|Matthew 6:9, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”This morning, society still enjoys and prefers image and attitude rather than substance and character. Have you ever heard someone say, “Well I may not like the way he is, but I sure like the way he does it?” Many years ago, my natural father was conversing with a woman while discussing her tax return. She complained about all the “extra” governmental taxes that were not there a few years before. Since the last year or so had seen a presidential transition, my father asked her if she voted for the new president. She responded that she had. He asked her why she voted for him only now to complain about his policies. Her response was classic, “Oh, but I just love the way that he smiles!” She was enamored over the new president’s image more than his character. Sadly, that attitude reflects not only in politics, but in most every venue of life sometimes – regrettably so – even into the endeavours of the church as well.
When considering a subject as important as prayer, it behooves us to consider not just the performance of it but the manner of the performance as well. In the political analogy above, we remarked that the manner of the man meant more to the woman than his character or substance. While our character and substance of prayer is pivotally important, God requires that our manner match our substance. Politicians are expected to be smooth, polite, cheerful, etc. while representing us. Police officers are expected to be firm, professional, and courteous while enforcing the law. God’s children are expected, by God, to have a certain manner while addressing Him and approaching Him in prayer. Whether considering our manner or our substance of prayer, they should reflect one another and complement each other fully.
Consider the words of Christ right before and right after our verse. In verses 5-8, Christ gives the manner or “image” of prayer. In verses 9-13, He gives the substance of prayer. Whether one considers the substance of prayer from the succeeding verses and reflects that onto the manner of prayer from the preceding verses or vice versa, both what we say and how we say it should go together. Let us, in our examination, consider the substance in light of the manner of prayer. The manner of the prayer from Christ’s words in verses 5-8 shows that we should have humility, discretion, and an understanding of who we are addressing. We should understand going into prayer that we are not “acquainting” God with anything, nor are we doing so publicly for publicity sake. Rather, our prayers are the honest, heart-felt yearnings of our inner man, and the reaching out to God in prayer that our hearts feel shows the submission and expectation that we have before an all-powerful and all-knowing Lord and Master.
Knowing then that our manner of prayer should reflect knowledge of who we are addressing, what is, logically, the first thing that prayer should entail? Verses 9-10 show in our address and opening remarks that we exalt and understand the power and authority of God. Have you ever heard someone pray and felt that they “demanded” of God rather than requested of God? Their prayer may not have had the words “you have to give me” but their spirit seemed to show that. Perhaps their spirit showed that by simply lacking the words that exalted the One they spoke to. In verses 9-10, we see God addressed in the highest of tones. His name is revered, and His power magnified.
Obviously, we are neither speaking these words to make them so, or saying them to “butter God up.” Rather, we say them showing our understanding of the reality of God’s greatness and fervent desire to exalt that in our lives. Some of the older brethren have encouraged the younger like me from time to time, “Son, when you pray, just tell God how you feel.” That is sound and sage advice, and one of the things that we should feel is heart-felt gladness that our God is He that doeth whatsoever He pleases with all power in heaven and in earth. (Psalm 115) I like to pray with the reiteration of those wonderful, powerful thoughts, for they encourage me yet again in the knowledge that this One can do what we ask and has promised to be merciful to us when we ask. (John 14:13) Do we repeat our address to God vainly repeating what we have said before out of show? No, for that is what the heathen do. Do we repeat our address out of sincere thanksgiving for having a God so powerful, wonderful, and merciful? Absolutely.
Verses 11-12 deal with an aspect of prayer that fully considering might honestly frighten someone. As with the aspect of prayer above that someone fails to understand who they are addressing by making demands of God, have you ever heard someone pray that seemed to think better of himself than others around him? The Pharisee in Luke 18 had that mindset against the publican, and probably treated the publican accordingly. Looking at the Pharisees in Christ’s day, their disdain for those “lower than they were” was manifestly seen. Look at the Saviour’s words. “Forgive us as we…” The previous verse shows us that we beseech Him for our natural needs – daily bread – and verse 12 for our conduct and behaviour (spiritual needs).
Since we have daily needs – such as daily bread – our prayers to God need to ascend daily. Since our conduct with others need correction on a regular basis, our petitions to our Master should go up repeatedly. (I Thessalonians 5:17) How have we been lately? Have we asked God for what we need? Have we treated others the way we would desire He treat us? Sadly, my record is filled with black marks and demerits. The Saviour commands us to pray asking God to treat us the way we treat others and consistently pray that our needs be met. Quite a far cry from making demands of the Almighty, but earnest seeking of these things brings the peaceable fruit of righteousness forth in our manner and way of life.
Verse 13 closes the prayer with a petition for our future and reinforced remarks about the power and might of God. Sometimes we pray for things about our future that we really should not. Sometimes those prayers ask Him for specific things in the future that perhaps we really do not need. Maybe the petition is for something that we are not yet ready for. There are any number of faulty prayers for our future. However, it is never faulty to pray that our future be led away from temptation. It is never faulty to exalt God’s power and will in the future with the sincere prayer that we be more attuned to it. Some of the hoary heads from my youth were fond of praying, “May we be more faithful to thee in the future than we have in the past. May our steps be brighter going forward than they have been behind us.”
What do we most desire going forward? Our prayers should reflect an honest longing to be better servants, more faithful stewards, and more upright children in our walk. What will our circumstances be? That is of far less importance than the understanding of Who it is that goes with us. So what if the circumstances are not pleasant or we have stormy seasons? He has the kingdom, the power, and the glory “for ever.” What more could we desire for the future than to serve Him better knowing that the Omnipotent One goes with us always? What better thought for tomorrow can there be than He is there, whether in life or in death? What more could we want for our friends, family, and acquaintances than the knowledge that the One with us also goes with them?
Looking at the substance of the model prayer that Christ gives, how does it reflect the manner in which we pray? By exalting the power, might, and will of God in the address, it reflects the manner of humility that we should exhibit as inferiors addressing our superior. By petitioning Him for our daily needs and behavioral correction, it reflects our dependence upon His power and mercy. By beseeching Him properly for the future, it reflects our understanding of His unchangeableness, granting peace going forward. This manner stands in stark contrast to those that would demand from God or scoff at others around them. This manner stands polar opposite to prayers made out of show or convenience. Does this prayer reflect what we truly feel? It should, for our very Lord Himself used this model to show how our feelings should be when approaching the glorious throne of grace. May our manner and substance of prayer reflect one another, and may our outward steps of service from prayer show that with our every action and course.