The Lord’s Prayer (Part 1)
The following is a translation of Rev. Billy Kristanto’s series on Doa Bapa Kami (The Lord’s Prayer) which appears in Metamorphe mailing list. Any deviation in translation is the sole responsibility of me.
This part belongs to the famous Sermon on the Mount. We can say that our Lord Jesus’ teaching is cristalized in the Sermon on the Mount. The sermons need not be understood as happening in chronological order, but rather as a collection of sermons collected by Matthew.
In Matthew 6, we are reading a part which forms a trilogy:
- the matter of giving, treating others, and loving others. The emphasis is on our relation with others–a horizontal relation.
- the matter of prayer, emphasizing our communication with God–a vertical relation.
- the matter of fasting, emphasizing self-control–a relation with ourselves. The greatest trouble in our lives is actually coming from our own selves, not others. The one who creates most problems in our lives is ourselves; therefore self-control is a very important thing.
In these three parts, one common spirit is evident, which is shown in verse 5. Those who pray in the synagogues, in the streets, etc. in order to be seen, these Jesus calls hypocrites. Hypocrisy is one of the sins most hated by Jesus. Hypocrisy is a deceitful attitude which, although its motivation is to deceive others, actually deceives the actor and also God. It is an absurdity. A hypocrite is one who does not confess his weaknesses, but tries to build a fake mask to show that he is better than the actual fact. A hypocrite prays in order to be seen as a godly man, but in fact he is not. He deceives others to be perceived as better than others and also better than himself in the actual fact.
In verse 6 it is said that when we pray, we should learn to express it in hiddenness. This is one of the emphases in Reformed spirituality. However, this does not mean that we do everything in hiddenness. If so, we will not be able to pray in a service. The point is not that we cannot pray before others, but we must set aside a special time, a special place, to do things that are not known by anyone but by ourselves and God. In the preceding passage we are told that when we give to the needy, we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, meaning that we should not do a good deed and then praise ourselves for doing it. We may be able to hide ourselves from others but we cannot hide ourselves from our selves. Our selves try to acknowledge ourselves, to praise ourselves–and destroy ourselves. The common spirit here has to do with learning to do things in hiddenness. Why do we need such practice? The reason is because as weak humans, we are often unable to do things sincerely.
Sometimes when we see someone, whom we regard as higher than us, watching us, it is difficult for us to act just as we are. We try to act ‘better’ and unconsciously faking our actions. The disaster comes not from the actions, since they are external. The disaster is that, without realising it, our heart attitude has been influenced. We try to be different. We try to be somebody else. One may have shouted loudly, but as he speaks through the phone afterwards, he suddenly speaks softly–he becomes somebody else. These kinds of things make us act as hypocrites. Therefore it is very important to exercise hiddenness. In hiddenness we are as we are; we cannot deceive ourselves, and only God knows what we are doing. We don’t need to play a drama; nobody is seeing, and it is impossible to play a drama before God as He is Omniscient. So this is who and what we are; we display ourselves honestly before God. One may say a long prayer before everyone, as if he likes to pray. But the fact is that it is the only time he prays in a week. This man is not honest before God. How about our prayer life? Do we offer a prayer for God’s work in our personal prayers?
When we help someone, let us learn to help him in hiddennes, without nobody else knowing. When we pray for someone, let us learn to pray for him also in hiddenness. When we give our money, or whatever it is that we do, let us learn to do it in hiddenness. One who is trained to do anything in hiddenness, I believe, has great integrity of life. In doing everything, we should learn that in every moment what we are doing is open as it is before God who always sees. By learning to live a life like this, we will have dignity in ourselves. A dignified man is not controlled by encounters with those whom the world regards as great, important, or to be feared, because the one who is to be feared above anything else is God himself. Let us learn to practice this kind of spirit.
Verse 6 says that God rewards those who live their religious life in hiddenness, because it is done in sincerity. Before our Lord teaches about prayer, He needs to firstly destroy mistaken concepts of prayer. Besides hypocrisy, another is found in verse 7, i.e. vain repetitions. Vain repetitions are not just repetitions. Lord Jesus also uses repetitions in Gethsemane, in the midst of extreme struggle. A repetitious prayer is not necessarily vain; neither is a prayer which contains many words. The problem is in thinking that with the use of many words the prayer will be answered. We think that with it, God will be moved. So actually we do not really believe that God will answer us. This kind of mantric prayer, sadly, has been adopted in Christianity! This is exactly what our Lord says as vain repetitions. Even a repetitious Lord’s Prayer, which might be repeated according to the amount of sins which one commits, is a vain repetition. One who prays, after praying he should have surrendered his burdens to God. He should be able to leave his burdens and do things better. But if one, after praying, keeps on thinking about his sins or burdens, and therefore keeps on praying, this could well be a sign of his unbelief in God. It is as if God is uncapable to solve our problems and so we keep terrorizing Him with vain repetitions. Note the word vain. There is no meaning in vain repetitions. This way of praying is the way of those who do not know God. The pagan offers up mantra because he believes in the magical power of repetitious words. Luther, interestingly, developed a concept “Kurz soll man beten, aber oft und stark” (One must keep his prayers short, but often and strong). The emphasis is on the urgency (strong can be understood as such) in prayer. He emphasizes on the spirit of earnestness in prayer. Often we don’t have this sense of urgency, and our prayers tend to be without fervor. A good atmosphere of prayer is in fervent spirit and urgency.
Learning from the reformators, God often uses difficulties, sufferings, and sorrows as effective means to place one in urgency. When one is in an urgent condition, he prays in fervent spirit. Unfortunately, our prayers tend to be dull because we feel that there is nothing we need to pray for. How beautiful it is if we can train ourselves to have a spiritual appetite–a good spiritual taste–so that in any condition we can pray in fervent spirit. Let us also learn to pray in the right spirit. Not truly believing in God and not praying in fervent spirit are correlated.
Verse 8 says, “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” This is often a problem when one prays. He prays to God but not really believing that God is able to grant what he prays for (assuming that it is what God wills), meaning that he doesn’t pray in faith. Prayer actually is an invitation from God who is indeed ready to give. God is far more willing to give us His blessings than we to desire His blessings. But many Christians pray as if God is withholding His blessings, and so pray as if to move Him to give those blessings to us. This is a very tiring concept. If we pray with this concept, we will pray in a spirit which though seems passionate but not really in right surrender. God longs more for us to pray than we long to pray to Him. When we pray, actually we are responding to His invitation. God is waiting for us to pray, just as a father waiting for the return of his lost son. He is waiting; he is not passive. He has been waiting, waiting, and waiting and when his son returns, he embraces him, he receives him, for that is what he longs for. In Christian life, we should always think of this–that God actually wants, He is waiting for me to pray. God has indeed been waiting for our surrender, and then we surrender. This is a proper action, an answer to God’s initiative. We are not moving God in prayer, as if God is a God who is dependent on our heart tendencies. On the contrary, God has first been waiting, and we answer His invitation. If we have this concept in mind, our lives will be changed.
Sometimes people pray to seek God’s will–this is a great topic. Usually people seek God’s will when he is seeking a mate, looking for job, etc. These kinds of seeking of God’s will often have self-centered motivations, for those who seek God’s will in these times are usually not motivated by a desire to glorify God, but a fear of making a wrong decision. If it is wrong, they argue, then they will walk not in God’s will and so they may harvest uncomfortable consequences. They want to live secure lives, and so they seek God’s will. This is a self-centered seeking. A right seeking of God’s will should be directed to God’s causes. Why do we seek God’s will? Because it is the most pleasing to Him, the most glorifying to Him, the most exalting of His name. Seeking of God’s will with this spirit is theocentric, not done out of fear of making wrong decisions and of God’s wrath and judgment.
R. Pritchard says the same principle about God’s will, “God is more willing to reveal His will to us than we to know His will.” Sadly, many Christians seek God’s will as if He intends to play riddle with us. This is a concept that is simply not true and unbiblical. Could it be possible that we are more willing to know and obey God’s will than God to reveal His will to us? Impossible. When we return to the right concept, struggle to know God’s will no longer be a burden, for God is actually ready to reveal His will. So why are we often unclear of God’s will? Actually this unclearness is often due to our unreadiness to do and obey, not because God is not willing to reveal His will. If we are eager to know God’s will, and God reveals it to us, and yet we are not willing to do it, why do we ask? God will judge us for our disobedience. One of the most important points in seeking God’s will is our own willingness to obey His will. Don’t ask for God’s will unless we are ready to obey whatsoever God will tells us to do. This is not meant to discourage, but to encourage to ask in readiness of heart. This verse should encourage us to pray even more in the right manner. We pray to God because God is ready to give His blessings to us. We follow God because God has already attracted us to Him. We serve God because God has already called us. The whole of Christian life is a responsive life–there is no life without response. Indeed a response could be yes or no or undecided. Not responding is also a response. But blessed are those who respond rightly to what God does in their lives.
Christian life is not an enforced life. Sometimes enforcement or compulsion hardens one’s heart. A response ought to be natural. Often what becomes a problem is that we don’t realise that we have received so many of God’s blessings, so we become ignorant, not giving our whole lives to God. Those who respond wrongly are those who do not know what God has done in their lives, not realising it, and so do not respond to it. It could also be due to dead spiritual appetite or sensitivity. How do we respond rightly before God? By developing sensitivity in spiritual things more than daily concerns–not because daily concerns do not matter, but often people do put too much sensitivity towards them. Paul rebukes the Corinthians who fight for justice in the Christian community. They are too sensitive towards ordinary matters, while in fact it is they who will later judge the angels. We are often too sensitive towards unimportant things, and yet dull towards spiritual things. The Bible teaches us to develop spiritual appetite, spiritual taste. In spiritual formation we talk about spiritual disciplines (although we have to realise always that Christian spirituality is not methodological but is a spirit which God works in the hearts, transforming from within–not about methods). What spiritual exercises can we do to develop spiritual taste? One of them is praying in the right manner, praying in hiddenness, praying with faith in God, not in vain repetitions and many words, praying with one understanding that God has already prepared His blessings before us. Let us continue to renew our concept in following our Lord and we will increasingly know that the Word of God is the source of life, the truth that sets us free and brings us into a life abundant. May God the source of all blessings grant us such a life.
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- February 8, 2006 / 05:47