Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Pattern of Prayer by R.C. Sproul from the Ligonier Blog

The Pattern of Prayer (pt. 1)

September 25, 2008 @ 6:10 PM Posted By: Tim Challies

by R.C. Sproul

Jesus performed many miracles. During the course of his ministry, he walked on water, turned water into wine, healed the sick, raised the dead. As John said, "There are also many other things that Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25).

I have always been amazed that the disciples didn't ask Jesus how to walk on water, how to still the tempest, or how to do any of his other miracles. They did, however, ask Jesus to teach them about prayer. Note that they did not ask Jesus to teach them how to pray; instead they begged, "Teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). I'm certain that the disciples clearly saw the inseparable relationship between the power Jesus manifested and the hours he spent in solitude, conversing with his Father.

The instruction Jesus gives regarding prayer comes to us from the Sermon on the Mount, found in both Matthew 6 and Luke 11. Jesus prefaces his remarks on the pattern for prayer with these words:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this . . . (Matthew 6:5-9)

Notice that Jesus says, "Pray this way," not "Pray this prayer" or "Pray these words." There is some question as to whether Jesus ever meant for us to repeat the prayer. I'm not attacking the use of the Lord's Prayer; there's certainly nothing wrong with its use in the personal life of the believer or the devotional life of the church. Yet Jesus was not so much giving us a prayer to recite as a pattern to show us the way in which to pray. Jesus was providing us with an outline of priorities or those things that ought to be priorities in our prayer life. Let's look at the sections of the Lord's Prayer one at a time.

Our Father

The first two words of the prayer are radical as used in the New Testament. The word Father was not the basic form of address for God found in the Old Covenant community. His name was ineffable; he was not to be addressed with any degree of intimacy. Seldom was the term Father used to speak of God in the Old Testament. Of all the terms used to address God in prayer by the Old Covenant community, Father is not among them. But here, in the New Testament, Jesus brings us into an intimate relationship with the Father, breaking down the partition symbolized by the veil in the temple. Now Jesus gives us the incomparable privilege of calling God "Father."

Jesus was the first on record to take prayer and make it a personal discourse with God. Jesus, who spoke Aramaic, used the Aramaic word Abba, best translated "Dad" or "Papa." We can almost hear the cry of alarm from the disciples and see the looks of astonishment on their faces: "You don't mean it, Jesus. You can't be serious! We're not even allowed to speak the name of God aloud. We don't even call him Father, much less Dad!"

Ironically today we live in a world that assumes God is the Father of everyone, that all men are brothers. We hear this in the cliché "the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man." But nowhere in Scripture does it say that all men are brothers. It does say, however, that all men are my neighbors.

There is a restricted sense in which God is the Father of all men as the giver and sustainer of life, the progenitor par excellence of the human race. But nothing in the Bible indicates that an individual may approach God in a familiar sense. The only exception is when that person has been adopted into God's family, having expressed saving faith in the atonement of Christ and having submitted to his lordship. Then and only then is one afforded the privilege of calling God his Father. To those who have received him, God "gave the right [authority, privilege] to become children of God" (John 1:12, NIV). Only then does God call men "sons." The Greek word exousia translated "right to become" denotes the freedom to act and the authority for that action. Calling God "Father" without the proper credentials of sonship is an act of extreme presumption and arrogance.

We don't find the idea of universal fatherhood and brotherhood in the introduction to the Lord's Prayer. This cultural tacit assumption causes us to miss what Jesus is saying. In the first place, the fatherhood of God cannot be taken for granted by anyone in the world. Jesus is the one person with the ultimate right to address God in this way, for Jesus alone is the monogenes, "the only begotten of the Father," having existed from all eternity in a unique filial relationship with the Father.

If there is a universal fatherhood and brotherhood in any sense whatsoever, it would have to be in the context of Jesus' discussion with the Pharisees in John 8. The Pharisees were claiming to be children of Abraham, offspring of God by ancestral association. Jesus challenges them on this point, saying "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. . . . You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires" (8:39-40, 44).

There is a clear distinction between the children of God and the children of the devil. God's children hear his voice and obey him. The children of the devil do not listen to God's voice; they disobey him by doing the will of their father, Satan. There are only two families, and everyone belongs to one or the other. Both groups have one thing in common, however. The members of each family do the will of their respective fathers, whether it be God or Satan.

If we go through the New Testament, making inquiry as to who are the sons of God, the answer is clear. The New Testament is neither vague nor enigmatic on this point. Romans 8:14-17 says this:

Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. (NIV)

In verse 14 of this passage, the pronoun those, autoi in the Greek, is in what is called the emphatic form to indicate an exclusiveness. The verse is best translated, "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these alone are the sons of God" or "these only are the sons of God." Paul teaches that it is only by the Holy Spirit that we can call God our Father. The significance of this in the New Testament is that we are sons, not illegitimate children, because we are in union with Christ. Our sonship is not automatic, not inherited; it is not a genetic necessity, but rather it is derived. The New Testament word for this transaction is adoption. Because of our adoptive relationship with God through Christ, we become joint heirs with Christ.

It is only because we are in Christ and Christ is in us that we have the privilege of addressing God as our Father and of approaching him in a filial relationship. Martin Luther once said that if he could just understand the first two words of the Lord's Prayer, he would never be the same again.

The word our signifies that the right to call God "Father" is not mine alone. It is a corporate privilege belonging to the entire body of Christ. When I pray, I do not come before God as an isolated individual, but as a member of a family, a community of saints.

This is part three of R.C. Sproul's small book
Does Prayer Change Things?

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