The lord Jesus makes the “Beatitudes” the subject for prayer, in what we call the “lord’s prayer”. It is the subject of prayer.
1. ADDRESSING HIM, “OUR FATHER” AND BEING POOR IN SPIRIT
The only kind of person who can realize his poverty of spirit does so through repentance. The psalmist puts this perfectly in Psalm 51:1: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions, O God. Wash me thoroughly from my sin, my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
You recognize your poverty in spirit when you recognize that you are a sinner and you say, “Have mercy on me, O God.... According to Your abundant mercy, blot out, I beg of you, my transgressions.” That is repentance.
Let us trace the connection on the points which seem to be less obvious. The first item says: “Our Father who is in heaven”. Our Father is in heaven. Do you see the connection with being poor in spirit? If you were somewhat more familiar with the lord’s teaching, the connection would have clicked very quickly. How? Take for example Matthew 18:3. What does Matthew 18:3 say? “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become....” Like what? “...like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What is the first beatitude? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” For whom is the kingdom of heaven? The lord Jesus said that except you become like children, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven, for of such are the kingdom of heaven. Of what? Of little children! Of such are the kingdom of heaven. So the poor in spirit are like little children – needing to rely on their Father to enable them to do His Will to be His spiritual children! What does it mean: spiritual children? Unless you become like a child, realizing you are helpless in this world, and need to be utterly dependent upon God as a child is dependent upon his father, you will in no way enter the kingdom of God.
The connection is so clear. “Our Father”; only the poor in spirit; those who realize their poverty of spirit [inability to do their Father’s will without His Spirit enabling them to do so] those are the children who call Him “Our Father”.
Children are people who have no status in this world. “Unless,” the lord said to his disciples, “unless you humble yourself and become like little children in attitude of mind”; you will in no way enter the kingdom of God”. Unless you become like children, unless you can say, in the poverty of spirit of your spirit, “My Father, I am dependent wholly on you. I am nothing. I have nothing. I am simply your child in need of your Holy Spirit in order to walk in obedience and faith according to your will, have regard for me.” The connection is so clear.
How is it that we missed the connection between the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer? “Our Father”! Nobody can truly say “Our Father” except these who truly recognize his/her poverty of spirit; who realize that to become children of God they have to have His Spirit to enable them to do His will, because they have not strength to do it on their own. In relation to God, he/she is simply a child dependent upon Him for their all. What does your child do? If you do not go out and work, your child will starve to death because you child cannot earn a living. Your child has not the strength nor the knowledge nor the understanding to do anything. He/she cannot survive in this world without a parent’s guidance and help. The child depends on the father so long as he is a child. That is where we stand in relation to God. We become His children. We have absolutely no self-confidence. We do not try to earn our salvation any more than a child can earn his living. A child has no means of survival in this world apart from the pity and compassion of grownups, especially the parents. There is no way to survive. In the same way we cannot survive spiritually without relying on our God and Father to enable us to do what He would have us to do. We are totally dependent upon God for our spiritual survival. Totally dependent! So only when we recognize our total dependence Him can we call Him our Father.
When we are drawn of God to Himself by His Spirit we realize our true state, our actual condition that we are truly poor in spirit, totally incapable of doing what He asks of us without His Spirit indwelling us which enable us to do His will. Then and only then can we say, “Our Father, who is in heaven....” The connection is so obvious, isn’t it?
Notice that the Beatitudes can be found everywhere in Paul’s teaching. Paul’s teaching is simply saturated with every item of the Beatitudes which shows how much the Beatitudes were in Paul’s thinking. In fact his whole doctrine of salvation is based exactly on this basis of poverty of spirit; that we cannot save ourselves through the keeping of the law and through our own efforts, that we, like children have to become completely dependent upon God. It is the Spirit of God (Paul says) that is sent into our hearts that enables us in our poverty of spirit to cry out, “Abba, Father!” [Galatians 4:6] This is the whole foundation of Paul’s theology.
Paul understood the lord’s teaching so well and so perfectly. Everywhere, item by item of the Beatitudes, you will find throughout Paul’s teaching. In fact you can find it even in just one letter; in Paul’s biographical letter, Philippians. You can find every item of the Beatitudes right in there. For example he speaks about having suffered the loss of all things. When you have suffered the loss of all things, you are indeed poor. Paul counts them as rubbish. There is the poverty of spirit! He regards all these things as not dear to himself that he may have God’s anointed one.
2) HALLOWING HIS NAME AND BEING PURE IN HEART
Well, let us look at the second connection. Here I notice a transposition, a change of order, and this is quite important. The second item here is holy, “Hallowed be Your name.” When I compared this to the Beatitudes, I found that the only one that is likely to fit in with it is the item “pure in heart”. Who is pure in heart but he who seeks to hallow – glory in God’s name, to make God’s name holy both in my life and in the life of others, that God’s name is exalted and glorified. The pure in heart! Now we will see a reason for this. This is the only one of the later items in the lord’s prayer in which you find this kind of transference: the sixth item (“pure in heart”) being transposed to the first item of petition. That is very interesting. But you can see immediately how “Blessed are the pure in heart” and “holy be Your name” are internally connected. That is very easy to see and requires no great exposition.
3) “YOUR KINGDOM COME” AND “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN”
Or take the next item, “Your kingdom come”. Again if you are at all familiar with the scriptural teaching of the OT you will see how it coincides immediately with those who mourn. Who are those who desire God’s kingdom to come but those who mourn because of the present state of sin in the world, who mourn because of sin in their own lives, who mourn because of sin in the called-out Assembly, who mourn because of sin. They long for “Your kingdom to come”.
If you do not mourn for sin, you cannot say from your heart, “Your kingdom come” because you are very satisfied with things as they are. Sin does not disturb you; it does not bother you. I do not see many Christians very anxious that God’s kingdom should come, that the lord Jesus should come again, because I do not see that much concern for righteousness, for holiness. I do not see that much grief over sin. I do not really see it. If we grieved so intensely about sin, we would constantly be longing and crying out in prayer: “Your kingdom come”, your salvation come; deliver us from this sinful world, this bondage of sin that we are in. As Paul says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” [Romans 7:24] Who shall deliver me? He knows his sinful condition and inclinations. “Wretched man that I am!” he says in Romans 7. And then he looks forward to God’s salvation, to the coming of God’s kingdom: “Thanks be to God”. God’s anointed one will give us the victory. He longs with earnest expectation, with outstretched arms for the coming of God’s kingdom. That is what the Greek word means. “Your kingdom come”. Paul longs for the kingdom because he mourns over sin. He speaks of himself as wretched man; he in this body is still under bondage to sin.
If you go into the OT, it is equally clear. In Psalm 80:5 the psalmist speaks of tears, mourning over sin. In v. 2 he says, “Come to me! Oh, God! Save me! Let your salvation come! Come and save us!” Or in Psalm 6:6,7 we see the same thing. We read of the mourning and weeping over sin, of grief over sin. In v. 4 we find there:
“Turn, O Lord”, and save us. Turn and save us. Turn back. Come back to me. Save me. This longing for God to come for the coming of the kingdom of God. It is Jesus’ coming as God’s vice-regent as His agent. So you see this constant connection between the mourning over sin and the longing that God should come and save.
4) “YOUR WILL BE DONE” AND “BLESSED ARE THE MEEK”
The next passage as we press forward is, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” “Your will be done on earth” - who speaks of this kind of a prayer but the meek? The meek shall inherit what? The earth. Your will be done on earth as in heaven. In both cases you have there the word ‘earth’. Very interesting! Who desires that God’s will be done? Who says “Your will be done” but the meek? The meek are those who desire God’s will to be done. “Not my will, O Lord, but Your will be done.” That is the language of the meek. It is the proud who says, “My will be done. I want it this way.” The meek says, “Your will be done! As perfectly as it is done in heaven, so let Your will will be completely done on earth.”
5) “GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD” AND “HUNGERING FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS”
The next parallel is already so obvious. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Who would pray such a prayer but those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? They are the ones who hunger for the bread of life. For where is righteousness but in the bread of life? Everywhere the connection is so obvious.
6) “FORGIVE US OUR SINS” AND “BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL”
Notice the connection in the next item: “Forgive us our sins.” Who are those who long for that forgiveness? Those who have their sins forgiven! They are the merciful. In fact in the lord’s teaching, mercy and forgiveness of sins are parallel in meaning. What does it mean to be merciful? It is to forgive sins. Why do we forgive sin? because we ourselves have been forgiven of our sins. The connection between mercy and forgiveness, the Lord Jesus has made explicit in Matthew 18:32,33. In v. 33 it speaks of having mercy and in v. 32 it speaks of forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness are identical terms in the lord’s teaching.
7) “AS WE FORGIVE” AND “BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS”
Look at the next one in the same way. “As we forgive those who trespass against us”. Who speaks such language but peacemakers? Only those who desire peace, who make peace, readily forgive the offense against them. It is the attitude of a peacemaker that he does not hold offense against you that does not bear a grudge. If you bear a grudge, if you refuse to forgive, how can you be a peacemaker? A peacemaker is one who does not hold another person’s sin against him. A peacemaker is one who immediately seeks reconciliation. He does not say, “We are not on speaking terms anymore. Forget it! If you say you are a Christian, forget it. I am not talking to the likes of you again.” The peacemaker is one who says, “Okay, okay. There is an offense against me but I hold this not against you.” Freely forgive! In Ephessians 4:32 Paul says, “as God for His anointed one’s sake has forgiven you” [KJV], so you forgive one another. Forgive one another! A peacemaker is the one who freely forgives because he himself has been forgiven too. So you find there is an inseparable connection between the merciful and the peacemaker. No wonder they follow each other closely.
8) “LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION” AND “BLESSED ARE THE PERSECUTED”
Let us come to the eighth item: “lead us not into temptation”. As we have already seen, there the connections are so obvious that it hardly requires any kind of exposition. “Lead us not....” When do we face the most severe temptation? Certainly under persecution for those who have turned away from sin. Have you not often thought to yourself, “Will I be able to survive under persecution?” Even those of you who are training in the Lord’s work, how many times have you thought to yourself, “What would happen if I am severely persecuted for the faith? Would I survive this test, this trial, this temptation?” As you know, in Greek, the words ‘trial’ and ‘temptation’ are the same word. There is no distinction in meaning. “Lead us not into temptation”. Would I be able to survive it? By God’s grace!
But then here also we do not put ourselves in a position of temptation. We do not seek temptation. Even though we love God, we do not go and look for it. The prayer is a caution against looking for trouble. There is enough trouble coming to you without your going to look for it. It reminds us of early Christians. Some of them, in their untutored zeal, went and tempted the Tempter. They looked for trouble. When the Roman emperor gave an edict of persecution against Christians (as you know from church history, i.e., those of you who have read some church history), the governor found a whole crowd of Christians in front of his office saying, “Here I am.” The emperor had said that Christians are to be persecuted. [So this group said,] “We are Christians. Get on with it!” Do not look for trouble! “Lead us not into temptation.” He will not lead us and you do not go and look for it. But temptations and trials will come. And above all, of course, the greatest concern is the concern of the temptation, the supreme temptation of apostasy, which we face under pressure. That is, above all things, what we seek to be delivered from.
9) “DELIVER US FROM EVIL” AND “BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN REVILED AND PERSECUTED”
Notice then also the last item in the lord’s prayer which is so clear, so plain to us. What does the last beatitude say? Read the words very carefully. “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my own account” (notice the word evil against you falsely) and “deliver us from evil.” That is exactly what we pray for - “deliver us from evil.” There the internal connection is so obvious that it hardly requires exposition.
THE LORD’S PRAYER DRAWS OUT THE INTERNAL ESSENCE OF THE BEATITUDES
I would like you to bear in mind then that the lord in his wisdom has shown us what he has done. He has taken the Beatitudes right there, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, and turned it into a subject for prayer and yet turned it in such a way as to draw out the internal essence of it. Oh, the lord’s teaching is so supreme in its wonder, in the beauty of its construction, in the depth of spiritual quality and insight. Can you see now the connection?
Do you now know what you are doing when you pray the lord’s prayer? You are simply praying, in fact, the content of the Beatitudes. I trust you will never again pray the lord’s prayer without realizing what it is you are saying. When you say “Our Father”, you are praying, “Lord, make me to realize my poverty of spirit.” On the other hand, if you do not realize your poverty of spirit and the necessity of having God’s Holy Spirit in you to be enabled to do His Will, you will not pray meaningfully the words “Our Father”. You are not rightly using those words. You now realize how you should pray the lord’s prayer. You pray the lord’s prayer in an attitude of poverty of spirit. You realize what kind of people can say “Our Father”. Only the people who are poor in spirit can rightfully say, “Our Father who is in heaven”. Then you realize you need to be pure in heart in order to be able to truly say “hallowed be Your name”, because if you are not pure in heart and you say, “hallowed be Your name”, you are simply being hypocritical. You are being a hypocrite. How can you say, “hallowed be Your name” when you are impure in heart? I shudder to think of all these people who mumble the lord’s prayer every day, and in many church services they finish the service by saying, “Our Father”. They do not even know what they are saying. Do we know what we are saying? We must pray these things if we are to pray rightly at all, only with the understanding of the Beatitudes in our heart, i.e., only if we rightly understand what it is we are doing.
So from now on I trust that you will be able to pray the Lord’s Prayer meaningfully, and not just to repeat that prayer.
The lord’s prayer, as we mentioned when we were expounding it, is a model prayer. That is to say that the lord did not say, “Just repeat these words”, but rather, “Make it the subject of your prayer, make it a pattern for prayer. Model your prayer upon this model prayer.” That is, when you pray other prayers, you make this, as it were, a starting point, a focal point for each item of your prayer. And each time you go through the lord’s prayer, you will have covered every beatitude. That truly is wonderful. May God truly enable us to truly enter into the spirit of the lord’s prayer by understanding ever more deeply and ever more clearly the Beatitudes. Keep meditating on it. And as I said right at the beginning, make the Beatitudes an item for prayer just as the lord taught us to do in what we call the lord’s prayer.