The Shepherd’s Prayer (Matthew 6:1-15)

By | October 10, 2013



     I believe prayer is as essential to our soul and our spirit as food and water are to our body. It certainly was for Jesus. Bishop William Willimon wrote: “Before they were ever moral, the ten commandments were liturgical.” I’ve thought a lot about that phrase ever since I first heard it. I thought, First, it’s so obvious. Second, why didn’t I think of that? And third, that may be the most profound insight into the Ten Commandments that I’ve ever heard.

     No, I haven’t changed direction. This is still a series about Praying Like Jesus. This quote is actually the foundation and jumping point upon which this series is built. You see, before the Ten Commandments were ever interpreted as law, they were simply a way of worshiping God and staying in communion with God. They never held the onerous position of being a burden. Instead by living them every single moment of every single day, the life and words and actions of every Israelite became a physical liturgy of worship and prayer.

     I believe this is what the disciples and the followers of Jesus saw in Jesus. His very life was an act of worship. Every breath Jesus took, every gesture Jesus made was a physical liturgy of His love for God. His very life was an act of Prayer. That’s why the disciples came running like they did in the passage this morning and asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Matthew 6:5-15 (NRSV)

[5] “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

[6] But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

[7] “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.

[8] Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

[9] “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

[10] Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

[11] Give us this day our daily bread.

[12] And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

[13] And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

[14] For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;

[15] but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

LET US PRAY            

     I titled this sermon and this prayer, the Shepherd’s Prayer because like the Good Shepherd which he was, Jesus lead the disciples beside still waters and to green pastures that would restore their souls. And because Jesus was the living embodiment of a life lived as prayer. This prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer is so familiar to us, we rattle it off sometimes without even thinking about what we’re saying. But we need to delve into and plumb its depth because not only is it the model for prayer which Jesus gave us; it is packed with some heavy hitting ideas that can have eternal consequences.

     I can’t do full justice to the Lord’s Prayer in a single sermon, there have been hundreds of books written and thousands of sermons preached about it. But I can lift a couple of key points and maybe we can glean a few things that will help our lives be a living prayer Like Jesus.


     A. The very first thing this Prayer does is remind us that we’re not the shepherd. We’re the sheep. We’re not the Creator, we are the created. We’re not in charge, God is. We’re not the center of the universe, Jesus is. Beginning our prayer in the manner Jesus taught reminds us that everything, EVERYTHING that is, was or ever will be was created for Him and through Him. And that includes us.

     We absolutely need to remember and be reminded constantly that “It’s not about us.”

     You see one of the dangers of life in today’s world is that there are so many things to do. There’s so much activity, so many opportunities for us, so many movies and TV shows, and video games and sports events. There are so many things our families want and need to do. There are so many exciting adventures going on around us that we want to be a part of all of them. The problem is . . . time. At least that’s what we think.

     When we’re the center of the universe it IS all about time. And there will never be enough time to do all the things we want to do.

     But this prayer, from the very first words, reminds us that it’s not about us, we’re not the center of the universe. Life is about God. When we realize that then we begin to understand that the problem isn’t about time. It’s about priorities. Who and what comes first. Every time we pray: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” every time we pray that prayer, we are hitting a reset button in our heart and soul.

     We are reminding ourselves that God is First. Then, and only then, can we hear the Shepherd’s voice calling us to partake of the daily bread He offers as he guides us to lie down in green pasture and leads by the still waters where our souls can be restored


     A. And that brings us to the most difficult petition, the petition on  forgiveness. We have accepted the forgiveness of God through Christ. We relish our forgiveness. But most of us have a hard time forgiving. We’re like Billy in Family Circus. The cartoon showed him saying his bedtime prayers. He prayed: “…and give us our trespasses as we give it to those who trespass against us…” (2)

     There’s an Irish Prayer that captures that attitude:

          “May those who love us, love us;

          And those that don’t love us,

          May God turn their hearts;

          And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,

          May He turn their ankles,

          So we’ll know them by their limping”

     B. But this Shepherd’s Prayer which Jesus taught has a codicil, a dangerous addendum. Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

     In other words, “Forgive us our sins, in the same spirit in which we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

     It would have been  easier if Jesus had said, “Help me forgive others as I have been forgiven” but He didn’t. He wants us to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus invites us and calls us to seek forgiveness. He offers forgiveness to all who would come to him in repentance. But he also tells us that we are in the forgiveness business with him.

     The truth is, once we’ve experienced the forgiveness he offers, we SHOULD be willing to forgive others. Consequently, this addendum. “Forgive us in the same manner we are willing to forgive others.”

     Buddy Hackett says he doesn’t bother to carry a grudge. He says, “I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.” Grudges and resentment are the heaviest burdens we ever have to carry

     When we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And while it may be hard; while it may be the most difficult thing we ever have to do, when we forgive others it becomes not just an act of obedience but it becomes a liturgy of our faith and an act of prayer. That’s why Jesus tells us to forgive.


     A. One of the things that attracted people to Jesus was the fact that his life was living worship and a living prayer. The same teachings, the same faith that the Sadducees and Pharisees taught became alive in Jesus. In Jesus, thought, what they taught wasn’t some ancient set of beliefs. It wasn’t just words. It wasn’t just going through the motions. It wasn’t just lip service. The Law which Jesus followed had the same words, the same text, the same author.

     But the Law Jesus followed wasn’t carved into cold dead stone. It was etched on his heart and soul, it filled his lungs with air, it coursed through his veins and energized his very existence. It gave him life. And in return, Jesus fully belonged to God. His life, His ministry, His teachings were a living prayer; an living affirmation of faith, a living liturgy of Worship. Jesus was the real deal.

     And the thing is, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be the same thing. We can live the same way. Jesus change water to wine and fed 5,000 with a couple of fish and a few barley loaves. Last month our pocket change and changed it into food. We changed $719.49 (which would equal about 397 lbs of pennies) into 4,495 lbs of food. That’s what Jane Middleton told me. When I told Max Bly at Bible Study Thursday, he said that in actuality, because of all the free foodstuffs they get, it will translate into more than 7,200 pounds of food for the people in need. That’s 3 ½ tons.

     What an act of Worship. Our pennies gave feet and wings to someone else’s prayer for food and sustenance. Every time you dumped the change from your pocket into that jar it was an act of worship.

     Let me challenge you to think about doing that every day. Toss your change into a jar or a can. Not just for a month but every day. When you see a penny, pick it up and think about what the food bank can do with mere pennies. And when you do, then every time you pick up a penny it will be an act of worship and a living Prayer like Jesus prayed.

     B. This morning we have the opportunity to give wings to our prayers. This morning we have the opportunity to offer a living gift as an act of worship. What better way to offer unconditional love. Think of this box as a box filled with Grace. Every little gift you put in here will be an act of worship and a prayer lifted to God. You don’t know where or to whom this box will be given. But it will bring joy and it will bring hope. And in one simple act, you will be Praying Like Jesus.

     If we run out of boxes, we’ll get more. Or you can make a cash donation to help defray the cost of shipping. It costs $7.00 a box to get them to the children. If you were sending one of these boxes to Mongolia, it could cost as much as $350. So, $7.00 is about a 1,000 miles a dollar. I’d like to get that kind of gas mileage wouldn’t you.

     The challenge is to make your life a Living Prayer and an act of Worship. For when you do, you will be Praying Like Jesus.


     A mother and daughter walked out of church one Sunday and the mother said, “That was a nice service. I really liked the soft piano music during the prayer.”

     The little girl turned and asked, “That was a piano?”

     Mom nodded “Yes” and the little girl said, “Oh. I thought God had put us on hold.”

     We don’t ever have to worry about God putting us on hold. Oh, we’ve done that to God, probably on more than one occasion, because we expect God to conform to our schedules instead of the other way around. Luckily our Shepherd is infinitely patient with us. Luckily our Shepherd loves us unconditionally. The way we say thank you, the way we honor the one who loves us so dearly is by Praying Like Jesus. By spending time in prayer but also by offering our everyday ordinary lives as both an act of Worship and a Living Prayer.

     So, the next time you do anything, whether it’s changing a diaper, helping a customer, filling out a report, watching our kids in sports or helping a neighbor, think of it as an act of Worship. Think of it as a prayer. It will change How and Why you do things.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.