This is part two of a study on prayer I wrote for my church. You can read part one here.
Part Two :: The Requests Concerning God (6:9-10)
This first section of three requests begins with a direct address to God, specifically God “our Father in heaven.” This is significant in three main ways:
- Prayer is personal.
- Prayer is reverent.
- Prayer is corporate.
First, prayer is personal. The Bible fills our minds with great and glorious thoughts about God. He created all things; he is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere-present; he is awesome and fearful; he is holy; his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts; he is eternal…on and on… All of these describe the greatness and the grander of God. Meditating on such things, David cried out in Psalm 8:
When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
David asked an honest question that also tends to fill our hearts and minds when we ponder the majesty and the glory of God—he is so big, and we are so small; he is infinite, and we are finite…why would God care about us? In fact, one realm of religious thought known as deism teaches God created the world and set it in motion, but he is so vast, so great, and so far beyond us that he really doesn’t care about (if he even notices) our day-to-day lives.
Yet the Bible paints an entirely different picture. God does care. Indeed he is great and powerful and mighty. He even revealed himself through a name, Yahweh, that shares a root with the phrase “I am.” God exists without the support of anything else; he “is” despite the fact he has no creator. Yet over and over God also revealed himself to us through another name, “Father.”
God is beyond us, yet he is not so far beyond us that he cannot relate to us nor we to him. He revealed himself through a common term that most everyone can relate with—Father. Granted, in a fallen world, there are people who have absentee fathers or scarred relationships with their fathers, no perfect human father exists. Yet, God is the perfect Father, or as James calls him, “The Father of lights whit whom there is no variation or shadow of change,” the very one who provides “every good and every perfect gift” (1:17).
When we repent from sin and turn to Christ in faith, God transforms us from being “children of wrath” and “enemies” of God (Ephesians 2:3 & Romans 5:10), to being his own adopted sons and daughters given the Holy Spirit through whom we cry “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15).
When we pray, we are not speaking to some far-off deity we hope is interested in our lives, rather we are speaking to our very Father who loved us enough to shed his Son’s own blood on the cross to forgive our sins. Prayer is personal.
Second, prayer is reverent. While prayer is personal, prayer is also reverent. While praying to the God who is our Father, we are also praying to the God who resides (in the fullest display of his glory) in heaven. He is Father, and he is still God. He is Father, and he is still King. He is near to us, and he is still far above us.
This means prayer must not be flippant. Some people highlight the personal nature of prayer to the disregard of the reverent nature. In prayer we are not talking to our best buddy, we are addressing our Lord and King. Our words and our posture should reflect this.
In our culture it has become popular to pray with “every head bowed and every eye closed.” So much so that some seem to think you are not praying properly if you do not take this posture. The Bible does not command a single particular posture of prayer, yet it describes many. Examples include: kneeling (Daniel 6:10, Acts 20:36, Ephesians 3:14), standing (1 Samuel 1:9-28, Mark 11:25), sitting (2 Samuel 7:18), lying face-down on the ground (Mark 14:35), with hands lifted in the air (1 Timothy 2:8), with eyes lifted towards heaven (John 17:1), and with eyes focused towards the floor (Luke 18:13).
Whatever posture of prayer one chooses, it should reflect a reverent attitude of the heart.
Third, prayer is corporate. Not just at the opening of the prayer, but all throughout, Jesus used second-person personal pronouns. The first one is “our” as in “Our Father.” As Christians, we do not live as followers of Jesus isolated and on our own. Rather, we are a part of a family, a body, and a community called church. Our prayers, then, should not be isolated and focused on self or self-interests.
We pray corporately when we pray together as a church family, but we also pray corporately when we pray on our own. In our personal prayers, our minds should not drift far from the situations and needs of others and our church. Even if we are alone, in the inner room, and praying in secret (Matthew 6:6), we still pray corporate prayers to “our Father.”
With these three items providing the foundation for our prayers, we move to see three specific requests which concern God.
- We pray for his name to be honored.
- We pray for his kingdom to come.
- We pray for his will to be accomplished.
As Jesus focused these first requests upon the Father, we see our priority in prayer. Our prayers do not primarily concern our needs or the needs of others, indeed these are secondary concerns. Instead, the primary concern of prayer must be the glory, honor, and will of God.
God acts for his own purpose and his own glory (Isaiah 46:8-11 & Ezekiel 36:16-38), and ultimately God gives us the desires of our heart only when we first delight ourselves in him (Psalm 37:4), meaning we first seek his purposes and glory. So when we pray, it is only fitting that we focus on God above all else.
So, first, we pray for his name to be honored. Each request Jesus tells us to pray comes in the form of an imperative. Typically imperatives are commands, yet whenever used by an inferior to address a superior (as it is with us addressing God), imperatives serve as polite requests. In this first case, we request that God let his name be held in honor.
The King James translates it, “Hallowed be your name,” and many other translations follow suit due to such familiarity with the terms in the prayer. Yet even though “hallowed” might be a recognizable word, we often stumble over its meaning. The Greek term, hagiazo, means to “treat as holy”—or treat as something separate, special, and unique in the world—or “revere.”
This is a request to God asking that his name (his character and person) be given the proper respect due in this world. God created us to reflect his image, to truly be people who always and forever honor his name with the highest esteem. Sin, unfortunately, turned us from this purpose and corrupted the image of God within us. As it stands now, God’s name is not honored in this world as greatly as it should be. But the day is coming where God’s glory shall fill the earth, sin and corruption will stand as a thing of the past, and all in creation will perfectly honor God’s name.
There is also a personal side to this request. As we pray that God’s name be honored, we also must honor God’s name in our prayers. As his people, we seek to display his glory.
One way we can chose to honor his name in prayer is by reading a passage of Scripture, making notes on what the passage says concerning God’s character, attributes, and works. Then we pray these things back to God in praise and thanksgiving. In Colossians 4:2, Paul states, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Giving thanks must be a part of our attitude in prayer. Certainly, we give thanks when we praise God for answered prayers, but we can also express thanksgiving in our praise to God for who he is and what he has done, not only personally in our lives but throughout history and throughout the world.
Second, we pray for his kingdom to come. This second request is one that both looks back to Eden and looks forward to the return of Christ. The kingdom of God possesses the full beauty and glory of God in complete sinlessness. Eden was sinless and to be “home base” for the spread of God’s glory, name, and image throughout creation. After the fall, sin and corruption came. But when Jesus returns, the New/Heavenly Jerusalem will be “home base” and the center of Jesus’ kingdom, as his glory envelops creation.
In one sense, the kingdom of God is now here. In Matthew 4:17, Jesus said as he began his preaching ministry, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Then in John, Jesus spoke about things that are true in the kingdom—God’s people worship him in Spirit and truth, as the dead who have heard his voice and live (see: John 4:23 & 5:23). In such descriptions Jesus said, “The hour is coming and is now here.” Jesus’ kingdom presently dwells on earth in the presence of his worshiping people and through the declaration of his Word.
In another sense, though, the kingdom of God is still to come. The “hour is coming.” We do not yet fully see the infinite glory of the kingdom upon the earth. That does not happen until Jesus returns and his last enemy is forever defeated (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).
In this case, praying “your kingdom come” involves two primary things. 1) We pray that the Gospel will continue to spread and people will turn to faith in Jesus. We pray for salvation. The kingdom of God, after all, is populated with people faithful to him from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The more people we witness being saved, the more kingdom people dwell upon the earth, and the more closely the earth resembles God’s kingdom. 2) We pray that Jesus will soon return. This is what John prayed at the end of Revelation. Jesus said, “Surely I am coming soon.” John answered, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Third, we pray for his will to be accomplished. God’s will is his purpose and plan. Ultimately everything on earth works according to his will as his will shall not be thwarted (Ephesians 1:11, Isaiah 46:10-11). But we don’t always clearly see his will at work.
Think of the life of Joseph in the latter chapters of Genesis. Here was a young man who had dreams that one day his brothers would bow before him. Upon hearing this, his brothers first plotted to kill him but Ruben talked them out of it, and instead they sold Joseph as a slave to some passing traders, who eventually sold him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Even as a slave, God blessed Joseph. “He became a successful man” and was eventually put in charge over many great things (39:2). But Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph and when her attempts failed she accused him of attempted rape. Joseph was placed in prison and forgot about for a time. Eventually, he gained his release, ascended even further in Pharaoh’s court, and through his interpretation of Pharaoh’s visions of an impending drought God used him to save the lives of many people, Egyptian and otherwise.
In the end, Joseph looked at his brothers and said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (50:20). If Joseph was anything like most people in terms of his thoughts and attitudes, undoubtedly he had a difficult time seeing God working while he was being sold and while he was sitting forgotten in prison—how could such things be the will of God? Yet looking back, every piece fit into God’s plan to keep people alive, including Joseph’s brothers who mistreated him.
Praying for God’s will to be done is not a request where we ask God to do something he had not already planned to do. Rather it is a request recognizing God’s will is supreme, and thus it helps align our wills with his.
In John 14, 15, and 16, Jesus told his disciples in one way or another to pray “in my name.” And he said whatever we ask in his name will be done for us (John 14:14). To pray “in Jesus’ name” is not some mantra we attach to the end of our prayers (in fact, as popular and habitual as it is for us to end our prayers with the words “in Jesus’ name,” not a single prayer recorded in the Bible ends this way). Instead, asking according to Jesus’ name is asking according to his character and his will.
We know God’s will through the teachings of Scripture. As we learn more and more about what God wills, wants, and desires, we can align our requests with such things and Jesus will answer.
It is here we come to the final seven words of this first series of requests, “on earth as it is in heaven.” The way most of us read this prayer, we tend to connect this phrase with this final request—that God’s will be accomplished. However, while the phrase can modify this single request, it can also modify all three requests. And perhaps this is the best understanding.
After all, if we consider the three requests—your name be given full honor, your kingdom come, and your will be done—all are true in the heavenly presence of God. As heavenly creatures worship before the throne (think Isaiah 6, and many images in Ezekiel and Revelation), they give full honor and glory to God, unhindered by the stain of sin. God’s kingdom is a heavenly one and Jesus’ throne currently resides in heaven, and one day will reside eternally on the new earth. And though God ultimately accomplishes all his will, there are those who attempt to oppose his will on earth, yet these enemies do not have a place in heaven (Revelation 12:7-8).
Therefore as we pray these, we are praying for three things that are presently true in heaven to become presently true on earth. So “on earth as it is in heaven” is not merely limited to “your will be done” but encompasses all of our requests about God’s name, kingdom, and will.