God’s Name, Kingdom, and Will
The first thing we must remember when it comes to right praying is that we should reverence God’s name. This means that we respect his holiness and majesty, recognize his sovereign dominion over us, and come to him humbly. That he has made himself known to us as our Father should not in the least diminish but increase our awe of his grace and goodness. That such a glorious God should love us and adopt us to be his children when we were his rebellious enemies and drowning in filth should grip us with ceaseless wonder. Therefore, the first part of reverencing God’s name and seeking for him to rule over us is to confess our many sins against his majesty and to trust his promise of mercy. He makes his royal power known in our lives first in his gospel. We are convicted that we have sinned against him and rebelled against his authority. He comes to us in his Son, promises to forgive our sins, and gives us new, lowly hearts that rejoice in his grace and tremble at his word. Only then can we seriously aspire to please him – when we have become displeased with ourselves, repent of our willfulness, and endeavor to make his word our chief delight so that the aim of our lives is to please him in all things. Only then will our obedience be a sacrifice of praise, rather than an attempt to satisfy his justice, gain his favor, or atone for our sins in some way. In ourselves, we have nothing to offer him that will not incur further wrath. We pray rightly, then, when we fear his great and marvelous name, seek to be governed by him, and walk worthy of him as a living sacrifice.
Give Us Today’s Bread
Restrain Excessive Desire and Anxiety
When our Father directs us to come to him for our daily bread, he means nothing less but that he alone feeds us, that he has taken this office upon himself, and that he bids us come to him with a child’s heart to seek our very lives from his goodness. It matters not that a man may have enough to live for a thousand years stored up and be as rich as Croesus in terms of gold and silver. Unless God feeds us, blesses what we have, and causes the food we receive to nurture our bodies, all the wealth and culinary wonders in the world will be a curse to our souls. Sadly, for the children of the world, who do not call upon God or thank him for their food, it is often the case that he gives them what they crave but sends leanness to their souls (Ps. 106:15). He did this to his people in the wilderness, and he is so kind even to his enemies that he gives them their good things in this life (Luke 16:25).
But for us who adore him, when he tells us to come to him for our daily bread, we are taught not to trust abundance, as if it has any intrinsic power to feed and truly nurture us for God’s service. Just as the soil must be watered, warmed, and blessed by God so that the seeds we bury there may spring to life, the same is true of the food we eat. It has no power in itself, but God must bless and use it to strengthen us. We must seek it from our Father’s hand. By coming to him, we also learn to restrain excessive desire. Some never feel secure unless they know where their food and clothing is coming from for the rest of their lives. Will I have enough until I die? It is wise to be prudent; it is sinful to be anxious and distrusting. The line between them is sometimes very narrow and wavers because our faith is so weak and worldly. We must heed our Savior’s warning not to worry about food and clothing. We should be content with what our Father provides, and we should trust him to provide. And our Lord follows the same order here as in his teaching in Matthew 6:19-34. Trust God to provide for you. Seek first his kingdom and righteousness, and he will provide all that you need to serve him. If we seek his kingdom and righteousness – the second and third petitions of our Lord’s Prayer! – we need not worry about tomorrow. The same faithful God and Father who took care of us today will be with us tomorrow and forever.
Depend upon Our Father’s Daily Goodness
“Daily” bread might be translated “necessary bread” or the “bread that is sufficient for each day.” Clearly, our heavenly Father wants us coming to him each day for each day’s needs. He wants us to learn to depend upon his daily goodness and wise provision, whether that is sparse or abundant. Now, we might not think that in areas of great poverty and persecution that the Lord is answering this prayer, but he alone knows what is necessary for us. Doubt on this point is Satan talking. Was he not providing for his Son during that forty days in the wilderness? Satan thought not and tempted our Lord at this very point. Our Lord knew better. “Necessary” bread does not mean bread fit for a king or bread like everyone else has but bread that my Father wants for me to have. It might be a feast; it might be nothing. He also sees eternity and sees each one of his children at the marriage supper of the Lamb. To arrive there and sit down with Abraham and the fathers at that blessed board, the church needs to go through seasons of testing and hunger, so that we learn to live by God’s word alone and trust his goodness. This is what is meant by this petition: that we never doubt our Father’s good intentions toward us, come to him for all we need, cast our cares upon him, and learn godliness with contentment in waiting for him to provide for us. Perhaps we would learn this lesson better if at the end of every meal, we gave him thanks. We live at his cost, from his larders, from his goodness toward us.
Forgive Us Our Debts
Sin a Debt to God’s Majesty and Holiness
God made us for himself, to live in his fellowship, for his praise, in obedience to his word. He has a right in our obedience, and when we transgress his holy law, we rob him of his rightful authority over us. For a child to slap his parent in the face, while his parent is feeding him and loving him, is a shadow of the evil of sinning just once against our Maker. Sin is a debt – a debt to God’s majesty, an offense against his justice, an insult to his holiness. Sin is far more serious than we have any idea. One hears famous persons ridicule their Christian upbringing with comments like, “I could never serve such a binary God, who sends people to everlasting hell for breaking an old code.” All this shows is that they never had a heart made new by grace, so when they grow up and listen to the world, they readily forsake the God of their fathers. It is no wonder to me that the holy God would send a man to everlasting hell for the tiniest infraction against his word. Absolute obedience is the right of our Maker to ask of us. It is far more of a wonder to me that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is so perfect that all the sins of all God’s people for all time are atoned for, a full satisfaction made to divine justice, all the obligations against God’s majesty paid in full. The shocking wonder at the heart of biblical religion is not a God who sends sinners to hell but a God who sent his Son to save his enemies, forgives iniquity, provides full atonement through laying upon his Son our stripes, reconciles us to himself through the blood of his beloved Son, and then adopts us as his children and declares us righteousness. And then, he gives us eternal life and an everlasting kingdom of glory and joy! The gospel of Jesus Christ remains the single most amazing fact that man can know. Pray it never loses its hold upon you!
Forgiveness a Grace through Christ Alone
One of the wonders of his grace to us is that as believers with so many blessings in Jesus Christ, he forgives our ongoing sins against him. He gives us a new nature, but often we walk in the flesh and fulfill its desires. Sin and Satan stalk, and our flesh is weak and willing to yield. The holiest believer stumbles and falls so many times that were we to see his heart and his failures, we should wonder that he is a Christian at all! And yet, our Father forgives us, bears with us, and invites us to come to him for fresh cleansing through the once-for-all shed blood of his Son. We are forgiven definitively when we believe upon Jesus Christ for life and salvation, and we must seek daily forgiveness for our many sins. The more one is humbled by the cross of Jesus Christ and loves him, the less comfortable he is with his present sin. God’s marvelous grace never makes us sin-indifferent, sin-calloused, sin-ignoring. It makes us sin haters and mercy seekers. Having tasted once that the Lord is gracious, we become more conscious that we need his mercy constantly. Asking for bread and asking for forgiveness are same-breath needs. Lord, feed me; Lord, forgive me.
Forgiveness means “to send away,” and to where does God send our sins when we ask him? They must be sent somewhere to be swallowed forever, for our Father does not remember our sins but buries them in the “depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:17). Those depths are the abyss of mercy, in which Christ’s blood forever washes away the sins and cleanses from all defilement those who look to him (1 John 1:9-2:1). He is our sure fountain of cleansing, the only satisfaction for sin, and our availing advocate with the Father. And “our Father” – what a personal plea we make for mercy! We do not seek mercy from a hard, cold Judge but from a loving Father whose daily benefits we enjoy and whose covenant never fails. And we would sin against him? Yes, Father, forgive me, each son and daughter of the King asks, and remembering his Son’s “Father, forgive them” and seeing his Son still looking as the Lamb slain, he does.
Mercy from God Requires Mercy to Men
Whenever we ask our Father to forgive our sins, we are confessing that we have and will forgive the offenses that others commit against us. Past, present, and future, believers in Jesus Christ are committed to mercy in the totality of their lives and relationships. Notice that our Lord does not say, “In light of what you have been forgiven, no one has ever done anything to you.” No, he recognizes that men, even fellow believers, commit real and painful offenses against us. And what are we to do about this? We might brood upon it, whisper behind their backs, play the victim card, or refuse fellowship with them until they recognize their errors and come to see the situation from our perspective. A little groveling would be appreciated! Instead, we must forgive them. Each time we come to the Father and ask his forgiveness, we must be able to confess to him that we have and are forgiving all who sin against us.
But do not think, “Well, I’ll forgive them if they ask me in a way that I can accept is sincere, or if they come to see my side of things.” If this is true forgiveness, then not one of us has ever repented and God cannot justly forgive us. We have not the faintest idea of how gross and offensive our sins are to him. We have no idea how much we have sinned against him, how much he has in mercy overlooked for Jesus’ sake, but he freely forgives us, forgets our sins, and throws them in the bottom of the ocean of Jesus’ perfect satisfaction. As much as it depends upon us, before we are asked and after, we must forgive and send away the sins that others commit against us – without bringing them up again, seeking to bury them in mercy, as God in Christ has forgiven us. “Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).
Our forgiving others is not the basis of God’s forgiving us. Our mercy does not merit mercy. Apart from the great evil of making any work of ours the basis of God’s grace to us (Rom. 11:6), such a scheme of justification is a bottomless pit of uncertainty. We could never forgive enough or know that we have forgiven sufficiently for God to forgive us. Consciences were skewered upon these kinds of heresies throughout the late medieval papacy, and we must never cease blessing our Father for sending a Reformation and recovering his everlasting gospel from Satan’s servants in pointed hats. At the same time, a man who will not forgive one who has sinned against him will not be forgiven (Matt. 18:35). It cannot be otherwise. Since God’s mercy is the heart of his kingdom, then all children of the kingdom will be merciful as their Father in heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36). This is not meritorious mercy but imitative mercy, the family trait of the redeemed. Humbled and amazed at God’s mercy to us, let us freely forgive the offenses that others commit against us and endeavor to live at peace with all men, as far as it depends upon us.
Lead Us Not into Temptation
Must Learn to Dread Sinning against God
Our Lord’s last petition is a battlefield cry for help from the Lord of hosts. “Lead me not into temptation” teaches us, first, to recognize our own weakness – that we cannot fight off sin and Satan for one moment unless the Lord helps us. Second, temptation to sin is part of our fallen nature, but it is to be dreaded, for we will be tempted and drawn away from the straight path unless our Lord upholds us. And third, sin and Satan are real enemies – the flesh within and a malevolent spirit without, both plotting our downfall and actively working for our defeat. Our Lord destroyed the works of the devil and broke his enslaving power (1 John 3:8), but he remains a deadly foe to the unwary and lazy, especially the young (1 Pet. 5:8). This is the reason that we are encouraged to take up the armor of God and to move forward in this battle praying, hating sin, confessing that we are certain to wander and likely to fall at the slightest suggestion to sin without the Lord’s constant help. But the highest consideration to make this our constant prayer is the veneration we must have for our Father. Sinning against him once, as Calvin said, is to be dreaded as worse than a thousand horrible deaths. And since we fall daily, how great is his mercy to us in Jesus Christ and how earnestly and constantly must we ask him to deliver us from evil!
God Does not Tempt to Sin but He Does Test
This request troubles souls that have not yet learned to distinguish temptation to sin and God’s testing of his people. With respect to sin, God does not tempt us to sin (James 1:13). We are drawn away by our own lusts and enticed. God does not place sin before us in order to entice or entrap. He does, however, test the righteous – to purify our faith, reveal to us the hidden strength and danger of sin so that we are humbled and learn to walk in greater dependence upon his strength, as well as to reveal the glory of his keeping grace in the hearts of his children. We do not need to alter this petition. It is quite understandable as our Lord first gave it. Easily we are led astray by the crookedness of our hearts. Since we believe that God is our defender and as our Father is willing to help us, we make our appeal to him. We leave the secret things to him and willingly yield to his wise government over our lives. We also trust his faithfulness and his promise, that “with the temptation he is able to make a way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13). Thus, reverencing him, feeling our own weakness, and hating sin, we appeal to him to lead us in the safe paths of righteousness. Should he be pleased to test our faith, we pray fervently that he will bear us up in the hour of trial and that our Shepherd will be with us in every fire of trouble. It is a sign of an impious heart for God’s sovereignty to be used as an excuse for our sins. It is equally evil to blame him for bringing upon us trials from which he might have preserved us. He knows what is best for us.
Now, if it be further objected that since God is sovereign over all things, he most certainly does lead us into temptation and that temptation to sin cannot be exempted. Does not the plea for him not to lead us into temptation imply that he sometimes does lead us there? By no means. The testimony of Scripture contradicts this claim – God does not tempt us to sin (James 1:13). He hates sin, and he takes no delight in watching men fall into sin. He often judges man’s sin with more sin, but this is a righteous judgment on his part and completely deserved on our part. The Lord is certainly sovereign over our temptations and ordains them to be occasions where we shall learn better how strong the principle of sin within us is – but we are tempted by our own desires. If we yield, we shall go astray, sin, and eventually die, unless we repent and turn back to the Lord. If we are meek under his hand, instead of trusting our own strength and wisdom, we shall cast ourselves upon his aid and protection: Lord, lead us away from where our hearts are so inclined to go. Lead us away from temptation. You are our shepherd, and we trust your government of our lives. We also know a little of our stubbornness, so please lead us in the paths of righteousness. In no way, therefore, should we ever think that this petition lays the blame for our sinful temptations at the feet of our merciful Father. That blame must always be laid at our own feet and to God’s goodness and grace must be attributed each deliverance we obtain.
Only He Can Deliver Us from Sin and Satan
Consider David’s example. He was a mighty warrior, but even against earthly foes, he regularly pled with God for guidance, deliverance, strength, and victory. Now, if that godly and strong man felt his need of God’s help, how much more should we feel utterly helpless against the foe that rages against us? It is impossible to overestimate our need of God’s help. Truly, we are defenseless children against the evil one. He is too wily, too strong, and too malicious for us – but not for our Mighty Captain, Jesus Christ. Therefore, believing that his is the kingdom, power, and glory, we make our prayer day and night for God to help us to be faithful to fight the good fight of faith, resist the devil with God’s invincible weapons, and above all believe that God is with us by his Spirit to fight for us and hear our cries. Thus, our Lord’s Prayer ends with a cry for the battlefield, and we must bless God that it does, for he calls us to fight all our lives until we finally obtain the victor’s crown.
But before we will earnestly seek the Lord’s help and deliverance, we must believe and act upon three truths. First, loving the Lord, we must hate sin (Ps. 97:10). Why else would we pray to be delivered from sin unless we hate sin as an offense against our merciful Father? This is perhaps the most basic reason that we do not pray this as we should. Our zeal for God’s holiness and honor are very weak, and therefore we are little moved to hate sin. Public morality and decency standards in the church reflect a greatly diminished regard for God’s holiness and his call to us to be holy. Morality, decorum, and purity are viewed as matters of personal tastes, as if it matters at all what we think about something. What matters are God’s word and his holiness! He has told us that sin of every form is utterly obnoxious to him, disturbs our fellowship with him, and robs us of needed power to resist sin.
And therefore, second, we must feel how much we need God’s help in our battle. We must have him work in our hearts before we can hate sin and desire to be delivered from it. If we are sleeping and have made our peace with the world, it will seem like we need little help and will therefore pray little or lifelessly. Satan leaves his friends and dupes to their own devices. Or if we have made our peace with sin, or with some favorite sins, we shall never call upon the Lord for deliverance. But if you feel what a horrible enemy is stalking you and how unable you are to resist him, then you will call upon him as earnestly as a besieged soldier on the battlefield crying out to his comrades and his commanding officer for help, and ultimately upon the Lord. The battlefield makes many Christians, and we must pray that it will make us Christians and not casualties.
Finally, we must believe that God is willing to deliver us. Since he loves holiness so much – HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, Lord God Almighty – and since he loves us so much, he sent his Son to deliver us from slavery to sin so that we might be servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:18-21). Therefore, although we struggle with sin in this life, always we must return to this most basic truth of the gospel. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” He gave his Son to deliver us from all evil. He did not spare his Son, so he will give us everything else we need for life and godliness (Rom. 8:32). Many of our defeats and falls into temptation stem from an unwillingness to believe that God cares for us, loves us, and pledges to deliver us. Then, we lose heart in the din of the battle, still find much about sin that is alluring to us, and therefore despair that he will help us. But however unworthy we are of his help, he will never withhold it from us if we come trusting in the worthiness of Jesus Christ. He is our Deliverer. He will redeem us from all iniquity. Let us be quick to ask and persistent in asking. When you feel yourself stalked by temptation to sin, stop what you are doing and call out loud upon the Lord. If you have started down the path of sin and suddenly realize what you are doing and want to stop, call out to him. Father, deliver and help me. Believe his promise and keep calling upon him. He will not turn a deaf ear to your believing cries for deliverance.