The “Lord’s Prayer” appears twice in the Scriptures, with only slight variations. The Prayer occurs in Matthew as part of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke records the Lord’s Prayer in answer to a question from one of his disciples, when the disciple said, “Lord teach us to pray.”
The Prayer is really a prayer for the disciples to pray, but it was our Lord who taught it, and therefore we frequently speak of it as “the Lord’s Prayer.” The disciples did not ask Jesus, “Teach us to preach,” or “Teach us to sing.” They said, “Lord teach us to pray.” Men can teach other men to become great orators and good singers, but only Jesus can teach men and women to become great masters of prayer. More is accomplished by prayer than has ever been accomplished by preaching, for without prayer even our preaching becomes cold and empty and without power. The songwriter asks some sobering questions: “Ere you left your room this morning, did you think to pray? In the name of Christ the Savior, did you sue for loving favor as your shield today?”
Few passages of Scripture are so well-known as the one recording the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. We frequently use the Prayer, but lest we become content with merely repeating it and paying little attention to its real meaning, we want to try and examine its real spirit and the deep meaning of its words. The praying of this Prayer makes demands on us that we may not think about, and we trust that the Spirit might use this short meditation to make the Prayer more real and precious to each of us.
I like to think of the Prayer as a family prayer. Those who meet the conditions of salvation and have been born again immediately become the members of God’s family, and it is to members of God’s family that this prayer is given. Notice four facts:
1. The Head of the Family Is Addressed
We pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven.” Notice who He is. He is our Father. There was a time when we were children of wrath even as others, and we could not address God as “Our Father.” But God who is rich in mercy, and for the great love He had toward us, has made us spiritually alive so that we might enjoy fellowship with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. John says, “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). And now, as we approach Him in prayer, we come as a devoted son to a loving Father.
An earthly father usually wants the best for his children, and yet he may not always know what is best, and even if he does know, he may not always have the ability to grant it. But our Heavenly Father has all these qualities. His love wants the best for us. Whatever is good for us, He wants us to have. “No good thing will be withheld from them who walk uprightly.” And not only that, His wisdom knows what is best for us. And what is even more valuable, He has the ability to grant it! Isn’t it a blessing to be a member of the family of God, and to have a Father like that? He is one who pities our weakness and pardons our sins and supplies our needs. We should always be grateful for this Father-son relationship—a blessed relationship between the one who is saved and the God who saved him.
Remember that not all men can call God “our Father.” Jesus told certain religious Jews of His day, “Ye are of your father the devil.” John says it is only those who have received Jesus Christ that have been given the right to become “the sons of God.” An unsaved man praying, “Our father,” would really be addressing the devil. That’s why we call this prayer the “family prayer,” because it is only those who have become the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ, that have the right to address God as “Our Father.”
The words, “Our Father which art in heaven” are intended to impress our minds with a sense of God’s majesty and greatness and almighty power. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re addressing the One who inhabits eternity. And while our God is everywhere, His headquarters are in Heaven, and from there He sees all that comes to pass on the earth. And He invites us to come boldly to Him that we might obtain mercy, and grace to help in time of need. See Hebrews 4:16. When we begin the Lord’s prayer then, the Head of the family is addressed.
2. The Interests of the Family Are Sought
For all members of God’s family, the primary interest and concerns are not their own things, but the things that belong to God. So often we think of ourselves and our own needs first. We pray about our needs, and our family, and our church, and our country, (and if we have a few minutes at the end, we pray for the missionaries)—but Jesus says that this is all wrong. Before we think of ourselves and our needs, we must start with our great concern about God, our concern for His honor and for His glory.
The Lord’s Prayer is a form—”When ye pray, say . . .” (Luke 11:2).
It is also a model—”After this manner pray ye . . .” (Matthew 6:9).
In this model prayer, Jesus points out that the first activity of praying is not getting something for ourselves, but getting something for God.
(1) There should be a concern for His name.
The word “hallowed” (in the phrase “hallowed be thy name”) means “to render or to pronounce holy.” This is the desire that the very name of God and all that it represents may be honored among men. God revealed Himself to the Children of Israel under various names. He was known to His people in Old Testament days as “Jehovah” which means “the self-existent one.” Many variations of that name are given in the Scriptures. Sometimes it is “Jehovah-jireh” (the Lord will provide). Sometimes it is “Jehovah-shalom” (the Lord our peace). And there are many other names that describe the various attributes of God. When we pray “Hallowed be thy name,” we express a deep desire that the name of God (and all His attributes and all that He represents) may be pronounced holy. And remember that words such as “goodness” and “mercy” and “grace” are attributes of the most high God, and one who sincerely prays the Lord’s Prayer will be extremely careful never to use these words carelessly in his daily conversation. One who uses expressions such as “goodness me” and “mercy days,” makes the angels in heaven weep. It’s pure mockery to pray “Hallowed be thy name,” and then to use His name and words describing His attributes lightly in daily conversation.
(2) There should be a concern for His kingdom.
We pray “Thy kingdom come,” and the Bible predicts the setting up of a great kingdom on earth, with Jesus Christ as King. We need only to look upon the world about us to see that this promise has not been fulfilled. This kingdom is not going to come into being by a vote of the people nor by a revolution instigated by men, but by the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus will be King in all the earth, and the knowledge and glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Iniquity will no longer abound. Nations will beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks. The lion will lie down with the lamb. And blight and poverty will be forever gone. This isn’t a dream. This is the teaching of the Bible. The day is coming when Jesus will reign over the whole earth.
The whole message of the Bible points forward to the time when Jesus shall be King. Daniel (when interpreting the dream of Nebuchadnezzar) saw “a stone cut out without hands,” which crashed into the great image of Nebuchadnezzar and brought it down to dust. “This,” said Daniel, “is the kingdom which the God of heaven shall set up, which shall break in pieces and consume all the kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). And so when we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we’re expressing the longing in our heart for the time when Jesus will come back, and the devil will be bound, and the earth will be renewed, and the Antichrist will be defeated, and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.
(3) There should be a concern for His will.
The next phrase calls for God’s will to be done “in earth.” This may very well mean “in these earthly bodies of ours.” And what we are really praying is that “Thy will be done in me as it is in Heaven.” In our bodies the laws of Heaven should be observed. The Bible says (Psalm 103:20) that the supreme desire of all Heaven is to do the will of God, and thereby to praise and to worship Him. And so we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that such a condition will prevail in earth—perhaps over the wide earth, but also in these earthly bodies of ours.
Remember that to desire the will of God to be done in your life, is not always an easy thing. Ask the young father who sits at the bedside of his dying wife, or the aged sister who for thirty years has been confined to her bed as an invalid. Even Jesus didn’t always find it easy to pray that the Father’s will be done. Jesus always came back however, “Nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” The point is this: When you pray “Thy will be done in earth,” you are not necessarily asking for pleasure or fame. It may be God’s will to put you in the place of suffering or to cause you to pass through the valley of sorrow, in order to make you what He wants you to be. Thy will be done in me, O Lord, as it is in Heaven.
3. The Needs of the Family Are Mentioned
We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread; forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Here in just a few words, our Lord has covered the needs of our whole life.
(1) Our physical needs.
The word “bread” no doubt stands for everything that we really need for our earthly existence. There are two words in the Greek language for “bread.” The one means “cornbread,” and the other (used here by Jesus) is a wider word meaning “food.” Jesus selected a word which was worldwide in its scope. It includes the rice of the Hindu, the macaroni of the Italian, the oatmeal of the Scot—in short, it is a word standing for basic food in general. The God to whom the nations are but as “the small dust” and the God who inhabits eternity, is prepared to consider our needs, even down to the small details in this matter of our daily food. We’re not told to pray for luxuries, but we are promised that we shall have enough. David (looking back in his old age) could say “I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).
When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re declaring our absolute dependence upon God for everything, even for our daily bread. And even if one has plenty of money, still he must depend on God—for what is wealth if God withholds the gift of bread. You probably recall the legend of King Midas. Above everything else, he wished to have the power to turn to gold, everything that he touched. And when his wish was granted, he went about touching this and that with the feeling that his wealth was piling up by the millions. But when he became hungry (and went to take bread into his mouth), the bread turned to gold. And when he became thirsty, the water turned to gold at the touch of his thirsty lips. He found that all his wealth was worthless if God didn’t give him bread. The case of King Midas is merely a legend, but it’s a sober fact that we are equally dependent upon God for our daily bread. He could withhold the sun and stop the rain and make the land barren, and the farmer with all his modern equipment and chemical sprays would be unable to raise a crop. We are absolutely in the hands of God, and it is supreme folly to suppose that we can live a single day without Him.
(2) Our mental needs.
The words “debt” and “debtor” are practically synonymous with “sin” and “sinner.” In fact Luke records this phrase, “And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Just as we are taught to pray for daily bread, so we should pray for daily forgiveness. But our forgiveness is conditioned upon our forgiving others. I need to extend to my brother and sister the same kind of full and complete forgiveness that God has extended to me.
There are many lives spiritually barren because there is a refusal to completely make up with someone with whom they’ve quarreled. Nothing is so exhausting to mental health as the habit of holding grudges and the failure to forgive. It racks the nervous system; it hurts the digestive processes; it sours one’s disposition; it harms the faculties of the mind. That’s one of the reasons Paul told the Christians at Ephesus, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Paul was saying that we should always practice forgiveness “before sundown.” He says, “Unloose your collar and cool off; you’ll sleep better if you are at peace with everybody.” All kinds of pills are taken to induce sleep, but Paul says, “How is a man going to sleep when his mind is pursuing an enemy?” Therefore practice forgiveness before sundown!
Someone says, “But there’s one person who has so terribly injured me, that rather than make up with him, I’d die first.” The choice is up to you—but there is only one of two choices. Either you completely forgive, or you burn in Hell forever. One can never be at peace with God until he has done his part to be at peace with men.
(3) Our spiritual needs.
We don’t mean by the expression, “And lead us not into temptation,” that God is the author of evil or that He tempts men to sin. The phrase is used here in the sense of “permitting.” Do not “suffer us” or “permit us” to be tempted above what we can bear. This implies that God our Father has control over the devil and that He can save us from the snares of the wicked one, for no temptation or trial will be allowed to touch the life of God’s child without God’s permission. Remember however that it’s only mockery to pray “Lead us not into temptation,” and then rush into it daily, of our own accord. Too often we want to put our head into the lion’s mouth and tickle his throat in order to see if he’ll bite. Too often we’re willing to play with fire in order to see if we’ll get burned. We can’t invite temptation, and pray against it at the same time. We can’t chase sin, and still pray to be delivered from it. The Bible says we should “Abhor (shrink away from) that which is evil and cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). One preacher often said, “Son, when you are enticed to go into questionable places—stop where you are and say, ‘Lord Jesus, here I am; You lead me in’.” You can be sure that the Lord Jesus will turn you around and send you away. He will never direct you into the way of temptation, if you ask Him for guidance.
But we also pray, “Deliver us from evil.” The word translated “evil” might well have been rendered “the evil one.” The same Greek word is used in Matthew 13 when Jesus interpreted the Parable of the Sower. Jesus says, “And then cometh the wicked one.” The devil is powerful and clever. He knows his business. He’s been dealing with human beings for nearly six thousand years now, and you can be assured that he has your name on his list. Therefore we need often to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.”
4. The Goals of the Family Are Added
The Prayer that Jesus taught His followers to pray, ends just as it begins, ascribing all praise and honor and glory to the Heavenly Father: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.” Too often we praise men, and too seldom do we praise God. We conclude with the words about God’s power and God’s glory when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and thus God is once again exalted as we conclude the Prayer.
It is true that we show concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ, when we pray “The Lord’s Prayer.” The word “I” is not mentioned even one time throughout this entire Prayer. It is always “we” and “us” and “our.” We can’t pray this Prayer alone. There is no room for selfishness in the Lord’s Prayer. The blessings we crave are not for ourselves alone, but for all the others in the family of God as well. When we say “Our Father,” we include not only our brothers and sisters in the flesh, our mothers and fathers, our wives and children—but a great company beyond our imagination—the whole born-again family of God. When we pray this Prayer, we say not “me” and “mine,” but “us” and “our.” We include all of God’s children. Yet while we show concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we ascribe all glory and ultimate honor to God.
The words of this Prayer have probably passed over our lips hundreds of times, but have we really felt the meaning of these words? Do we really desire all these requests to be granted? Is God really our Father? Do we care much for the sanctity of His name? Do we really wish the kingdom of God to come? Are we ready to pull up stakes here and go along with our Lord into the eternal world? Do we feel our need of daily pardon for sin? Do we dread the evil one above all things? These are serious questions which deserve serious consideration. Happy is the man who can call God his Father and can say a heart-felt “Amen” to all that the Lord’s Prayer contains. May the Spirit of God use this message to help us pray the Lord’s Prayer with more thought and with a more clear understanding of what we are asking.