Begin With Me

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 if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 6: 9-15

In the previous study we began to look at the lesson Jesus gave about prayer. We have in this sermon a large portion of what is known as The Lord’s Prayer. Within the prayer itself it is clear that forgiveness and the ability to forgive is very important, and Jesus goes on to explain clearly that this is very important with regard to your relationship with the Father.

Some people felt that I was am bit ‘heavy’ about this subject. But honestly, it really is impossible to overstate the importance of having a forgiving nature and not allowing unforgiveness and bitterness to remain in your life.

I suspect some found it hard because it challenged a situation in life directly. Sorry, but the words of Jesus and other scriptures can do this sometimes. The Lord does not want you in ignorance, but for your soul to be delivered into eternal joy.

But there is more in this lesson about prayer than forgiveness.

This time I would like to focus on the first part of the prayer, which to me speaks about acknowledgement that the Lord reigns in His Kingdom. It begins with acknowledging who God is, giving respect and honour to His name, and asking His rule to be effective on earth as in heaven.

Many people say this prayer as a daily prayer, and why not? I don’t think there is any need to be legalistic about this, because Jesus spoke much in opposition to legalism in the sermon previous to this passage. But I think it is a nice thought to begin each day with an acknowledgement of who God is and to praise His name. What do you feel about this?

But it is more practical than that. You are asking for His will to be done on earth as in heaven. I would say that you also need to take all of this in context, and what was the context before this section? We saw that Jesus was making direct challenges against common forms of hypocrisy. And so, considering the context, I would think that it is worth considering for a moment how to treat this part of the prayer without becoming a hypocrite.

What do I mean by this? Well it is very easy to be praying for God’s will to be done, and then to be thinking of the neighbours, or friends, or acquaintances, who you just ‘know’ will not be living according to the will of God on that day.

I would say, no, no, no!!! This is not the way to be thinking while praying this prayer. Rather be thinking: Your will be done, Lord, and start by reigning in my heart, my mind, my soul, my thoughts, and my actions. Let every step that I take be in Your will. May the ground that I walk on be claimed for the Kingdom and may Your will rule on this ground. May you reside in me by Your spirit, and may Your holiness affect the world around me, and may I thus be protected from being affected by the fallen nature of the world in which I live.

Can you see the power of starting with number one – of making sure that you are subject to the Will of the Father? It is we who are salt and light in the world, as we read in the previous chapter of the Sermon. So it is we who will be the means by which the will of the Father will be brought into effect in the world around us. So if that salt is not salty, or that light is dim, how will this happen?

It is always so easy to see things in scripture as speaking of something or someone else other than ourselves. And this way of thinking is at the root and the start of every form of hypocrisy. Always much better to be thinking, Your will be done, but begin in me and my life.

I have known strange things to happen as a result of having this kind of attitude with simple faith. In one place where I used to work, colleagues quietly confessed to me that they could not blaspheme while I was in the building. They felt too ‘guilty’ about it. I had not said anything and I had done nothing other than to have simple faith and to pray for the Lord’s will to be done. I did not preach. I did not tell others that they were doing wrong (which is hypocritical anyway, because we all started from the same state of a sinful nature). Being salt and light is still mostly to allow the natural effect of holiness to have its effect on the world around us.

Some would try to bind you in chains of legalism about this. Honestly, this is the biggest temptation and the biggest sin that endangers the church and it’s members every single day. Yes, although legalism is about avoiding sin, yet it is a sin! Why? Because the result, every time, whether you wish it to be that way or not, is to work out a salvation by your own strength.

The result of this is to become clothed in filthy rags and not in the perfected righteousness of Jesus. So any teaching that would clothe people in filthy rags instead of the perfection of Jesus surely must be sin. Disagree if you must, and I am sure it is possible to quote many texts out of context to prove me wrong, but I only need to think of the whole of the previous chapter of this very sermon that we are studying.

What you need is not to have a set of rules and laws to follow that will have you trying to be holy in your own strength. What you need is to see your life, new each day, as on that cross with Jesus. Your own filthy rags of ‘righteousness’ and all your sin to be identified with the death of Christ. Even your attempts to be righteous by following the law in your own strength needs to be put to death on that cross, so that you will no longer be clothed in those filthy rags, but have the righteousness of Christ instead.

And this is hard for some people. Like Paul said, he had reason to be proud, because he learned all about the law and was a Pharisee and was so careful to keep all the laws through his life. And yet all of that counted as nothing. Indeed as worse than nothing, as filthy rags (which in the original was referring to soiled menstrual cloths to emphasise the religious uncleanliness of this kind of ‘righteousness’).

So it hurts one’s pride to be told that your successful work to remove sin in your life by following rules counts for absolutely nothing. Yet that is precisely the case. You will not be shining out to the world the light of holiness. And the spiritual holiness will not act as salt and disinfect the environment you inhabit… For that you need the holy righteousness of Jesus. Nothing else will do.

So maybe you never saw this part of the Lord’s Prayer in this way before – that it is a request for the Lord’s will to be done on earth, but begin in me! This is a powerful message, and one that has been forgotten by many. Too many run instead to legalism and wonder why this prayer is not being answered and why the world appears darker. It is because you are denying the true light to be lit in your very being. The true light of the risen life of Christ that is your inheritance and your dwelling place.

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