Putting God First

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 11:2-4

If we can be encouraged in these times together to pray we’ll be far more healthy, happy people. We’ll do more good in this world and God whom we seek to worship will be honored and pleased. I ask: Is that something worth being involved in or not? I believe it is.

Talk about privilege. I feel so privileged to talk with each of you about these things. Prayer is as the hymn writer once put it, “the Christian’s vital breath,” like a life-line for a diver. If we can be encouraged in these times together to pray we’ll be far more healthy, happy people. We’ll do more good in this world and the God whom we seek to worship will be honored and pleased. I ask: Is that something worth being involved in or not? I believe it is.

In two previous messages we’ve thought about Jesus the teacher, what prayer was in his life, and last time, about calling God “Father.”

As we believe, so we pray. Who was God to Jesus? His marvelously faithful, loving, generous Father. And as we come to trust in God as our loving Father, we more and more pray as Jesus did with freedom, joy, affection and confidence. We can pour out our hearts before him.

Now Jesus, as he goes on teaching how to pray, says, “Whenever you pray, say Father, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

After teaching us how to think of God, what to call God, Jesus teaches us in the rest of the prayer what we are to ask. It’s important to note that with Jesus, asking is central to prayer. Now we’re in God’s presence as beloved children, what does Jesus want us to ask our Father?

TWO SETS OF PETITIONS

Now in the Lord’s Prayer there are two sets of petitions. Let’s look at the second set first: “Give us our daily bread. Forgive us our sins. Don’t lead us into temptation.” Whatever we need for our physical survival, health, well-being, that’s in that first one: “Give us our daily bread.” All we need in our relationships with other people and with God is involved in the prayer for forgiveness. Protection and deliverance from all evils is in the prayer against temptation. That’s what the second set is about: prayers for ourselves and for other people. It’s a kind of shorthand, a summary of everything we need. This generous Father waits and wants to meet our needs and satisfy our hearts.

And notice, we don’t pray alone. It’s “give us each day, forgive us, deliver us.” God wants us to bring him the needs of others as well as our own. Now that’s the second set.

The first set of petitions is far less understood and far less practiced, I believe. And that’s our focus now. The first set has to do with God’s concerns, that God’s name may be known and honored, that God’s kingly rule may be everywhere established, that God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What I want us to notice first is the priority of this first set. We’re invited, as we’ve seen, to bring our every need to God with full confidence in his love, goodness and faithfulness. But we are to do that as those who begin by praying for God’s concerns. In other words, we put God first. What does that make you think of? I think of the two great commandments. The second is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s what you do when you pray, “Give us our daily bread” and so on. The first is that you love God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind. And that’s what you do when you pray the first set of petitions. It’s all about loving. Think of prayer as a way of expressing love.

EVERYONE HAS A “LIFE-PRAYER”

Now here’s something you may not have thought about much, and that is that everyone has a kind of “life prayer,” not just religious people everyone. Everyone has something that he or she wants more than anything else. It may be something as crass as wealth. It’s possible for a person to be a veritable furnace of yearning for material abundance and wealth. One great millionaire was asked once how much was enough and the answer was, “a little bit more.” And if that is the thing that we want most in life, if we could see it visually, there would be smoke and fire ascending from that life, craving this one thing. That would be a life-prayer.

Or maybe ours could be power, the desire to run things, to control people, to have our way. If that’s what we want more than anything else, it’s a life-prayer.

Maybe it’s fame. You want your name in the lights, a household word, to be somebody whose first name is as familiar around the world as Michael, or as Tiger.

Now, what we desire most ardently, what we seek most constantly, shapes the way we live our lives. You could say it as another principle: “As we pray, so we live.” Say that to yourself: “As we pray, so we live.” Whatever it is, what you value most, want most, shapes the way you organize your life. I mean, if it’s money, then you will order everything else in the interests of greater profit, even if you have to sacrifice family or health or conscience. Everything else is expendable because this is your great aim in life. It would be the same way with power or fame. The life-passion becomes for us our religion. It’s the altar before which we worship. For all practical purposes, what we prize most highly and seek most ardently has become our god. And the desire for it is our life-prayer. As we pray, so we live.

Now let’s say we become followers of Jesus. What’s his life-prayer? John 12:28: “Father, glorify your name.” What does Jesus want most? John 4:34: “My meat is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” In other words, he was saying, I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. “Not my will but thine be done.” That’s how Jesus prayed, and that shaped the way he lived his life.

So when we become followers of Jesus, our life-prayer is changed. Our life-prayer is converted. Before we become followers of the Lord, our life-prayers, though varied, have this in common: they center in us. We sit like spiders in the center of our web, gathering in everything that comes near to us. In a way, we are saying, “Let my name be honored. Let my little kingdom come. Let my will be done.”

THE NEW LIFE-PRAYER

When we meet Jesus and we begin to pray this new prayer, the changed life-prayer transforms our lives. In our church we have a gifted minister of music who prays in every practice, every worship service, these words from Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory.” And that’s the transformation. Now we begin to say, “Not my name, Lord, but yours; not my kingdom, but yours, not my will but yours be done.” And then, when we begin to pray that way, we live differently. Not all at once but we’re on the way.

So how are we to pray the Lord’s Prayer? Frequently, daily, asking for daily bread. We’re to pray it corporately because we say us. And as a guide to our praying, the Lord’s Prayer gives us a structure for prayer and a sense of priority.

I believe it means also this. It means thinking through what the petitions actually mean, and how they are fulfilled, and then asking accordingly. For example, how will God’s name be hallowed? Well, as we worship him in Spirit and in truth, so we’re praying for worship that is pleasing to God both in our personal lives and in the churches of which we are a part.

But it’s more than that. God’s name is hallowed and honored by the purifying and renewing of the church. It’s when professing Christians are inconsistent in the way they live that they bring shame upon the name of God. But as the church is purified and revived, as people become godly, grace-filled, grateful and glad, then a watching world sees us and sees something of the glory of the Lord. So when I pray that God’s name will be hallowed, I’m praying for worship in my life and in the church. I am praying for a great purifying work of God in the church so that the glory of the Lord may shine through us.

But more than that, I’m praying for the world-wide proclamation of the gospel because how will God’s name be honored and praised among people who never even heard it? How will they worship God through Jesus if they don’t even know his wonderful name? So we pray for those things. We’re praying for worship, we’re praying for revival, we’re praying for the world-wide proclamation of the gospel. And when we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, we’re praying that many from every land, culture and religious group may repent, believe in Jesus and surrender to God’s loving rule in him. Yes, and that all believers may learn more fully to seek God’s kingdom first. And pray for God’s will to be done in our national leaders, in all the nations, in every communion and congregation of the church and in our own lives.

THE DIFFERENCE IT MAKES

Now what difference does all that make? It makes love for God a daily reality and not just a concept. Do you want to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind? How can you do it? Listen to this definition of what love means:

By love we mean at least these attitudes and actions: rejoicing in the presence of the beloved. . . It is a desire that he be rather than not be; a longing for his presence . . . it is happiness in the thought of him . . . satisfaction over everything that makes him great and glorious.

Again,

Love is loyalty. It’s the willingness to let the self be destroyed rather than that the other cease to be. It’s the commitment of the self by self-binding will to make the other great. It’s loyalty to the other’s cause, to his loyalty.

H. Richard Niebuhr, “the Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry”

Now notice that love is profound satisfaction over everything that makes the other great and glorious. When you love someone, you’re so happy when they’re praised, when their worth is seen and recognized. When someone recognizes what an extraordinarily wonderful person my wife is, my heart rejoices. When someone praises one of my sons, daughters-in-law, or grandchildren, my heart sings.

When you love God, you want everyone to recognize how good, loving, faithful, and great he is. And whenever others express that, your heart leaps up. That’s loving God.

Also, it’s loyalty to the other’s cause. The Lord is King of Kings and Lord of lords. You want others to recognize his sovereignty, to yield themselves to his service. When you see someone else serving the King, you celebrate. And you want to serve him yourself. That’s loving God.

And when you know that God’s will is good, acceptable and perfect, you want it for yourself and you want others to live in it as well. And you want it because it is his will, the will of the One who loves you supremely. That’s loyalty to God; that’s loving God.

And the more you pray for these things, the more your love will grow, and the more your life will be offered up to see them fulfilled. Your prayers will shape your life. As we pray, so we live.