The Disciple's Prayer - #2

Dr. Brian Allison

Are you a needy person? Are you a person who constantly requires support and help? As we think of some Old Testament characters, we discover some fairly needy people. For instance, Barak, who was called by God to deliver Israel from the Canaanites, was initially weak and needy, requiring the prophetess Deborah to be his companion and escort him into battle. Similarly, Gideon is initially portrayed as being weak and needy, repeatedly requiring confirming signs in order to be convinced of God's calling and help in delivering Israel from the Midianites, even though God had spoken to him. So, are you a needy person? Are you one who requires constant help and support? Maybe you are saying to yourself, "No, I think I am fairly strong; I think I am pretty stable. Thank God I am tough." Let me say this, my friend: If that is what you are saying; if you think that you are strong, stable, or tough, then you cannot pray in the spirit of the Lord's Prayer or, better, the Disciple's Prayer. If you are not needy, in the best sense of the term, then you will not feel the reality, nor understand the full significance, of the Disciple's Prayer. In order to really pray this prayer, and mean it, you need to feel your helplessness; you need to feel your nothingness and your poverty of soul. What I am suggesting is this: For you to experientially enter into the spirit and truth of the petitions of the Disciple's Prayer, you need to feel your utter dependency on God.

Matthew 6:11-13 reads, "[Jesus taught], 'Pray, then, in this way: "Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil"'." God wants us to come to Him as our Father, presenting our needs and concerns, so that He, as our Father, might address those concerns and meet those needs. Our Father wants us to pray in utter dependency on Him, recognizing that He is the great Provider of His children, the good Shepherd of the spiritual sheep, the great Carer of the souls of His people.

This prayer nicely divides into two main parts. The first part focuses on God, and the second part focuses on us. The first part addresses the glory of God and the worship of the believer, and the second part stresses the love and provision of God towards the needs of the believer. The first part deals with three aspirations in reference to God, and the second part deals with three petitions in reference to us. In this study, we will consider the three petitions of the second part.

The first petition concerns physical sustenance for life – "Give us this day our daily bread" (v. 11). The second petition concerns spiritual restoration of fellowship with God – "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (v. 12). The third petition concerns spiritual preservation and personal protection – "And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one" (v.13).

Petitioning for physical sustenance

The believer is first instructed to pray for physical sustenance which is required in order to enjoy physical life – "Give us this day our daily bread." Living in the West, and possessing so much, many Christians do not feel the weight, nor the force, of this petition. Recently, I was deeply struck by the fact that I possess so much, and many possess so little. I have hundreds of volumes of books, a television, a car, a dish washer, a CD player, etc. My Christian brothers and sisters, you are wealthy; you have so much. The poorest of us is more wealthy than millions in the world. You are more wealthy than many in Somalia, Cambodia, or Haiti. We live in a society of plenty. Do you realize that? Do you appreciate that?

Because we live in an affluent society, with conveniences and amenities at our touch, we may fail to enter into the spirit of this petition, and really feel the weight and force of asking, "Give us this day our daily bread." Most of us (and I do not care how poor you are) have become used to the good life. That is not simply for the financiers, industrialists, entrepreneurs, and professionals of our society; that is true for all of us. We need to rehearse all the possessions that we own, and all the equity that we possess. Not many people in Haiti have RRSP's and G.I.C's.

Accordingly, with our wealth, we can become self-sufficient and self-reliant. Though we would not say it with our lips, we may feel it in our hearts. And in practice, we have no need for God, and we forget Him. I would imagine that some of us, if not most of us, are guilty (at least in heart) of forgetting God. We need to remind ourselves that God is the One Who provides for us, and must provide for us, all our physical and material needs. All that we have, all that we enjoy, comes from His hand. Everything, absolutely everything, that you enjoy comes from the hand of God because He is pleased to give it to you. Ecclesiastes 5: 18, 19 reads, "Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself and all one's labour which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God."

Is that how you see it? Do you remember that the physical and material benefits you enjoy are the gifts of God? We must not let our affluence and prosperity neuter the sense of need and dependence on God. Remember, in a moment, God can wipe out all our wealth. It does not matter how secure you feel now, or how much seniority you have in your place of employment, God can wipe it out in a moment. It does not matter how large your line of credit is or how fat your wallet is today, God can take it from you tomorrow, if He so chose. Do you believe that?

So, Jesus teaches us that we are to come to God and petition, "Father, give us this day our daily bread." We should take nothing for granted, much less be presumptuous. Consider Luke 12:16-21 – "And [Jesus] told them a parable, saying, 'The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, "What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?" And he said, "This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry.'" But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?" So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." There is danger in not recognizing and demonstrating our absolute dependency on God. This rich man said, "I have made it! I am a self-made man!" God said, in effect, "Lights out. This night, this very night, your soul is required of you." Jesus thus instructs us to pray in this fashion for our spiritual safety and protection

We are instructed to pray for "this day." We are not to worry about tomorrow or next week or next year. I am not saying that you should not wisely plan, but you should not fret and be anxious about tomorrow's provision. Matthew 6:31-34 instructs, "Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Further, the text teaches that we are to pray for "daily bread." The better translation of the term 'daily' is "needful" or "necessary," that which is required in order to survive for the present – necessary as opposed to the desirous. Now, you may go to prayer and say, "Lord, please give me a Pentium computer;" or "Lord, give me that small speedboat;" or "Lord, why don't You surprise me with a windfall investment return?" No, we are to pray for what is needed. Some go to prayer with these grand requests, and because God does not answer, they say, "God, where is Your love? God is not answering my prayer." But the question is: "Did you really need that for which you petitioned?"

Our Father is concerned about our physical needs and is able to supply. My friend, take great comfort in Matthew 7:9-11, "Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" Isn't that good news? God your Father deeply cares for you, and He is pleased to supply your needs according to His riches in glory. He delights to do that, to give you your needful bread. Do you come in dependency upon God? Do you recognize that He supplies all your needs? Are you thankful?

Petitioning for restored fellowship

The second petition of this model prayer centres on the believer's relationship with God – "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Sin separates us from fellowship with God, and thus we must confess and repent of our sins. Therefore, we must ask Him to forgive us our sins, that we might again enter into fellowship with Him.

Of course, a 'debt' is simply that which is owed. For instance, my mechanic fixed my car a number of weeks ago; he rendered a service to me. That made me indebted to him; I owed him hundreds of dollars for his service. Similarly, God has given you life and breath. He has given you health and strength. He has given you wisdom and understanding. He has given you guidance and encouragement; and you owe Him. Now, this fact does not undermine, negate, nor cancel the truth and meaning of grace. You are saved by grace, and all that we receive from God is an act of grace, but we are forever indebted to God the Creator. Not that we could ever fully repay all the blessings that He has given to us, but we should be constantly motivated by gratitude and thanksgiving. We should render to Him the worship of our hearts in turn for the blessings of His grace. Have you thought in these terms, my friend, that you owe God, that you are His debtor? You owe Him obedience. You owe Him submission. You owe Him praise. And He expects you to pay up everyday.

Because we owe God, when we do not pay up, what is that? Sin. And thus we need forgiveness, and that is why we come daily in order to be spiritually restored in fellowship with our God. You will always have accounts outstanding with God; there will always be bills that you need to pay to God; there will always be loans that need to be dissolved with God. Each day you need to come and confess your sins, the fact that you have not made good on what you owe Him – perfect obedience, heartfelt worship, complete dedication. Each day you must come and ask forgiveness for your irritation, or your anger, or your unkindness, or your selfishness, or your lying. God calls you to confess and to make things right with Him. He continually invites you to restore your relationship with Him. Everyday is a day of rededication and reconsecration. Everyday is a day of surrender. My friend, the grace of yesterday to overcome sin will not be sufficient for you to overcome sin today; and the mercy of yesterday to deal with your need will not be adequate to deal with your need today; and so you must come everyday that you may find mercy, and grace to help in time of need (see Hb. 4:16).

Confession and seeking forgiveness are essential to prayer. And be encouraged, for God is pleased to forgive. He delights in forgiveness. It does not matter what you have done. It does not matter the wickedness of your mind or the iniquity of your motives, He understands that we are dust, and He knows our frame; and He delights in forgiveness. Come, my friend, do not run away any more; do not hide. You come to God that you may know that healing restoration. Won't you come?

Now, do you see that God's forgiveness of us is connected with our forgiveness of others? This point is absolutely critical. I will go so far as to say that we are looking at a truth which impinges upon our salvation; and I do not think that this is an overstatement. Jesus says that we are to pray, "Forgive us our debts just as we forgive our debtors." This particular petition is the only one in the Disciple's prayer that the Lord Jesus returns to in order to amplify. That is how important and critical it is in the mind of Christ. Thus, Matthew 6:14,15 reads, "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." There is a conditional element here. What Jesus is saying is this, in so far as we forgive those who have sinned against us, hurt us, offended us, etc., God will forgive us (as Christians). Does the Lord mean this? Is He saying that if I harbour bitterness and an unforgiving spirit, if I have anger towards someone that hinders relationship and fellowship with him or her; and if I fail to forgive that person, that I myself will forfeit or be refused divine forgiveness. Exactly. Some Christians do not believe this because they have harboured bitterness, anger, and an unforgiving spirit for a long time.

Again, Jesus says that in so far as we forgive, we shall be forgiven. Do you see what I meant when I wrote above that our salvation is at stake here? If you entertain a habitual bitterness and unforgiving spirit, it means that you will not experience God's forgiveness; and if you do not experience God's forgiveness, you are damned (Now this fact does not mean that we will not wrestle at times with actually forgiving, but as long us the desire and willingness to forgive are evident, God is pleased). That is how critical God views our relationship with one another. "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not see" (1 Jn. 4:20). He who has ears, let him hear.

You have debtors and I have debtors. There are people who owe you honour and respect; and people who owe me honour and respect. There are people who owe you love, and there are people who owe me love. And Jesus says, "When you pray, say, 'Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." We must first forgive others before we seek God's forgiveness. Do you need to seek forgiveness? My friend, keep short accounts with God. But let me ask you this: Is there anyone you need to forgive?

Petitioning for preservation and protection

The third petition of the Disciple's prayer concerns spiritual preservation and spiritual protection – "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This petition is related to the previous one. We sin because we are tempted. So, we need to confess our sin because we have yielded to the temptation. And thus to pre-empt the sinning, we should petition in order to avoid the possibility of sin, and even to overcome the temptation. A better translation of this petition would be: "Father, bring us not into temptation." God does not cause us to sin, nor does He tempt us to sin, but in the mystery of His providence, He is pleased to allow us to be tempted for reasons known only to Himself, with the goal of our spiritual profit and maturity. For instance, Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God to be tempted by Satan (see Mk. 1:12). But God did not tempt Him.

Sometimes, my friend, God may be pleased to 'drive you into the wilderness' by His Spirit in order to test the purity and integrity of your heart, in order to demonstrate whether you have genuine faith; and yet we should still pray daily for grace, grace to avoid the temptation or, if need be, to overcome the temptation. We need to pray for strength and wisdom to circumvent temptation and, if need be, to endure the temptation.

Of course, in praying to God not to bring us into temptation, we are at the same time (and don't miss this), praying that Satan not have his way with us – "but deliver us from [the] evil [one]." This third petition consists of two interrelated aspects. In praying that God lead us not into temptation, we are praying that He deliver us from the evil one, Satan, who is the tempter. Satan is real, my friend, and he is alive; and the biggest scam that he has pulled off on the human race, and even on God's people, is this: An evil spirit, leading a host of demons, does not exist. He does exist! The sooner we fully realize this truth, the better equipped we will be to defeat him. Truth defeats this vile serpent who was a liar and murderer from the beginning. We are to pray, "Deliver us from the evil one." He stalks around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, and if you do not believe that, and if you do not prepare for that, he will eat you up. We cannot be complacent nor indifferent, taking false comfort in the fact that we are God's children and that nothing can harm us. We are to pray that God deliver us from the evil one for he is present everyday, and thus there is temptation everyday. And as we petition in faith, trusting in the God of power and love, we will know the delight of answered prayer.

In this model prayer, God gives us everything that we need to ask for, and He is pleased to meet those needs according to His will and good pleasure. We are to pray for daily bread, we are to pray for forgiveness, we are to pray that He bring us not into temptation, but rather rescue us from our adversary. Then we will see His goodness break open in our lives, and we will see His power overwhelm us in our daily living; and we will return to the throne of grace with praise and thanksgiving because, having prayed the way Jesus taught us, we will enter into the blessing that He has ordained for us.