“Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
This week we have been talking about prayer. As Jesus was teaching His disciples and the crowds about prayer, He started with what not to do. That’s what we covered over the last couple of days. We know that prayer is not a means of self-advancement. We also know that prayer should be simple and focused, not wordy or rooted in a false idea about God. As helpful as it is to know what not to do, though, knowing what to do is even better. So then, how do we pray? Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging there. He moves smoothly on to tell us how to do it. Let’s take a look at the Lord’s Prayer together today.
There are two major schools of thought when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer. The first is that Jesus was giving us a prayer to pray. Folks who accept this notion will actively pray it word for word. They will look at Jesus’ opening statement, “Therefore, you should pray like this,” and argue we should understand Him literally. When we pray, we should pray those words. Of course that’s not the only thing we pray, but that prayer should be a regular part of our praying.
I understand this line of thinking. After all, it is what Jesus said, In many faith traditions there are whole liturgies built around praying the Lord’s Prayer. It is included as a part of every single worship service. For many people, there is a great emotional attachment to these words. They are familiar and comforting.
My only problem with this approach is that I don’t think it’s what Jesus meant. This is the second major approach to these words. Jesus was not offering us a specific prayer to pray. He was giving us a model for our praying. These aren’t necessarily words we shouldn’t pray verbatim, but they were intended to give us a guide, not a word-for-word copy. They cover themes we should touch on when we pray. Using this as a model will keep our prayer life well-rounded.
So then, what are the parts? We begin with praise and adoration. If you are going to develop a relationship with someone, it is going to start when you are honest about who they are. It’s hard to imagine being in a close and growing relationship with someone you don’t know very well, or about whom you think the wrong things. In this case, we can acknowledge God is above us. He is God and we are not. He is sovereign and we are subordinate. And He is holy. He is holy and should be honored as such. We, on the other hand, are not holy. Our praying should take this fact into account. Too many people don’t experience any results from their praying because they are praying to a God who doesn’t exist. Praying to a God who doesn’t exist won’t get you any positive results because that God doesn’t exist.
The next thing Jesus points us toward in our praying is a recognition that we are seeking God’s will in our efforts, not ours. This is harder to get straight than we might imagine. Think about time you have spent praying. How often do you fall into a pattern of telling God all the things you want Him to do. What are you doing then? You might say, “God, your will be done,” but what you really mean is, “as long as it corresponds to mine.” But if God is who we say He is, we have to acknowledge that ultimately not only do we want His will to be done, but His will is going to be done. God does not bend or shape His plans in light of what our preferences may be. Certainly He is glad for our asking, but if the only thing we pray for is our will, we’re probably going to get told no a lot.
The truth is that God’s kingdom is better than wherever it is we’re living right now. His will is better than ours. We want things that are selfish and for our own benefit without much regard for the people around us. God, in His infinite wisdom and knowledge, genuinely wants what is best for everyone in every situation. As we commit ourselves to humbly, honestly seeking His will, we will gradually find our own desires coming to fall more and more in line with His. As we pursue a relationship with Jesus along these lines, we will be shaped by that in ways that make us more reflective of Him.
That all being said, even though we start with God, we do have needs and wants and desires. It’s okay to be honest about that. In our praying, though, we need to make sure we are prioritizing needs. This is the next place Jesus takes us. We should actively seek God’s provision for our needs. This does several important things. For starters, it reminds us that we have needs. More than that, we have needs we are not capable of meeting totally on our own. We need His help. This puts us in a posture of dependence on Him. As we pray for our needs and note the times and places and ways He meets those needs, this will grow our faith in Him. Our trust in Him deepens as we learn His character of gracious provision for His children. Turning to Him with our needs also reminds us of His power. Once again, He is God and we are not. If we were capable of handling the whole thing on our own, we wouldn’t need to turn to Him. But we can’t; so we do.
Our needs are not merely physical, though. We also have spiritual needs. Jesus could have addressed our approach God with all kinds of different spiritual needs. It is interesting that He choose this one. We need forgiveness. We are separated from Him by our sin and we need His forgiveness so we can once again enter into His presence. So, we seek His forgiveness for our sins. But there’s a catch here. We don’t seek His forgiveness in a vacuum. Our receiving of God’s forgiveness is conditional. It is conditioned on our living in a state of active and ongoing forgiveness of others. We are seeking His forgiveness in the same way we have forgiven those who have hurt us. In other words, this model prayer reminds us of a deep spiritual reality: we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive others. We’ve talked before about why that is. If we are refusing to forgive, we are living in a state of delusion in which we believe God to be other than He is. Just like it’s hard to receive anything from a God who doesn’t exist, it is equally difficult to be forgiven by a God who doesn’t exist.
There’s one more part. The last part of Jesus’ prayer here reminds us that we are engaged in a great spiritual war. Temptation is all around us. We need God’s help to overcome it. That’s something worth praying for. We should actively seek God’s intervention and protection as we engage with the spiritual forces of our true enemy. Our power in such conflicts is insubstantial at best. His power, on the other hand, is limitless. He is more than up to the task of standing against the Devil. We should lean into that rather than away from it.
Now, do we need to have all of these different elements in our praying every time we do it? No, we don’t. Prayer can be formal, yes, but it is more often going to be situational. There are times when our prayers are going to be more focused in the direction of our needs, whether physical or spiritual. There are times when they will be more concerned with celebrating God. Sometimes they will be quiet and intense, other times they will be loud and boisterous. This is all normal and okay. God knows what’s going on in our lives and doesn’t want us to pretend with Him. Remember: He wants a relationship with us before all else save the exaltation of His own glory.
What this model prayer can do, though, is help keep our prayer lives balanced. If we find ourselves leaning into our own needs more often than not, we can take the cue the Lord’s Prayer offers and spend some time focusing more on praising and adoring God for who He is. Or, we can intentionally seek out His will. It may be that confession needs to sit front and center in our pursuit of God for a little while. Whatever areas we are lacking, Jesus’ model helps us see what they are and some basic ways to move forward in addressing them. That is why it is a model, not a directive.
In the end, though, whatever form your praying may take, the best thing to do is to do it. It may be rough and ugly at first. That’s okay. You’re not trying to be fancy before God, you are pursuing a deeper relationship with Jesus. As you learn and grow in this important spiritual discipline, you will gradually come to that very thing. All of the rest of this is simply guidelines and guardrails to help move you in that direction. And when you reflect Him well, you will know the life that is truly life. That’ll make it all worth it.