Following is an overview of what has been commonly called “the Lord’s Prayer.” Actually, however, it may be best to call Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 “the Lord’s Prayer,” because it is one of the best examples we have of an actual prayer of the Lord Himself.
I think this prayer might better be called “the Disciples’ Prayer,” because it is a model prayer given by Jesus for His disciples to pray. But, alas, it has been called “the Lord’s Prayer” for so long that there is little chance of changing it.
At any rate, we will proceed with our overview of the Lord’s Prayer under two main headings: 1) the context of the prayer, and 2) the content of the prayer. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are from the New King James Version.
I. The Context of the Prayer
Matthew 6:9a “In this manner, therefore, pray …”
First, the word therefore tells us that Jesus is offering a model prayer in response to the kind of praying He has already discussed in verses 5-8. If prayed sincerely, it avoids both of the errors He has already pointed out there:
1) It avoids the selfish praying of the hypocrites, who pray for their own glory (vs.2). The Lord’s Prayer is about God’s glory!
2) It avoids the vain repetitions of the heathen, who think they will be heard for their long-winded prayers (vs.7). The Lord’s Prayer is direct and succinct.
Second, when Jesus says to pray in this manner, He is giving us an example of what our praying should be like, but is not necessarily assuming that we will simply repeat this exact prayer. However, He isn’t saying we should never repeat it either. As a matter of fact, on another occasion He also taught essentially the same prayer and indicated that it was to be repeated as He gave it:
Luke 11:1-4 “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.’ 2 So He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 3 Give us day by day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Italics mine)
Third, the Greek text actually has both the 2nd person plural pronoun you and the 2nd person plural form of the verb translated pray. Jesus thus places an emphasis upon corporate prayer as well as the private prayer life He has so strongly emphasized already in verse 6. This is further emphasized in the opening of the prayer itself, in which we are told to address God as our Father (vs.9b).
Application: 1) Corporate prayer is just as important as private prayer, but should never be seen as a substitute for private prayer. In fact, given the order and emphasis of Jesus’ discussion in this passage, corporate prayer should flow naturally out of a private prayer life. 2) Also, on the one hand, we should not feel obligated to pray this exact prayer in order to be heard by God, although we should see it as a model for our praying. On the other hand, we should delight in praying this very prayer at times, especially within the context of corporate worship, so long as we remember to pray it sincerely from our hearts.
Kent Hughes offers this helpful reminder:
The obvious problem for all of us is that “familiarity breeds contempt,” in this case “surface familiarity.” Some of us learned the Lord’s Prayer at our mother’s knees. We cannot count the times we have repeated it. We said it again and again as children. We repeat it today as adults. But there is a danger in our familiarity with its beauty – it can become just beautiful words, so that we “say” the Lord’s Prayer without praying it. (The Sermon on the Mount, p.154)
Of course, gaining a better understanding of the prayer will help us to avoid this danger. So let’s turn our attention now to ….
II. The Content of the prayer
The prayer itself is divided into two parts, the 1st of which seeks God’s glory and the 2nd of which seeks our good. Then Jesus ends with an emphasis upon praying for our good for God’s glory.
1. It is a Prayer for God’s Glory
There are three petitions in this first half of the prayer, in which we are to seek 1) the glory of God’s name, 2) the glory of God’s kingdom, and 3) the glory of God’s will.
1) The Glory of God’s Name
Matthew 6:9b “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”
We should begin praying by reminding ourselves of our relationship to God as our Father. Although he is already a holy God, and we are to pray that His name will be regarded as such by all, He has nevertheless graciously condescended to us sinners and made us His children.
Jesus teaches us that prayer is about a personal relationship with God.
2) The Glory of God’s Kingdom
Matthew 6:10a “Your kingdom come.”
As members of the Kingdom of Heaven, we should always remember when we pray that our lives are to be about advancing God ‘s kingdom. We cannot glorify Him as we should without at the same time seeking the furtherance of His sovereign reign in our own lives and in the lives of others. We should also always look forward to and pray for the ultimate coming of His Kingdom in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
3) The Glory of God’s Will
Matthew 6:10b “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We should always pray with a heart that is so desirous of obeying God and seeing His will accomplished that we are not satisfied unless His will is done – in our own lives and in the world – just as it is in Heaven.
Application: With these first three petitions Jesus teaches us that our ultimate priority must always be about seeking God’s glory first in our lives. He shows us that if we are really God’s children, then we will show this by honoring Him as our Father.
John Stott drives the point home well in his commentary on this passage:
It is comparatively easy to repeat the word’s of the Lord’s Prayer like a parrot (or indeed a heathen ‘babbler’). To pray them with sincerity, however, has revolutionary implications, for it expresses the priorities of a Christian. We are constantly under pressure to conform to the self-centredness of secular culture. When that happens we become concerned about our own little name (liking to see it embossed on our notepaper or hitting the headlines in the press, and defending it when it is attacked), about our own little empire (bossing, ‘influencing’ and manipulating people to boost our ego), and about our own silly little will (always wanting our own way and getting upset when it is frustrated). But in the Christian counter-culture our top priority concern is not our name, kingdom and will, but God’s. Whether we can pray these petitions with integrity is a searching test of the reality and depth of our Christian profession. (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p.147-148)
2. It is a Prayer for Our Good
The second half of the prayer also consists of essentially three petitions, in which we are to seek both our physical and spiritual good.
1) Our Physical Good
Matthew 6:11 “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We are to daily recognize our dependence upon God as the one who ultimately meets all of our physical needs. And we are to express that dependence in prayer. In fact, if we cannot sincerely pray this way every day, haven’t we really lost site of God as the sovereign Giver of all that we have? How easily we forget that the paycheck we earn, the food we eat every day, the car we drive, the house we live in, the clothes we wear, the beds we sleep in, etc. are all gifts from God.
Note: The term daily indicates that the prayer was intended as a model for daily praying, and thus that all these petitions should be daily petitions.
Thomas Constable, in his online Notes on Matthew, aptly observes:
Daily bread refers to the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day. The expression “this day [or today] our daily bread” reflects first century life in which workers received their pay daily. It also reminds disciples that we only live one day at a time, and each day we are dependent on God to sustain us.
Now that Jesus has focused upon our physical good, He will turn in the last two petitions to our spiritual good ….
2) Our Spiritual Good: Forgiveness of Past Sin
Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Jesus assumes that we will need to ask for God’s forgiveness daily (recall vs. 11). And He also assumes that we need a daily reminder that a truly repentant heart is one that is forgiving of others as well.
John Stott is again helpful here:
Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves that we have minimized our own. (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p.149-150)
Jesus teaches that we cannot be sincere in asking forgiveness for ourselves, if we have an unforgiving heart toward another.
3) Our Spiritual Good: Deliverance from Future Temptation
Matthew 6:13a “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Jesus also assumes that we will face a daily battle with sin, and that we are utterly dependent upon God’s enabling grace to win that battle. Thus He teaches us that daily prayer for God’s help is absolutely essential. The Apostle Paul learned this lesson well, and he also taught it to others, as the letter to the Ephesians demonstrates:
Ephesians 6:11-18a “11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit ….”
So, in this second half of the prayer we are taught to always recognize that we are utterly dependent upon God for all that we really need, and that He alone is the supplier of these needs, whether they are physical or spiritual needs. Sometimes we too easily forget this and think we may rely on our own strength for our daily needs, or perhaps at least for our daily physical needs, but Jesus wants us to remember every day that we must rely upon God to meet all our needs.
Note: Some see in these last three petitions a Trinitarian emphasis: the Father provides our daily bread, the Son provides forgiveness through the atonement, and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to overcome future sin.
3. It is a Prayer for Our Good for God’s Glory
Matthew 6:13b “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
When Jesus uses the word for (Greek hóti), He is giving the reason for the preceding petitions.
For example, He is saying that we pray for our own physical and spiritual well-being not because these things are an end in themselves, but because in this way God’s kingdom, power, and glory are most fully manifested in and through us.
As John Piper frequently says it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
So, God’s glory and our good are not two separate ends. They are so inextricably linked in God’s plan that we cannot genuinely seek one without seeking the other. Thus, to seek our own ultimate good is to seek God’s glory first in our lives, and to seek God’s glory first is to seek our own good.
Conclusion: Application Questions: What about me? Do I typically begin my praying with reflection upon who God is as my heavenly Father? Do I make it my priority to put His kingdom and glory first in my prayers? Can I ever expect His kingdom and glory to be first in my everyday living if it isn’t first in my praying? On the other hand, do I regularly spend most of my time in prayer asking for what I need – or think that I need – rather than in seeking God’s glory?