Ye cannot serve God and Mammon

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Luke 16:1-13; Matthew 6:16-24

We are all worshippers.  We all give our hearts to something.  And yet we only have one heart.  Simone Weil put it like this:

“No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope.  Consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol.”

Jesus says the same thing, but more radically.  He identifies the idol that presents itself as God’s alternative:  mammon.

“No man can serve two masters:  for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.  Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”  (Matthew 6:24)

What is mammon?  In the Greek of the New Testament the word is left untranslated.  It is transliterated from Aramaic where it means most straightforwardly “riches” or “wealth”.  It’s related to the word for trust and is therefore “that which is trusted in.”  Think less of cash and more of confidence.  It is that in which we invest to give us life and security. Mammon is not simply the currency of this world.  Mammon, according to Jesus, is a power that competes for our devotion.

And it’s one or the other.  God or mammon.  You cannot serve both.  Jesus does not say “you must not” as though it were possible but just ill advised.  Jesus does not say “It would be a good idea if you didn’t”.  He says it cannot be done.  Because mammon is a competing god in your life.

What does a god do?  A god offers some kind of provision and protection.  In return it asks that you follow it, that you bow down to it and worship it.  Mammon is a false god.  It promises provision – it will be the source of your needs and wants.  It offers protection – it will cushion whatever blows you may face.  In return it makes you follow it and bow down and worship it.  Mammon is a Master, a slave-master at that.

Jesus unmasks Mammon here.  Because to our eyes money looks like our servant.  We think ‘Money gives me security, status, comfort, power. Money is my servant isn’t it?  Money makes me a master doesn’t it?’  No.  Whenever we put our trust in money to save us we follow money into slavery.  And we will find that we don’t possess our stuff, it possesses us.

Just imagine all your worldly wealth collected together in a piggy bank. Imagine you have to carry it around with you.  How do you feel, clutching that piggy bank to your chest?  Free?  Empowered?  Happy?  No you would be scared stiff that you’d drop it, or lose it, or have it stolen. And there would be a hundred things you would refuse to do in case you broke your piggy bank.

Yet whilst we clutch our wealth to our hearts, we will be slaves to money. And haters of God – that’s the stark assessment of Jesus. Followers of money must despise God.  Because God is not committed to our financial security.  Not in this age.  God is not committed to our financial cushion.  In fact He’s into demolishing our piggy banks.  He wants to free us from them.  If we have made money into our great hope for protection and provision we are on a collision course with God.

And so Jesus urges us to reconsider our object of “desire, supplication and hope.”  Jesus reveals to us a God who is completely unlike mammon. Our Father protects and provides as a gift.  As we’ll see shortly He clothes grass and feeds birds out of the overflow of His generous heart.  How much more does He lavish gifts upon His children.

In mammon we see a god who promises life but demands our death.  We must literally sell our souls to him.  In Jesus we see the God who comes to die to give us life.  And our souls are bought at great price.

In serving the god of mammon we find ourselves to be slaves.  In serving the God of Jesus we find ourselves to be sons.   If we serve the one we simply cannot serve the other.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also

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Matthew 6:16-24

Following His discussion of three religious practices – alms-giving, prayer and fasting (Matthew 6:1-18) – Jesus returns to the topic of giving.  But here He doesn’t speak in terms of “alms” but of treasure.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Jesus is not speaking about spare cash.  And He’s not merely speaking of money.  He’s speaking about everything of value - whether it’s money in the bank, or our pension or our possessions or our house, our car – whatever we consider our ‘treasure.’

And Jesus has a top investment tip.  You might label it insider trading but Jesus knows that earthly treasure is about to take a dive.  Meanwhile “treasures in heaven” are set to go through the roof.  So Jesus appeals to our good financial sense and says, Switch!  Stop investing in falling stock, it will crash spectacularly.  Use earthly wealth in the service of the Kingdom, that’s the only investment that will last.

But Jesus doesn’t simply want our money.  He wants our hearts:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Wherever our wealth goes, so does our heart.

We all know how this works don’t we?  Think of the last big purchase you made.  If you’ve spent a significant amount of money on something, what has your heart done in the immediate aftermath?  If you’re anything like me, you’ll instantly regret it, or wonder if you could have got it cheaper, or whether you should have gone for the more expensive model.  And/or you’ve been engrossed in it,  you’re worried about breaking it, you’re wondering whether you now need two of them.  The fact of the matter is, when you invest money you also invest your heart.

And so notice the order of Jesus’ words here.  He does not say: “Where your heart is the treasure will follow.”  Jesus might have said that, and there might be some truth to that.  But what Jesus says is “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”  Your heart will follow your money.  For good or for ill, our hearts follow our money.

Perhaps you have started giving to a missionary and then gained a fresh interest in their work.  Suddenly you’re praying more for them, you’re more eager to hear how things are going, your ears prick up when their country is mentioned on the news.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Do you want a heart for missions?  Here’s one way:  Give.  Do you want a heart that is more tender towards the poor?  Give.  Do you want a heart for the work of your local church?  Do you want a fresh enthusiasm for its work and fellowship?  Give.  And watch as your heart follows your treasure.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

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1 Chronicles 29:10-22; Matthew 6:5-15

Modern translations put this verse in footnotes.  It does not appear in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, nor in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew that we have.  It does appear in the Textus Receptus and so, for 300 years it appeared in all the English translations from Tyndale onwards.  In that time it has taken root, most particularly in Protestant Churches where it is said as part of the Lord’s Prayer.

It is a doxology (word of praise) that bears a resemblance to the prayer of David from 1 Chronicles:

“Thine, O LORD is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty:  for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.”  (1 Chronicles 29:11)

It is a glad-hearted affirmation of the LORD’s all-sufficiency.  And perhaps it’s significant that the Lord’s Prayer ends this way.  The prayer that begins “Father” ends on a note of power and glory.

The person who rests in the Son and is brought to the Father will, in the end, confess His power and glory.  To such a Father as this we ascribe all majesty, and gladly so.  But this is the way around which Jesus would have it.  He does not ask us to approach the glorious Potentate and then to seek fatherly care in Him.  That would be quite a different spirituality.  No, Jesus our Brother introduces us to His Father and invites us to call Him “our Father.”  As a little child we pray for His Kingdom to come and, as we wait, we ask for daily provision, pardon and protectionThen, knowing His Fatherhood and our own littleness, we confess “Thine is the kingdom!”

This total self-abnegation is not the precondition for prayer.  If it were, it would be something we drum up in ourselves, therefore not self-abnegation at all.  Instead what Jesus calls us to is a joyful outflow from delight in a Father who will indeed provide, pardon and protect.  How happily we place the kingdom in His hands, knowing who He is!

So, this is the Lord’s Prayer. And Jesus says, “After this manner therefore pray ye.” (Matthew 6:9)

Is this the manner in which you pray?

CS Lewis compared the Lord’s prayer to a Christmas tree.  The lines of the prayer are like the boughs and our own personal prayers are like the decorations that we hang.  That’s good advice.  When we pray, perhaps we can use the Lord’s Prayer like that.  At each line we pause, adding our own prayer, decorating the Christmas tree.  And as we put words to our desires and needs we can enjoy, in a deeper way, our union with Jesus and the Fatherhood of God.  Then we’ll gladly declare “Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever.  Amen.”

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

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Matthew 4:1-11; Matthew 6:5-15

It is often said that the “Lord’s Prayer” is poorly named since its petitions are not those that the Lord Himself would make.  Jesus would certainly pray “Father” – “Abba” even.  He would certainly hallow the name of God and seek His kingdom.  And He is the One who supremely did the will of the Father (Matthew 26:42).  Yet the requests are different.  Prayers for daily provision, daily pardon and, now, daily protection, are very different on our lips to how Jesus would have approached them.

Think of Matthew 4.  Jesus  was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one.  He was very deliberately led into temptation.  He refused daily bread.  He would not feed Himself but others.  He never sinned – there were no debts He needed forgiven.  And in this way He resisted the devil’s temptations.  Christ had victory in His wilderness time.

Now He turns to us and says that we too are in a wilderness time – we need daily bread.  But we are not Jesus.  Instead we depend on Jesus because we cannot do what He did.  We need the provision of daily bread.  We need pardon for daily sins.  And we also need protection from the temptations of the evil one (“evil one” would be a better translation of the verse.  Jesus has The Evil One – Satan – in mind here).

So we pray for Christ to encamp around us to deliver us (Psalm 34:7).  We say “Father, I am so weak, I can’t make it through the wilderness on my own.  The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, keep Him at bay.  I fall for temptation all the time, please clear it away.”  As little children, we rest in Jesus and ask our Father for the benefits of Christ’s work: daily provision, daily pardon and daily protection.

We could not secure those things ourselves, but in Jesus we are certain that they belong to us.  Not by rights.  Not even because we have prayed. But because He went hungry in order to feed us.  He paid off our debts that we might be forgiven.  He was led into temptation that we might be delivered.  Christ doesn’t so much pray the Lord’s Prayer as underwrite it. And in Him, we pray with grateful, humble-hearted confidence.  “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

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Matthew 18:21-35; Matthew 6:5-15

Spot the common theme in all these sayings:

–  I owe you an apology.

–  How can I ever repay you?

–  Give credit where it’s due.

–  I’m forever in your debt.

–  You robbed me of my dignity.

–  You cost me my reputation.

–  It’s pay-back time.

All of these statements use money language to talk about our relationships.   When we speak of the ups and downs of our relationships we talk about “owing” and “repayment” and “credit” and “debt” and “robbing” and “costing” and “pay-back”.

And it rings true doesn’t it?  When we are wronged, we feel robbed.  It feels like we are owed, and if we don’t go after pay-back, it’s costly.

Think of a hurt that someone has caused you.  One way you can think of it is that this person has stolen from you.  Maybe they stole money, but maybe they stole your good name, or your trust, or your dignity, or the best years of your life.  But when we’re wronged we feel robbed.  And we feel like we want pay-back.  If we don’t go after pay-back it’s costly.

And right at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus confirms all of this.  He teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

According to Jesus, we owe God.  And at some point in our praying, that needs acknowledging.

Interestingly Jesus doesn’t put it first on the agenda.  No, first of all we approach our Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus.  And in Jesus we know His love and acceptance.  We are His children.  But we are His sinful children.  And at some point in our prayers we acknowledge that.  We acknowledge our debts.  Just as we pray for daily provision, so we pray for daily pardon.

Through our sins we owe God and we could never pay it off.  We are in over our heads.  But Christ Himself has paid off our debts.  That’s the meaning of redemption – the paying of a debt.  And through the cross, Christ has paid what we owe.  It was costly for Him, but He offers forgiveness for free.  Therefore we should write off the debts of others.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Jesus’ words here remind us of the parable He tells in Matthew 18.  A servant owes a king billions of pounds.  The king takes pity on the servant, forgives the debt and lets him go.  It’s wonderful news.  But this servant goes out and sees a colleague who owes him £5000.

Now £5000 is not nothing.  If someone owed me £5000 I would feel the cost of it very deeply.  But when compared to the billions, £5000 is nothing.

Yet this isn’t how the servant feels.  He throttles his colleague and says “Pay back the £5000.”  We read of his reaction and think to ourselves, How ridiculous! Well yes, How ridiculous!  But that’s every one of us if we don’t forgive our brothers and sisters.

We have been forgiven billions.  Christ has taken pity on us, absorbed the debt, paid it off in full and let us go.  Therefore we can forgive others the £5000, can’t we?  Shouldn’t we?  We must.

If we don’t forgive others their debts, have we really received the billion pound forgiveness?  But if we have received God’s forgiveness we can do no other than pass it on.

It’s always costly to forgive.  It was costly for Christ, it will be costly for us.  But perhaps more than anything, these verses inspire us to pray for a sense of proportion.  Do we realize the magnitude of the debt which Christ has paid off?  Have we appreciated how spiritually bankrupt we are without Jesus?  And can we put the hurts of others into their proper perspective?

Perhaps today, someone will cause me thousands of pounds worth of heart-ache.  Perhaps this month, someone will cost me tens of thousands worth of emotional trauma.  Perhaps this year, someone will cost me a million pounds worth of hurt.  If I just look at that debt it will overwhelm me, I will throttle them and demand pay-back.  But Jesus teaches me to return daily to the cross and see there my debts paid off in full.  And, as He’ll say later in Matthew, “freely ye have received, freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8)

This life of overflowing grace does not come easy to us grudge-keepers.  But that’s why Jesus tells us to pray it in to our hearts every single day: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Give us this day our daily bread

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Exodus 16; Matthew 6:5-15

Many people are reluctant to pray “small prayers.” Often Christians have told me they wouldn’t bother God with their piddling requests, after all He’s got more important things to care about.

It’s an odd position to take when you think about it.  As though the affairs of the world were getting on top of our Heavenly Father, and He couldn’t really squeeze in our puny interests.  We imagine He’s just about sovereign enough to keep an eye on the middle east, but that my dodgy knee is beyond Him.

But Jesus shows us the range of things for which we should pray:  We should pray “Thy Kingdom come” and in the same breath pray:

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

From the mighty to the miniscule.

Is there anything our Father is not interested in?  No, He wants to hear it all – from cosmic concerns to daily bread.

And “daily bread” reminds us of Manna.  You see the Israelites too were waiting for the Kingdom to Come.  They had been delivered from Egypt – the Kingdom of Darkness – and were awaiting the fullness of their inheritance.  And what kept them going?  Daily Bread.  Every day God gave them one day’s worth of bread.

And Jesus says – You also are a wilderness people.  You also have been brought out of the old kingdom, you’re awaiting the full inheritance of the new kingdom, and every day you depend on your Father.  “Give us this day our daily bread.”

We don’t pray “Give us today, tomorrow’s bread.”  No, tomorrow we’ll pray for tomorrow’s bread.  Today we pray for today’s bread.  In the name of Jesus, we look with confidence to our Father’s daily provision.

Ultimately, Jesus Himself is the Bread of life (John 6:35).  He is the Source of our spiritual vitality and the One who sustains us.  We pray for greater experiences of Jesus to nourish us during our wilderness waiting.  And in His name we ask for our mundane needs knowing that He who gave us Christ will give us all things in Him

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?(Romans 8:32)


Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven

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Matthew 26:36-46; Matthew 6:5-15

What is God up to in the world?

Here’s a word to drop into conversation:  God is ouranifying the earth.

Ouranos is the Greek word for heaven – it’s where we get the name for the planet “Uranus”.  And here Jesus tells us that God’s desire is to ouranify the earth.  You might say – to heavenize the world.

What does that mean?  Well in heaven, everyone unquestioningly and gladly honours Jesus as Lord.  And the Father’s will is for earth to be like that.

Jesus says that very thing in John 6:40:

“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

And so we pray “Father, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven!”

We want heaven to come to earth.  This is a point we discussed last time. The direction of our prayers is always for God’s kingdom to come to us. The trajectory is heaven to earth.  And that’s a revolutionary thought even, and perhaps especially, for religious folk.

You see religious types are always wanting to build a bridge from earth to heaven and/or to escape nasty earth and flee to nice heaven.  But Jesus says His way runs in exactly the opposite direction.  And we need to hear that point, especially in the wake of Harold Camping’s predictions last year.

Camping taught that on May 21st, 2011, Jesus would snatch up all the true believers from the earth and let the world go to hell.  The faithful would be beamed up and planet earth would be consigned to the flames.

Of course Camping’s a fool for predicting the date.  Of course he’s a fool for misleading thousands of people.  But even apart from those issues, the trouble with Camping was where he directed people’s hope.  He encouraged believers to want to flee nasty planet earth and go and live in a nice other-worldly paradise.

Now heaven is a wonderful place.  But it is not our ultimate hope.  And whilst we still have breath we are to pray for heaven to come here, not that we might go there.

Jesus did not say in Matthew 5:5 that the meek shall inherit heavenThe meek shall inherit the earth.  The wicked won’t inherit the earth – believers will.  Why? Because the Kingdom is coming to earth.  That’s the direction of travel.

The Son of God has been earthed into our humanity for all time.  He was the advance party.  And Revelation 21 tells us that one day heaven will come to earth and the Father and Son will set up home on a renewed earth.  The Christian hope is not, ultimately, us going to heaven.  It’s heaven coming to earth.

And while we wait for that day, we pray for the ouranification – the heavenization – of this place, as more and more people find grace in the Kingdom of Christ: “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”

Thy kingdom come

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Psalm 72; Matthew 6:5-15

First we remember who God is (Father) and where we have come in Christ in order to speak with Him (Heaven).  At this point the Lord’s Prayer is wonderfully personal.  The One on the throne is Father.

Then we ask that the Lord’s gospel character (His name) be more richly prized in our hearts.  Here we pray for internal things, (though prayer for others is also included here).

Now the Lord’s Prayer really opens out to the world:

“Thy Kingdom come.”

God’s Kingdom is the place where God’s King Reigns.  Wherever Jesus is known as Lord – there is the Kingdom.  He reigns in the lives of believers today, and one day He will come and physically establish His rule to the ends of the earth.

And we can’t wait.  So we pray “your kingdom come.  May the just and gentle rule of King Jesus extend to all my family, all my friends, all my work colleagues. To my people, my nation, to the whole world”.  We pray, “Thy kingdom come.”

Notice how we relate to the kingdom.  We don’t build it.  We don’t establish it.  This is not like the tower of babel which began on earth and reached up into heaven.  It’s the exact opposite.  It’s God’s Kingdom and it’s always coming down to us as a gift.  The direction of travel is always heaven-to-earth.  Just as the King earthed Himself into our humanity and will live a human life forever more. Just as, one day, He and His Father will move from heaven to set up home on the new earth, so the church prays for the kingdom to come down.  We could never drag the King down to earth, and neither can we drag the kingdom.  It’s always something beyond us that can only be received.  And so we pray “Thy Kingdom come.”

Hallowed be thy name

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Isaiah 26:1-15; Matthew 5:5-15

This one needs some unpacking.  Firstly that archaic word “hallowed.”

In modern English, the word “hallowed” is only really preserved for sports venues.  For a football supporter, Wembley is hallowed ground. For a cricket fan, Lord’s is hallowed turf.

Hallowed means ‘regarded as holy.’

But “holy” needs explaining too.  It means ‘set apart, devoted, consecrated, special, committed.’

And here’s how Jesus teaches us to pray.  Once we’ve recognised who we’re praying to – our Father – and where we’ve come – in heaven – now we pray, “Father, many your name be regarded as sacred/special/set apart.”

One final word to be considered: “Name.”  What is God’s “name”?

When we considered “taking the LORD’s name in vain” we saw that God’s name is His character.  It’s His gospel nature which is expressed in Jesus.

And so to put all this together, what is this prayer asking?  May your gospel character, as I see it in Jesus, be regarded as precious, first in my heart and then in the world.

What do you hallow?  Football fans hallow Wembley.  Cricket fans hallow Lord’s.  What is sacred, special, precious in your sight?  By nature it’s not Jesus.  By nature we prize things more than we prize our Lord.  By nature we are captivated by a thousand competing gods.  And so we pray, Dear Father, reveal more of your attractiveness.  Win my heart again.  May Jesus be my highest affection.  “Hallowed be thy name.”

Our Father which art in heaven

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Luke 11:1-12; Matthew 5:5-15

What does true prayer look like?  Luke chapter 11 gives us the ultimate picture:

“It came to pass, that… Jesus was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray…”  (Luke 11:1-2)

And from there, Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.  This is where the Lord’s Prayer comes from.  It begins with Jesus’ own prayer life.

Jesus is the Ultimate Pray-er.  From before the world began Jesus has been communing with the Father in the power of the Spirit.  Between Jesus and the Father there has always been a word-full, joy-full heart to heart.  And now Jesus has come into the world.  He has come into our human life.  And He carries on the conversation.  He’s still talking to God, but He’s talking to God as one of us.  Jesus has earthed the Prayer Life of God into our Human Existence.

So there He is praying on the mountaintop – God the Son who has become God our Brother.  And He’s praying “My Father, My Father, My Father”.  In fact it’s more intimate than that.  We know from Mark chapter 14, verse 36 that He calls God, “Abba, Father.”  There is incredible intimacy here.  Abba is a word for Father in many languages from the Middle East.  It’s one of the first words a baby will say.  And it will continue to be the way a child addresses their father throughout life. There is beautiful intimacy and respect here: “Abba, Father”

The disciples see it from a distance and they want in on it. “Lord teach us to pray.”

And, wonder of wonders, Jesus replies

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father…  (Matthew 6:9)

Glory!  We get to call God Most High, what Jesus does.

Not because I’m good.  No, I’m wicked.  Not because I’m religious.  I’m not.  Not because I’m a prayer-warrior.  I’m anything but.

How do I get to call God Father?  God the Son became my Brother, He took me to Himself and brought me home.  Now I am in on the eternal prayer-life of God.

And this revolutionises our prayers.

So often we feel we have to yell our prayers up to a silent heaven.  Jesus says, “Come on in.  Come in to the heart of heaven.  Come in my name.  In Me you are as close to God as I am.  You don’t have to yell up to heaven.  You can whisper in His ear and call Him Abba.

Jesus has warned us in verses 5-8 about hypocritical pray-ers.  They pray to be seen by men.  Jesus says pray to be heard by your Father.

If that privilege doesn’t do something to our hearts, we’re going to pray like hypocrites rather than children.  Perhaps we need to quote Matthew 18 verse 3 to ourselves until true prayer is birthed in us:

Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

We are not world-weary soldiers calling on a heavenly Sergeant Major.  We are not over-worked employees calling on our divine Line Manager. We are children, adopted in the Son, calling on our Abba, Father.

And once I remind myself of that, I remind myself of where He is:

Our Father which art in heaven.

The Bible speaks of three heavens.  The first heaven is the home of the birds.  The second heaven is the home of science fiction.  And the third heaven is paradise, the dwelling place of the Most High God.

And Jesus says “Your Dad, sits on that throne.”

It’s nice to have friends in high places isn’t it?  Our Father rules the cosmos!  Or put it another way – the One who rules the cosmos is our Father.

Without a heart-felt knowledge of these truths, all our praying can only ever be “vain repetitions” or “much speaking”(v7).  Therefore Jesus urges us, before we pray anything else, to remember Who we’re praying to, and where we’ve come to.  In all our sinfulness and weakness we have come in Jesus’ name to the throne room of heaven.  Here we are little children in the Son.  And in Him we have the ear of a loving Father who rules this world and this week.  Now pray…