“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 Barber, Martin 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.