Sermon on April 25, 2021
Standards that challenge – The Sermon on the Mount
Cultivating the relationship with God (Matt. 6: 5-8)
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
Cultivating the relationship with God is what our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount is about today. And you just noticed during the play that it is about Our Father. Perhaps the most famous prayer of Christianity:
Our Heavenly Father! Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Our daily bread give us today. And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.)
And then there is something like an explanation in the following two verses:
For if you forgive people their wrongdoings, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive people, your father will not forgive you for your wrongdoings either. Matthew 6: 9-15
Our Father appears not only in the Sermon on the Mount but also in the Gospel of Luke. And it’s very interesting how it is initiated there. There the disciples come to Jesus and ask him: Lord teach us to pray. Luke 11: 1
The disciples were impressed by the way Jesus lived his relationship with God, and so they wanted to. They saw the deep, intimate relationship that Jesus had with his Heavenly Father. They saw his authority, how he spoke and how he worked. And they could have asked him anything, how do you do this and that, but they saw where it all came from, and that’s why they ask Jesus: Lord teach us to pray. And I hope that this is a real wish for us too: Yes, I want to learn from Jesus, and I also wish for an intense relationship with God as Jesus exemplified it.
The good news is, prayer can be learned. You can learn to cultivate your relationship with Jesus. If you are at the beginning of your path with Jesus, and it does not work out that way, then that is not a problem. One can learn to pray. But there is also a downside to this news: We have a responsibility to learn prayer. Each of us has a different personality. That means that each of us lives friendships differently. And our relationship with God is also very individual.
But I would like to address three points that I believe Jesus has a special focus on in this prayer and then consider a fourth point somewhat detached from this particular passage here, what Jesus is telling us in response to the question, how should we pray.
These are something like guidelines, regardless of our personality. Because I believe that Jesus and the Our Father give us a model prayer, not primarily to pray this over and over again, but as an orientation. One point where I make this clear is that Jesus doesn’t say anything about giving thanks here, but he does that in other places.
1. Pray consciously instead of mechanically.
Before Jesus comes to the actual prayer, we looked at each other last week, Jesus says: We shouldn’t pray to get approval from people or to impress God, nor should we just shout out empty words and we should withdraw in peace.
These words have been misunderstood quite often.
That doesn’t mean we can’t repeat prayers. Jesus also prayed the same several times in the garden of Getsehmane. Nor does that mean that we shouldn’t pray for a long time. We read that Jesus sometimes prayed all night long. It does not mean that we can only pray in silence somewhere in the home. Jesus spoke to His Heavenly Father everywhere. Nor does it mean that we can only pray alone. We read that Jesus made special promises based on common prayer.
Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t be intrusive because our Heavenly Father knows what we need. Jesus tells the parable of the widow and the unjust judge as an example that we should not let up in prayer if we have the impression that our prayers have not yet been answered, but believe that God is not an unjust judge but a loving Father who really cares about us.
What Jesus wants to say is that we have a problem when our words are just empty.
- When we string together phrases,
- when our minds are completely different,
- when we don’t mean what we are praying.
- There are prayer wheels in Hinduism It’s a stick, something turns around and there are prayers on it. By turning this, you pray. And the more often the better, the more likely it is that the gods will actually hear it.
- A similar form is in Catholic when I simply mechanically pray a rosary.
- And as seen in the play, I can do just that with Our Father.
When I arrive in the silence, I take off my masks. And I honestly tell God what’s on my mind. We just sang. That’s what God wants. That we take off our inner masks and talk to him from the bottom of our hearts.
Of course, I can also do this with pre-formulated prayers such as Our Father, excerpts from the Psalms or other prayers, if I identify with the content and pray them consciously.
Preformulated prayer can help me pray when I can’t speak myself. Prayer is an expression of our friendship with God. And Jesus does not want empty formulas and polished words, but rather that we tell him from our hearts what moves us.
This requires that we be fully there as we pray.
God invites us to live this friendship, but just like in a visible friendship, we can transfer that very well, we also wish that the other is completely there. Sometimes we find it difficult with God because we don’t see him. It is precisely when we are praying that we notice how our thoughts sometimes wander. We have to watch out for that. And here comes our personality again:
- For some, it helps to keep a prayer diary.
- Others consciously pray aloud even when they are alone.
- Some go out into nature.
- Others set up a prayer corner at home with a picture or an object that reminds them of God or a bare corner so as not to be distracted.
- Worship music, a scented candle or something completely different can also help.
God would like to be part of our whole life.
That we take him everywhere. Just as we ticker a message to a friend in between, we can also with God just talk anywhere and anytime in between. Only if that’s all, do it in a marriage, then your relationship will eventually become superficial. Therefore, it is good to consciously take the time to talk to God. Rituals help us humans, e.g. to consciously invite God into the day in the morning. Starting the day with a word from the Bible, many read the solution or a few words via the YouVersion app, and then talk to God about what lies ahead of us. Perhaps deliberately stopping at work or at home at lunchtime. In the evening before going to sleep or in bed to reflect on the day with God. The main thing is that we spend time with God as if in friendship, and that very consciously.
And this conscious prayer also means that we make it clear who we are actually talking to.
I believe that if we do this every time we start praying, it will help us tremendously. Our Heavenly Father. We are also allowed to pray to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This makes no difference. Jesus is talking to His Heavenly Father here. So the Almighty, who has everything in hand, from whom nothing slips away, and if we continue to pray, who gives life and provides for us, who saves us from our guilt, who guides and preserves us, and who is also our father. And we come to him with respect, with obedience, in dependence on him with humility and repentance, with great confidence and joy and with childlike trust.
Some people have a problem with the term father.
Maybe you too. Because we humans are not and do not have perfect fathers. Because you may have had a father who left you, or who you never even knew, or experienced abuse. In finding this you are measuring your father by a yardstick. And this standard is God himself, without her perhaps being aware of it. Because he’s the perfect father And he wants to be the perfect father for you too, who you may never have had. Maybe this picture will help you. God actually invites you to get on his lap and talk to him. And that’s exactly what I sometimes imagine when I’m praying.
Father also means that you can be his child.
Jesus invites us: But those who welcomed him and believed in him (this means accepting what Jesus did for me on the cross, accepting the forgiveness of my guilt, inviting him into my life and trusting him), to whom he gave the right to be children of God to become. John 1:12 Whoever has done this is allowed to be a child of God and is allowed to call him father. And if you have not already done so, then I invite you: Do it today and God will also be your heavenly Father.
If we want to live the relationship with God, then it is very important what image you have of God.
Is he someone you like to hang out with? Second, it is important that you believe that he is really listening to you and also acting and answering your prayer. A person, a counterpart, who is really interested in me. Then I can pray consciously instead of mechanically.
The second thing Jesus wants to teach us is:
2. Pray God-centered instead of self-centered.
Do you know phone calls where someone calls you, asks you how you are, leaves you with no breathing space to answer, but immediately talks about yourself in a long elaboration, then thanks you for the good conversation and hangs up and you are completely perplexed?
I’ve seen it before. And often we do the exact same thing with God. How fast are we to only turn around ourselves while praying. The first half of Our Father, on the other hand, is all about God.
Blessed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will will happen.
What are we actually praying?
- We ask that God’s name be considered sacred by all people.
- That they recognize him,
- that they hold him up and give him the honor he deserves.
- And that includes me with my life, with my lifestyle. I want my life to be a glory to God and I want to worship him.
And then we keep praying that God’s influence in my life and our world will increase.
- That God changes me and that he uses me to change the world in his sense.
- That he shows me what he wants and helps me do it.
- And I can do that in a very practical way, that I take a time when I pray, when I become calm and ask God to speak to me. And if I can’t do that at the beginning because my head is still too full, then stop at the end.
- And that I hear what thoughts, impressions, biblical words, people, what decision and guidance and whatever God puts on my heart, just as we saw in the play.
- I don’t always get something, but every now and then.
I think we have some catching up to do here.
OpenDoors once reported about a person who could not meet with other Christians. Then this person had the impression that they had to go into the forest. After two hours of walking through a lonely area, he finally met 100 other Christians who had all come together in the same way and were now celebrating worship together.
His empire should expand.
- People should get to know Jesus, also through me.
- And I long for that to happen.
- We express that through this prayer.
But do we mean it, does it affect our lives, or is our life just about us?
- It’s about my heart being moved by what moves God’s heart.
- That I hear, God, what is it that moves your heart.
- What thing, what people I should pray for and where you might want me to do something.
- And if I don’t know how to implement something that moves God’s heart, it is that I ask God to show me what that means for me and to work in me and through me through his spirit.
- That I make myself available to him, of course with my whole life, but also today on this day.
- That I submit my will to His will because I trust that God knows best what is good.
- Yes, that God shapes my wishes and my will, that they agree more and more with God.
And dear ones, if that is not the case, then something is going wrong in our relationship with God. Then our prayer is like this phone call earlier, but not a two-way relationship. And then maybe that is the field of study that Jesus wants to teach you. And you may be wondering why you are getting stuck in your relationship with Jesus. Maybe because of that.
Because Jesus says: I want to teach you to trust me that I know what is good. That you won’t miss out if you listen to just turn around and start asking what’s on my heart. Pray God-centered rather than self-centered
3. Pray based on need instead of superficial
God-centered prayer does not mean that we are not allowed to make requests.
Certainly not. But it depends on the order, not even in every prayer, but in our general attitude:
First the focus on God and then we can confidently turn to God with our personal needs and requests and our requests for loved ones around us. And in this prayer Jesus mentions three special needs that we will look at very briefly:
The first is about our present:
Our daily bread gives us today.
We can pray for what moves us today. And this request serves a threefold purpose.
The first thing that this request does is make us aware that we are dependent on God. We don’t feel that in our society, where we suffer from excess. Other people in other parts of the world are well aware that our supply depends on God. And if God withdraws this blessing from me, then I also have a problem with my daily bread.
But the second is that with this request we make ourselves aware that God loves us so much that He is happy to provide us with what we need to live every single day. We’ll see that again at the end of Chapter 6. And not only that, God gives us much more than just the essentials:
- a roof over our heads,
- protection when we are out and about by car or bike,
- health, success at work, family, friends and joys in life that we enjoy allowed to.
- All of these are more than enough answers to this prayer.
- And the third purpose is for us to focus on today. Don’t worry about tomorrow. But like with the people of Israel with the manna, that today it will be enough and that God will take care of us again tomorrow.
But it goes one level deeper:
My nourishment is to do the will of him who sent me. And:
Man does not live from bread alone but from every word of God.
So God actually wants to meet our material need.
But God also wants to meet our spiritual needs. And sometimes we have to allow God to define what we need right now, especially when we are not seeing it on the material level. Where maybe some days we feel a certain lack and don’t understand God.
And on this spiritual level there is now another need related to our past:
Namely, the need for God to forgive us our guilt. (Forgive us our debts) Jesus died on the cross for our guilt that it no longer stands between God and us. But Jesus also makes it clear to Peter that we get dirty feet every day. Spoken in the picture: We don’t need a bath then, Jesus accomplished that on the cross and if we accept that, then we belong to the family of God, but we need a foot washing.
- Guilt creates a broken relationship with God.
- Guilt creates broken relationships with one another
- And guilt creates strife within ourselves.
The purpose of this request is to restore unadulterated fellowship with God. We can claim the forgiveness of Jesus anew every day. And each of us can specifically fill this morning with what guilt this affects in his life. And if I pray that, then I can specifically ask God that he should show me guilt that I should perhaps also clear up with others. But if he doesn’t show me anything, then some have such an undefined guilty conscience. I believe that this does not come from God but from the enemy who wants to keep you away from God through your guilty conscience. If we ask God to reveal guilt, if there is something He will, because He wants to set us free from it.
The postscript makes it clear that I too should forgive. (As we forgive our debtors) And that’s a complex topic that I can’t even deal with. Jesus himself adds two more sentences after the actual prayer for explanation. These words sound like pressure. If I don’t forgive, God won’t forgive me either.
Ultimately, unforgiveness is something that breaks myself down. Volker Assmann once told of a drastic comparison that he read: It’s like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Jesus wants to free us from bitterness and thoughts of revenge. He invites us to leave that to him. Forgiveness, the Bible says, is a choice. But it can also be a process, a path that I have to go and maybe cannot go right now. And so there is also an invitation in the words of Jesus: Come to the Father, let yourself be healed, bandage your wounds, and let them show you how much God has forgiven you so that you can let go of what has been done to you. If we allow ourselves to be touched by God in this way, then we will grow into an attitude of forgiveness, more and more. But those who remain tough and unreconciled have to check whether they really let God close to their heart or whether they have perhaps lost touch with him.
And finally, one last request, the need for protection in the future.
And here, above all, a spiritual level again: Do not lead us into temptation, but keep us from evil. This is the name of the classic translation. Actually, it hits the NGÜ better, which writes: And let us not be tempted, but save us from the evil one. James makes this clear again in his letter by writing that God does not tempt anyone. James 1:13 Conversely, God uses trials in our lives to help us grow spiritually.
Oswald Sanders writes that perhaps one could best explain it this way:
“Father, exempt me from this test. But maybe you will see that I need them so that I can grow in faith for your glory. Then it gives me the strength to get through without damage and to achieve victory. “
Please God, help me always to live the way you want and not to get entangled, as Paul writes, in the sin that can so easily take us prisoner.
At the end of this prayer comes what you saw in brackets at the beginning:
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
These words are not found in the oldest manuscripts. Presumably it was more of a conclusion from worship practice that was added. This should also be noted in most Bibles. But it fits well, because we make it clear again that God has the power and that it is no problem for him to answer our prayer, and we give him the honor.
Now I have said that I have detached a fourth point from this prayer and that I have already mentioned, namely:
4. Don’t forget to say thank
Jesus is not saying it here in this prayer. But Paul writes it e.g. in Phil. 4,6:
Turn to God in every situation and bring your requests to him. Do it with thanks for what he has given you.
It happens so quickly that we forget how good God is to us and also which requests he has already heard. There is so much to be thankful for. I already mentioned some of the things that God gives us with. And especially when we don’t have everything we think we need, or when we are in a difficult situation, this look helps us to look away from the circumstances and towards Jesus. To ask confidently what is on our minds, because God has already acted on our prayers. And God promises that he will permeate us with his peace, even if we do not understand everything that is happening:
Then the peace of God, which far exceeds all human understanding, will keep your thinking and willing in the good, safe in communion with Jesus Christ. Phil. 4.7
A proverb says thanking you, thanking prevents you from wavering, praise draws you up.
The disciples ask Jesus: Lord teach us to pray.
It’s like getting a driver’s license. On the one hand there is the theory. This is helpful, but it doesn’t help just to drive a car. I remember my first driving lesson, passed the theory test, and into the car. Starting was still possible. But then get out of the street, turn on the indicators, look, crank, release the clutch, accelerate, shift gears. I drove almost straight across the street into the next fence. Fortunately there was still the driving instructor.
So the theory alone does not help to say that I can drive a car now.
Likewise, all theory does not help about prayer if we do not pray. We have to do it too. It is much more important that we do it than how. Jesus gives us a guide To pray consciously, to pray God-centered, to pray needs-oriented and not to forget to thank and we are free to meet God as Father, as friend and as Almighty.
And I wish that we study hard and that our relationship with God will deepen and that we experience prayer as something deeply fulfilling.
The next songs and the Lord’s Supper, which we want to celebrate together afterwards as an expression of our relationship with God and the love of Jesus and his forgiveness, invite us to do this directly internally: To get into conversation with Jesus and to tell him what has become important to us in this sermon.