The Lord’s Prayer
In these verses Jesus warns us about the dangers of religious formalism (repetitive prayer) when Jesus’ prayer is not really a prayer, or when it is more of a public performance (v.5) or of empty phrases strung together (v.7). Prayer that is genuinely offered to God is in the secret place of our lives and that becomes a discipline by which we discover what we need (v.8) – which often is not the same as what we want – and that is a gloriously liberating religious exercise.
It is worth noting that there are no singular pronouns in this prayer; they are all plural. There are six petitions in this prayer. The first three, laid out in verses 9-10, concern God directly.
God’s name: Jesus did not teach us to pray “My Father in heaven” but “Our Father in heaven”. By His ministry, His death, and His resurrection, Jesus brought about the means whereby man can come to God Almighty and say, meaningfully, “Our Father”. The second part of this first petition is “Hallowed be thy name.” The highest goal is that God’s name be hallowed. We need to understand that while God’s love for us as a father allows us to be intimate with Him, He is also sacred and holy, and therefore deserving of the reverence.
God’s kingdom: When God’s kingdom fully comes, it will do so because it is inaugurated by the return of Jesus.
God’s will: We need to realize that praying for God’s will to be done in our lives involves giving up control over our own agendas and ourselves. We must joyfully submit and surrender to God’s will, recognizing that His will for us is ultimately better than anything we could plan for ourselves.
Next we come to the three petitions that involve all of us and our fellow believers. Note again the use of plural pronouns “we” and “us.”
Give us our daily bread: Apart from being a basic necessity for survival, bread in the bible is an enduring symbol of our trust in God and an acknowledgement of God as Source. When we understand that God is the Source, we are assured that He will meet us in our moment of need.
Forgive us our trespasses (debts.) Jesus goes on to expand this point after He finished His model prayer in verses 14-15. Sin is interpreted in the prayer as a debt. The concept of forgiveness here has two aspects: asking for forgiveness for ourselves, and extending forgiveness to others.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. This is the final petition in the prayer. We should feel encouraged by the knowledge that we are not alone in our fight against temptation; we have the Holy Spirit to aid us. Being tempted is in itself not a sin; even Jesus was tempted. We need to depend upon God for moral triumph and spiritual victory. Thus, the Lord’s model prayer ends with a petition that invites us to trust the heavenly Father for deliverance from the Devil’s strength and wiles.
Next time you pray this prayer – take some time to meditate on the deeper meaning of each of the words. Remember also that it is how you should model your own prayers.
Rev. Patrick Armstrong