That great Welsh preacher, Christmas Evans, once said that if a long thread were to float down out of heaven and fasten itself to any one of us, if we knew that God were at the other end, none would lightly brush it aside. Now prayer is not a thread linking us in a tangible way with God, but it is a line of communication with heaven, and God is at the other end of that line. Is it not strange, therefore, that we so often neglect it?
Perhaps one of the greatest reasons for such neglect is an inability to approach God in an effective way. It is, therefore, an astonishing thing to find “Directions for Using the Communication Line” so often utterly disregarded. If we remember how ineffectual our prayers often are, and how discouraged we become because of this, may we not very properly turn to Matthew 6, study it once more for practical suggestions, and consider the wisdom displayed?
There are two main divisions to the prayer. The first half is a prayer for God’s things, the second half for our things. This is, of course, as it should be. However, “our things” often have the first place, and His things scarcely get much place at all. Mr. Wilbur Chapman tells of a man who was very downcast and miserable and came to him for advice. Mr. Chapman asked him if he prayed often. He said that he did, that he was constantly beseeching God to help him, but that instead of getting happier, he only grew more miserable. Mr. Chapman then told him to drop all prayer for himself for a period of two weeks and to come back and let him know the result. The prescription was carefully followed and shortly afterwards the man returned full of joy. God’s things should come before ours, and when we remember that God goes even halves with us, it is very wonderful, and astonishingly gracious.
One of the great things that this prayer teaches is that all prayer is to God and to God alone. Mr. Torrey says that this simple fact taught him more about prayer than he had ever learned elsewhere. “All prayer is to GOD.” GOD is at the other end of the line. Surely if we pray, forgetting this, or even if we give it a secondary place in our thoughts, our prayers are almost irreverent. “This people draweth nigh unto Me with their lips,” but alas, too often lips and mouth are all there is to it. Such saying of prayers is mere formalism.
Notice, moreover, that the prayer is to God as our Father. Christians have grown so accustomed to the thought that God is a Father that the wonder of this revelation is almost lost upon us. If you and I had lived in the Lord’s day and had worshipped the many gods that cluttered the temples of the world, to have learned that there was but one omnipotent, omniscient Creator would have been a tremendous revelation, and to feel that He was friendly might well have created an ecstasy of joy within us. Yet how far beyond all this does the revelation of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ go! If God is shown to us as a heavenly Father, and fulfills that relationship, how glad we should be, and rejoice that God is a Father who is kind unto the “unthankful and evil.” And how much happier still for us who know Him as “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Yea, “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God.” Let us never allow that precious name of Father to become a mere form. Let every ounce of force that the expression will carry go into it, lest we seem to trifle with so sacred a relationship.
It may seem strange that the words “in heaven” should be appended to the title, but there is such a thing as becoming too “familiar” with God. There is such a thing as losing proper reverence for Him, because of His infinite graciousness in bringing us into such a close relationship with Himself. Sometimes we talk to our “Father” in ways that we might hesitate to adopt with an earthly father. We do well then to be reminded that it is our Father who is in heaven whom we address. Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity … I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isaiah 57:15). The contrite and the humble will never be guilty of such an offense as undue familiarity, but we are often filled with pride or a kind of indifference when we pray. May we duly humble ourselves before Him.
The next clause of the prayer very suitably follows, as if it would reinforce this all-important lesson: “Hallowed be Thy Name.” The Name represents the Person, and how joyously should we hasten to hallow it, especially when we think of the many abominable irreverences and profanities to which it is subjected.
“Thy Kingdom come.” The fervor of such utterance is most necessarily increased when the sorrow of all other kingdoms is fully and completely realized. To desire this kingdom intensely, as it should be desired, requires a “hungering and thirsting after righteousness,” for in the Father’s kingdom alone is that righteousness attainable. If we sigh and cry over the abominations around us, how must He, who once wept over the wicked rebellion of Jerusalem, look forward to the time when the sons of God shall be fully manifested: “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43).
“Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” If called upon to study us at prayer, one might find much in us of the spirit of “My Father, may my will be done on earth, as it ought to be in heaven.” Of course we would not say this with our words, but it would be the hidden will of the heart cropping up in little things that would give us completely away. We are intellectually aware that God knows more than we do, that He is wiser than we are, and that He looks to the end, but we have our own plans and thoughts. We have very frequently taken good care to see that we had our own way, and to follow our own wills. The more often that is done, the harder the wrench it takes to drag us back to His way and the truly pleasant path. If we had been accustomed always to yield to His will when our wills came into conflict, then this violent wrenching of our wills would never have occurred. It would never have been an agonizing thing to say, “Thy will be done.”
How can we know what His will is? We don’t always have to know, but just as this beautiful little prayer-model puts God’s things first, so we only need to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (v. 33). Let God be first, and then in its wider application we shall find it true: “He that will do His will shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17).
—F.C. Grant, condensed from Help and Food, 1928.