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Our Father In Heaven. [Matthew 6]

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01.07.2023 sermon notes
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When I was a kid, I understood prayer as a bit of a performance. I’ll never forget, my dad's a preacher, and one time I went with him to a pastor’s breakfast thing. A couple of pastors got together for brunch. And I was like, 7-8 years old - and they asked if I would say grace. I didn’t really think much of it, and I don’t remember what I said. But they lost their minds. “That was amazing, you are such an incredible pray-er, wow - most kids your age” - all that stuff. My dad was so proud, and he would always call on me. You know, Jeremiah (he calls me Jeremiah because that’s my secret name), You know - Jeremiah is such a great prayer, you should ask him to pray. Now I know my dad, and I know his buddies - they are wonderful, super supportive men of God. And I know my dad would be mortified to learn this, but that moment put an enormous amount of pressure in my mind on the activity of prayer. Because before that I never really thought about it - I was just talking to my loving father in heaven who listens to me. But now there was a grading scale. There were good prayers and…and not as good prayers. And so when I was with a group - I always want to pray really eloquently. I wanted to have fancy words and impress people with how spiritual and deep I was. But if you’ve met me in real life or talked to me for more than 5 seconds you know - that's not how I AM. I’m not a fancy person. I’m goofy and blunt and simple - and that’s how I talk in normal life. And so privately, as I grew as a Christian I would talk to God normal - but then publicly I felt like my prayers weren’t very good, so I would try to dress them up a bit - you know, sprinkle in some beautiful words so I could get an A-plus and a gold star for my public prayer. 

Now all of that fell apart when I met Sara. If you’ve met my wife, and you get to know her - you know how stunningly thoughtful and classy she is. When my family met her they were TERRIFIED that I was going to mess it up. My brothers, my sister, my mom - “she’s amazing, don’t mess this up.” Alright, I’ll try not to. So the first time I brought Sara home to meet my family, we were getting ready for dinner - and you know what that means, gotta find somebody to say grace. And there’s my dad, who is so proud of me, volunteering me to pray, out loud, in front of this girl who I really, really like. And I tried. I tell you, I gave it a valiant effort. My dad’s there listening. My amazing new girlfriend is there listening - I’m going to use the beautiful words, I’m going to use the eloquent words. And God said, “No you’re not.” I completely froze. It was like paralysis of the tongue. I babbled incoherently for a few seconds, and then I just had stop and reverted back to praying my way, with simple words, what’s on my heart. But I did it out loud in front of my family. I said, “God, I’m just so nervous right now - because I want to be impressive and pray with fancy words, but I just can’t find them. Please bless this food amen.” And it was awkward, and it was hilarious - and because they love me, my family STILL makes fun of me for it to this day. 

Today we are starting a brand new sermon series called The Lord’s Prayer. For the next couple of weeks we are going to be walking through the prayer Jesus taught us, and there is SO much we can learn. Prayer is one of those things we all know we are SUPPOSED to do - it’s one of the fundamentals of the Christian faith, prayer - talking to God - and yet I think for a lot of us, we struggle. Prayer can be hard, and awkward - and so I really believe that this study is going to be extremely useful for all of us to grow closer to the God who loves us and who listens to us. Let’s dive in.

Chapter 6 in the book of Matthew, this is Jesus teaching, it. Says in verse 5. [read v.5-8]. Alright, so in this first section Jesus starts off with this really practical advice. He outlines a couple of key methods for how to pray. 1. Don’t pray publicly. He references guys who are out there praying on street corners and synagogues - where everyone can see them. And this is key - prayer is not a performance. We have to keep the focus on who we are talking to, not who is watching us talk. Jesus keeps going, [read v.6a]. The best prayers are not the ones we do in public that draw a lot of attention, but rather the prayers spoken in privacy. I remember when I started out as a preacher - I did a sermon series on prayer, like in my first few years, and my goal with that series was just to get people to pray. I was so desperate to at least get the people to START talking to God, that I said - you can pray anywhere, anytime, anything - just do it. I became the Nike slogan guy - Just Do It! It doesn’t even matter - just pray. That’s what I said. But what I’ve realized in my ministry and in my faith life is that that's not exactly right. It actually does matter HOW we pray. God gives us really clear instructions for how to do this thing. It’s not a performance, and we should be doing this with privacy. 

Here - let’s make the picture. What does it normally look like when we pray? There’s certain pieces to the posture. What do we do with our eyes? We close them. What do we do with our heads? We bow them. What do we do with our hands? We put them together. And maybe, for extra bonus points - what do we do with our legs? We kneel. Now, let me ask this - can you talk to God while you’re standing up, eyes open, head up and hands at your side? Of course you can! You actually CAN pray anywhere, anytime, anyway. But think about it like this, I have these little earbud headphones, right? And when I’m doing something like the dishes or whatever, I like to listen to music or podcasts or audiobooks. Sometimes, I’ll listen to music while scrolling on my phone. Now when my children come up to me to speak, technically I can still hear them with the music in my ears, and the phone in my face. Every teenager knows this - (pretend to be scrolling) yeah, mom i’m listening, duh. But what does it say when I pull the earbud OUT of my ear, put the phone in my pocket and kneel down and look into their eyes? That’s me telling them with my posture - you are important and I am listening. I’m not trying to give you this legalistic mentality, “you have to pray THIS way” - but at the same time, I want you to be thoughtful about your posture when you’re speaking to God! Because how we pray matters! 

Here's the thing - you don't have to pray in the picture perfect traditional way, but there's a reason it became tradition. They’re super helpful. Take it from me. I was a fidgety kid. You guys watch me preach all the time - you think I walk back and forth to be engaging, to be an exciting preacher. NO. I walk back and forth because I don't know how to hold still. Little story - one time, in my first church they had a really old school traditional set up -  there was pulpit that was like a box, with a little microphone coming off of it. A little box for the preacher to stand in and preach. I had a wireless microphone, and I preferred to preach from the center of the stage - I couldn’t preach in the box. One week, my microphone died in the middle of the sermon, and so I had to get into the pulpit. I was trying to move around in this tiny box, I’m so thankful that thing was bolted to the floor cuz I was rocking it back and forth. So when I pray, I clasp my hands to help me focus, I bow my head and adjust my posture to get me into the right space mentally where I can talk to God. You don’t have to close your eyes to pray - but for a lot of people that helps, because your eyes can be so easily distracted. Everyone is a little different, you probably have a method that works best for you - but the important thing is that we are intentional with how we approach prayer. How you pray matters.

He keeps going in verse 9, [read it]. Our Father in Heaven - and I already have to stop. And break it down a little bit. Jesus teaches us to start praying by saying “Our Father”. Now you need to understand something about this term. In Jesus’ day, Father’s were usually terrible dads. There was a cultural expectation that mom’s did all the raising children stuff. When my wife gives birth, I’m going to take a little bit of time to be with my family - and we call that PA-ternity leave. Not MAternity leave, which is for the mother - but PA-ternity leave for the father. Do you think they had paternity leave in Jesus’ day? Of course not! The construct of God as a loving father was a radical departure from how they understood Fathers AND how they understood God. There are some people I have met in my life who tell me, I can’t pray to God as a Father - because of the way my father was when I was a kid. Do you understand what I’m saying? Earthly Fathers sort of cast a shadow on the start of the prayer. And I get that. I really do. I completely understand. But I hope you can see that God is unlike even the BEST of Fathers. God is so much better than the greatest Father figure the rest of the world has to offer. Whether your experience is good or bad, we turn to God as something even better. If there is brokenness in your life that surrounds the title “father” - my heart breaks for you, and I completely understand where you are coming from and my prayer is that you can come to a place where we can see that God is everything we could hope for in a Father, and more. He is everything we need to satisfy the hole that our earthly Father’s may have left. Father is a radical title to give to God.

But it’s also super helpful to give us a framework for how we talk to God. I used to teach people that when it comes to prayer - you can say anything to God, because God will listen. He is the greatest listener in the world. (It’s amazing to me how much of this sermon is me saying, “I used to teach this thing and I was totally wrong!”) You can say anything to God and he can take it. But I realized that that mentality when we approach God denies God as our Father. Here’s what I mean. Yes, you CAN say anything to God - you can say anything to anyone, but the people you love - you treat differently. If you can just say anything to God, then he’s more like an invisible punching bag or a stress ball therapist for you to vent at. If you’re willing to say ANYTHING to someone, it shows that you don't care about that person very much. BUT if God is our FATHER, if we see him in our mind’s eye as a person of authority in our life, who we love and respect - that changes how we speak to him, right? Now think about your earthly Father, or your mother or your spouse - in your life, do you say things to your father that you regret? Absolutely. I think about when my boys are angry. And they scream something they don't mean. I don’t sit them down and say, “You can say anything you want to me.” Of course not. I love my children, and I want to validate their emotions and I totally get that they need to vent. But when they’ve calmed down, I expect an apology because that's not how we talk to one another in this family. If we love each other, that should mean something with how we talk to one another. The first thing I want you to grab is that HOW we pray matters, and then the next big thing we find in our scripture is that we should speak to God as if he is our loving Father, and that should mean something with the respect we give in our conversation.

[read v.9] May your name be kept Holy. That’s one of the things I love about the New Living Translation. There’s lots of good translations out there, but the New Living Translation puts an emphasis on being readable and easy to understand. Of course, when we said the Lord’s prayer earlier in the service we said, “Our Father, who art in heaven…HALLOWED be thy name.” That’s a little bit of old English for you. When I was a little kid I always thought HALLOWED sounded like halloween, but of course it’s nothing spooky like that. “Hallowed” simply means holy, and holy means “set apart.”  That’s why the New Living Translation simplifies it - “may your name be kept holy.” It actually draws me back to the book of Exodus when Moses was getting the ten commandments from God. If you remember the story of Moses, there was this awesome moment with the burning bush where Moses first meets God, and as he approached he heard a voice that told him to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Just like our prayers, Moses had to change his posture when he approached God. He takes his shoes off. And then later, after Israel is free from Egypt, God gives him the law and the first four commandments are all about God’s holiness. Chapter 20 of Exodus, [read v.2-3]. Have no other god but me - now you might wonder, how can you “have another God” - like, what does that even mean? They’re not collectible figurines. What does it mean to HAVE other gods? Well, I think one of the best ways to explain it is like a marriage. The married men in the room understand, there are conversations we have, there are pieces of our selves and our hearts that are reserved for our marriage. We’re not going to be out there handing out pieces of our heart to every pretty lady who crosses our path. When we are married, we’re not out here flirting with other gals, right? (The men in the room better say yes). In the same way if God is your God, we’re not going to be out here flirting with other gods, talking to other gods. You know what I mean, right? There’s a lot of things out there that are trying to be god - and we need to save those conversations, those pieces of our hearts, our trust, our hope, our faith - save all that for our loving Father in heaven. Some people trust in money, some people trust in politics - I even know some people who are literally praying to other gods. Like, they come to church on Sunday - but they’re out there using crystals and trying to have seances and all that. Nuh-uh. Our God is a God you can pray to, and that’s amazing - but we need to keep his name Holy, we need to save our heart, save our conversations for God alone. We don’t pray to any other gods. God’s name is to be set apart.

The good news that I have for you this morning is that God is listening. That, all by itself, is some of the craziest stuff you could ever believe. There is a God out there, and he created every single thing we see and know. And that God, cares about you. He loves you, and he has invited you into a conversation. Look - I’m not interested in guilting you into chanting a couple fancy lines every day. There is no guilt or pressure or scolding in my heart this morning. What I want you to see is that you could be getting more out of your connection with God. If the only time you talk to God is that 30 second moment when I pause for silent prayer on a Sunday morning - you are missing out.  Learning how to dialogue with the divine is life changing. It's amazing, it’s so incredible. I just want to rah-rah, cheerlead for prayer, because I mean it - it’s awesome to be able to talk to God.

Like, we have a relationship with God that on one level is unlike anything we have with anyone here on earth - and yet, on another level - it's very similar to the relationships we have on this earth. Communication with God is essential to keep that relationship alive. To stay in love with God, we need to talk to him! And maybe you’ve tried talking to God, and it felt awkward or weird, and you didn’t know what to say and you weren’t really sure - and so you gave up, and you were like, “Nah, that prayer stuffs not for me.” Hello?!? Have you never met a new person? It’s always a little bit awkward when you first start talking to someone. It’s always a little bumpy as you learn how to talk to someone, how to listen to someone. In this way, our relationship with God is very similar to our relationship with the people around us. If I take a beautiful flower and put it in a pot, and I water it and put it in the sunlight and take care of it every day, that flower will flourish and bloom. But if I take it and stuff it in the closet, and never talk to it again - it will wither and die. Same thing happens with friendship. If you never talk, or you stick people in the closet - they will wither and die. (Laugh). Same thing happens with our relationship with God. I have some friends, who grew up in the church, but they’ve pulled away in recent years - and I think probably we all have some friends like that. And a lot of times they’ll feed me the line, “Well, you know - you don’t HAVE to go to church to be a Christian.” And they’re right! It’s true - coming to church doesn’t magically MAKE you a Christian. And technically I don’t HAVE to go home to be married, (I know we’re married, I believe it up in my head, why do I need to come home?) but if I don’t go home for a long enough period of time - well, that relationship dies. God is listening, and so this is your invitation - let’s start the conversation.

Really that’s my whole challenge for you today, and for the next few weeks - Set time aside, and start the conversation with God. Every single day I want you to pray.  There’s three big pieces of teaching. First, the place matters. Jesus teaches us - don’t pray for an audience, focus on who you're talking to, not who is watching you talk. Try to find privacy for prayer. First the place matters, second - your posture matters. Find a way of praying, physically, that helps you focus on God. Maybe that's sitting or kneeling, or even standing, maybe your eyes are closed, or open staring at something that's not distracting. Maybe you put your hands together, or with a fidget toy. Different positions work for different people, but the important thing is that you are trying to find a way to focus on God with your posture. Turn off the noises and distractions - get the place right, get the posture rights and the third piece is your words. On the one hand, Jesus tells us, [read v.7] You don't have to worry about using fancy words or special phrases - just talk to God. On the other hand - our words matter, and we want to talk to God with respect - like we would talk to someone who we love. Work on the place, work on the posture, work on the words - and then Go! Get started.

Sara loves to tell that story of when I goofed up a prayer in front of my family. She says it was very authentic, I just thought it was embarrassing. But I want to leave you with this final story. I remember when I was a teenager, I wanted to grow in my relationship with God. I wanted to pray, and I didn’t really know how. So I read this passage, and I tried it. I went into my bedroom, I closed the door, I decided I would lay on my bed and stare up at the ceiling. It made me feel like I was talking TO God, when I speak upwards. And I started talking, I poured my heart out for a while - and you know what? It felt WEIRD! It was so awkward. I just felt like I was talking to a blank ceiling. I didn’t know if I was supposed to feel different or sense a divine presence or what - but I didn’t. Not at first. And I thought I failed… But I wanted that relationship with God so bad, and so I kept at it. And now, turning to God in prayer it's like muscle memory for me. It’s practically an instinct, and I wouldn’t trade my conversations with God for the world. I'm still learning, but what I want to see is that if you struggle to connect in your prayer life - you’re in good company. We all start somewhere, but with practice we grow - and it's amazing. Let’s pray.  

Heavenly Father, I love you so much. I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to know you, and that I’ve learned how to talk to you. I know there’s people in here who know you and talk to you easier than even I do - but Lord, it’s a burden on my heart. I know most of us don't have a prayer life, and they’re missing out on your sweet goodness. Please teach us to pray. Teach our hearts that you really are listening, and guide us in how to connect. I love you. Amen.


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