The Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-15)
In his discussion on prayer so far, Jesus has critiqued two methods. In contrast to the Pharisees, Christian prayer should be sincere rather than hypocritical. In contrast to the pagans with their multitude of gods, Christian prayer should be purposeful and direct, knowing full well that we are addressing our Father. To drive home his point, Jesus now gives his listeners a model prayer.
Christians should seek the glory of their heavenly Father and come to him for all their needs.
This section of Matthew’s gospel is one of the most well-known and loved sections in the entire Bible. In telling us to pray “like this” though, Jesus isn’t just giving us a list of words to repeat when we pray. After all, he has just criticized mindless, repetitious prayers in verses 5-8. Instead, he is giving us a sample of the kind of attitude that should characterize our prayers.
Before looking at this prayer, it’s important to make two observations. First, the order of these requests is significant. It’s tempting when praying to jump right into our needs. While there is a place for bringing our needs to God, the first three requests deal with God himself before turning to ourselves in the final three. His glory and kingdom should take priority in our hearts over even our own needs. Secondly, the language Jesus uses indicates that this is a prayer meant to be prayed with others. While there is a place for private prayer (Matthew 6:6), he assumes that we will also lift up these requests with other believers. Let’s now take a look at his prayer:
“Our Father in heaven” – Before making any requests of God, it is important to stop and appreciate who it is that we’re approaching. In addressing God “in heaven”, we’re reminded that we’re approaching the transcendent creator of all that is. In addressing him as “Father”, we’re reminded that we are intimately known by this God. Prayer must begin with this frame of mind: that the God who spoke galaxies into being is our Father, and it is to him that we come.
“Hallowed be your name” – The first request Jesus makes in his model prayer is that God’s name- that is, his character, glory, and reputation – would have first place in our lives and in the world. The Westminster Shorter Catechism captures the essence of this request when it says: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” It is a request to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
“Your kingdom come” – We are to ask God to extend the borders of his kingdom into the lives of those who are currently rebels against his rule, desiring to see them love Jesus. In praying this, we are committing ourselves to spreading the gospel. But not only do we long for his kingdom to spread in the here and now, we long for the end of history when God’s kingdom comes in all its fullness.
“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – God’s will…not my own! In praying this, we’re committing to doing two things. First, we’re committing ourselves to knowing what his will is by familiarizing ourselves with Scripture. Secondly, we’re committing ourselves to doing his will (see James 1:22).
“Give us this day our daily bread” – Only now does this model prayer turn to address the needs of those praying it. Just as God provided food day by day for the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16), we are to depend on our Father to meet our daily needs.
“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – Especially in light of the many examples of righteousness Jesus gives in Matthew 5:21-48, it is clear that we “never get to the point where [we] do not need daily, hourly forgiveness.” Because he’s our gracious Father, 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). As those who have been forgiven much, we can’t help but extend that forgiveness to others as well.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” – Finally, we are to pray for God’s help in overcoming sin and growing in holiness. This request is a reminder that “just as we ought consciously to depend on God for physical sustenance, so also ought we to sense our dependence on him for moral triumph and spiritual victory.”
- What is significant about the order of this prayer? To what extent do your priorities in prayer reflect Jesus’ priorities?
- Why do you think Jesus begins this prayer with “Our Father in heaven"? How important is our view of God for the Christian life? How can false understandings of God affect our prayer life?
- Spend some time in prayer, walking through these six requests and putting them in your own words.
Matthew 6:9b-13 – “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.”