The power and the glory - Matthew 6

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 29th July 2007.

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During the Second World War Malta was a place which took on enormous significance for the war effort, despite the fact that it was a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. She was a key strategic location for the Allies because from the island assaults could be launched on enemy shipping which was heading to North Africa. Cut those lines of supply and the German war effort in North Africa could be severely hampered. So it was no surprise that the Germans threw everything they could at Malta. She was bombed literally thousands of times, but was never taken and remained in British hands throughout the war years. What few people know though was that during the first half of that war, a man was appointed to oversee operations in Malta called William Dobbie. And Dobbie was a committed Christian. He was a man who had great faith in his heavenly Father to provide for him even in the most difficult of circumstances. And time and again Dobbie saw God provide. Very early on in his governorship, he addressed the Maltese people with these words: “The decision of the British government to fight on until our enemies are defeated will have been heard with the greatest of satisfaction by all the garrison of Malta. It may be that hard times lie ahead of us, but however hard they may be, I know that our courage and determination will not falter. With God’s help we will maintain the security of the fortress. I will therefore call upon all of us to seek God’s help, and then, in reliance on him, to do our duty unflinchingly.” What do you make of those comments? Are these just words of a governor who wanted to spin the religious angle, to give people false hope and confidence? Or are they the words of a man who knew to whom he was ultimately accountable, and who knew that the almighty God could act even in a World War to answer the prayers of his people. Well given what would happen in the rest of Dobbie’s life, it was very much the latter. You see Dobbie was a man of prayer. He genuinely knew and loved God and trusted him implicitly. And just before he died he said these words: “Vital and uninterrupted contact with our Heavenly Father is the most wonderful thing in the world.”   

            Well over the last few months in these morning services we have been considering the Lord’s prayer. And I hope it has been your experience that we have learnt and been refreshed by some wonderful truths from this prayer. We’ve learnt all sorts of lessons. For example we have learnt a lot about the character of God- he is our heavenly Father. He’s the one who loves us and also the one who is infinitely powerful to bring about his will. We have learnt about God’s name and his holiness. We have seen that he always acts for the good of his name and bring glory to himself. We’ve seen that his plan is to bring all things under the headship of his Son Jesus. And we’ve seen some wonderful things about us as Christians too. That we are totally dependant on God for everything. He sustains us every day by giving us our daily bread. God expects us to forgive as we have been forgiven and to trust him in times of difficulty. All these things we have learnt from this amazing prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. And I hope that for each one of us it has not just led to a deeper understanding of prayer, but an encouragement and a spur to keep on praying, to aim to be better pray-ers. To honour God in our prayer lives.

            But if truth be told, there may be a nagging feeling at the back of our minds as we conclude this series. And that is that struggle as we may, at the end of the day I still find prayer difficult. For all the great things we have learnt together it is still a battle. Many us would if we were honest confess to finding prayer one of the hardest aspects of being a Christian. For some it is very natural but for many it is something hard. We find time squeezed, energy levels low, motivation drying up and perhaps even scepticism high as to whether it is worth it. We might not often verbalise these doubts, but I doubt I’d be the only one who has not thought these things at some point in my life. And that is why we end this series by looking at the last line of the Lord ‘s prayer. “The kingdom, the power and the glory are yours for ever and ever.” Because this final line takes us back to the strength and power behind the prayer. It reminds us where our confidence springs from that prayers are answered. It reminds us too that weak though we are, struggle though we do, embattled though we may feel, we can be sustained and used amazingly by God for his purposes as we pray. God will uphold us and keep us right to the end when we see him face to face. And those are the truths that are contained in these final words.

Now before we begin I need to confess to you something very bizarre. The words we are studying today are not in the Bible. Now at this point I would imagine that the trapdoor beneath this pulpit for those who don’t teach from the Bible would open quickly! If you look carefully at Matthew 6 and Luke 11 where the Lord’s prayer comes in the Bible, you won’t find this verse. You’ll find it in the footnotes, but it is almost certainly a later addition to the original text, something Jesus himself probably didn’t include in the original. It’s more likely to have been a second century addition. So why, you say, do we study such words? Well very simply because the concepts they teach are at the heart of the Bible’s teaching about God. Time and again the truths of God’s kingdom and power and glory are taught in the pages of the Bible. Not least in the second reading we have from 1 Chronicles where David says that “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” All Jewish prayers had what are known as doxologies, prayers praising God at the end of the main prayer. And it’s no surprise that very quickly through being used in the early church the Lord’s prayer gained this doxology which basically comes from 1 Chronicles. So it’s not that we’re studying something unbiblical, just that it doesn’t actually appear in the Bible as it’s written. But needless to say, the themes we are studying today are vital and Biblical. And if we are to stand firm as Christians and keep on praying as we should till the end of our days or till the Lord returns, then we must take to heart these themes. Because they will give us the strength we need and the encouragement we need to keep going. So let’s take each phrase in turn, the kingdom, the power and the glory and see what is meant by each one. And we’ll see that from those three elements come three important challenges:
1) Trust God’s sovereignty

2) Depend on God’s power

3) Live for God’s glory

1) Trust God’s sovereignty

So first then, we must trust God’s sovereignty. And this lesson comes from the first part of the doxology. Yours is the kingdom. Now when we studied the request “may your kingdom come” we saw that God’s kingdom meant God’s rule over men and women. And that rule has begun now in Jesus Christ. As people come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour so they come under his saving rule. So when we pray may your kingdom come we are praying that people would become Christians and also that those who are Christians begin to live their lives with Jesus as the King. They should submit to his rule, they should walk in his ways. But we also saw that there is a future aspect to this prayer. One day Jesus will return to wrap up human history and he will bring about judgement on all people. So when we pray may your kingdom come, we are also praying that Jesus would come again to bring the world to an end and to bring into being the new creation, where there will be no more tears or wrong doing or sin. It will be a perfect world. That’s the future aspect of the kingdom of God. So to give thanks to God for his kingdom is to thank him that he is in charge, that he rules the universe, that he knows what he is doing. What it boils down to is a submission to his sovereignty. We are acknowledging that God is king. He is the one with the ultimate authority. He knows what is best. For he is sovereign over our lives and the whole world. And we must humbly bow before him and admit that we do not know best and we must submit our lives into his hands. In short we must trust in God’s sovereignty.       

            Now it has to be said, that is not always easy. Because quite frankly some of God’s ways baffle us. Why does God do it this way and not that? Why is God allowing this to happen to me and not that? The apostle Paul puts it like this in Romans 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?” Paul would agree with us. He too is sometimes stumped. He too cannot fathom God’s mind and understanding. But the point is that we know enough to trust him. And we have enough to trust him in two particular areas of bafflement, if I can put it like that.

            First we have enough to trust him in things we don’t understand. Sometimes God does things we simply cannot fathom. But God has given us enough information for us to trust him in what is necessary. We know that God is totally committed to bringing about his kingdom. But we do not exactly know how he will do that. He doesn’t give us a personal map of our lives and where we fit into to God’s plans. He just asks us to trust him. But many of us find that hard to do. We want all the answers. But we won’t get them, certainly not in this life. We’ll only get the answers God has revealed to us in his word, which is actually a good deal! For at the end of the day, we are not God. And quite frankly, if we were able to understand everything, then we’d be God wouldn’t we? It’s not a kop out to say we don’t fully understand. It’s a mark of humble trust in the eternal God who made us. We need to learn to trust him.

            But a second application is to trust God in the ups and downs and life. Because perhaps one of the most difficult areas to trust God is when things happen to us which appear to have no rhyme or meaning. Perhaps a debilitating illness, a sudden bereavement, great and ongoing stress at work. Such things often completely baffle us and we cry out why me? Again it’s something the Biblical writers have sought to wrestle with. From Job to Jesus, all have wrestled with this issue. But ultimately we cannot know all the answers. But in his word he has given us enough to enable us to trust him. Do you think God would do anything unloving, unfair, or unfaithful to his children who he himself died for? No. But it doesn’t mean we can always understand God’s ways. Instead he calls on us to trust him.

            I remember hearing the Christian writer Don Carson speaking on this subject, and he spoke about a friend of his called Peter O’ Brien. Peter O’ Brien is a Christian writer who has written some excellent books for preachers on Colossians and Philippians, and who was also for a long time a missionary in India and a lecturer in a college in Australia which trains men and women for ministry. Peter grew up in a home where both his Mum and Dad were not Christians. His mother became a Christian, humanly speaking, through a little old lady down the road. This old lady was semi literate, certainly no theologian, but she was a faithful old Christian, but who suffered from a miserable long term disease which gave her pain day in day out for years. But she suffered as a Christian, and her witness so impressed Peter’s mother that she became a Christian and through his mother, Peter became a Christian. And so Peter went off to college, ended up becoming a missionary and for many years pastored men and women for ministry. Now supposing you had gone to that that little old woman fifty years ago and said: “Now I have a bargain for you. If you suffer with this miserable disease for Jesus’ sake, then half a century in the future, Indians will be converted, pastors around the world will be equipped to give godly sermons, and young men and women will be trained to go into all the world for the gospel and people will be converted through their ministry, will you do suffer for that?” But of course that is not the way it works. God is not in the business of striking bargains with us. He wants us to trust him. He wants us to trust that he is the all wise, all knowing, all powerful wonder working God who will build his kingdom and whose plans will not fail. And when we get to heaven, we will be staggered to see that the painful suffering of some little old lady in Australia has led the conversion of thousands years after her death. Who knows what will happen in God’s plan if you remain faithful to him in suffering, if you trust him. Perhaps if you remain faithful in suffering, or if you remain faithful sexually despite intense pressure, or you refuse to bow to peer pressure at work, your son humanly speaking will be converted, who will lead a friend to Christ at college, who will lead his sister to Christ, whose grandson will be the next Billy Graham. Would you trust God knowing that’s God’s plan? Perhaps you won’t. Sometimes we want just short term gain. But it does put things into perspective doesn’t it? We do not know the end from the beginning. We cannot fathom God’s mind. His ways are higher than ours, his thoughts greater than our thoughts. But he is faithful and he will not let you go. So trust him. God will bring about his kingdom plans. It’s his kingdom. And in heaven God’s amazing plan and faithfulness will be seen in all it’s techno-coloured glory. And that is a wonderful reason to keep praying, because he will use our prayers for his sovereign purposes. So trust God’s sovereignty.

2) Depend on God’s power

But we might well ask, well how on earth will I have the power to keep going? Well that brings us to the second lesson. Depend on God’s power. For the next phrase at the end of the Lord’s prayer is “yours is the power”! You see the fact is we worship a God of extraordinary power, a God who brought the universe into being with a word, a God who sustains the cosmos every second so that the whole thing does not implode on itself. But the problem for us is that perhaps God is so big we just don’t realise how powerful he is and we grow complacent. We end up trusting ourselves to bring us through the ups and downs of life. We forget that we are to be totally dependant on the God who made us and sustains us. And we become a bit like the staff of the royal household of King Canute. King Canute was once ruler of England. The members of his court were continually full of flattery. "You are the greatest man that ever lived...You are the most powerful king of all...Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do, nothing in this world dares disobey you." The king was a wise man and he grew tired of such foolish speeches. One day as he was walking by the seashore Canute decided to teach them a lesson. "So you say I am the greatest man in the world?" he asked them. "O king," they cried, "there never has been anyone as mighty as you, and there will never be anyone so great, ever again!" "And you say all things obey me?" Canute asked. "Yes sire" they said. "The world bows before you, and gives you honour." "I see," the king answered. "In that case, bring me my chair, and place it down by the water." The servants scrambled to carry Canute's royal chair over the sands. At his direction they placed it right at the water's edge. The King sat down and looked out at the ocean. "I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?" "Give the order, O great king, and it will obey," cried his entourage "Sea," cried Canute, "I command you to come no further! Do not dare touch my feet!" He waited a moment, and a wave rushed up the sand and lapped at his feet. "How dare you!" Canute shouted. "Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!" In came another wave lapping at the king's feet. Canute remained on his throne throughout the day, screaming at the waves to stop. Yet in they came anyway, until the seat of the throne was covered with water. Finally Canute turned to his entourage and said, "It seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for him."

            You see it is so easy to struggle on though life in our own strength forgetting the awesome God who is on our side, the one in whom we should be trusting. Listen again to what David says of God in 1 Chronicles 29: “Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” That is the Biblical response, to praise and trust God for his strength and power.

            But what will in mean in practice for us? What effect does God’s power have on us and our prayer lives? Well for one he has the power to answer us. The wonderful thing about praying to the all powerful God of the universe is that he is perfectly capable of answering our prayers according to his will. We might think that some of our problems are so big and complicated that God cannot possibly answer. But he can. He is perfectly able to answer according to his will. It just that sometimes we don’t believe it. Or we act like practical atheists and we don’t pray. We’re not atheists, because we believe in God, but sometimes we act like atheists because we live as if God did not exist. We don’t bring things to him in prayer, perhaps because we secretly doubt that God could or would answer. But remember what David says: “Yours Lord is the greatness and the power.” God is our Father in heaven. He’s our Father and he loves us so he longs to answer. And he is in heaven so he is all powerful and he can answer. Both those things are true.

And it was something William Dobbie knew in his life. One event in particular during his time in Malta stuck with him for the rest of his life. He often looked back to this event and remembered how amazingly powerful God was and how wonderful he was at answering prayer. He records the story in his book called “ A very present help”, a phrase which comes from Psalm 46. One time in January 1941 a convoy of ships reached Malta. One of the convoy’s escort ships was the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. She’d been badly damaged by German bombs on the way, and now in Malta laid up on the dockside, the German air force tried to make sure she would never leave port again. Over the next few weeks, she suffered many direct hits from German bombing, and the prospects for saving the ship looked very bleak indeed. After a while the dockyard authorities told Dobbie that if there were no further damage the ship could leave for sea in four days time. No-one but Dobbie knew this information, and he decided to pray to God that if it was his will God would spare the ship and allow her to sail. This is how Dobbie remembered it: “The next day came. The attacks were renewed, but the Germans changed their tactics and bombed from a much greater height than before. They missed the ship- and no further damage was done. The same thing was experienced for the next three days. And eventually on the fourth day, after sunset, I saw the great ship head for Alexandria, which she safely reached.”

Co-incidence we might say? Just a fluke? The thing is Dobbie saw many answers to prayer like this again and again in his time in Malta, and not just then, but throughout his life. Nothing is beyond God’s power. And he can answer according to his will. So what about us? Some of us are facing big problems and challenges in our lives. Decisions affecting our future, major illness in the family, serious worries about our children, great uncertainty about our job prospects? Will you take them to the Lord? He won’t always answer according to how we want, but answer he will and in his time. For he is powerful enough to answer. Don’t be a practical atheist, take it to the Lord in prayer.

And not only does God have the power to answer us, he also has the power to sustain us. We might sometimes think to ourselves how on earth we will keep going through all the trials of life? How can we keep trusting God when everything seems to be going wrong? Well be assured that God has the power to keep you going as well. He will sustain you in good times and bad. Again it was something William Dobbie knew. In a letter to his wife who was going through a particularly tough time, he wrote this: “Please don’t try and bear the burden of things when the Lord wants to bear the burden for you.” Is it too simplistic we might say, too easy? Well no- it’s not always easy to trust God, but it is the right thing to do! And perhaps the reason we don’t do it is that we have forgotten God’s power. Nothing we face in this world, no worry, no problem is too big for God. Do you remember the hymn: “Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.” We need to depend on God’s power.

 

3) Live for God’s glory

But there’s one final challenge we’ll look at briefly and that is to live for God’s glory. Because the final line of the Lord’s prayer is “yours be the glory for ever and ever.” Ultimately everything exists for the glory of God. That is the purpose of our lives and the purpose of the very universe itself. And everything we do is to be done for God’s glory. It certainly puts a new perspective on everything in our lives doesn’t it. Every relationship we have, every word we say, every deed we do, every thought we think must be done for God’s glory. And actually it is a wonderful encouragement for us to keep going in prayer. Because this world in which we live is not random. Our lives are not meaningless. We can live purposefully. We can live meaningful lives if our lives are lived for God’s glory. It means submitting ourselves to God and his will and resting assured that he will use us accordingly. And ultimately nothing else is worth living for! And the God who made us and who is willing to save us and who will bring all things to completion is the only one to whom the glory must go.

Do you remember the poem Ozymandias? “I met a traveller from an antique land who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies….’ The traveller had come across a statue whose body had been broken off. The traveller goes on.. “And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sand stretches far away.” The point of the poem is that this once mighty warrior king Ozymandias whose works the traveller is urged to see, is nothing now. His statue is broken and his works are nowhere to be seen. And when human beings fail to see themselves in relation to the God who made them, then their lives and deeds are as worthless as this old broken statue of Ozymandias. Yes we might cry out: “Look at my deeds, look how great I am.” But there is only one who will receive the glory and that is God himself. He will not stand any rivals. For we human beings are to live life for his glory and his alone. So are you doing that? Or do you still think that your frail mortal human achievements are more important than this eternal, immortal and omnipotent God? He is the rightful King, the only God, the one to whom the kingdom, the power and the glory belong. And it’s only when we realise the awesome God to whom we pray that we will have confidence that our prayers are meaningful and that our heavenly Father will answer. “Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Saviour, still our refuge; take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer!        In his arms he'll take and shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there.”

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