Part 2 of 5: Using the Lord’s Prayer as a Model for Our Prayers

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt. 6:9-13).

As Andrew Murray rightly observes, “Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach, only how to pray. … To know how to speak to God is more than knowing how to speak to man. Not power with men, but power with God is the first thing” (Andrew Murray, Lord, Teach Us To Pray, Kindle Location 64-66). The disciples were privy to the secret of spiritual power in Jesus’s ministry. So they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk. 11:1).

THE BASIS: “Our Father in heaven”
God is our Father. The basis of our prayer is a personal relationship with him, which we have due to our adoption through Jesus Christ: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15)

That’s why we pray in Jesus’s name: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn. 16:23-24).

God is our immanent Father, but he is also the transcendent Father in heaven. We can approach God in prayer because he is our Father; we can trust him to answer because he is our Father in heaven, all-knowing and all-powerful.

We can come to God in prayer as children come to their father, with simple openness and trust. Just as a child does not hesitate to ask his/her parent for even the most trivial and selfish things, we can pray to God for anything big or small, in accordance with the faith allotted to us. Even “selfish” prayer is a “testament” to our loving and trusting personal relationship with God.

Yet we come to God with a sense of reverence and worship. We are not entitled to anything. God is not a chummy “homeboy.” He is the Father we love and respect He demands our affection and awe. A prayer based on this wondrous relationship will undoubtedly be punctuated by outbursts of praise and thanksgiving.

THE PURPOSE: “Hallowed be your name”
“To hallow” means “to honor as holy.” Prayer seeks to see God’s name, which stands for his essence, honored. Therefore, prayer is not about manipulating God for our purposes. Its purpose is to glorify God.

Everything else that follows in the Lord’s Prayer feeds into this overarching goal. We pray for bread so that God’s name may be hallowed. We pray for forgiveness of sins so that God’s name may be hallowed. We pray for deliverance from evil so that God’s name may be hallowed.

THE THESIS: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, we are asking God to increase his reign, or rule, in people’s lives and in the world around us (Jn. 3:3-5; Col. 1:13; 1 Pt. 2:9). The Kingdom of God has already come and is yet to come (Jn. 4:23; 5:25; cf. Mk. 4:29; Rev. 3:11). This is why we pray that the Kingdom would be more and more of a reality in and around us.

Our goal in life is not to leave earth and get to heaven, but to bring heaven down to earth. We labor to bring about God’s heavenly purposes to bear on earth. Seeking to see God’s rule pervade every sphere of life is the thesis of the Lord’s prayer.

In James 4:2-3, it says that “[we] ask and do not receive, because [we] ask wrongly, to spend it on [our] passions.” When we pray rightly, we think God’s thoughts after him, love the things that are on his heart, and desire the things that he wills. Prayer, like a conversation, is two-way. Listening precedes asking so that we can pray “your will be done”.

Provision: “Give us this day our daily bread”
Now, we turn to supplication in our prayer. After we have sought God’s name, God’s Kingdom, and God’s will, we say “give us … forgive us … lead us … deliver us” (Murray, KL 260-263). The content of our supplication, which falls under the above thesis, is threefold: provision, pardon, and protection. All our personal needs are accounted for in these three petitions.

It is God who sustains us, so we must come to God for both physical and spiritual provision. A petition for “daily bread” assumes a “daily” companionship with God. We don’t just seek God in crises, we seek God everyday. We do not have a disembodied God, but an Incarnate Savior, who cares not only for our spiritual well-being, but also for our physical well-being.

The symbolic bread is also in view. God’s wilderness feeding of Israel, Jesus’s feeding of thousands (Mk. 6:32-44; 8:1-10), the sequence of meals in Jesus’s life culminates in the Last Supper, where Jesus is the bread of life (Jn. 6). God provides both physical and spiritual sustenance.

Pardon: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”
The reason why Matthew has “forgive us our debts” (Mt. 6:12) and Luke has “forgive us our sins” (Lk. 11:4), is that the original Aramaic word that Jesus would have used means both “debt” and “sin.”

The forgiveness of debt recalls the Year of Jubilee in the Old Testament, which called for the cancellation of all debt, return of all property to their original hereditary owners, and manumission of all indentured servants every 49th year (Lev. 25). People who have been freely forgiven should also forgive freely.

Forgiven people should also freely confess their sins, because “anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 118).

At the heart of sin is pride which says, “my will be done.” Therefore, if we have really prayed, “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” confession will flow naturally in our prayers.

Protection: “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”
Prayer for pardon leads to prayer for protection from further temptations. As Paul reminds us, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

Therefore, we wage war with spiritual, not physical, weapons and armor (Eph. 6:10-20). Non-Christians can fight crime, abolish slavery, and care for the poor, but only Christians can fight the spiritual forces of violence, racism and greed. Yet this, something that only we can do, is precisely what we often do not do.

Subconsciously, we lack confidence that prayer actually gets anything done. And since we have so many things actually to get done, prayer gets sidelined. However, there is no victory in Christian life without prayer. Everything that we do to advance the Kingdom of God on earth must be guided and sustained by prayer.

In his open letter How One Should Pray, for Master Peter the BarberMartin Luther wrote that he “suckle[s] at the Lord’s prayer like a child … [yet] never get[s] [his] fill. It is the very best prayer … It is surely evident that a real master composed and taught it. What a great pity that the prayer of such a master is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world! (p. 8)”

So try using the Lord’s Prayer as a model for your prayer!

This is Part 2 of 5 posts in my series on prayer. See Part 1 of 5: Does Prayer Change God? Or Does It Change Us? or Part 3 of 5: Keys to More Effective Prayer.

Too Ashamed to Confess

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If you have a sin that you’ve been hiding that you dare not confess, then consider the agony of Claudius.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet play, Claudius is a husband to the widow of the brother he murdered, an uncle to Hamlet whose father he killed, and a king of Denmark who usurped the throne by poisoning his brother to death. Although Claudius longs to set things right and pray for forgiveness, his great guilt militates against confession. What results is a speech that conveys the uniquely, and profoundly, human phenomenon called guilt:

Oh, my offence is rank. It smells to heaven.
It hath the primal eldest curse upon ’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will,
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. (Shakespeare, Hamlet,III, iii, 38-45)

The egregious nature of Claudius’s offense is highlighted by its comparison to a foul odor. His offense, like an odor, is invisible yet inconcealable. It “smells to the heavens” and invokes the condemnation not merely of men, but of God. Furthermore, Claudius underscores the gravity of his fratricide by alluding to Cain’s “primal eldest curse.” Like Cain, Claudius was driven by jealousy to murder his own brother. Can you relate to this? Unconfessed sins linger like a foul odor. You know that no one sees it, yet you feel as though everybody somehow “smells” it. Does your sin seem so odious that confessing to God, let alone confessing to other believers, is unthinkable?

“Though inclination be as sharp as will,” Claudius simply cannot bring himself to pray. He has resolved to pray, yet he cannot get himself to pray. The guilt simultaneously impels and impedes his confession. In the end, his guilt is greater than his desire to make restitution, since his “stronger guilt defeats [his] strong intent.” To illustrate this inner conflict, he likens himself to “a man to double business bound.” The chiastic consonance of the ‘b’ and ‘d’ sounds makes the syllables bounce off of each other, mirroring Claudius’s oscillating will and emphasizing the fact that he is “bound.” Immobilized by his clashing emotions, Claudius teeters noncommittally. He “stand[s] in pause” and neglects to act.

Do you ever feel paralyzed by guilt and shame by yourself? Do you want to deal with your sit, but fear people’s judgment and the consequences you might face? As C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

A forgotten sin is not a forgiven sin, and as Proverbs 28:13 teaches, “whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” The instinct to preserve the status quo, your reputation, your job, whatever it might be, is misleading you.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that a private confession between you and God is enough. James 5:16 says, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together:

“Sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community. The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them. The more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of what is left unsaid sin poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and closed isolation of the heart. Sin must be brought into the light. What is unspoken is said openly and confessed. All that is secret and hidden comes to light. It is a hard struggle until the sin crosses one’s lips in confession. But God breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron (Ps. 107:16) Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of another Christian, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders, giving up all evil, giving the sinner’s heart to God and finding the forgiveness of all one’s sin in the community of Jesus Christ and other Christians. Sin that has been spoken and confessed has lost all of its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear apart the community. … Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one’s pride.”

It is that humiliation that makes confession to another believer particularly difficult, but though painful it may be, like the alcohol that stings yet sanitizes one’s wounds, confession is the prelude to healing. Jesus endured the shame of the cross and nailed our guilt upon it, so that we can die to our sin and live. It’s only in His presence, and in the presence of His people who dwell at the foot of the cross, that we can dare to be a sinner. By daring to be a sinner, we open the pathway for God’s grace and true community. Let not your courage fail when confession is needed!