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“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 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.” Matthew 6:12-15
Forgiveness should be a top priority in our prayer life. When we first come to Christ, we do so with a penitent heart in order to be set free from the life of sin that has consumed us.
But as we continue to grow in Christ we should also be asking forgiveness in prayer because none of us is perfect. Even saved we regularly commit sins. Hopefully these are either unwitting or at least not premeditated. Many will be left over habits that we will need the Holy Spirit to help us conquer. But our desire should to be overcome the sinful nature, to become less and less like sin and more and more like Christ with each passing day.
God never tempts us to commit these sins, they are the result of our own evil desires at work within us [James 1:13-15].
Now, many people today refuse to think of themselves as evil. Understandably. In the scheme of history, we have seen overwhelming evil in the world and we’re not anywhere near that bad.
But remember, evil in scripture is anything contrary to the perfect and holy goodness of God.
Our desire to be our own god, to choose right and wrong for ourselves–patterned after Satan’s lie in the Garden–is itself evil [Genesis 3:5]. And we ask God in His wisdom, never to lead us into paths where the desire to live contrary to His will can take root. Moreover, we ask Him to completely deliver us from Satan–the progenitor of evil. To deliver, literally means to liberate or to set free from. We pray so that God can completely set us free from the enemy whose only desire is to steal, kill and destroy us [John 10:10].
It’s interesting that Jesus notes temptation and evil in conjunction with forgiving others. When we refuse to forgive others, we are giving in to the temptation of our own evil–contrary to God–desires. We are living as though we were captives of the evil one rather than liberated by Christ.
When we refuse to forgive others, we are setting ourselves up as finite gods, taking matters into our own hands. And we have the free will to choose to do it too. But the result is not good. When we withhold forgiveness, we deny God’s image in us, we deny God’s sovereignty and trample the mercy He so freely gave us [Matthew 18:21-35; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13].
If we can’t forgive, then we can’t be forgiven [Mark 11:25-26].
Do you have something against someone else? Does someone have something against you? Both are your responsibility to resolve. In the case of the other person’s bad feelings, as far as it depends on you restore the peace [Romans 12:18]. Forgive them and love them and wait for the time their heart is ready to reconcile.
“Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11
Again, Jesus reaches back into the Old Testament and produces a heavenly gem for His hearers to reconsider. They would’ve know the Proverbs, studied the wisdom sayings to apply in their everyday life as was their practical purpose. But did they really think about the heart-level meaning of them?
Maybe some did, but Jesus knew what these listening hearts needed. He spoke to the gap in their understanding.
And He quoted from a man named Agur, who was, like Job, a wise man though probably not an Israelite. The full context of the phrase, Give us today our daily bread, is worthy of consideration. Agur prayed:
“Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9
When Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread, it is so that we will learn to depend on God once again. In the Garden of Eden, God provided for everything that Adam and Eve needed [1:29]. When sin–the decision to be their own gods–entered the world, they had to begin to provide for themselves, and the ground didn’t cooperate because humans do not have the power of God to control the earth as He does [Genesis 3:17-19].
But He didn’t leave them without sustenance [Genesis 8:22]. God desired to reconcile them to Himself and to be their provider–if only they would trust in Him. And He desires the same for us.
Ironically, so fallen is the sinful nature that even God’s provision can become a stumbling block to the life of faith. As Agur notes, when times are tough we might turn to God or we might turn to self-as-god and steal our needs for ourselves. Yet, when times are plentiful and God provides in abundance, again we get cocky and pat ourselves on the back–Look how good I’ve done for myself. God warned the Israelites that they would face the self-same temptation when they entered the Promised Land [Deuteronomy 6:10-12] and assumed the homes, vineyards and riches of the people they drove out.
Both extremes, poverty and riches, turn our hearts from God. Instead, Agur prayed that God would keep him on the straight and narrow path that leads to life [Matthew 7:13-14]. And Jesus said that we don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God [Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4].
In the scheme of temptations, Satan doesn’t care which extreme he lures you to accept. So long as he keeps you off the path that leads to life. His only desire is to steal from you, kill you and destroy your eternal life [John 10:10].
Are your prayers filled with requests for abundance or provision of wants rather than basic needs? Ask the Holy Spirit to tune your heart to God’s. Trust Him to provide exactly what you need at exactly the time you need it. In all things, seek the advancement of His kingdom first, then trust God to provide the rest [Matthew 6:33].
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
Once we get our prayer word count in check so that we’re talking respectfully to God–not just whining and nagging–and we have our hearts reverenced to recognize Him as the One True Living God, then we should will the coming of His kingdom–the restoration of His Creation to the way He intended it–to this earth [Matthew 3:2].
This piece of the struggle with prayer is huge!
Think about what most prayer times consist of. I want. I want. I need. I need. Give me. Bless me. My friends/family want and need. The world wants and needs. Get’er done God. Amen.
But do we ever take the time to stop and consider whether what we want and think we need are in anyway connected to what God is trying to do on the planet through human history? Not usually.
It’s normal sinful human nature to pray like this, but then it is also completely understandable that we don’t get the responses that we’re hoping for. Remember, Satan lied to us and told us that we could be our own god. Sometimes Christians try to let God be God as long as He does what they want. In essence, we recognize there is a true God, but we’re just trying to use His divine power and authority to fulfill of our self-as-god desires.
Not how it works. We’ve got it completely backwards. Because our faith doesn’t exist to move God. Our faith exists so that God can move us.
Just because we believe He exists. Just because we believe He has the power to heal and the means to provide. Just because we say that we love Him, doesn’t mean we get to use Him like our own personal servant. We need to stop praying like He’s a God-on-a-leash, here to do what we say, and start praying out of our genuine relationship with Him.
Loving Him. Understanding His plan and purpose on this planet and how we fit into it. Seeking His will and wisdom in all things [Matthew 26:39]. Leaning on Him to provide as He sees best for us instead of telling Him what we think is best for us [Proverbs 30:8]. And trusting Him.
If you’ve ever struggled with praying and unbelief in prayer, maybe you need to check out whether you’re trying to use God to get what you want–even in well meaning things like the healing of a loved one or protection in a natural disaster. Remember, that when we pray according to God’s will, it will be done [1 John 5:14-15]. But when we pray according to our self-as-god will, we shouldn’t be surprised when the heavens respond with cricket chirps.
Do you pray for God’s will or your own to be done?
“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. This then is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,'”Matthew 6:7-9
Quite often, Jesus references the Old Testament in His New Testament discourse. This should, in our minds, solidify His statement that He came to fulfill the Law and not to abolish even the smallest portion of it [Matthew 5:17-18].
The mention of pagans here, hearkens back to the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal [1 Kings 18:26-29] and an exhortation of King Solomon about speaking thoughtfully and purposefully with God [Ecclesiastes 5:2]. Both contrast the verbose tendencies of idol worshipers.
Their gods are no god at all but rather precious metal, stone, wood and the like–statues and images made by human hands [Psalm 115:4 & 135:15; Isaiah 2:8; Jeremiah 16:20-21]. They cannot hear or respond. Because of this, idol worshipers tend to talk and talk and talk their nonliving god into the ground, like beating a dead horse they can never penetrate the idol’s ears, let alone its heart, with their many words.
As Christians, we serve the one true living God [Jeremiah 10:10]. We don’t need to drone on with repetitive incantations or nagging requests. God hears us just fine [1 Samuel 1:17-20; 1 John 5:14]. And He knows what we need before we even ask Him [Matthew 6:8]. So we shouldn’t treat Him like a deaf stone statue. It’s irreverent. And it shows that we don’t have a right understanding of Him. That we need to grow in our relationship with Him.
When we pray, we know that God hears us and that, in His wisdom, He will do what is right in response to our request. Which–contrary to human opinion–is not always to give us what we ask for.
So then, how should we pray?
Recognize God for who He is. Our heavenly Father, whose very name is hallowed–meaning holy. We don’t use God’s name emptily or profanely. We don’t treat it like a magic genie’s lamp to get whatever we want. Instead, we call on the Lord as our friend who sticks closer than a brother and as our loving Father [Proverbs 18:24; 1 John 3:1].
It’s like walking into a king’s palace or any U.S. president’s Oval Office and saying, Yo bub, give me whatever I want because I’m asking you by name and you’re my government servant and you have to do whatever I want. We wouldn’t dream of trying to get things like this from earthly authorities. So why is it that when we pray we treat God with no more respect than a fictitious genie in a lamp?
If you struggle with prayer and the faith to believe that God will answer, maybe try putting your requests on ice for a time, and start seeking God to show you who He really is. Get to know Him as God. Begin to reverence Him in your heart and life. Then, when your relationship is right, bring your requests to Him as your Holy Heavenly Father.
How do you talk to God when you pray?
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4
Jesus’ brother, James, tells us that pure and faultless religion in God’s eyes is, looking after widows and orphans in their distress [James 1:27]. In other words, giving to the needy is an act of righteousness.
But let’s look at the idea of religion first. Religion is either belief in God [one or many] or it is a system of practices that stems from this belief. And the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. Many people believe there is a God and do nothing to demonstrate this belief. While many others doubt or don’t fully understand their own beliefs and yet religiously do many habitual activities in honor of their half-hearted faith.
To be religious is not the same as being righteous in God’s eyes by any means. It’s not even equivalent to being Christian or Godly. To this end, the world often views the church as hypocritical. If we say we believe in God, then we should live like we believe in God. End of story. Otherwise, hypocrites.
But with sinful human beings, even saved ones, it’s not always that easy.
Here Jesus addresses the religious leaders of His earthly day. They kept the Law. Taught the Law. Disciplined and punished others who broke the Law. But their commitment to the Law was only skin deep. All was for show, so that people would consider them religious, or maybe even righteous.
But God looks on the heart [1 Samuel 16:7]. And He saw the Jewish religious leaders as whitewashed tombs [Matthew 23:27-28]–pristinely manicured in appearance, but rotting spiritual corpses at heart. One of the reasons for this comment was the fact that they only gave to the needy if it garnered them some attention.
Announcing with trumpets in the streets then would be like posting our good deeds all over social media now–Hey, look what I just did everybody! Aren’t I wonderful? Jesus is very clear. This type of worldly attention seeking is empty, meaningless. How many people today post things to social media just to feel rejected because they didn’t get a like [or a million likes]? The world’s attention, the fame in this life, none of it can satisfy because it only lasts a nano-moment in the scheme of eternity.
But doing things for Christ will last [1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Colossians 3:23-24]. And that means doing things out of a sincere heart to help others and not for the temporary recognition from other human beings.
Are you religious or righteous–living God’s way purely out of love for God?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
Do apple trees grow lemons or thistles in drought conditions? Of course not! Then neither should we, as Christians, grow cantankerous with those who hate us or mistreat us. It’s the same principal.
Only, unlike the apple tree, we have free will.
We get to choose whether we will do what God created us to do–love everyone like ourselves, no matter what–or not.
The command to, Love your neighbor, should be easily recognizable as the second greatest commandment in scripture [Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28]. But the saying, hate your enemy? Where did that come from?
Scripture cross references cite Deuteronomy 23:6. This passage specifies who may and may not enter into the assembly of God’s people back in the Hebrew desert wanderings and into the Promised Land. Interestingly, the Ammonites and Moabites are specifically excluded and the Israelites are told not to seek peace with them or fortune from them. Apparently, this translates as hating enemies because these two nations were notorious foes to God’s people and refusing to seek peace is hateful.
But again, God had a purpose for the original order to stay separate from the Ammonites and Moabites. It wasn’t so that people could decide for themselves who to treat hostilely. It was so that ungodly ideas and practices would be kept out of the sphere of influence.
So Jesus brings the command back to its original intent. Love people. All people. Don’t become like your enemies by living alongside them, but do treat them with the love of God and do pray for them. By this, they will recognize us as God’s children. And God will receive the glory and the honor for our loving response in hard times.
You see, God’s love doesn’t distinguish between believers and unbelievers. He offers it freely and equally to all. Not everyone recognizes or accepts it, but that doesn’t change the fact that God gives it. And it’s the same with His mercy, His creation, et al.
We too, having been made in God’s image, shouldn’t distinguish between people who are nice to us and those who aren’t. As Christians, we should respond generously with love and mercy to all.
But what on earth does this have to do with perfection? Perfect simply means, complete. While we can never attain to God’s complete knowledge, love, mercy, et al in this life, we can be made complete in Him. We can let His love and mercy flow through us to everyone around us.
Are you a conduit of God’s love and mercy? Or do you dispense in favoritism?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Five to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42
Remember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law of Moses, which did in fact contain the phrase, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. In each instance, the prescribed punishment is to be equal to the crime or the injury visited on another person. A punishment should fit the crime, not exceed it.
In other words, the phrase was meant to deter people from hurting others to begin with, so that they wouldn’t suffer the same pain they inflicted. Instead, common cultural practice perverted the phrase to justify revenge, excusing private vengeance outside the court of law.
A slap on the cheek wasn’t about personal injury, it was an insult. A punch in the pride.
In the Old Testament, it was illegal to keep someone’s cloak from them overnight, because it was commonly used as a person’s only blanket. A knee to the need for self-preservation.
And under Roman law, Roman soldiers were allowed to force someone to carry the soldier’s belongings for them, but only for the distance of one mile. An attack on time.
But Jesus pushes this command to its heart intent.
1) Leave vengeance to God [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19].
2) Love our fellow human beings, even when–maybe especially when–they aren’t loving us in return.
After all, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. In his pride the wicked man does not seek [God], so we Christians should not be like the wicked [Psalm 10:4]. We should not let our pride well up and keep us from seeking God’s will in any and every instance.
God alone is our protector and provider [Philippians 4:19]. When others wrong us, we look to Him for our safety and well-being, not to ourselves.
And we should be leaving time in our daily lives for divine appointments such as these opportunities to show the love of Christ to the lost and dying, to the wayward and wicked.
Our choice to love in these humbling circumstances is just like Jesus’ meekness and silence as He was led before His executioners [Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32]. And our selfless attitude is a light, that possibly, may be the very thing to win the wicked person to Christ.
Do you settle your own scores? Or do you respect God’s equality system and act in loving self-discipline?