“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘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. And 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.)” (Mt 6:9-13)
Last year, we talked about some important teachings from what’s called the Sermon on the Mount, which refers to a collection of lessons Jesus taught on a mountainside after He began His ministry in earnest in Galilee.
Starting today, I want us to talk about what I think is the most important teaching in the Sermon on the Mount—the Lord’s prayer.
We all know how important it is for us to be devoted to praying as Christians. Prayer plays a vital role in Christian life because it’s basically a conversation with God through which we can develop a meaningful personal relationship with Him, which is the most important factor in a Christian life as Mr. Min shared with us during our retreat.
Without a deep, personal relationship with God, we can’t live a life that’s worthy of the calling we received from Him because that’s the source of everything we do as Christians. And we can’t maintain or build up our relationship with Him without praying.
We can’t get to know someone without listening or speaking to them. Likewise, we can’t really develop our personal relationship with God without going before His presence in prayer.
When we pray, we get to know God’s will toward us. When we go before Him and focus on Him, God brings our life into alignment with His will and guidance. Through prayer, we hear His voice speaking into each of our hearts and build a closer relationship with Him.
We see the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life. In the Bible, we can find many instances where Jesus prays to God. In fact, He didn’t start doing anything without prayer.
He began with prayer early in the morning every day. Even when He was surrounded by crowds and busy teaching them, He always set aside time to find a place to be alone so that He could pray to God and listen to Him. You might say that the foundation of Jesus’ ministry was His prayer life. As He said,
“This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mk 9:29)
So, no Christian can deny the importance of prayer. But, what I think is more important than just praying is knowing what we really need to pray for.
Of course, we can pray for anything to God as His children. But that doesn’t mean that all the things we pray for are in accordance with His will. In some cases, it even seems that what Christians ask God for goes against His will.
So, we’re to learn how to pray and what to pray for. And an important principle to keep in mind is that a Christian prayer isn’t really about what we need or what we want but about what God’s will is and how He wants us to live.
What I’ve experienced is that the more I grow spiritually as a Christian, the more I come to seek God’s will, not mine. I don’t really feel like I need to ask God to help with my problems or my needs, because I know that God already knows them and takes care of them even before I ask Him.
Jesus also said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?… So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Mt 6:25, 31-32).
Jesus said that we don’t have to pray for earthly things such as food, clothes, shelter, and so on. That’s not because they are not important—they are. But, such things shouldn’t be our priorities in prayer, because again, God already knows our situations and needs and He always cares for us just as parents care for their children.
So, we shouldn’t prioritize our interests when we go before God in our prayers. Rather, we need to hear what God is telling us first, asking Him to give us the strength to follow His will. I believe that’s how we truly go before God’s presence in prayer which pleases Him.
In this sense, I think the Lord’s prayer gives us valuable lessons about what we should really pray for along with the importance of prayer in Christian life.
The Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer
First, we learn how important it is for us to continue to maintain our relationship with God through prayer. We can learn this from the structure of the Sermon of the Mount.
The Lord’s prayer is included in the Sermon on the Mount, which consists of many critical teachings we should know in order to live as God’s people in the world.
When Matthew wrote about Jesus’ teachings on the Mount in his gospel, he deliberately arranged them in a specific order.
There are different ways we can emphasize what we think is important in our writing. Most times, we emphasize important points by using certain words or phrases. But, we can also stress the important points by intentionally putting them in a certain order, which I think is more efficient.
For example, when we write a report, we usually put the main point at the beginning or end of the writing. So, it’s not hard to find the main point of a text. We can simply read the first or last paragraph.
But, the Jews used a different writing strategy. They liked to use a special structure to emphasize the main theme of a piece of writing. The structure is called ‘Chiasm.’ In this type of structure, they put the most important content in the middle of their writing, not the beginning or end.
The term chiasm is derived from the Greek letter chi(X). Here’s a simple example of the chiasm structure.
A B X B` A`
Here, each letter represents an idea. In this structure, the two ideas, A and B, are presented first and then repeated in reverse order B` and A`.
And, you can see that the third idea ‘X’ is located at the center. By doing this, the writer emphasizes the importance of idea ‘X’. So, when you find this structure, you know that X is the most important idea in the writing.
This might be unfamiliar to you but it’s beneficial to know about it because many passages in the Bible are written in chiastic structure. And, many scholars suggest that the structure of the Sermon on the Mount is chiastic.
Here’s one of the possible structures of the Sermon on the Mount suggested by theologians.
The Structure of the Sermon on the Mount
A 5:1-2 Frame: Context
B 5:3-16 Intro. – the beatitudes and persecution
C 5:17-20 Introduction of the Main Section – Law and prophets
D 5:21-48 Main Section – Surpassing the Law – the antitheses
X 6:1-18 Climax: Christian Life
D` 6:19-7:11 Main Section – possessions, judging, and asking
C` 7:12 Conclusion of the Main Section – Law and prophets
B` 7:13-27 Conclusion
A` 7:28-8:1a Frame: Reaction – the audience’s response
Even though they don’t perfectly match each other, we can see that the ideas and subjects are structured around the climactic passage ‘X’ located in the middle, which talks about how Christians should live.
However, it’s also been suggested that the X passage itself is chiastic. Here’s the suggested structure of the paragraph.
The Structure of Mt. 6:1-18
A 6:1-4 Righteousness before God – almsgiving
B 6:5-8 Prayer words (not empty words)
X 6:9-13 The Lord’s Prayer (the climax)
B` 6:14-15 Prayer words (need for forgiveness)
A` 6:16-18 Righteousness before God – fasting
Here, we see the centrality of the Lord’s prayer. The Lord’s prayer is the center not only of this passage, but also the Sermon on the Mount itself.
So, some theologians believe that Matthew emphasizes the importance of the Lord’s prayer by placing it at the center of Christian life through the chiastic structure.
It’s like Matthew is saying that we can’t follow all the critical teachings from Jesus without praying, especially the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray.
And it’s true. We know how hard it is for us to follow all Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. How can we not commit the sin of murder by not hating someone from our hearts? How can we forgive the one we hate and don’t want to forgive?
How can we turn the other cheek to those who slap us? How can we love our enemies and even pray for them? And, what’s more, how can we be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect?
It seems impossible for us to follow all these teachings. And it’s true. We can’t obey them on our own. But we don’t have to be frustrated because God doesn’t really ask us to do the impossible. When God gives us His commands, He also gives us power and strength to carry them out.
And, it’s likely that Matthew is implying that the key to following all those teachings lies in our prayer lives. And our prayers must be in line with God’s will which is revealed in the Lord’s prayer.
As I said earlier, the most important aspect of Christian life is a relationship with God. And the key to building up and maintaining a good and close relationship with Him lies in our prayer life.
Just as the secret of Jesus’ ministry was always to have a proper and close relationship with God through prayer, if we really want to follow Jesus’ way, the way of the cross, not the ways of the world, we should be devoted to praying to God first. I believe that’s where our spiritual battles really begin.
We should keep in mind that no Christian who fails in their prayer life can follow God’s will. By contrast, the more we’re dedicated to praying in accordance with God’s will, the more we’ll be able to find what pleases the Lord, understand what His will is, and live it out.
That’s what I want us to learn as we explore the greatest prayer Jesus Himself taught us to pray. We’ll talk about each important element in this prayer, which allows us to know what truly shapes Christian life and what we should ask for as Christians.
So now, let’s dig deeper into the prayer.
1. Our Father in Heaven
The Lord’s prayer is written in two gospels—the gospel of Luke and the gospel of Matthew. Even though Matthew doesn’t explain the context in which Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s prayer, Luke tells us the circumstances in which Jesus taught it.
One day, one of Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1). In response to this, Jesus started to tell them how they should pray, which is the Lord’s prayer.
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Mt 6:9)
The Lord’s prayer starts with what I think is one of the most wonderful and marvelous phrases, ‘our Father in heaven.’
A preacher once said that this phrase is the key of every prayer because it defines the very special relationship we have with God.
Romans 8:15-17 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” (Rm 8:15-17)
Paul also said in the book of Galations,
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” (Gal 4:4-7)
These are indeed amazing passages that talk about the new relationship we’ve come to have with God through Jesus Christ.
The Bible says that we’re not only His people or servants, but also His beloved children whom He adopted through Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul called Jesus ‘the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.’
But, why adoption? We may feel a little uncomfortable because of the negative connotations the word has in our culture. But, in ancient Rome, where the apostle Paul wrote his letters, it had somewhat a different meaning.
The Greek word for ‘adoption to sonship’ is υἱοθεσία (uihothesia), which referred to the full legal status of an adopted heir in Roman culture.
In ancient Rome, adoption had a powerful meaning. When a child was born, the biological parents had the option of disowning the child for a variety of reasons. The relationship, therefore, was not permanent.
But this wasn’t the case if a child was adopted because in Rome, adopting a child meant that the child was freely desired and thus chosen by the parents, and the child would be a permanent part of the family. So if a child was adopted, the parents had no right to disown the child ever.
Therefore, Roman parents had to be very careful in adopting a child because it meant that the child would become the heir to all of their possessions.
That’s the meaning of us becoming children of God who call Him ‘Abba, Father’. That we’re adopted by our heavenly Father means that we were desired and chosen by Him. It means that the adoption will never be canceled. And it also means that we’ve come to have the right to inherit every possession of our heavenly Father. What’s much more wonderful, is the fact that all these blessings were ‘freely’ given.
We are loved, desired, and chosen not because we are good enough to be treated like that. Our adoption to God has nothing to do with who we are or what we’ve done. It’s solely based on who God is and what He has done for us through Christ Jesus, His Son.
As we read from Ephesians during the retreat, “[we] were dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Eph 2:1), “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:3-4).
We should remember that God chose to give us His Son when we were least deserving of His love. Paul said in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)
This is what we should be always reminded of as Christians. We all know that God is our Father. But do we really understand what that means? How often do you think about what God had to sacrifice and what Jesus did to make it possible for us to have the right to be children of God who call Him ‘Abba, Father?’
I feel like the words ‘heavenly Father’ have become so familiar to us that they have become simply an idiomatic phrase. We like to call Him, “Abba, Father,’ but we often do so without knowing what it really means and what amazing and sacrificial love God has given us to let us become His children.
That’s what I want us to be reminded of today. When we pray, it’s always important to remember to whom we pray. We’re not praying to any gods but the God who created the entire universe and holds it with His almighty power. We’re praying to the God who adopted us in His great love and grace no matter who we are and never fails to love us unconditionally. We’re praying to the God who has allowed us to call Him ‘Abba, Father’ by not sparing His one and only Son but having Him die on the cross.
And we’re praying to our heavenly Father who knows all our situations and needs, cares for us, and guides us faithfully even when we don’t love or seek Him. And we’re His rightful heirs who are promised to inherit all His blessings. That’s who our God is, our heavenly Father, and that’s who we are, His beloved adopted children.
That’s what we must remember every time when we go before God in prayer. The phrase ‘our heavenly Father’ reminds us of the truth.
Today is the first Sunday of this year, which is a good season for renewal. And the first thing we should recover, restore, and renew is our relationship with God. We can do so by intentionally, actively, and intensely reminding ourselves of who God really is and who we are in Him.
I hope and pray that we can rediscover the new identity we came to have in Christ so that our lives can be firmly built on God’s love in everything we do, especially in our relationship with Him, and that we can grow closer and closer to Him throughout this year.
Heavenly Father, thank You for reminding us of who You are and who we’ve become in Your love. When we remember all the things You’ve done and sacrifices You’ve made to adopt us, we can’t help but give thanks to You for Your unconditional, unfailing love and Your mercy and grace.
Now Lord, we want to know more about what it means to call You ‘heavenly Father’ and live by the truth. We invite You into every aspect of our lives. We open the door of our hearts to You.
Please come, change our minds and hearts and let them be focused on Your love and truth so that we may know more about who You are, love You more, and so that our lives can be firmly built upon the foundation of Your love throughout this year.
We want to be drawn closer to You, Lord. Please soften our hearts, speak to us, and guide us.
We thank You and love You, Lord.
In Jesus’ precious name we pray. Amen.
1. When was the last time You went before God in sincere, wholehearted prayer? What do you think makes you more desperate for Him? What kind of prayer habit do you want to maintain or develop this year?
2. When did you experience God’s love most deeply? Do you remember the feeling you had when you first called God ‘Father’? What was it like? How do you feel when you call Him heavenly Father?