The Lord’s Prayer (1)

After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father who art in heaven / Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:9-13).

The Lord’s prayer is extremely familiar to many people, profoundly simple in presentation, yet profoundly compelling in its substance.

Jesus, in the middle of what has been popularly deemed the Sermon on the Mount, condemned those forms of Israelite “religious” behavior, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, which is done to be seen by men; such people have received their reward, but it does not come from His Father (Matthew 6:1-17). In terms of prayer Jesus warned against both praying so as to be seen as holy by others and using vain repetitions presuming to be heard by uttering many words, the latter of which was a common practice among the Gentiles (Matthew 6:5-8). Jesus commended praying in secret, encouraging people to remember that God knows what they need before they ask Him (Matthew 6:6, 8). He then provided what has become known as the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 as a model prayer.

Jesus offered His prayer as a model prayer: He encouraged His disciples to pray “like” this, not necessarily this precisely (Matthew 6:9). There is no transgression in praying the Lord’s prayer as written or as liturgically set forth (as we will discuss below); but it is not required to pray the exact words of the Lord’s prayer. In many respects Jesus provided the types of things for which we are to pray as much as actual words to pray.

Jesus began His prayer by addressing the Father in heaven and the holiness of His name (Matthew 6:9). Jesus encouraged direct petition and appeal to God in the name, or by the authority, of Jesus Himself (John 16:23-24). He is our “Father in heaven,” not an earthly father, although the parallel account of the Lord’s prayer in Luke 11:2 makes no reference to heaven. To “hallow” is to make or declare something as holy; Christians do well to proclaim God’s name as holy, and to show appropriate reverence before Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:15-17). Prayer demands a balancing act: God would have us speak with Him as our Father, and thus in great intimacy in relationship, but also as the Holy One worthy of honor and reverence, thus not glibly or casually. To emphasize God’s holiness so that people are afraid to even address God in prayer warps what ought to be a strong relationship; to emphasize the intimacy in relationship so as to justify speaking or addressing God as if a good buddy disrespects the sanctity of the Name. In prayer we do well to thank God for all His blessings and provisions for us, and ground our expectations from Him in that light (cf. Colossians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Jesus asked for God’s Kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10). Matthew has Jesus speak of the “Kingdom of Heaven” throughout (cf. Matthew 4:17, 23); His words here indicate how “heaven” in such verses is a way of speaking about the God who dwells and reigns from heaven (cf. Mark 1:15, Luke 4:43). A kingdom is that over which a king reigns; the Kingdom of God, therefore, would involve the coming of the reign of God. What would it mean for God’s reign to come? As Jesus continued: that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Jesus would thus have Christians pray for God’s will and reign to be manifest on earth as fully as it is in heaven; as long as evil and sin reign on earth, this prayer proves necessary. Yes, the Kingdom was established in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension (Colossians 1:13, Revelation 5:9-10); and yet it does not take long to recognize that God’s will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven. Christians should pray for more people to hear the Gospel and obey it (Romans 1:16); we should pray for God to strengthen His people to better discern His purposes in Christ and to realize them (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Jesus asked for God to give us our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). “Daily” translates Greek epiousion; the term connotes the needful thing, being for today. In this way Jesus expects believers to give voice to ask God for the basic needs of life: food, drink, shelter, etc. Far too often people take these things for granted, or might presume that God is too busy or great to be bothered by such trifles. God is the Creator of all; everything we are and have ultimately came from God, and thus we are totally dependent on God for everything (James 1:17). We should ask God to provide for us the things needful for the day, being careful to delineate what proves needful from what proves superfluous.

Jesus exhorted people to pray for forgiveness as they have forgiven others (Matthew 6:12). Jesus spoke literally of debts (Greek opheilema), yet referred to trespass or transgression (cf. Matthew 6:13-15). Asking God for the forgiveness of sin is a crucial element of prayer: we continually fall short of God’s glory, we continually transgress or not do the right even as we grow in holiness and sanctification, and we remain dependent on God’s forgiveness (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8). God is faithful to forgive us if we truly and fully confess what we have done wrong and when we have not done what is good and right (1 John 1:9). Yet Jesus has also inserted a bit of a “poison pill” in how He framed forgiveness: to ask God for forgiveness of sin as we have forgiven others may prove problematic for us if we have not proven willing to forgive others of their sins against us. We might end up not really praying for forgiveness at all!

Jesus concluded His prayer with an appeal to not be led into temptation but to be delivered from the Evil One (Matthew 6:13). We should not imagine that Jesus suggested God Himself leads people into temptation: God tempts no one in such ways (James 1:13). The appeal instead is for God to not allow us to be led into temptation, to either intervene Himself for us against the forces of evil or to strengthen us to endure them. The traditional liturgical form of the Lord’s prayer asks to be delivered from evil; the presence of the definite article indicates that it is the Evil One, Satan or the Devil, under discussion, not evil in the abstract. In this way Jesus encourages Christians to pray to resist the temptations of sin and for strength to overcome the forces of evil (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13, Ephesians 6:10-18).

The liturgical form of the Lord’s prayer concludes with “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,” present in many manuscripts of Matthew, but not in the most ancient authorities. It is right and appropriate to give God such glory, as it is present in many doxologies throughout the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 3:20-21, 1 Timothy 6:16); but here it is a later addition, inserting into the text a doxology which would have been used when the Lord’s prayer was recited as part of the daily office.

Jesus’ words in the Lord’s prayer are few, but they say quite a lot. They provide a paradigm by which we may understand the types of things for which we ought to pray. May we continually pray to the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus in ways consistent with the Lord’s prayer, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Pray For Us

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as also it is with you (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

We have here one of Paul’s constant requests from the people with whom he has worked– their prayers (Romans 15:30, Colossians 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, Philemon 1:22). If we stop and think about it for a moment, we can see how extraordinary this might seem. Paul, after all, is an Apostle; he has seen the Lord; he has far greater apostolic authority than anyone to whom he writes. For most of those to whom he is written, he is the one who has introduced them to the Lord Jesus! It makes sense that he would pray to God for them (cf. Romans 1:8, Colossians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:4). Yet it seems fantastic that he would need their prayers as well!

But when we understand the path of Christ, we should not be amazed or astounded at this. In fact, it should be expected! The way of Christ is not self-glorification or the path of power trips; instead, the way of Christ involves humility and dependence upon God the Source of all good things (1 Corinthians 3:5-9, 1 Timothy 1:12-16, James 1:17). Paul understood that, on his own, he could do nothing– it was God who showed him grace and mercy, calling him to the apostleship and it was the message of God that led to conversion (Romans 1:1, 1:16, 5:6-11). The success of Paul’s ventures were dependent less on Paul and more on God in Christ– therefore, it was right and well for fellow believers to pray for Paul’s success, not for Paul’s sake, but for the sake of advancing God’s purposes in the world.

And that is precisely what Paul sought– petitions for the advancement of God’s Word. Paul understood that it was not about him but about Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). No matter how much effort Paul expended toward the Cause, it would not succeed without God’s blessing and assistance.

Two millennia later we still seek to advance the word of the Lord and seek to have it glorified among the nations. We would do well to remember Paul’s lesson.

Sometimes it is easy to forget about the power of prayer. We can get so busy seeking to do God’s work that we forget to frequently petition God about that work. We can forget to ask others to pray also for the work so that it may prosper. We might be expending all kinds of energy on the cause of Christ but we might not be seeing the results we would expect.

In such circumstances it is easy to get frustrated. We might wonder if we are not saying the right things or question the relevance or benefit of the materials we have produced. We might find it easier to blame those to whom we speak, believing that they just do not want to hear God’s message and no longer care about spiritual things.

Yet perhaps the problem is not with our approach or with the people with whom we speak. Perhaps part of our problem is much more fundamental– however unconsciously or unintentionally, we might have begun to rely on our own efforts and ourselves more than we rely on God. Perhaps, by a simple reorientation, everything can be turned around. Maybe– just maybe– if we bathe our approach, our activities, and our words in prayer to God, beseeching Him to empower His message for His glory, He will be more amenable to do so!

This is not to say that we should never question our approach, nor should we expect that everyone to whom we speak about the Lord will be willing to hear (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:2). Nevertheless, if there were anyone who had the “right” to think that they could just get by with their well-intentioned efforts without prayer, it would have been the Apostles inspired by the Spirit. And yet they are constantly in prayer before God the Father (cf. Acts 6:4, etc.). In the end, it is not about us, and it cannot be done by our own power. We are to be servants of God, and it is God who will make our labor stand or fall. If we are truly working to advance His purposes for His glory, why would we not pray to Him to guide us and to prosper our way? Why would we not ask everyone else to pray for the same in their own lives and for us?

It is too easy to forget about the “prayer” aspect to serving God and advancing His Word. But it is a critical failure if we do forget about it. Let us constantly pray to God, seeking His grace and favor, and pray for one another and the advancement of His purposes in our age!

Ethan R. Longhenry