Prayer Fasting and Forgiveness

by Mike Ratliff

Οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς· (Matthew 6:9a NA27)

Therefore, thus pray you; (a personal translation of Matthew 6:9a from the NA27 Greek text)

The context of Matthew 6:9-13 from which get what is traditionally called “The Lord’s Prayer,” is, of course, Matthew 6, which is part of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. The theme of Matthew 6:1-18 (the context of vv 9-13) is found in v1, “Προσέχετε [δὲ] τὴν δικαιοσύνην ὑμῶν μὴ ποιεῖν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι αὐτοῖς· εἰ δὲ μή γε, μισθὸν οὐκ ἔχετε παρὰ τῷ πατρὶ ὑμῶν τῷ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.” Or, “But be careful to not demonstrate your righteousness before men with the aim to be seen by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in Heaven.” Our Lord gives an example in vv 2-4 of believers giving alms to the needy. Their motive is to be seen by others in order to receive praise from men. Then in vv 5-18 our Lord gives uses the examples of prayer, fasting, and forgiveness, which will be the subject of this post. 

Καὶ ὅταν προσεύχησθε, οὐκ ἔσεσθε ὡς οἱ ὑποκριταί, ὅτι φιλοῦσιν ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς καὶ ἐν ταῖς γωνίαις τῶν πλατειῶν ἑστῶτες προσεύχεσθαι, ὅπως φανῶσιν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν μισθὸν αὐτῶν. σὺ δὲ ὅταν προσεύχῃ, εἴσελθε εἰς τὸ ταμεῖόν σου καὶ κλείσας τὴν θύραν σου πρόσευξαι τῷ πατρί σου τῷ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ· καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ ἀποδώσει σοι. Προσευχόμενοι δὲ μὴ βατταλογήσητε ὥσπερ οἱ ἐθνικοί, δοκοῦσιν γὰρ ὅτι ἐν τῇ πολυλογίᾳ αὐτῶν εἰσακουσθήσονται. μὴ οὖν ὁμοιωθῆτε αὐτοῖς· οἶδεν γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὧν χρείαν ἔχετε πρὸ τοῦ ὑμᾶς αἰτῆσαι αὐτόν. Οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς· Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς· ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου· ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου· γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς· τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον· καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν, ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν· καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ. Ἐὰν γὰρ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τὰ παραπτώματα αὐτῶν, ἀφήσει καὶ ὑμῖν ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος· ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις, οὐδὲ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἀφήσει τὰ παραπτώματα ὑμῶν. Ὅταν δὲ νηστεύητε, μὴ γίνεσθε ὡς οἱ ὑποκριταὶ σκυθρωποί, ἀφανίζουσιν γὰρ τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν ὅπως φανῶσιν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις νηστεύοντες· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν μισθὸν αὐτῶν. σὺ δὲ νηστεύων ἄλειψαί σου τὴν κεφαλὴν καὶ τὸ πρόσωπόν σου νίψαι, ὅπως μὴ φανῇς τοῖς ἀνθρώποις νηστεύων ἀλλὰ τῷ πατρί σου τῷ ἐν τῷ κρυφαίῳ· καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῷ κρυφαίῳ ἀποδώσει σοι. (Matthew 6:5-18 NA27)

And whenever you pray, do not be as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets in order to be seen by men. Amen, I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, enter into your hidden room and, having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret. And your Father seeing in secret will repay you. But praying, do not babble as the Gentiles; for they think that in their wordiness they will be heard. Therefore, do be like them. For your Father knows of what things you have need before you ask him. Therefore, thus pray you; 

‘Our Father in Heaven, let your name be revered. Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done on Earth as in Heaven. Give to us our daily bread today and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.’ 

For if you forgive me their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. And whenever you fast, do not be as the gloomy hypocrites. For they disfigure their faces so that they may appear to men as ones fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have their reward. But you fasting, anoint your head and wash your face so that you man not appear to mean as ones fasting, but only to your Father in secret, and your Father seeing in secret will repay you. (a personal translation of Matthew 6:5-18 from the NA27 Greek text)

In yesterday’s post, The Rewards of Christian Suffering, we looked at how we really should not be surprised or dismayed when we suffer at the hands of people as Christians. What can be heartrending though is when this mistreatment comes from professing Christians as they operate in the office of their ministry. One button I caution anyone reading this never to push with me is to falsely accuse me. Our enemy knows this of course and it will set me off, but as you read in that post, we cannot allow those circumstances to cause that. Nor can we allow them to nullify us in our own ministries. We must stand firm and continue in our obedience, but we must do so wrapped in Christlikeness. There is that part in me deep down that wants to send some heat seeking missiles to a few people and take a few out with my Louisville Slugger baseball bat, but that is just anger out of control and is all flesh and when we allow those things to take control, even only in our thoughts, we lose and those who have attacked us win. No, we must stand right in the middle of the truth, not backing down, but also, not stooping to their level of immature insolence. Also, as you just read in the that prayer our Lord gave us, there is that part about forgiveness…

I have always had a problem praying publicly. As a deacon in two different SBC churches, this was a big deal. I thought it silly that we were required to take turns doing this before the church on Sunday mornings or prayer meetings or Deacon’s meetings. To me, prayer is an intensely personal thing between God and I. We always had some superstar guys who could pray forever with those long eloquent prayers too. Not me. Mine were quick and succinct. In our last church, the one that the pastor took Purpose Driven, I was considered to be spiritually deficient by a few of the deacons and the pastor because of this. However, these were the same ones seeking to match up our church with the culture rather than simply being the Church, preaching the Gospel, and ministering to the Sheep.

Notice the prayer in vv9-13. The focus is on God and His glory isn’t it? Praying for God’s Kingdom to come is asking for His Kingdom to continue to advance and be fulfilled. When we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven, we are asking for God’s revealed will to be done. This will only be fully experienced when God’s Kingdom comes in complete fulfillment, but we should still pray for people, especially Christians, to conduct themselves in ways that are pleasing to God as revealed in Scripture. Our daily bread is talking about the necessities of life. Yes, we should ask God to give us what we need every day from a grateful heart.

All in Christ are justified, fully justified by faith. This petition to have our debts forgiven is talking about a restoration of personal fellowship with God when it has been hindered by sin. When we sin and are forgiven, don’t we also forgive those who sin against us? That is what struck me in those two confrontations in AOMIN chat channel. There was tons of bitterness being expressed by those people, but I had done absolutely nothing to them nor had I done any of the things about which they were angry. I was just one of those slimy “Watchbloggers” beneath contempt. Well, that was a bit hard to deal with, but as I did, I knew that the only way I could was not to do so as they did, but to follow Christ’s example.

In the last petition of this prayer, we are instructed to ask God to “not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The first part of that is talking about asking God to spare us from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin. I am positive that I do not pray enough about this. John Bunyan confessed that his long trial in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners was this very thing. He became self reliant and this pride then became an area of testing and trial that had to be broken before God could use him. The last part of that is that God would deliver us from the evil one. How can believers be protected from him (Satan)? Isn’t it to depend upon God alone for direction and protection? That is what our Lord is talking about here.

In vv14-15 our Lord reemphasizes the vital importance for believers in the forgiveness of others. If we do not practice this, we not only become bitter, we plant the seeds of it in those whom we do not forgive. I am sure our enemy loves this. When Christians can’t get along and, full of pride, won’t even talk to each other, well that is nothing but the fruit of the flesh.

Fasting can be very rewarding spiritually, but it can also be a source of prideful behavior. Our Lord is telling us here that when we do fast; let the facts of it be private and known only between God and ourselves. If we violate that, it becomes nothing more than another fleshly exercise of false spirituality because fasting is all about humbling ourselves before God. If we go public with it then it becomes a product of pride.

My brethren, I pray that this short study was helpful. As we become the good soldiers of the Lord Jesus in these increasingly dark times, we cannot serve him in the flesh. We must serve him his way, by abiding in him and walking according to the spirit not the flesh. The more I come into contact with those who surround the superstars Christian leaders in our time, I find more and more of the latter rather than the former. That would be very discouraging if I had my eyes on men rather than Christ. Let us keep our eyes on Him my brethren.

Soli Deo Gloria!

8 thoughts on “Prayer Fasting and Forgiveness

  1. Dear Mike,

    Grace and peace in Christ Jesus! Thanks for this post.

    Interestingly back in Oct. of 2008 when I was fasting and praying for the election and prolife issues I was given the book “The Shack” to read. While reading this book it became evident that it was loaded with ideas [fortresses] that were contrary to the Word of God. I am convinced one of the reasons this was so immediately evident to me was my spiritual condition before the Lord at that particular time (meaning in prayer and fasting mode). God graciously used that evil book to wake me up to the perilous state of Evangelical Christianity today.

    The problem is after you see what is going on it is exceedingly hard not to become overwhelmed and bitter. But, that was because at heart I was not trusting the Sovereignty of God. Now, I purpose to stay saturated by God’s Word and praise Him and know that even in the dark, secret, sinful things of this world God works ALL things for good to those who are called according to His purposes.(para Romans 8:28).

    God can not be thwarted! Also, trying to develop a sincere love for those under deception. To be like Jesus we need to pray, love and continue to speak truth to those who are lost and fast when necessary! We can not let our love grow cold. Thanks for keeping things in perspective.

    Only by His undeserved grace, charisse

  2. Something I’m learning over and over again…how not to become prideful and self-reliant…something that’s easy when all is going well…no.opposition comes my way…
    ‘I’ seem to be winning victories…
    That’s when my Father lets me fall on my face in the muck…
    and , when He has wiped me up with His strong word : by My Spirit, says the Lord..
    I.see… my sufficiency is of Him alone!
    How faithful He is to bring trials such as these our way…
    and also to remind us that, though we be few, the battle is His, and all the glory ultimately His!

  3. Well said Charisse. You are right about that despair or bitterness that can overwhelm us if we are not trusting in the Sovereignty of God. It is key. I find so much false teaching comes from that as well. You also said that God can not be thwarted. Amen!

  4. There should be a tension about public prayer. We must always be on guard about our sinful desire to approved of by men. We see the Lord praying in public for the purpose of people hearing Him, in John 11: “So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

    We see instructions from Paul to pray for public officials in 1 Tim 2; this seems like a function to take place in the assembly of the saints.

    In all cases, we must be about the glory of the Lord, being thankful people, not proud nor making much of ourselves. Always pointing people to our Faithful Shepherd, for the glory of His name.

  5. Interestingly enough, I was reading through these passages last night after reading a quote by Don Fortner at Grace Gems.

    Here’s the Quote:

    “Please quit acting spiritual!

    (by Don Fortner)

    Please quit acting spiritual! In the privacy of your own closet before God–if you want to raise your hands and waive your palms, roll your eyes up toward heaven, and show by bodily gestures that you are super-spiritual, if you dare do so, go ahead. But do not act spiritual before men. Our Lord strictly forbids outward displays of religious devotion. Only self-righteous Pharisees do things to be seen by men!

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners–to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your closet, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6″

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