If you have questions about prayer, you’re in good company.
If you’ve ever worked up the nerve to ask the question, “How do I pray?” then you’ve probably gotten an answer like, “Praying is easy! It’s just talking to God.” Or, “Everyone knows how to pray!” But everyone doesn’t know how to pray.
Even Jesus’ closest friends asked Him how to pray. They spent a lot of time with Him, saw Him perform miracles, talked with Him about life, and heard Him teach, but they still had questions about prayer.
Jesus’ answer to the question, “How do I pray?” is known as the Lord’s Prayer:
The King James Version reads like this…
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Maybe you memorized this prayer when you were young, or you’ve heard a grandparent recite it at the dinner table on holidays.
Let’s take a closer look at this model prayer by breaking it down line by line.
The Lord’s Prayer starts by addressing God as “Our Father.” This is super important because when you call someone by name, the name you use creates a relational context. It makes a statement about the nature of the relationship you have with another person.
My name is Rene Clark, but not everyone calls me by that name. My kids call me, “Mom,” my nieces and nephews call me, “Nay Nay,” my students call me, “Mrs. Clark,” and my husband calls me, “Babe.” (Love ballads by Styx deeply influenced our relationship in the ‘80s.)
There are only two people in the whole world who address my husband as, “Daddy.” And when our daughter makes a phone call to her daddy, from the time he hears her voice, everything else she says, any request that is made, any confession, everything she says is in the context of that one word, “Daddy.”
Jesus invites us to call His Father, “Our Father.” He started His prayer by saying, “Our Father.” Not MY Father, but OUR Father. This is a very unique opening line. No one had addressed God in prayer as Father until Jesus did. And here He is inviting His disciples, including you, to do the very same thing.
Jesus is God’s Son, so He has every right to address God as Father. He is not saying that you are equal with Him, but He is saying that you have equal access to God as your Father.
1 John 3:1(NIV)
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name…
Many of you think of a father as being personal and loving. He’s the man in your life who’s always been there. You never knew life without him. But maybe you didn’t get to have a personal and loving relationship with your father. Some of you are working on restoring that relationship, and some of you are simply left wanting.
Our Father in heaven is set apart from any other father or father figure in your life.
He is a good, good Father. He is perfect. He is holy. He is the Father you always wished you could have, no matter what your relationship with your earthly father is like. And because He is holy, we want to honor His name.
Hallowed is a strange word that simply means to give recognition to who God is. He is unlike any other father you have ever known.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven…
Jesus is teaching His disciples how to pray with God’s Kingdom in mind. God has a plan and a will for this world He created. Prayer isn’t about you getting God on board with your kingdom. Prayer is about you getting on board with God’s Kingdom!
If you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior and Lord, He has established His Kingdom in your heart! He sits on the throne of your heart!
In order to pray the prayer, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done…” you need to be willing to put aside your plan, your agenda, and your will for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
You surrender your will to God’s will.
Remember the first line of the Lord’s Prayer is all about recognizing who you are in relationship with – Our Heavenly Father. He is holy and perfect. He does more than just talk about how much He loves you; He puts His love into action:
John 3:16 (NIV)
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The first two lines of the Lord’s Prayer focus on God, but the rest focuses on you.
Give us this day our daily bread…
In the Old Testament, God used Moses to lead the Israelite people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. They were traveling in the desert for many years, so God provided food for them every day.
Their daily bread was called Manna (Exodus 16) which was a bread-like substance that appeared in the morning dew. Every day when the people woke up, there was enough manna for the whole day.
So when the disciples heard this line of the prayer, they would have known that “daily bread” meant to rely on God to provide every day.
Maybe you’re not desperately praying for your next meal, but you do want to ask God to provide a good friend who will be with you through the ups and downs of life. Or for strength to get through cancer treatments. Or maybe you are desperately praying for help to get through the day with your toddler or your teenager.
Jesus is teaching us that you can come to God with confidence, trusting Him to provide your daily bread. You can be thankful for what He provided yesterday and trust Him to do the same again today.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…
Confessing your sins to God is an essential part of prayer.
– Your job is to confess sin.
– God’s job is to forgive you.
But look closely at the second part of this line:
“…as we forgive…”
I’m not sure if I want God to use that same standard with me. Let’s be real. I can hold a grudge. It takes me a while to forgive, especially if I feel like I was right, and the other person was wrong, and she didn’t even apologize!
The good thing is, God is not like us. To understand what He is like, look at the verses following the Lord’s prayer:
Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Does this raise a question in your mind?
Does this make you doubt the grace of God?
It is a bit startling. But instead of just dismissing it, assuming it must not really mean what you think it means, look at another scripture.
You can find related scripture by using the cross references in your Bible. Cross References are found by matching up the tiny little letter located in the verse you are reading with the corresponding verse and letter in the center column of your Bible or sometimes at the bottom of the page. One of the cross references for Matthew 6:14-15 is:
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV)
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
By comparing these two related scriptures, you can see that God’s forgiveness of sin is not the direct result of you forgiving others. It is based on you realizing what forgiveness means.
When you do the work of forgiving others, you realize the cost of forgiveness. It’s easy to ask God for forgiveness but difficult to grant it to others.
Whenever you ask God to forgive your sin, you should also ask yourself, “Have I forgiven the people who have wronged me?”
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
This last line of the prayer might raise another question in your mind.
God does not tempt you or lead you into temptation. Take a look at this related scripture you can find in your cross references:
James 1:13-15 (NIV)
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
So if God doesn’t lead you into temptation, then what does this line of the prayer mean? Sometimes it helps to read a scripture in more than one version:
New Living Translation (NLT)
“And don’t let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
The Message Bible (MSG)
“Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”
You ask God, your good, good Father, to shine a light in the darkness so that you will recognize temptation when you see it, so that you can AVOID it!
1 Corinthians 10:13b (NIV)
“…but when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Your prayer is for God to point you toward the exit sign whenever temptation traps you.
The Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer, not a magic formula.
It’s not wrong to memorize it or recite it, but remember that God is after your heart. If your heart’s not in it, then why are you saying it?
Your relationship with God will develop over time. The Lord’s Prayer gives you a place to start and invites you to address God as your Father and to see yourself as His child.
Jesus’ model prayer can be summed up in three magic words from your childhood:
Three Magic Words
Thank you – for meeting my daily needs
I’m sorry – for my sins and for not forgiving others
Please – guide me away from sin and temptation