A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 6:7-15. A Christian’s Prayer: The Christian way of prayer (continued).
The first three petitions in the Lord’s payer express our concern for God’s glory in relation to his name, rule and will. If our concept of God were of some impersonal force, then of course he would have no personal name, rule or will to be concerned about. Again, if we were to think of him as ‘the Ultimate within ourselves’ or ‘the ground of our being’, it would be impossible to distinguish between his concerns and ours. But if he is in reality ‘our Father in heaven’, the personal God of love and power fully revealed by Jesus Christ, Creator of all, who cares about the creatures he has made and the children he has redeemed, then and then only does it become possible (indeed, essential) to give his concerns priority and to become preoccupied with his name, his kingdom and his will.
The name of God is not a combination of letters G, O and D. The name stands for the person who bears it, for his character and activity. So God’s ‘name’ is God himself as he is in himself and has revealed himself. His name is already ‘holy’ in that it is separate from and exalted over every other name. But we pray that it may be *hallowed*, ‘treated as holy’, because we ardently desire that due honour may be given to it, that is to him whose name it is, in our own lives, in the church and in the world.
The kingdom of God is his royal rule. Again, as he is already holy so he is already king, reigning in absolute sovereignty over both nature and history. Yet when Jesus came he announced a new and special break-in of the kingly rule of God, with all the blessings of salvation and the demands of submission which the divine rule implies. To pray that his kingdom may ‘come’ is to pray both that it may grow, as through the church’s witness people submit to Jesus, and that soon it will be consummated when Jesus returns in glory to take his power and reign.
The will of God is ‘good, acceptable and perfect’, (Rom.12:2), for it is the will of ‘our Father in heaven’ who is infinite in knowledge, love and power. It is, therefore, folly to resist it, and wisdom to discern, desire and do it. As his name is already holy and he is already king, so already his will is being done ‘in heaven’. What Jesus bids us pray is that life on earth may come to approximate more nearly to life in heaven. For the expression *on earth as it is in heaven* seems to apply equally to the hallowing of God’s name, the spreading of his kingdom and the doing of his will.
It is comparatively easy to repeat the words of the Lord’s Prayer like a parrot (or indeed a heathen ‘babbler’). To pray them with sincerity, however, has revolutionary implications, for it expresses the priorities of a Christian. We are constantly under pressure to conform to the self-centredness of secular culture. When that happens we become concerned about our own little name (liking to see it embossed on our notepaper or hitting the headlines in the press, and defending it when it is attacked), about our own little empire (bossing, ‘influencing’ and manipulating people to boost our ego), and about our own silly little will (always wanting our own way and getting upset when it is frustrated). But in the Christian counter-culture our top priority concern is not our name, kingdom and will, but God’s. Whether we can pray these petitions with integrity is a searching test of the reality and depth of our Christian profession.
In the second half of the Lord’s prayer the possessive adjective changes from ‘your’ to ‘our’, as we turn from God’s affairs to our own. Having expressed our burning concern for his glory, we now express our humble dependence on his grace. A true understanding of the God we pray to, as heavenly Father and great King, although putting our personal needs into a second and subsidiary place, will not eliminate them. To decline to mention them at all in prayer (on the ground that we do not want to bother God with such trivialities) is as great an error as to allow them to dominate our prayers. For since God is ‘our Father in heaven’ and loves us with a father’s love, he is concerned for the total welfare of his children and wants us to bring our needs trustingly to him, our need of food and of forgiveness and of deliverance from evil.
Tomorrow: Matthew 6:7-15. 2). The Christian way of prayer (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.