Q: What is the Lord’s Prayer?
For centuries, a passage of scripture known as “The Lord’s Prayer” has been revered, read, recited, and even put to music. This simple prayer found in Matthew 6 is one of the most quoted passages from the Bible. Yet some of us might not be familiar with its context and purpose. What is the Lord’s Prayer, and why is it important?
A prayer Jesus said while He was on Earth.
When Christ was giving His Sermon on the Mount, He stopped to teach the disciples how to pray. At the time, it was common in Judaism for people to say memorized prayers, especially at gatherings. The Amidah Prayer, made up of 19 different supplications, was supposed to be said word-for-word daily. Still, it was okay to shorten the prayer to fit urgent needs or time constraints.
With such a background, it made sense for Christ to teach prayer using a simple formula, one that could be followed down to the word or adapted for personal needs.
A Pattern – Today, many Christians interpret the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern to follow, rather than something that needs to be memorized and recited verbatim. As we study this passage, we can learn how the Lord wants us to pray, and how to get the most out of our prayers.
The Lord began with, “Our Father in Heaven, may your name be kept holy” (Matthew 6:9). This opener teaches us that it’s important who we address, and that we do so respectfully. When we pray, we should pray to God the Father, or Heavenly Father, rather than to any other deity. We should also use the utmost respect, as we are speaking to a divine being. This looks different depending on the person. For you, being respectful in prayer might mean kneeling and closing your eyes. For others, it might mean using a “higher” form of language, like you would when addressing a dignitary or important leader.
Next, the Lord said, “Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus said something similar in the Garden of Gethsemane when, in the depths of anguish and suffering, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless, not what I desire, but what you desire” (Matthew 26:39). God’s will or God’s plan is what we should all want. It’s not necessarily the easiest or most fun route to take, but it’s the one that matters. When we pray for God’s will instead of our own, we show Him that we’re willing to sacrifice our own desires in order to help build His kingdom here on earth.
After praying for God’s will, Jesus prayed for His own needs: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Not only was Jesus demonstrating that it’s okay to ask for the things we need, but He was also showing us how to humbly acknowledge our reliance on God. Everything we have comes from God. Asking Him for blessings reminds us of that.
The Lord then said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). The importance of this sentence is two-fold. It teaches us that we should ask God for forgiveness through prayer, and it also reminds us that we have an obligation to forgive one another as well.
Jesus asked for one final blessing when He prayed, “Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). This was an acknowledgement of mankind’s sinfulness and need for a Savior.
Finally, Christ finished His prayer with, “For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13). He tied it up nicely with another expression of respect. He signified that He was still very aware of who He was talking to. His prayer was not about Himself or to show off to the people listening. He was speaking directly to God.
The pattern that Christ gave through His prayer is simple: Address God, promise to follow His will, ask for what you need, ask for forgiveness and promise to forgive others, ask for help to overcome temptations, and express gratitude and respect.
Vain Repetitions – Before offering His famous prayer, Christ said something about the kinds of prayers that were being offered at the time. He warned His disciples, “When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. In praying, don’t use vain repetitions as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. Therefore don’t be like them, for your Father knows what things you need before you ask him.”
We often interpret Christ’s warning against “vain repetitions” as a rule against praying about the same things every day or saying memorized prayers. But the word “vain” has two meanings. One is self-aggrandizement, or in other words, praying to show off. The other definition of “vain” is “useless.” Note that Christ is referring to prayers to heathen gods. Such prayers are useless because they fall on the deaf ears of idols or Greco-Roman gods, gods who can’t answer.
The emphasis seems to be on who the prayer is said to. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus respectfully addressed God multiple times. Likewise, we need to remember who we’re praying to. As we focus on really speaking with our Heavenly Father, our prayers will naturally become less repetitious and vain.
The Gift of Prayer – One final note on the Lord’s Prayer: When Jesus gave this prayer, He demonstrated just how simple it could be to communicate with God. No special rites, circumstances, or devices required. All we need to speak with Almighty God is ourselves. What a powerful lesson that is. Prayer is a gift that allows us to ask for blessings and receive truth from their very source. We can use this gift anytime, anywhere.