Story 66: How to Pray Part 2: The Love Letters of God

Matthew 6:5-10

Love letter

Of all the important questions there are in the world, perhaps one of the most important is this: “How are we supposed to talk to God?” If you think about it, the fact that we can talk to Him at all is pretty amazing. There are lots of false stories about God out there that suggest we can’t come to Him. They treat Him like a distant or unknowable character that is unapproachable. Or they treat Him like He is a tyrant, or a game player, or arbitrary in the way He shares His love and blessing. And sometimes, people treat Him like He can be whatever they want Him to be…like He has to morph into whatever shape or form that fits their feelings.

But if God is real, then He has His own distinct characteristics, just like you and I…except His are perfect. And if God has a mind and will, then wouldn’t it make sense that we could not only know about Him but know Him…personally…and communicate with Him? And doesn’t it make sense that He would give us a way to learn about Him? That is the God that the Bible describes. In fact, that is the purpose of the Bible. To let us know who God is and how to have a relationship with Him. It is His love letter to us, written over thousands of years by dozens of authors in God’s relentless pursuit of our hearts.

And in this love letter, Jesus gave us a model for how to pray. How do we come to this high, exalted, holy Lord who wants us to call Him Father? We talked a little bit about the Lord’s Prayer in the last post, but let’s go a little bit more deeply.

At the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus mentions that God is our Father, and that He is in Heaven. We’ve already talked about how He is our Father…let’s think for a minute about how Jesus declares that He is in Heaven. It is clear that to Jesus, Heaven isn’t just a nice idea or a dream. It is a real place that has existed and continues to exist now. Picture that in your head, and imagine that God is really there. If it is true, and I believe it is, then it changes everything. Once we embrace that God is King, then everything else has to align itself with that magnificent fact.

The first thing Jesus tells us to do is to offer the King our worship. That short sentence given by Jesus is not supposed to limit our worship to the few words Jesus actually spoke. It introduces a whole world of adoration. The angels of Heaven adore the Most High God in everlasting praise in a place where there is no suffering, temptation, or death.  We can come to our Father, the High King of Heaven, and join the angels, knowing some day we will be right there with them.

That heart of worship is the way we are meant to pray the rest of the Lord’s Prayer…it is meant to be the attitude of our souls.  We do not follow hard after God because He is a tyrant or because we want to earn something.  We seek the coming of His Kingdom and His will because He is good…He is the most worthy ruler.  Our need for forgiveness, to give forgiveness, to have protection from temptation and our spiritual Enemy are all wrapped up in the idea that the God of the universe is the very Best Good, the Whole One who makes us whole, and the One whose goodness we want to see spread everywhere across our planet.  As we worship Him for His worthiness and holiness, it transforms everything about how we want to live.  And so we pray for His help to make it so. And we pray that His Kingdom will come, and His will shall be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
The prayer Jesus gave us is not only about the sublime and exalted things of God. Jesus taught that the needs of our earthy, broken lives matter a lot to God. Remember that in the Lord’s Prayer He said:

“‘Give us today our daily bread.’”

In the days of Jesus, many of the Jewish people were laborers who worked the farms owned by richer men. They were often paid so little that it was difficult to feed their families. Many people lived in poverty, and the problems of famine and drought insured that at some point, people from almost every sector of society would experience dangerous hunger at some point in their lifetime.   The common people could often not be sure from day to day whether their children would have enough to eat. Jesus tells His disciples to take this very real need to the Lord in prayer. Trusting God about food when there is a real risk for hunger requires breathtaking faith. Yet we know from the words of Jesus that it matters to Him, and we can trust Him. You can trust Him.

And for those who have plenty to eat, it is necessary to consider how important this subject is to Jesus. He put it in this concise little prayer as a major concern. What does that mean for our obedience to the God who provides for those who are hungry?

Eating is the most basic, daily need that every human has. But that is not the only need Jesus wants His disciples to pray about. He wants the people of His Kingdom to depend on Him for every part of our lives. If we can trust Him with something as basic and essential as food, then we can trust Him with everything else. The Lord Jesus sees it all, and He has told us to talk about it with the Father.

There is another kind of need we all have in this sinful world. It is just as important to us spiritually as bread is to us physically. We need to seek God for forgiveness for the ways we sin against Him each day. Jesus taught His disciples to pray “Forgive us our debts” because He longs to cleanse and purify us. But we have to come to Him as those who are poor in spirit. We have to repent, confessing that we are wrong and offensive when we choose our own way instead of the Lord’s. We can’t blame others or blame God. We are the ones who make the final choice with every sin we do.

Sin is no small thing, it cannot be taken lightly. It destroys our souls and brings destruction and evil into the world, and so it ignites the wrath of our holy God. It is deadly and poisonous. True repentance means doing whatever is necessary to destroy the power of sin in our lives.

As painful as it is to take responsibility for ourselves, it is also incredibly dignifying. It feels vulnerable, but it is actually a courageous act of strength, and it will transform us into more than we were before.

It is also vitally important that we forgive others. We have to set them free from our anger and vengeance. When we do, we are set free, too. Unforgiveness is a form of bondage of the soul…a cancer that eats away like a toxin. When we forgive someone, we let go and get our own sinful responses out of the way. It is a way of putting the situation in the hands of God, who is perfectly just and merciful. We can trust Him with the bad things people have done to us. And when we have gone through the whole process of forgiving someone, we are not only freed from the bad that they tried to do to us, but we have allowed God to turn it into something beautiful in our souls.

The last two lines of the model prayer that Jesus gave teach us how to deal with temptation in a sinful world. He said:

“‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”

 Temptation is anything that makes you want to move from your devoted, responsive obedience to the Lord. Each person will have areas where they are more likely to be tempted than others, but everyone struggles. Jesus is saying that we should not only avoid sin, but the temptations that lead us into sin. We are to be watchful and intentional…it is part of hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

Another name for Satan is “the Accuser” and “the Father of Lies.” He is big on using temptation to destroy the humans that God so loves. He tempted Eve in the Garden and brought an evil mutiny into God’s perfect world. Every moment of temptation, sin, illness, and death in human history comes because of that dreadful decision. Satan works with devastating power over the human race, delighting in the agony of war and abuse and suffering. He is tempts men to crave after great sins, drawing them into horrific acts of murder, adultery, corruption against fellow human beings, and rebellion against the high, pure ways of the Living Lord.

When Satan begins his evil work on a human heart, he does not usually begin with something magnificently bad, like murder. He starts by deceiving him or her into thinking it is okay to do quieter sins. These are the sins that happen in the heart, where nobody else can see…the look of lust, the thoughts of envy and competition, the hunger for more things. Satan will draw his victim to enjoy hateful and malicious thoughts against someone else. He will tempt them with the nasty pleasure of gossip. He will whispers lies to men, telling them there is nothing wrong with looking at a woman who is not his wife in a lustful way. These are the quiet, insidious beginnings of sin that lead to the great offenses. They are rebellion of the heart.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that His followers are to cut their sin short at the very beginning with immediate repentance. Our hatred for sin and our longing for purity must become so strong that we would rather cut off our own arm or gouge out our own eye than offend our Lord and Savior!

Each day, we can come to God with this model prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples. He will continually give us the forgiveness we seek and the strength to overcome sin in new ways. We can totally depend on him! As we ask, the Lord will protect us from the aggressive onslaught that is being waged against us by Satan and his demonic forces. We will be empowered to join God’s work for the Kingdom of Light against the Kingdom of Darkness in the very heart of our own lives! We will love others better, bring purity into situations that might have degraded into lust or gossip, and build up His Kingdom with others who are living the same obedience. This is how we partner with God to change the world.

At the end of the prayer, Jesus added, “‘For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.’” Wow. Is there anything you need to ask God for forgiveness about? Is there anyone you have not forgiven? Take care of it right now! Don’t let it fester.

It is interesting that Jesus mentioned forgiveness twice, isn’t it? After teaching His disciples how to pray, He went back and brought it up again. It was very important to Him. He knew how deeply important it is that His followers forgive, but He also knew how hard it would be for us to do.

As you forgive, it is important to remember that sometimes forgiveness takes time. Some sins are so painful, and our wounds are so deep, that we have to keep on forgiving. And sometimes, the person keeps on sinning against us, so they give us even more reasons to forgive. That is very painful and very difficult.

The wonderful thing is that we can invite the God of all Creation to help us. We can pray and ask Him to protect us and transform our hearts. We can put our trust in Him instead of putting all our energy into anger and hurt and vengeance. What is important is that each day, or even each hour, we choose to forgive the person in our prayers to God. Each time we choose forgiveness, it is like we are handing the situation to God.   We are giving up our right to get revenge and trusting God to work in His good and perfect way.

Wow. Can you imagine how that kind of humility and obedience shines in a dark world? We are to be God’s peacemakers, and we can trust that He will empower us to do it well when we ask for His help. And the Lord will bless us by making us sons and daughters of the living God.

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