unimaginably wonderful blessing. Yet God hasn’t even stopped there. He’s actually gone beyond even that and adopted us into his family as his beloved children. That’s just off the charts. What greater blessing could there be?
It's hard not to agree with J. I. Packer when he writes, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”
So, I just feel like I need to ask before we go any further: have you ever experienced this? Have you ever turned away from your sin, put your trust in Jesus for rescue, and entered into a personal relationship with God in which you know him and enjoy him as your Father? If not, why not do so even today? Why not let today be the day you became a child of God? Because you may not have tomorrow.
Also, for those of us who are already Christians, the more we understand of the wonders of this truth of our adoption, the more of a difference it makes in our prayers. Understanding the rich dynamics of our adoption changes everything our approach to God in prayer.
So, let’s dig a little deeper, shall we? We’ve already seen in Matthew 6:9 that we should approach God as “our Father,” but what exactly does it mean for God to be our Father? What’s his disposition toward us specifically as it relates to prayer? Well, let me direct your attention actually to the biblical passage we looked at last week—because there are still some precious truths in this passage I intentionally didn’t bring out last week because I was saving them for this week. In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus says, 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
So, in these verses, we find a description of the kind of Father God is. He’s a loving Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. So combining what we saw earlier from Matthew 6 with these verses from Matthew 7, here’s what we find emerging into full view. This is the main idea I’d like to get across this morning. Jesus teaches us to approach God in prayer as a loving Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. Again, Jesus teaches us to approach God in prayer as a loving Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. And that is absolutely revolutionary. God isn’t some distant deity who’s reluctant to answer our prayers or annoyed at our constant asking. He wants us to ask and delights in showering us with innumerable blessings in response to our asking.
As we just read in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” In other words, if those of us who are parents— even with all of our sinfulness and shortcomings—enjoy giving our kids good gifts, how much more does our heavenly Father delight in giving us good gifts? How much more does his heart go out to us whenever we come to him in prayer?
So, let me encourage you to approach God in prayer in the same manner that children approach their parents. And there are two characteristics of little children in particular that I’d like to highlight. First, children come without pretense in asking their parents for things. They haven’t really learned yet how to put on a mask or a façade as they make their desires known. Instead, they simply come as who they are. And that’s the way we should approach God in prayer. Approach God as the “real you.”
I remember, in the church I attended growing up, the ushers would come to the front each Sunday during the worship service, and one of them would say a prayer before they passed around the offering plates to the congregation. And, regardless of which one of the men was praying on any given Sunday, the prayers would always sound more or less the same. The guy’s voice would get really low and dignified and they’d always make sure to use plenty of “holy” language like a bunch of “Thee’s” and “Thou’s” and words like that. And, even as a teenager, I remember thinking, like, “Why are you doing that? You don’t speak like that in regular conversation. So, why do you feel like you have to speak like that in your prayers?”
Yet, that’s just a more obvious example of the same kind of thing that many of us as well do in prayer. Even if we don’t speak in “King James” English, we still often feel like we have to put on some sort of façade as we approach God. So, don’t do that. Don’t try to be something you aren’t. Don’t feel like you have to act like you have it all together when, in fact, you don’t have it all together.
You know, many of us are very familiar with the teaching that someone who’s not a Christian shouldn’t try to fix themselves up or get their life straightened out before coming to Jesus. That’s hopeless. Instead, they have to first come to Jesus as they are—in their sin, in their brokenness—and allow Jesus to fix them. That’s basic gospel teaching, right? Yet, how often do we forget that when it comes to prayer? How often do we try to approach God in prayer as something other than the real us—with all of our sins and struggles? So, essentially, all I’m saying is that we should apply the gospel to our prayer lives. Approach God without pretense—just as children approach their parents.
In addition, children approach their parents without any hesitation about asking for what they really want. Children will ask for just about anything that comes to their minds. If they hear about a new toy, they don’t hesitate to ask for that new toy. If they hear about Disneyworld, they don’t hesitate to ask to go to Disneyworld. For example, every once in a while—like, maybe a few times a year—I try to take my 5-year-old daughter Grace out for a “Daddy-daughter date,” as we call it. There’s an old-fashioned 1960’s-syle ice cream parlor that we usually like to go to. So, a few weeks ago, I took Grace out there for our Daddy-daughter date, and we had a great time. So, then, just a few days after that, guess what she was asking me? “You know, Daddy, isn’t it time for another Daddy-daughter date?” She had no hesitation about asking for what she really wanted.
And that’s how God invites us to come to him in prayer. He invites us to pray as children who aren’t afraid to ask for what’s truly in our hearts. God isn’t reluctant to hear, so we shouldn’t be reluctant to ask.
And the thing about it is that God actually enjoys being asked. He even enjoys being asked repeatedly. And that’s a lot different from the way those of us who are parent are with our kids, isn’t it? Whenever our kids ask us for something over and over again, it wears us out. Sometimes, we end up giving them what they ask for just to shut them up. We find their relentless asking to be wearisome. Yet, in passages like Luke 18:1-8, for example, God actually encourages us to ask him repeatedly for what we desire. He invites us to ask…and then to ask again and again and again—because he simply enjoys being asked.
I love the way C. S. Lewis brings this out in his fictional book The Magician’s Nephew in the Chronicles of Narnia series. The great lion Aslan, who represents Jesus, sends out these children named Digory and Polly on a mission. But as they journey on their mission, they find themselves hungry and without food as they set up camp for the night. So, they talk about their need for food with the horse that’s carrying them around. And they wonder why Aslan has allowed them to be in this situation without enough food. Polly asks the horse, “Wouldn’t Aslan know about our need for food without being asked?” And the horse responds very insightfully, “I’ve no doubt he would, but I’ve a sort of an idea he likes to be asked.”
You know, sometimes people wonder, why should we pray if God already knows what we need anyway? Well, this is the reason. He simply likes to be asked. And I’m convinced that the reason he likes to be asked is that us asking him for things leads us out of our natural state of self-sufficiency and into to a state of humble dependence on him. Simultaneously, our asking also gives God occasion to display his power and grace more clearly in our lives and thereby accomplish his ultimate purpose of bringing glory to his name.
John Piper explains it this way. He writes, “Suppose you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed done. How could you glorify your friend if a stranger came to see you? Would you glorify his generosity and strength by trying to get out of bed and carry him? No! You would say, ‘Friend, please come lift me up, and would you put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest? And would you please put my glasses on for me?’ And so your visitor would learn from your requests that you are helpless and that your friend is strong and kind. You glorify your friend by needing him and asking him for help and counting on him.” Piper then makes the connection to prayer. He writes, “Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.” So God wants us to ask him for whatever’s on our heart in our prayers—just as little children often do with their parents.
Yet, at the same time, it’s also true that those of us who are parents hope that our children desire more in their relationship with us than simply what we can buy for them or do for them. Especially as our children mature, we hope that they maintain a relationship with us simply because they love us and genuinely enjoy being around us and having us in their lives. And that’s what God desires as well. It’s true that God’s a Father, who, as we’ve said, delights in giving good gifts to his children. But the best gift he offers us, and wants us to desire above all, is the gift of himself. The best gift God offers is the gift of himself.
So, our primary motive in our prayers shouldn’t be merely getting things from God but getting God, treating God not as a means to an end but as the end itself. As one theologian has said, “God is his own reward.” So, don’t hesitate to ask God for what’s truly on your heart, but at the same time, make sure you’re not exalting the gifts above the Giver. The more you grow as a Christian, the more you should find yourself desiring God in your prayers. As the Holy Spirit progressively shapes your desires and affections to a greater and greater degree, the more you should find yourself yearning for God and pursuing a deeper relationship with God through prayer.
So, ideally, prayer should be the natural expression of a heart that yearns for God. It shouldn’t merely be the spiritual equivalent of a trip to the vending machine to get more of this, that, or the other. And it certainly shouldn’t be something we approach as a legalistic duty just to check it off of some list. You know—“Church attendance, check. Bible reading, check. Prayer, check.” No, prayer should be something we engage in ultimately because we desire more of God himself. Just as we eat because we’re hungry and just as we breathe because we crave oxygen, we should pray because we yearn for God.