Friday, November 18, 2011

WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday November 20, 2011

PRAYING AS GOD’S PEOPLE
(Sincere prayer reveals your heart toward GOD)
(Matthew 6:1-18)

In Matthew chapter 6, verses 1-18, in the middle of HIS, now famous, “Sermon on the Mount”, JESUS attempts to show HIS followers, then and now, just who they need to satisfy in order to receive those Christian rewards that will be everlasting to the recipient. In this particular segment, JESUS begins HIS teachings on three very important issues concerning the “Christian Walk”. HE wants HIS followers to have the kind of attitude, or, “spiritual mindedness” that will reflect that of HIS OWN. HE seeks to instill in them, these three things that a Christian must obtain, and, maintain, if they are to be successful in the eyes of GOD; (1) The correct attitude towards “giving”, (2) The correct attitude towards “prayer”, and (3) The correct attitude towards “fasting”. He also gives us HIS, now famous, “blueprint on how we should pray”, better known as “The LORD’s Prayer”, which I will address separately.
In the biblical Greek, the word used for “hypocrites” is “hupokrites” (hoop-ok-ree-tace), and it describes “one whose whole life is a piece of acting” or, one who pretends to be what one is not”. Now, throughout this passage JESUS urges HIS followers not to let hypocrisy define their daily walk, and also, not to be seekers of the rewards of men. In verses 1-4, HE introduces the subject of “giving”. HE begins by warning us to be careful not to do our good deeds publicly, just so we can be admired by men. In other words, we should not give as hypocrites do. When we give to those in need, make sure that we don’t go around announcing and talking about it, blowing our own horn, and calling attention to ourselves. We should “not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing”. Any gift given in secret, for a GODly cause, is a gift-giving action that will be rewarded by GOD WHO sees you.
In verses 5-7, JESUS warns us not to pray as hypocrites do, you know the ones I mean, those who love to pray in public just so everyone can see and hear them pray, but they never pray in private. Blessed is the person who prays in private. JESUS also instructs us not to babble on and on with long, drawn out repetitive prayers as if we were trying to demonstrate who can pray the longest among us. GOD already knows our needs, even before we utter the first word. Our prayers only need to be earnest, and come from the heart, and, be faith-based. They have to neither be long, nor public, to be effective. The effectiveness of prayer is based on the righteousness of the petitioner (James 5:15-16)
In verses 9-13, JESUS attempts to show HIS original disciples, and us, just how we should pray. Before we get into details, there are certain general facts that should be noted. First of all, this divine example is a directive that teaches us how to pray, and is not a prayer, in and of itself. It is a “blueprint” by which we are to pattern our daily petitions to GOD.
Secondly, it is a prayer that only a “disciple”, or “true follower” of CHRIST can pray. By that I mean, only a person who is committed to GOD can pray this kind of prayer with any meaning or effectiveness. And finally, it is not a child’s prayer, as it has often been stated, and, as many of us have been led to believe. In fact, it is not even meaningful for a child at all. It is a prayer for those who have reached an age of accountability, and only out of the heart of a person that is truly committed to GOD, does this prayer, or any prayer realize its full meaning. And with that said, let us now analyze this terse, but brilliant petition, which JESUS handed down to us that day from the very slopes of the “Mount of Beatitudes” (present day Mount Eremos) on the northwestern shores of the Sea of Galilee in far-off Palestine.
The first line in this model prayer identifies just who our prayer is addressed to, “Our FATHER which art in Heaven”. Following that statement, the first three pronouncements in this prayer deals with GOD and HIS glory, “Hallowed be THY name”, “Thy Kingdom comes”, THY will be done in Earth, as it is in Heaven”. And so, we see here, that, GOD has to first be given HIS supreme place, before we can turn our thoughts to ourselves, our needs, and our desires. Only when GOD is given HIS proper place in our lives, can everything else in our lives fall into place.
Now, we can turn to our needs, which is just what the next three petitions in this prayer are about. In fact, they actually deal with the three basic essential needs of man, those being, “maintenance of life”, “forgiveness”, and “help with temptation”. They also deal with the three spheres of time, through which all mankind must travel, “the present”, “the past”, and, “the future”.
“Give us this day our daily bread” turns our thoughts, once again, to “GOD THE FATHER”, the creator and sustainer of all of life. HE is the ONE who covers us in the “present” and so this petition brings “our needs of the present” to the throne of GOD.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” turns our thoughts to “GOD THE SON”, our LORD and SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST, the GOD-appointed, ultimate judge. This petition brings our “past” before the throne of GOD. It is the sacrifice of JESUS on the cross that clears us of “past behavior”, and re-establishes us into a right relationship with GOD (Salvation). At that point we are given “justification” and GOD begins to treat us as though we never sinned at all.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” turns our thoughts to “GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT”, our GOD-appointed Comforter, Strengthener, and Guide. This petition commits our “future” into the hands of GOD. The HOLY SPIRIT within us will always compel us towards CHRIST, even as the “Sin Nature” in us tries to tug us back towards the World. Whenever we follow the prompting of the HOLY SPIRIT, we will always do that which is right, as opposed to doing that which is wrong.
And so we see in these three petitions, JESUS teaching us to lay our past, present, and future on the mercy of the grace of GOD. This blueprint shows us how to bring the “whole of life” (our past, our present, and our future) to the “whole of GOD” (GOD THE FATHER, GOD THE SON, GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT).
Prayer should never be an attempt to bend the will of GOD, but rather, should always be aimed towards submitting our wills TO the will of GOD. And then we “fast” to teach ourselves to have self-control over the desires of the flesh, and, to teach us how to “eat to live”, rather than “live to eat”.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander


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