While the majority of Christians would probably agree that prayer is an important component to our relationship with God, most of us—myself included—find that our prayer lives are often chaotic and disorganized. We find ourselves praying as we drift off to sleep, before meals, and when we can’t pay our bills. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray and how to think about prayer. Through his teaching, we can have a better understanding of what prayer is, and why we should do it. Jesus’ teaching begins in the sixth chapter of Matthew beginning at verse six:
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus begins by telling his disciples what prayer is NOT. Prayer is not something that we do for “show”. While there is a place for corporate prayer, each Christian should have a private, personal prayer life. God created us for a relationship with Him, He desires intimacy, and we need it. Each of us should take time, just to talk to God alone whether it’s first thing in the morning or sitting in our driveway before we come into the house.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Prayer is also not a way to impress God. Some people treat prayer like it is an act of service that earns credit with God and that repeated prayers can influence his plan. While we should keep praying about things (cf. Luke 18:1-8), prayer is not a work that merits us some kind of grace. We should not think of God as awarding points every time we pray. Rather continued prayer demonstrates our faith while waiting for God to answer.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Finally, prayer does not inform God. God already knows all things, including whatever issue you are currently facing. But if prayer does not impress or inform God, why do we pray? We pray to invite God. When we pray we are bringing God into our situation. For example, when I see my kids doing homework in our home, I do not automatically jump in and say, “do you need help with anything?” but if they ask for my help, I always try to help them. In a similar way, God promises to get involved whenever we ask Him. (Matt 7:7)
Pray then like this...
Jesus doesn’t just tell his disciples what prayer is, He also gives us a model for how we should pray. Jesus did not say, “pray this prayer” but “pray in this way.” In fact, there is no example in the Bible where the apostles ever prayed these words exactly. We should not think that the words of the Lord’s prayer have some special power, rather Jesus is teaching us what the intention of our prayer should be. In fact, to recite the Lord’s prayer every time we pray, or to believe that saying it repeatedly will impart some grace to us actually goes against Jesus’ teaching that we should not use empty phrases and meaningless repletion when we pray. (Matt 6:7)
We come to God based on our relationship with Him. The Bible says that those who follow Jesus are children of God (Jn 1:12-13). Because Jesus has given us access to the Father through his death and resurrection, we can approach Him in prayer. It is also because of this relationship, that we can have the assurance that God delights in hearing and answering our prayers. (Heb 5:14-16)
Although God is our Father, Christians should still have a holy reverence toward Him. The Bible says “God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” (Eccl. 5:2). We should not think of prayer as a casual conversation, but remember that we are speaking to the King of the universe who is worthy of worship by all of creation. While the Bible does not offer a specific posture when praying, we should all have an attitude of humility before God.
hallowed be your name
This is the first request of our prayer. The word “hallowed” means “regarded as holy.” Jesus is not just saying that God’s name is holy, He is saying that our prayer should be that God’s name would be regarded as holy. In other words, our purpose in praying should be that God would be glorified in all places. Jesus explains how this will happen.
Your kingdom come
God’s name is glorified by his kingdom being established on the earth. This is accomplished through the proclamation of the gospel and training up believers to be mature in their faith. Jesus commanded that his followers would “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19-20) and that they should “pray earnestly to the Lord to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matt 9:38) So the intention of our prayer is that God’s kingdom would expand so that God would be glorified over all the earth.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
When God’s kingdom is fully established on the earth, He worshipped and obeyed by all the nations just as He is worshipped and obeyed by the angels. In the book of Revelation we see a glimpse of this reality, “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever’.” (Rev 5:13) This is the desire should drive our prayer life, that we want to see the names of Jesus and the Father exalted.
Give us this day our daily bread
This phrase is noteworthy for three reasons. First, notice Jesus uses the words “us / our” not “me / my.” Throughout the prayer, there is not a single instance where a person is praying only for themselves. Jesus intends that we should be praying also for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Also Jesus says “this day.” Jesus assumes that his followers will be praying each day, without worrying about the future (cf. Matt 6:33-34). Finally, Jesus uses the term “daily bread.” For the Jews, this term would have recalled the stories of God giving manna in the wilderness. Jesus is not just talking about food, but that we should ask God to supply all of our physical needs to do the work of building his kingdom.
and forgive us our debts
Jesus also recognizes that we have spiritual needs that we must continually bring to the Father. The first of these is forgiveness of sin. No matter how good we are, we will continually struggle with sin. (1 Jn 1:8-9) In fact, we become more aware of unrecognized sin as we draw closer to God. Our prayer should be like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps 139:23-24)
as we also have forgiven our debtors
Some have called these words “the most dangerous prayer in the Bible.” But Jesus is serious, he later says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6:14-15) Thus, prayer should be a time of self-reflection. As I seek God’s generosity, I must ask if I have been generous (Pr 21:13); when I am asking for help I must ask if I have helped my brothers; when I am asking for forgiveness, I must ask if I have extended the same also. Though God is far more gracious that any of us could ever be, if our heart is harboring sin, God will not listen to our prayers. (Is 59:2)
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
Our additional spiritual need is that of protection. Jesus encourages us to pray that we will not fall into temptation, but when we are tempted that God will deliver us. Implicit in these verses is the understanding that we will not willfully enter temptation or trust in our own strength to overcome it. Instead, we will daily pray for God’s strength and wisdom to not be deceived by our enemy, the devil, who seeks to keep us from being effective for God’s kingdom. All of these things taken together, a prayer that is modeled after the Lord’s prayer might sound like this:
My holy Father, be glorified. I come to you as your child, but a sinner. Thank you for your grace that you would accept me because of Christ. Equip me to do your work and make your name known so that all people may know your greatness. Supply my needs today and help me not to worry for tomorrow. Forgive me for my sins and show me where my heart is still sinful. Give me strength and wisdom to recognize the devil’s schemes and to stay far from them so that I may be used by you for your glory. Amen.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen
While there is some question of whether these words were in the original prayer that Jesus said, I have never had a problem including them in my own prayers because the Bible affirms that this statement is indeed true! (Rev 5:13) Additionally, they reflect the correct attitude with which we should approach God. We are praying for his kingdom and his glory, and we are relying on his power to do his will. Prayer is not designed for us to have the things we want, but to accomplish God’s purpose in our lives.
Live for Jesus.