11. The Disciples’ Prayer

Praise and Prayer

 THE DISCIPLES of our Lord were taught much concerning prayer while He was with them on the earth. They felt their ignorance and asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). In response He gave them what is usually called “the Lord's prayer,” but in reality, it is the disciple's’ petition. On other occasions, He instructed them how to pray and what to pray for. Usually, all of this is taken as if it were intended for us, so that the formula He gave to them is almost universally used in christendom today as a model for our practice or imitation. And, indeed, some of the gracious spirit that pervades His words is in harmony with ours, yet it falls far short of that which should actuate us today. In view of this popular misconception, it will be wise to stress the contrast with what is ours, rather than seek to apply it to the present.

It seems that John the baptist had taught his followers to pray, so a certain one of our Lord's disciples, after He had ceased praying, requested and said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Then He not only told them what to say, but encouraged them to persevere, by the parable of the “importunate” friend and a likeness in which He compared God to a father who gives good gifts to His children. As these refer to certain parts of the prayer we will consider them in connection with it. Our Lord gave the disciples the prayer on two different occasions (Matt.6:9; Luke 11:2). The wording is almost the same, but His accompanying remarks are very different, and correspond to the character in which He is set forth, the King in Matthew, and the Man in Luke. We will consider Luke's account first. The prayer is plainly divided into two parts. First, we have God and His glory, and then man and his misery. His glory here is that of Father, and this name is to be held sacred, and is declared to be so by the disciple. This is a marvelous commencement, and the principle should be followed in all prayer. It first gives God His proper place, and then reveals the attitude of the petitioner toward Him. As the prayer is for provision and pardon and pity, how good it is to give God the place of Father! On earth, children look for these things from the one to whom they are related by filial affection, not from strangers. And likewise, especially in the Orient, the father demands and receives the highest consideration and honor. His name is his most precious possession. In many eastern lands, there is nothing so jealously guarded and protected as the “face” or reputation of the head of the house. All this the disciple transfers to his Father in the heavens.

While this prayer falls far short of what we have today, it also is far beyond of what was known before. As has already been shown, God had not revealed Himself to the nation of Israel as their Father, nor did He do so, even when His Son was on earth. This prayer is not for the nation, but for the disciples. There had always been two classes in Israel, those on the side of Jehovah and those against Him, those who clung to His worship and His temple, and those who served other gods and forsook Jerusalem. But there never was the distinct cleavage which was brought about by the presence of their Messiah among them in His humiliation. In their spiritual relationship to God, the disciples went far beyond the nation as a whole. In figurative terms, this was expressed in the language of the future, when Israel will be born “again.” They experienced an individual new birth and could claim God as their Father in heaven.

This expression “in heaven,” is very striking when compared with the past and the future. In Israel, their immediate fathers and their early forefathers had a very prominent place in their religion. In a sense, their fathers on earth were essential to their whole religious outlook. They inherited their promises and place as God's priestly people from their fathers, and would lose it all if they could not establish their physical descent from them. The clause, “our Father who art in heaven,” implied a great deal that we cannot well appreciate. It was no clean cut with their earthly place and blessing. By no means did it even hint that their place was in heaven, or that they would go there in the resurrection. It is very striking to note that Paul, in writing to the nations, never uses such a phrase, although we will rise to a place among the celestials and are already seated there in spirit. Our blessings are spiritual, with no earthly, physical allotment. We are in contact with God everywhere in prayer. Our earthly fathers play no part, as such, in spiritual relationship to God, so we need not add “in heaven” to our prayers.

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The kingdom of the Father, like the kingdom of God, expresses a much wider and higher and more permanent conception than is generally associated with the term “kingdom.” “The kingdom of the heavens” seems to be strictly limited to the reign of Christ during the day of the Lord, or Jehovah, in the millennium. Even at that time, it seems that the kingdom of the Father includes only those begotten by His spirit, the faithful who recognize and appreciate His care and provision. During the eons, the kingdom of the Father embraces a continually increasing company including those alone who seek to do His will. But at the end of the eons, when death is abolished and all are reconciled to God, then it is that the kingdom is given up to God, the Father, and all creatures will come under His beneficent, paternal rule. The prayer our Lord taught His disciples was not an appeal to place Israel in power over the nations, a kingdom such as the unregenerate Pharisees desired, but for that higher spiritual rule that will gradually grow until it embraces the whole race.

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The kingdom consists essentially in doing His will. In fact, there is no need of any rule where there is unanimity. That is how it should be in the case of all who are led by God's spirit. And that is how it will be, when all sovereignty and authority and power are nullified at the consummation (1 Cor.15:23,24). The disciples were instructed to pray to that end. We might ask, why should they pray for this, when God had already determined that it should be so, and will certainly carry out His intention at the proper time, but in the far future? Their prayer certainly was not “answered!” Perhaps not, from their viewpoint. But it is being answered already in their case, for their prayer itself, and the desires which it awakens in their hearts, will lead them to do the Father's will. And it will be fully and perfectly fulfilled in their future experience in resurrection, when they see the kingdom gradually expand to include all Israel, and all mankind, and finally every spirit in the universe.

The phrase, “as in heaven, on earth also,” presents a superficial difficulty. From Job's day (Job 1:6-12), until Satan is cast out of heaven with his messengers (Rev.12:7-9), it would seem that God's will is not being done in heaven, hence there seems to be little point in asking for the same on the earth. But this prayer was given at a time when the kingdom had drawn near, and the proper outlook of those who accepted the evangel of the kingdom was its coming without much delay. This very prayer opens with this thought. So that the context supplies the proper modification, that is, when the kingdom comes, then may thy will be done, as in heaven, on earth also. This is in full accord with the facts. After Satan and his messengers are ejected, before the kingdom is set up, then we may assume that God's will will be done in heaven. The prayer is that this may be true of the earth also. And this will gradually be the case, more and more, especially after Satan's final insurrection, and fully after the consummation.

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Some of us may not relish the idea, but, as a matter of fact, we are all “on the dole.” Apart from the ability given us by God, we could never earn the food needed to sustain our bodies. No doubt this will be clearly manifest in the kingdom, for then God will control the natural forces that produce food, so that all will know Whom to thank for their fare, and praise will go to Him for every good gift. The word here used, which we render “dole,” is epiousion ON-BEING. The A.V. translates it “daily,” but there is no hint of time in it. Perhaps our idiom, that which is dealt out to anyone, will best convey the idea. From the verb deal we get the noun dole, which, in its wider usages, described a share or lot. It seems especially fitting in this prayer, where the supplicant goes to the eventual Giver of every good thing for his portion for the day.

This petition was most fitting when used by our Lord's disciples, especially those who went about heralding the kingdom, as they lived from hand to mouth, as it were. They were not even to carry the usual beggar's’ bag (Matt.10:10; Mark 6:8; Luke 9:3). Of course, even if our barns are full to bursting, that is no guarantee that it will not all be destroyed before we are able to enjoy it. In that sense, there would be nothing out of place in praying this prayer. But usually, this formula is repeated thoughtlessly, when the petitioner has plenty in the refrigerator and may have a supply of preserved food for months, or the wherewithal to purchase it. Then its use seems little short of irreverence and hypocrisy. There is no harm in thanking God for such stores, but to beg for a day's rations when we have a week's reserve laid aside cannot be very pleasing to Him. That is saying your prayers, not praying them.

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The greatest gift that God can bestow is His holy spirit. In Matthew, with its narrower outlook, our Lord mentions all good things, in place of this essential one. Yet both agree, for all good is involved and included in the holy spirit. Now that the disciples know God as their Father, our Lord encourages them to act accordingly, in their prayers to Him. Even an earthly father can be relied upon to give good things to his son. If a child asks for bread, for food, he will not, instead, hand out a stone, which will not nourish his body. For a fish, he will not substitute a serpent, which might bite and harm him, a scorpion, which could sting him and cause excruciating pain, or even death. Wicked as mortals are inherently, few are so lacking in natural affection as to do such things. If, then, God establishes a like revelationship with the disciples, they may rest assured that He will not take advantage of their requests to harm them. He will not, instead of the dole of bread, supply them with food lacking in nurture, or a dangerous or deadly diet (Luke 11:11-13).

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Our Lord contrasts their heavenly Father with a mere friend who refuses to be inconvenienced in order to do his friend a favor. Often this parable is interpreted as though God were like this lukewarm friend, and the conclusion drawn is, that we must keep on pestering Him if we want Him to do as we wish. He will eventually do it to get rid of us. But this is just the opposite of the prime object of prayer. God wants to commune with us, but He does not want us to think Him niggardly and unkind, unwilling to be put out to fulfill our wishes. The opposite is true, even though it may not seem so sometimes. All should approach Him with confidence that God will always give what they request. All shall find what they seek. He will open to those who knock. But all in due time. The saints will find every prayer fulfilled when they are vivified. And all the rest will be satisfied when they are made alive at the consummation.

But even with the Circumcision, it must be the prayer of faith. James, speaking to the twelve tribes, the nation from the physical standpoint, says to them: “You are requesting and not obtaining, because you are requesting evilly, that you should be spending it on your gratifications” (James 4:3). The unbelieving nation of Israel has prayed fervently for nearly two thousand years for the kingdom. They have tried to establish it by force, even as they are doing today. They will succeed in setting up a counterfeit kingdom by means of their wealth in Babylon. But such prayers and such efforts of the apostate nation are based upon their desire for power and pleasure, with a hypocritical and formal acknowledgment of Jehovah. Such prayers will not be answered during the eons. Those who say them will not be satisfied until the consummation. Let us note that the prayer in the parable did not want anything for himself, but for another.

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Pardon is the proper word for the kingdom, for it is the prerogative of the political power. But how far short it falls of justification! It is not gratuitous by His grace, but deserving, based upon conduct. If the grace which comes to us in Christ Jesus were measured by that which we show to others, how restricted it would be! There could be no riches of grace, or transcendent favor, for we are in no position to show this to others. Few of the saints would even deserve pardon, for they are not noted for this trait. And among the disciples of our Lord, some did fall away. Judas was the most notorious example. The epistle to the Hebrews speaks of others. Let us never pray for a pardon conditioned upon our own conduct! No matter how kind and gracious we may consider ourselves, it is nothing compared to the fullness of favor which is ours in Christ Jesus.

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“Mayest Thou not bring us into trial” is a strictly kingdom prayer. When it has come, the evil eons will be past. Under Christ's beneficent rule, good will be the order of the day. Those who abide in Him need fear no evil. But what a contrast is the experience of our apostle, Paul! He suffered much indeed. Alexander displayed to him much evil. The Lord did not deliver him from it. All he could do was to warn the saints to guard against him because he had withstood Paul's words. Paul does not say that he prayed to be kept out of this severe trial. He suffered much weariness and blows and flogging and stoning and fasting and thirst and famine and cold and nakedness and in solicitude for all the ecclesias (2 Cor.11:23-28). When he was given a splinter in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, he did entreat the Lord thrice, that it should withdraw from him. But the answer was no! The Lord protested to him, “Sufficient for you is My grace, for My power in infirmity is perfected.” He was a marvelous healer, even at a distance (Acts 19:12). But, in this administration, he himself was not healed!

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The disciples will be rescued from the wicked in the kingdom. But we are protected against spiritual forces of wickedness in quite another way. Just as God uses evil for our good, so we are open to attack from spiritual powers, and can shield ourselves only by means of the panoply of truth and righteousness and peace, and must defend ourselves by faith and God's declarations (Eph.6:10-17). Yet we are confident that the evil which does come to us by this means, like Paul's splinter in the flesh, will be used by God for our good, and is necessary in order to fit us for our future mission among the celestials. Nevertheless, let us don all this protective armor and stand, not merely to gain a name for ourselves, but to bring glory and honor to Him under Whom we have enlisted.

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The one part of this prayer which should not be our petition under any circumstances, is the prayer for pardon. It is conditioned on human conduct, which is perfectly fitting in the adjudication of the earthly kingdom, but is utterly contrary to the grace of God in this administration, which imparts God's righteousness to the believer, and on the ground of the death and resurrection of Christ. Although I pardon freely those who owe me aught, I would shudder to use that as a ground of God's pardoning me, or the measure in which God absolves me from sin. The vain repetition of this part of the prayer may be the cause of the fearful ignorance of God's transcendent grace, and the almost utter disappearance of the evangel of His righteousness and reconciliation.

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When applied to the whole nation of Israel, this principle was the underlying cause of their apostasy. In the parable of the ten thousand talent debtor (Matt.18:23), our Lord foretold the course of events in Israel. He prayed for them on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they are not aware what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). So, instead of destroying the nation for the crucifixion of their Messiah, pardon is proclaimed once more on the day of pentecost. But the Jews would not tolerate the extension of this blessing to the nations. When Paul spoke to reverent proselytes in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13: 14-52), the Jews were filled with jealousy, and contradicted him. Their accumulating debt, due to their rejection of Jehovah and the murder of His Messiah, did not lead them to pardon the much smaller sum owed by the nations for their apostasy from God. Consequently, the pardon of Israel, as a nation, was withdrawn, and now they are still suffering and paying installments on their enormous debt.

A striking feature of this prayer is generally overlooked. Although given to His disciples, it is all in the plural: Our Father...Give us our daily dole...pardon us...for we, ourselves ...owing us...bring us not...rescue us. They were still Israelites, still members of the favored nation, and their prayer was not each for himself as an individual, but for their whole nation. The kingdom did not come because only a few accepted their Messiah. It will not arrive until the nation repents and looks upon Him whom they pierced. No one can pray this prayer intelligently on his own account, for the plural includes others. It is very difficult for us, of the nations, to grasp this fully. If we should pray that the kingdom should come, we would pray, not for us, but for Israel. The kingdom will be given to them, not to us.

We can say part of the “Lord's” prayer today, but other parts of it are out of place. “Our Father” is suitable at all times, when a child of God is seeking paternal aid or communion. But we need not locate Him in the heavens, for, in spirit, in which alone we find our blessings, He is with us everywhere, “Hallowed be Thy name” may be said today, but we should rather rise higher and bless Him as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Thy kingdom come” is in tune with His purpose at all times, but the particular application which the Circumcision disciples would have in mind, the millennial kingdom on the earth, is not in accord with our expectation, which is to be caught away from the earth and enjoy our blessings among the celestials. “As in heaven” is not true now, but will be when the kingdom on earth is established.

The second part of the prayer, concerned with the disciples themselves, has far less that is pertinent now. Few of us live day by day as they did, so need not pray for our daily dole of bread. We do not pray for pardon of sins when we have God's righteousness. Nor do we base anything upon our treatment of others. We pray for endurance to bear the trials God sends us, rather than to be relieved of them. And we are equipped to stand and defend ourselves from the spiritual forces of wickedness. How thankful we should be that our prayer’s are so far beyond those of the disciples! As our place in the heavens is high above the earth, so should the spirit of our petitions transcend those of the favored nation. Glory be to God for the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus!

A. E. Knoch

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