Last week we observed the very important fact that prayer can be learned. We also noted that learning to pray is a need shared by all. (Recall that even the disciples who walked and talked with Jesus during His earthly ministry asked Him to teach them to pray [Luke 11:1].)
We know that we can learn to pray by praying (engaging ourselves in the act), praying with others, and by praying God’s Word. Another way we can learn to pray is by identifying good models and following them. Notice, the words, “following them.” If we truly want to learn to pray, we will take great care not to simply read these model prayers or to mimic them. Instead, we will put ourselves to the task of learning from them.
Many good models can be found in books and on websites. But the best place for locating models, I think, is in the pages of the Bible. There we have a treasure trove of model prayers in the book of Psalms, the prayers penned by Paul, and those expressed by Jesus Himself.
The Lord’s Prayer
The passage known as The Lord’s Prayer is found in two of the New Testament Gospels. In the book of Matthew, it is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Here it presents a picture of life in the kingdom of heaven. In the book of Luke, it is a response to the disciples’ request for Jesus to teach them to pray.
It’s important to note that Jesus isn’t teaching His disciples (or us) the exact words to pray. He’s teaching, rather, the themes we should incorporate into our prayers. He is teaching how to pray. And who better to teach us than Jesus Himself?
The Lord’s Prayer provides us with a structure to follow. It’s a template for how to approach and talk to God. We call on Him, addressing His rightful place as our Father. We glorify Him through our worship and praise. Then we surrender to His will and ask for nourishment, forgiveness, and guidance.
This prayer is one of the most amazing and theologically rich prayers in all the Bible.
Learning to Pray
First, we need to ask ourselves who Jesus was talking to when He said, “Pray then like this.” Our answer must lead us to the obvious conclusion that this is a prayer for disciples to pray. Jesus designed it to be used by His followers and to enrich our prayers.
Now that we have some understanding of the purpose of the prayer and who it is for, we can move on to discover what its structure teaches us.
“Our Father in Heaven”
The love God has for us is the complete and perfect love of a father. In these words, Jesus shows us God’s character by modeling how we are to address Him.
The phrase, “Our Father,” show us that we have the privilege of addressing our prayers to God as our Father. The words, “in Heaven,” serve to remind us that while He is our Father, He is also the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. As such, our prayers should be characterized by reverence, awe, humility, and total dependence upon Him.
“Hallowed Be Your Name”
Some believe this phrase to be another exclamation of praise. However, it is actually an appeal, making “Hallowed Be Your Name” the first petition of the prayer. It sets the tone for our prayers.
God is holy. His holiness, therefore, should be reflected in our tone. Reverence and awe should be demonstrated in our approach. His glory should be our goal.
When we pray that God’s name be hallowed, we are asking that He might be glorified, honored, and exalted – by us and by others.
“Your Kingdom Come”
The second petition of this prayer builds upon the first. The words, “Your Kingdom Come,” indicate how God’s name is hallowed in the world. God’s character and reputation are revealed as His kingdom spreads to every corner of the earth.
This petition is a gospel-centered petition. It asks God to extend His kingdom through the advance of His gospel. Additionally, it asks that God usher in the completed, perfected kingdom when Christ returns.
Praying this petition takes our eyes off ourselves and our circumstances and fixes them, instead, on spiritual and eternal matters.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.Proverbs 3:5-6
“Your Will Be Done, On Earth as It Is in Heaven”
Many of us like to think that life is about us. This petition is a reminder that we are charged with building God’s kingdom, not kingdoms of our own.
An extension of the previous petition, this one helps us realign our will with God’s. Jesus talked at length about this throughout the gospels, where we read that we are to die to our own desires and submit to His.
This is a good place to make a momentary stop. Recall that our task is to be about the business of learning. So, let’s briefly note some important aspects of this prayer thus far.
- Each of these opening petitions center on God.
- The petitions focus on His name, His kingdom, and His will.
- When we follow this framework for prayer, we are asking ourselves to hallow God’s name, submit to His rule, and do His will.
At this point in the prayer, we see a shift. Where the first petitions centered on God, the last four ask for His help and commend our sins and weaknesses to His grace.
“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”
This petition reminds us of our constant, daily dependence on God. To pray this petition is to acknowledge our complete and utter trust in the One who is our Father to provide for our needs.
The phrase, “Our Daily Bread,” does not indicate merely physical, earthly nourishment. Indeed, the request is for bread that nourishes our immortal soul. This living, supersubstantial bread is Christ Himself. When we pray this petition, we are not asking merely for material bread for physical health, but for spiritual bread for eternal life.
“Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Also Have Forgiven Our Debtors”
The word debt here refers to sin. This petition establishes that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. It teaches us that not only have we sinned, but that we have the hope of forgiveness.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9
To pray this petition is to acknowledge God’s holiness and how we have sinned against Him. At the same time, it recognizes His grace and mercy toward us in His willingness to forgive our sin.
The second phrase of this petition teaches us that those who have been forgiven much by God should show forgiveness to others. In other words, we should be forgiving people. This petition introduces the aspect of relationships into our prayer and reminds us how we should love others in Christ.
“Lead Us Not into Temptation, But Deliver Us from Evil”
The Lord’s Prayer ends with a petition that draws our attention to the magnitude of what is happening behind the scenes. There’s a whole spiritual world out there that you and I aren’t privy to.
This petition reminds us of several things concerning temptations. Firstly, they are real and a daily threat to communion with God and life with Christ. Secondly, under our own power, we are not able to resist temptation. It also reminds us that we must pray for endurance in the fight against temptation.
In praying this petition, we ask God to lead us away from temptation and into righteousness. And we are reminded of our complete dependence upon Him – not only for our physical needs, but for spiritual victories as well.
Before we leave this powerful teaching model of prayer, we need to examine its context for additional learning opportunities.
Just before His teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus provides important context in Matthew 6:5-8. Here He says, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when 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. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
And backing up just a little further, we find the key to understanding the entire passage. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
What do we learn about prayer from these passages? We learn that our attitude in prayer is crucial. In these early verses of Matthew, Jesus warns against a piety that is public and ostentatious. In other words, he says do not pray as the hypocrites who pray to impress. Authentic prayer is never about impressing anyone.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”Luke 18:14
The prayer God seeks is the prayer of the humble and contrite heart.