Seven Principles of Prayer

Matthew 6:9-15 

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  

From this text consider seven principles of prayer.  

First, prayer is to be addressed to God as Father.   To call God, “Father,” was a revolutionary idea for the Jews. They knew God as the Father of National Israel, but here was Jesus inviting individuals to call upon God as “Father.” Today, we cry, “Abba,” “daddy” (Rom. 8:15).  

Second, we are to remember that while God is intimate with us, He is also distinct, for He is  in heaven.   Heaven does not denote geographical location as much as distinctiveness and sovereignty. We must remember that while God is our Father, He is also our King, before whom we bow, and worship.

“Majesty, Worship His Majesty Unto Jesus
Be Glory Honour And Praise
Majesty, Kingdom, Authority
Flows From His Throne Unto His Own
His Anthem Raise.”  

~Jack Hayford  

We are God’s subjects, and He is our Sovereign.  Third, we are to remember that God is a holy God,   “Hallowed be Thy name” (Matt. 6:9).     A person’s name refers to their essence, and the essence of God is holy. He is pure and without corruption. Day and night the angels circle the throne of God crying, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” Let us cry “Holy!” as well.        

“I dreamed of a city called glory,
so bright and so fair,
When I entered the gates I cried holy,
the angels all met me there.  
They carried me from mansion to mansion,
Oh, the sights that I did see.
Then I said I want to see Jesus,
The One who died for me.  
I bowed on my knees and cried holy, holy, holy,
I clapped my hands and sang glory,
glory to the Son of God.”  

~Nettie Washington  

The fourth principle of prayer is a desire to see the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven.   In heaven, the will of God is done fully. The Lord speaks, and what He commands is accomplished.   In heaven, the will of God is gladly performed. There is no reluctance in the service of our great Sovereign.   In heaven, the will of God is done immediately, especially when angels perform a task.   We are told that God “makes His angels winds” (Heb. 1:7, ESV). The wind moves quickly.   Jesus tells us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, willfully, gladly, and immediately.  

The prayer continues,   “Give us this day our daily bread.   There is a lovely implication here. God’s people will know God’s gracious provisions. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) counted around 582,000 Americans experiencing homelessness in 2022.There may be more. Nevertheless, the child of God does not need to fear.   For the Christian, there is a source of security; it is not in the government, but in the God of the Universe. It is to the Sovereign, not to the State, we pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread.”      

Those who rely on the state for their daily needs will be disillusioned. There is disappointment for countless millions in North Korea, China, Russia, Venezuela, England, and Canada.  

In every country where Communism and Socialism has taken root, there is nothing but bloodshed, and violence, hunger, and want.   “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalms 37:25).  

The fifth principle of prayer is to ask God for forgiveness.   “And forgive us our debts [Gk. opheilema (of-i’-lay-mah), what is owed]” (Matt. 6:12).   What do we owe God?  

We owe God thanksgiving for His grace and mercies, which are renewed each day.    

We owe God praise for His loving kindness and longsuffering towards us.  

We owe God perfect obedience for He has redeemed us by the blood of the Lamb.  

We owe God our time, talent, and treasures. “Thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee” (Deut. 16:10).   When we fail to give God what is due Him, we owe Him an apology.  

When we pray, let us ask for forgiveness.   By asking for forgiveness, we are asking for divine understanding, which the Lord gives. “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalms 103:14).  

Because prayer is asking, and receiving, let us ask for complete forgiveness, and pray, “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalms 51:2).

Let us ask that our sins be remembered no more because,  “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psalms 130:3).   Jesus tells us to ask God to forgive our debts. But then Jesus tells us to ask God to forgive us out debts  “as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).  

The little word “as” is an interesting word because it could mean, “when we forgive our debtors, Father, forgive us.”

The word could also mean, “because we forgive our debtors, Father, forgive us.”

But here, in the Greek, the word means, “in the same manner.” “Father, in the same manner I forgive others, please forgive me.”      

The questions comes.  

“In what manner do we forgive others?”  

“In what way are we to forgive our debtors?”  

If we listen to the counsel of the world, we will be encouraged to embrace a concept known as,   “therapeutic forgiveness.” This is a prevailing view among many, even in the church.  

Therapeutic forgiveness may be defined as “ceasing to feel anger, or resentment, toward a person who has wronged you” (Chris Brauns,  Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).  

The idea is that when we no longer feel angry toward someone, when we no longer display our displeasure towards them, friendship and fellowship will be restored.  

The concept seems reasonable, until it is realized that forgiveness has been turned into an emotion.   We are told to stop feeling a certain way, no matter what the facts might be, because that movement toward an anesthetized state constitutes forgiveness.   However, when the effort is made to stop feeling a certain way, an inner tension is often created, because the heart senses something is fundamentally wrong with the philosophy of “therapeutic forgiveness.”  

One fundamental concern about this concept, for a Christian, is that it does not always go far enough.  

When we turn to Scripture, we discover that what constitutes biblical forgiveness is a transaction, comprised of two essential ingredients, justice, and repentance. God forgives those who repent of their sins, only because He has a basis to forgive them in the atoning work of Christ.   The ground of divine forgiveness is the holiness and the wrath of being satisfied.   God is faithful and righteous to forgive, because His justice is satisfied in the substitutionary death of Christ. God’s forgiveness, based on justice and repentance, results in reconciliation and restoration to fellowship.   But there is no reconciliation without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without justice being satisfied, and repentance being authentic.  

God’s forgiveness is conditional.  

With this divine model in mind, the biblical basis for our own forgiveness, and reconciliation, with another person who has hurt us is also conditional.   Two essential parts must be present for a biblical transaction to occur.   Justice must be satisfied, and repentance must be sincere.

When Alexander the coppersmith did Paul great harm, the apostle did not offer the man unconditional forgiveness, but turned the matter over to God saying, “the Lord will repay him according to his deeds” (2 Tim. 4:14).  

We can believe that Paul would not engage in personal revenge for he had written, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).  

We can believe Paul would have put to death any fleshly desire to retaliate against Alexander.     He had written to the church in Colosse saying, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence [desire, lust], and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).  

We can believe Paul would have been socially polite, if he met Alexander on the street, because the apostle knew that Jesus has commanded His disciples to greet their enemies (Matt. 5:44-48).   Certainly, Paul would also have forgiven Alexander, if justice was satisfied, and the man had repented of his sin.  

But Paul would be the first to say that true biblical forgiveness is impossible, without justice being satisfied, and a change of mind and behavior made manifest.   To advance the idea of unconditional forgiveness, the minds of some have turned to the words of Christ on the Cross.   During His public humiliation, and personal sufferings, Jesus prayed. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  

Consider the following.  

First, though Christ had divine authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:20-24; 7:49), He does not say to the people, “I give to you unconditional forgiveness for what you are doing to me.” Such a view leads to Universalism.  

Second, Christ did forgive one of the thieves on the cross saying, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  However, the basis for this forgiveness was predicated on the fact that the dying thief repented of his unbelief, and justice was being satisfied in the death of Christ who cried, “It is finished!” The story of the repentant criminal is told in Luke’s gospel.     “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke  23:39-43).   Jesus forgave one thief, but not both thieves.  

Third, Christ asked the Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him, not unconditionally, but on gospel terms, and His prayer was answered. “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith”       (Acts 6:7).   Obedience to the faith is what constitutes biblical forgiveness, not therapeutic concepts.  

Like Jesus, with his dying breath, Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).   The prayer of Stephen was answered in at least one case, Saul of Tarsus, who was present that day. Later, on a road to Damascus, the persecutor of God’s people repented, and became Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, separated unto the gospel of God. Do not confuse “therapeutic forgiveness” with “biblical forgiveness.”    Therapeutic forgiveness might be emotionally helpful to some, but it is the biblical criteria, by which God will ultimately judge us all.  

There can only be peace in the church, when God’s work is done God’s way.   The work of reconciliation demands a just judgment be rendered on the behavior in question, followed by humble repentance with a view towards being forgiven, which is not to be withheld.   Without justice being satisfied, and a heartfelt apology, a person will not change.  

The sixth principle of prayer is a petition to be delivered from temptation and from the Evil One.   Temptation comes primarily in three ways, according to the apostle John. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16).   We can be tempted by what our bodies crave. There are natural appetites but they must be satisfied according to gospel principles.   We can be tempted by what our eyes see. Job said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust upon a young woman” (Job 31:1).   We can be tempted by what our minds conceive.  Some of the sins of the mind are listed in Proverbs 6:16-19.   God would have His children pray for divine protection from the world, the flesh, and the Devil.  

The seventh prayer principlereturns to the matter of forgiveness, to stress how serious the Lord is about His disciples being a forgiving people.   “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15).   Here then are some principles for proper prayer.  

First, prayer is to be addressed to God the Father.  

Second, we are to remember that God is distinct.  

Third, we are to remember that God is a holy God,  

The fourth principle of prayer is a desire to see the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven.  

The fifth principle of prayer is to ask God for forgiveness.  

The sixth principle of prayer Jesus stated is a petition to be delivered from temptation and from the Evil One.  

The seventh prayer principle returns to the matter of forgiveness, to state how serious the Lord is about being a forgiving person.  

These principles are taught by Jesus in order to enable the saint to enter a secret place and pray with a measure of rationality so that vain repetitions and emotional patterning of words and phrases can be eliminated.

May the Holy Spirit prompt us to pray according to gospel principles, and be a forgiving people, on gospel terms.

Leave a Reply